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FIRST-PERSON: Some perspective on that blown call

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–“Everyone makes mistakes,” someone once observed. “The trick is to make them when nobody is looking.” While that might work for the average person, a Major League Baseball umpire does not have the luxury of making errors in private. Just ask Jim Joyce.

Joyce was umpiring first base on June 2 when Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga was on the mound against the Cleveland Indians. The Tiger ace had retired 26 straight Tribesmen and was one out away from tossing only the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history.

Galarraga got Cleveland’s Jason Donald to hit a slow-roller to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, which he fielded. Galarraga came over to cover first base. He caught the toss from Cabrera and touched the bag.

Though the play at first was relatively close, Galarraga threw his arms up in triumph and the crowd started to celebrate. However, both were stopped short when Joyce signaled that the runner was safe. Everyone was stunned by the call.

Detroit players and manager Jim Leyland protested, but to no avail. Joyce insisted the runner had beaten the throw.

Galarraga retired the next batter and the game ended with Detroit winning 3-0. The Detroit pitcher was officially credited with a one hit shut-out.

Drama surrounding the play began to unfold almost immediately. Replays showed that Joyce had made a mistake. It was clear Donald had not beaten the throw and should have been called out. In sports lingo Joyce had “blown the call.”

Joyce instantly became the most hated man in Major League Baseball. Baseball fans the world over formed hundreds of Facebook groups calling for the umpire to be fired. Many fans vented via the Internet using, to put it mildly, colorful language.

I wonder if any of people calling for Joyce’s firing would care to have any of their mistakes broadcast — over and over — for the world to see? I know I wouldn’t.

Joyce, who has been a major league umpire for 23 years and has called two World Series, did not shirk his responsibility or offer any excuses for his blown call.

The umpire spoke with the media following the game and, tears in his eyes, admitted he had made a mistake: “I just cost the kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw.” Joyce said. “I was convinced he beat the throw until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.”

Joyce also went the extra mile and spoke to Galarraga. He personally apologized to the pitcher. No one, and I mean no one, feels worse about the blown call than does Joyce.

While Joyce’s reaction reveals that he is a man of integrity, Galarraga’s response has revealed a level of maturity and depth of character that is not seen enough in professional sports.

After Joyce’s mistake kept Galarraga from joining baseball lore, the Detroit pitcher was asked to comment about the umpire. “He feels really bad. He probably feels more bad than me,” Galarraga said of Joyce.

“I give a lot of credit to that guy,” Galarraga continued. “[An apology] doesn’t [just] happen. He apologized. He feels really bad. Nobody is perfect.” Galarraga added, “What am I gonna do? His [Joyce’s] eyes were watering and he didn’t have to say much. His body language said a lot.”

Detroit manager Leyland showed some class as well. After vehemently arguing the call the Tiger skipper said, “That’s the nature of the business, that’s just the way it is. The players are human, the umpires are human, the managers are human … we all make mistakes.”

“It’s a crying shame,” Leyland added. “Jimmy’s a real good umpire, has been for a long time.”

It is a shame that a good umpire made a glaring mistake which cost a young man a spot in Major League Baseball history. But let’s keep things in perspective. First, everyone makes mistakes — everyone. Most of us, however, have the luxury of making mistakes that few people ever see. Be grateful for that reality.

Second, it was a mistake made during a baseball game. While Major League Baseball is certainly a big business, it is still a game. Baseball is not war, it is not brain surgery, it is a game. Yes, a young player was deprived of officially recording a historic feat, but he will pitch again, and again, and again.

“As long as the world is turning and spinning,” actor and director Mel Brooks said, “we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.” Yes we are, but thankfully our mistakes — yours and mine — will not occur in front of thousands of people and be captured on video tape for continual replay.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs