On a pitcher’s tough day, the big winner is sportsmanship

An umpire mistakenly called the runner safe here, ending what would have been a perfect game for pitcher Armando Galarraga.  But Galarraga stayed calm, and the ump later apologized.

An umpire mistakenly called the runner safe here, ending what would have been a perfect game for pitcher Armando Galarraga. But Galarraga stayed calm, and the ump later apologized.

By Ari Feuer, Sports Editor

In contrast to the onslaught of bad behavior exposed in Major League Baseball concerning steroids, sportsmanship and integrity prevailed when an umpire mistakenly deprived pitcher Armando Galarraga of a very rare perfect game and a spot in professional sporting history June 2.

It was 26 batters down, one to go at the top of the ninth inning.  Galarraga, pitching for the Detroit Tigers, was just a few pitches away from only the 21st perfect game – that is, a game with no hits – in Major League Baseball’s 140-year history. The 27th batter, Cleveland Indians’ rookie Jason Donald, hit the third pitch of his at-bat across the grass between first and second base.

What happened next could have ignited an ugly scene on the field, but cool heads prevailed.

The Tigers’ first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, ran off to retrieve the ball and threw it to Galarraga, who left the pitcher’s mound to cover first base.  Replays show that Donald was at least a half step away from the base when Galarraga caught the ball and stepped on the base, meaning the runner was out, and there was no hit.  But Joyce, the umpire on the play, confidently swept his arms to signal that the runner was safe.

At the time, Joyce was sure that he had called the play correctly— even arguing with Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland after the call—until he saw replays.

“I thought he [Donald] beat the throw,” Joyce told reporters after the game.  “I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”

What turned this botched call into a positive story were the sportsmanship of Galarraga and the regret of Joyce over the mistake.

The pitcher did not jump around angrily or yell at Joyce; he just stood in place and shot the umpire a little smirk.  Instead, Galarraga peacefully stepped back on the pitcher’s mound and watched the 28th batter ground out a few pitches later… meaning his game was actually perfect, though it wouldn’t be called so.

And after the game, he was never mad or emotional.  Instead, he actually looked at the positive aspects of the night.

“I know that I pitched a perfect game, I believe I got it,” Galarraga said.  “I’m going to show my son. Maybe it’s not in the book, but I’m telling my son, ‘One time I got a perfect game.’”

Unlike many players who have recently been accused of abusing performance-enhancing drugs— and lied about it or tried to avoid responsibility for their actions— Joyce was quick to admit his mistake after he saw replays and was very apologetic in his five-minute session with the media after the game.

“I did not get the call correct… I took a perfect game from that kid over there who worked his [butt] off all night,” Joyce said emotionally.

Galarraga said that Joyce came up to him after the game to apologize, and the two hugged.

According to ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian, “umpires get that play right 100,000 out of 100,001 times.”  At the peak of Armando Galarraga’s young career, Jim Joyce committed that one error, but the two men showed that such an impacting mistake can be handled with grace and understanding.

…And in un-related but very exciting basketball news, the Los Angeles Lakers won their second consecutive and 16th overall NBA championship on June 17, squeaking by the Boston Celtics in a 83-79 thriller.  Kobe Bryant earned the Bill Russell Most Valuable Player trophy to go along with his 5th championship ring, and head coach Phil Jackson won his record 11th championship as a coach and 5th with the Lakers.

The final game of the best-of-seven series was dominated by defense throughout, with the Lakers recovering from a 13-point third quarter deficit to take control of the game in the final minutes.

And even in the NBA, sportsmanship prevailed in a finals series that featured basketball’s greatest rivalry, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. The two teams and their fans have been known to hate each other and the matches were all very physical, but major confrontation was avoided throughout the series.

Maybe sportsmanship is making a comeback.