“Seeking the Perfect Outcome"
Second Prize - $5,000
Kendall Wingrove is director of operations for the Michigan Senate Majority Communications Office. He also is a freelance historical writer. Kendall and his wife Molly live in East Lansing, MI with their two children. The Wingroves also focus their efforts on Curriculum Beyond the Classroom, an innovative program they started to help interns connect with professionals in the public and private sectors. Kendall is a previous Amy Award winner.
Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn once described baseball as “a game of failure,” noting that even the best batters are unsuccessful about 65 percent of the time.
On the evening of June 2, 2010, nobody on the Cleveland Indians roster succeeded in getting on base after a talented, young right-hander had taken the mound for the Detroit Tigers. With two outs in the ninth inning, Armando Galarraga had retired 26 batters and was on the verge of pitching the 21st perfect game in major league history.
But to err is human, and a split-second decision by a veteran umpire soon stole Galarraga’s moment of jubilation. While the controversial call generated a perfect storm and denied the pitcher a place in the record books, the reaction to the outcome left a far more meaningful and enduring legacy.
The 27th batter for Cleveland was shortstop Jason Donald. Galarraga got Donald to ground a slow roller to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. The pitcher rushed to cover first, received the throw from Cabrera and touched the bag. Galarraga briefly raised his arms in celebration before receiving the bad news.
Inexplicably, umpire Jim Joyce ruled that Donald was safe on the close play at first base. Replays showed clearly that Joyce blew the call: The runner was out by half a step.
Galarraga got the next hitter, outfielder Trevor Crowe, on a grounder to third base, ending the game, but the “the call heard ‘round the world” was already generating headlines on sports networks, talk shows and regular news broadcasts.
At first, outrage was the dominating theme. After the shock of the decision, and the fury about its unfairness, the game without a perfect ending slowly but surely became a controversy with an almost flawless conclusion.
As the media coverage went into extra innings, there was a triple play of confession, redemption and forgiveness.
The confession came almost immediately. A full-time umpire since 1989, a horrified Joyce admitted his mistake.
"I just cost that kid a perfect game," Joyce said. "I thought he (Donald) beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.”
While seething about the initial ruling, many gave Joyce a thumbs up when he accepted responsibility for the error. Even though he had the option to skip the following game, Joyce showed up at the stadium ready to work despite the dust-up.
Equally admirable was Galarraga’s demeanor during the entire ordeal. In the seconds after Joyce made the infamous call, Galarraga can be seen smiling. He didn’t throw a tantrum or shout obscenities, but handled himself with dignity and restraint.
The Detroit Tigers, and the Motor City crowd at the game the next afternoon, also rose to the occasion. Tigers manager Jim Leyland arranged for Galarraga to deliver the lineup card to the plate umpire to begin the day. The umpire who received it broke into tears. It was Jim Joyce. When he walked out of the tunnel on his way to the field, most fans stood and cheered.
Such forgiveness is startling to many and flies in the face of a culture that often demands and glorifies revenge. Although each of us craves total forgiveness after making mistakes, it is hard to automatically accept the apology when we are the one that has been wronged.
That reluctance is captured in the book of Matthew when Peter asks Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?
Jesus replied: “I tell you not seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
The message is clear: don’t keep score when others fall short. Just forgive.
We should understand that life is unfair and many rulings go against us despite honest effort. Thanks to an impartial umpire who sacrificed his life for us on the cross, we are forever forgiven for our failures and welcomed home at the end.
George F. Will once wrote that “baseball at its best puts good character on display in a context of cheerfulness.” Despite an obvious injustice, Armando Galarraga has given everyone plenty to smile about. While we can forgive him for still wanting credit for a spotless game, the young pitcher has achieved something far more special than a baseball record. His kind disposition and willingness to forgive helped write a perfect ending to an imperfect situation and provided an example for the rest of us to follow.
Printed June 10, 2010; www.americandaily.com
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