Thu 3 Jun 2010
I’ve been a baseball fan since 1952. Not too coincidentally I’ve also been a Detroit Tigers fan since 1952 — I grew up in a small town in Michigan. The team was awful, but I was ten years old and that didn’t matter to me. Whenever they won, I remember running up to my dad when he came home from work — they played baseball in the daytime then — and telling him, “The Tigers won! The Tigers won!”
I wasn’t very athletic when I was ten. Later on I could play fairly well. But the game of baseball — any sport — has a way of humbling you whenever you think you’re good or even really good. What I discovered, though, back in 1952 were record books. All kinds of numbers for every player on every team and I think I memorized every one of them for the previous year and from then on until Major League Baseball expanded and there were too many teams that were simply too far away and if Detroit didn’t play them, then the numbers started not to mean so much.
There was a fellow on that 1952 team, a team that was in last place all season long, named Virgil Trucks, and even though he had a win-loss record of something like 5 and 22 that season, he pitched two no-hitters. I remember listening to both of them on the radio (no TV back then) but maybe that’s memory speaking, and I only think I listened to them. Maybe one, maybe neither, but I remember listening, and to me that’s all that matters.
Earlier tonight, or really late yesterday, a pitcher for Detroit named Armando Galarraga was almost a hero, and I think he is, since he pitched a perfect game (not a single opposing batter reaching base for any reason) in which he got 28 outs, one over the legal limit of 27.
He knows he pitched a perfect game, the whole world does — the parts of the world where baseball has any meaning to the people that live there. But in the record books he threw a one-hitter. The very last man he faced in what would have been perfection, 27 batters up, 27 batters down, was called safe by the umpire, a fellow whose life-long career has been umpiring, a fellow nobody ever heard of until now, a fellow named Jim Joyce.
And Jim Joyce missed it. He called the batter safe at first base, but he was out. All of the replays showed it, and Armando Galarraga had to face one more batter. He could have lost control, lost his temper, but he didn’t. He stayed cool, got the next batter out and won the game. In the long run, in baseball terms, that’s the goal. To win the game.
When he saw the replay after the game, Jim Joyce was distraught. He knew he blew it. He apologized profusely, but the game was over. It was too late. It was in the record books.
When that last batter came up, Jim Joyce knew the situation. He’s a baseball fan himself, he has to be. He called the play at first base the way he saw it. He could have taken the easy way out and called the batter out. No one would have blamed him, even if the replay had shown the batter safe. He didn’t shade the truth. He was honest, and he called it the way he saw it. He’s a man of integrity. An honest man.
An honest man who apologized when he discovered he was wrong. A man who probably won’t sleep well again for a long time, but what he did was the job he was paid to do.
When he shows up for work tomorrow, and I hope he can, as he’s in for an ordeal of media coverage that you won’t believe, but whenever he does, the fans in the stadium ought to give him a standing ovation. I know they won’t but if I were there, I’d give him a standing ovation of one person. Me.