I enjoy almost all competitive sports. I am an avid spectator and a once-upon-a-time participant. Athletics can be good for you. Playing sports is good physical exercise. There are a lot of lessons to learn even if you just watch.
If you are a fan of Major League Baseball you probably are aware of a very unusual occurrence this season. There have been two perfect games pitched this year and there is more than half a season left. A perfect game means that a pitcher faces only the minimal number of batters (27) and no one gets on base. No hits. No walks. No runs. No errors.
This is not an easy task that has been accomplished only 20 times in the 135 year history of Major League Baseball. No pitcher has ever pitched more than one. More people have orbited the moon than have pitched a Major League Baseball perfect game. There have not been two perfect games in one season since 1880 until this year.
The last two perfect games came less than three weeks apart. Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics on May 9, 2010 shut out Tampa Bay. Twenty days later Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Florida Marlins on May 29.
Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers almost had his name added to this prestigious list last Wednesday night, June 3. Almost!
With two outs in the ninth inning Jim Joyce blew Galarraga's chance to celebrate this rare feat. Joyce does not play for the Tigers or the Cleveland Indians, their opponent. He is an umpire.
First baseman Miguel Cabrera cleanly fielded Jason Donald's grounder to his right and made an accurate throw to Galarraga covering the bag. The ball was there in time, and all of Comerica Park was ready to celebrate the 3-0 win over Cleveland, until Joyce emphatically signaled safe.
The veteran ump regretted it. "I just cost that kid a perfect game," Joyce said. "I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay. "It was the biggest call of my career," said Joyce, who became a full-time major league umpire in 1989.
Galarraga quietly went back to work as the crowd started to boo. Cabrera continued to argue the call as the pitcher quickly retired Trevor Crowe for the one-hit shutout.
Joyce faced a group of hostile Tigers - led by Tigers' manager, Jim Leyland - between the pitching mound and home plate after the final out and was booed lustily by the crowd of 17,738 as he walked off the field.
"I don't blame them a bit or anything that was said," Joyce said. "I would've said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would've been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me."
If the umpire had made the correct call, history would have been made. For the first time in history three perfect games would have been recorded in one season. And Armando Galarraga would have his name etched in the Major League Baseball records.
But the point of this writing is not to moan over what almost was--as disappointing as it must have been for this young pitcher.
There is a very important lesson here that has nothing to do with baseball but a lot to do with life. Although the umpire acknowledged that he made a mistake, the outcome did not change. Nevertheless, it is a good thing that he recognized his error and admitted it openly. There are always innocent victims when we "blow it."
Our admission of wrong-doing will not undo reality but our burden of guilt is lightened and we are less likely to commit the same error again. Also, we are able to experience forgiveness--from others or ourselves--only when acknowledge our mistakes (sins).
Blaming others or circumstances is of no value. Acknowledging that as humans we are imperfect and claiming "our bent to sinning" leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. It's a hard lesson to learn but an important one.
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," June 7, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]