Joyce and Galarraga

Part one of “stuff I wanted to blog about this summer, but was busy with this blog’s transition”:

I was watching it live.

MLB Network just happened to be on in the background in my house, and they announced Galarraga had a perfect game through 7 innings.  I started watching.  My wife joined for the ninth inning.  One out, two out, and then…well, you remember.

All I said, repeatedly, was this:  “I hope he didn’t blow the call.  I hope he didn’t blow the call…”

Then, the replay.  As everyone now knows, Jim Joyce blew the call.

As always in situations like this, my heart went out to Joyce, but surprisingly, my lasting image from the game will be Galarraga’s immediate response.  That grin will be a part of baseball history.  That face that at the very moment he lost immortality through no fault of his own, said “Wow.  Unbelievable, but what can you do?”

So, because of the once-every-two-hundred-years nature of this blown call (seriously, can it get any worse than this as far as consequences go?), I girded up my loins for horrendous backlash. I prepared for the worst anti-officiating backlash in world history.

It never happened, and the reason it never happened is because every single one of the principals responded 100% perfectly.

Let’s start with Joyce.  We can’t overemphasize how much capital he had built up through his decades of good work, and how much it helped him in this situation.  Curt Schilling talks about Joyce’s wonderful career in an ESPN.com article.  I highly doubt that he would have similarly stepped up for many of Joyce’s fellow umpires.

And Joyce’s decision to be direct and make no excuses–“this was a history-making call, and I kicked the shit out of it”–nipped just about any potential problems in the bud.  It’s hard to beat up on a guy who is already violently beating up on himself.

Additionally, although I do believe that Joyce feels 100% as bad as Galarraga does (analogy: would you rather injure yourself in a car accident that was your fault, or injure someone else?), he correctly put the focus where it belonged:  on the wronged parties.  I cannot imagine how it must have felt to go into that clubhouse right after discovering his horrible mistake, just minutes after all hell nearly broke loose on the diamond because of the justifiably upset Tigers’ club.  But he knew it had to be done–both face to face and in the media–and he did it.  I’m not sure everyone has the fortitude to do that.

I cannot believe that Galarraga gave Joyce a hug in that clubhouse.  If I were in Galarraga’s shoes, I’m not sure I would have.  That hug, in and of itself, might make Armando Galarraga one of my favorite people in baseball history.

Then, the Tigers managed to find just the right level of theater to make it right.  Jim Leyland defended Joyce in the extreme, and then sent out Galarraga to deliver the lineup card to home plate umpire Joyce the next day.  Incredibly, there were some cheers–CHEERS!–for Joyce as he came out to do the game (a game which MLB gave him the option of skipping, but I think any official would want to jump right back in the saddle).  How is that possible?  It’s completely antithetical to everything that’s ever happened in umpire/player relations.  Joyce teared up as he heard the cheers and when Galarraga came out.

Then–to top it all off–all of the Tigers’ starters stopped to give Joyce an encouraging smack on the chest protector as they stepped onto the field.

All of the above happened in about 15 hours, just as I was flinching for horrible anti-ref backlash.  What could have been the worst moment in ref history turned into the best, and I was practically dizzy, at a loss to figure out what it all meant.

A non-officiating friend of mine, Joe Murphy, suggested that this was the meaning of the whole affair:

“I don’t know, I seem to fail publicly (although not, thank God, on TV) quite a lot. And frankly, I’m failed a lot too.

Seems like the message of this moment is to fail a lot more like Joyce, and deal with those who fail you a lot more like the Tigers.”

That’s beautifully put.  While nobody in their right mind would want to have their name in the national consciousness in the phrase “Remember:  try to fail just like _____ did,” in a way, since we are all human and all fail, it’s perhaps the most beautiful tribute anyone can have said of them.

Net result:  arguably the most beautiful, graceful, humane moment in sports history…exactly where one wouldn’t expect it.  I hope it starts a trend.

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About Paul Hamann
I am a basketball referee in Washington State, working mostly high school games.

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