One day after botched call, Motor City takes higher road

Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers lost his bid for a perfect game Wednesday night with two outs in the ninth inning on a call that first base umpire Jim Joyce later admitted he blew.
By Thomas Boswell
Friday, June 4, 2010

Baseball umpire Jim Joyce made a hideously incorrect ruling Wednesday night that cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga one of the rarest achievements in the sport: a perfect game. But 15 hours later, when Galarraga made his way to home plate before Thursday afternoon's game to present his team's lineup card to Joyce, the umpire's reception was just as clear-cut.

The fans in Detroit cheered, and baseball and sport had one of its most inspiring and least expected moments.

What next? World peace?

Galarraga appeared to have completed the 21st perfect game in major league history, when he stepped on first base well before Cleveland Indians runner Jason Donald for what would have been the game's final out. But Joyce ruled Donald safe, a call he admitted was a mistake after viewing television replays following the game.

When that admission and the courage to make it was acknowledged with cheers Thursday afternoon, Joyce's face stayed firm, but the tears of gratitude rolled at the Tigers' magnanimity. After the ump wiped his eyes, Galarraga gave him a slap on the back, and Joyce smacked him back, dugout gestures of respect, unmistakable. Hard men, tough game, we play again today. Joyce, you work the plate; just get all 300 calls right.

Fans of the recession-scalded Motor City brought themselves to cheer for a man who admitted his mistake, which had denied one of their own a perfect game, a feat accomplished just 20 times since 1858. And, everywhere, observers shook their heads that a thing that was so sad and screwed up late Wednesday night could, simply by good will and compassion, be turned into something sparklingly fresh, unexpectedly strong and best-of-baseball by Thursday afternoon.

In fairy tales, human decency transforms bad into good. Don't bet too much on that formula working tomorrow. But it did for one day. In an age of stage-managed news-conference remorse and corporate shirking of responsibility, the Galarraga Imperfecto now shines with a fresh-scrubbed sense of honor. Sometimes, maybe we can tell the difference between what matters and what doesn't.

Handed a baseball disaster Wednesday night, everyone showed the absolute best in themselves. In a kind of cascade effect, one person saw unexpected virtue in another and decided, "Well, I guess I can suck it up and do the right thing, too, if he can."

As soon as Joyce saw the replay of his horrible "safe" call at first base, which was wrong by two feet, the respected 22-year big league ump took full responsibility and even sought out Galarraga to apologize personally.

"I just missed the damn call. . . . This isn't 'a' call. This is a history call. And I kicked the [expletive] out of it," said Joyce, whose postgame stand-up accountability could be taped and delivered to BP headquarters. "I take pride in this job, and I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his [butt] off all night."

Joyce also sought out Galarraga to apologize.

"I give a lot of credit to that guy. . . . You don't see an umpire, after the game, say, 'I'm sorry.' Nobody's perfect," said Galarraga, who for one night actually was.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company