I was furious at umpire Jim Joyce for robbing Armando Galarraga from a perfect game. But the reactions of the players involved have compelled everyone toward compassion.
On Thursday morning I was apoplectic and an umpire was the target of my rage. Yes it was irrational. Yes I probably need to start putting Prozac on my pancakes. But my anger was real. I couldn’t stand that a major league perfect game – a feat about as rare as a tap-dancing unicorn – was taken away from Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga after umpire Jim Joyce missed the call at first base on the 27th out. I couldn’t stand that Joyce was showered with praised in the press for being a “stand up guy.” And now I can’t stand something else. I was wrong. Something more important has blossomed in the aftermath of this game and that should be highlighted to the hills. It’s the actions of Galarraga himself and the reaction among fans. The incredible class and calm Galarraga has shown is an ideal of a word that has become something of a punchline: sportsmanship. He said, “I say many times: Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes a mistake. I’m sure he don’t want to make that call. You see that guy last night, he feels really bad. He don’t even change. The other umpires shower, eat. He was sitting in the seat (and saying), ‘I’m so sorry.'” Reading this and then seeing the Detroit fans actually applaud Joyce the next day has been remarkable. Even the guy who immediately started firejimjoyce.com posted, "You know, after hearing all the talk from both the pitcher and umpire Jim Joyce today, I have only one thought: They are both classier than I am.”
The second moment that changed me was an email from a reader named Britt Robson. I’ve never met Britt but he was checking out my column back when the readership was confined to blood relatives. Britt wrote me, “In your desire to tar and feather a truly execrable character, Bud Selig, you lost your perspective on Jim Joyce. Galarraga himself exercised more restraint and perspective than you….The best part of your column was the start when you wrote that people should basically get a grip.”
But what finally knocked my surliness down for the count was an email from a gentleman named Mike Isaacs. He wrote, “What I saw here was something that cut right into my ever-growing cynicism about the culture of sports and the people inside it. Joyce botched the call big-time on the 27th out of a would-be perfect game, pretty amazing in itself. But the real story for me started afterwards. It took on elements that I would never have guessed. First, the umpire sees the replay and admits his mistake and shows great feeling for how his mistake wronged the pitcher; the pitcher realizes that everyone makes a mistake and forgives him in as classy a way as possible. The Tigers players and manager apologize for their in-the-heat-of-the-moment tirades and praise Joyce as an upstanding guy and a good umpire. In a show of great compassion, they send the pitcher out there the next game to present the lineup card to support the umpire. Tigers fans applaud the umpire as he takes the field in a moment of fan empathy that I wasn’t sure I would ever see again. Is it just me or is this all extraordinary?
Finally, at the risk of sounding mawkish, one of the very basic reasons we all hold the ‘lefty’ politics that we hold is because we’re profoundly interested in people being treated fairly and with justice and with respect. I think having compassion for another human being during the most difficult of times is incredibly important in describing the reasons why I have the politics I have. Yes, I know a botched call in a baseball game may not matter in the big scheme of things and perhaps I’m making too big of a deal about the incident. But in a way I so very seldom see in sports or in other arenas of life these days, I was truly taken aback by what was on display after this incident: The principles of compassion and civility and empathy and good will from the pitcher impacted his teammates, manager, fans, and the umpire himself. It might not have been a perfect game because of Joyce’s big mistake but it was a perfect aftermath.”
I can’t argue with this. I believe that sports can speak to the best and worst angels of our nature when it actually compels us toward compassion that is in fact more important – and more rare - than a 1,000 perfect games. I lost my head on this one and I’m better for people pointing that out (But I still can’t stand Bud Selig).
[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.]