Honor, Courage And Respect For The Game

Went off to a baseball game today. The Baltimore Orioles played the Minnesota Twins in a Spring Training exhibition game.  For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about because you were not brought up on baseball, let me explain. In the spring prior to the beginning of the professional baseball season in America, the major professional baseball teams go south–to Arizona or to Florida and play each other in a series of exhibition games. The weather is warm. Players have been doing other things all winter long. The boys need to stretch their muscles and get into shape for a long season. The teams need this period during which they play about 30 exhibition games in the month of March.  The teams will decide if new young players will be added to the roster, who will play the various positions, and generally get ready for the real season, which begins later in early April and culminates in a championship series of games in October know as the World Series.

For many Americans baseball is America. We see within the game many behaviors we like to emulate in life, even if we do not play the game as professionals. We see graceful athleticism, which we would like to occasionally see in ourselves, even though we have to admit we cannot see it at the level that we see it in the professional athletes that play the game. Still, we may get together and play a baseball game at a July 4th picnic and hope that we can manage to look great on the baseball field for an hour or two on that afternoon. Those who do well will talk about the game for months. But we will not only talk about our athleticism but we will also talk or think about our sportsmanship. If we don’t talk about it, we may just dream about how we managed to play the game, that we were true to its ideals. We will hope that we honored the game and showed others in our behavior our respect for the game.

All of this was in my mind as the game began. It was largely an uneventful game early on. In the third inning a new pitcher came in for Baltimore. The pitcher, a Venezuelan named Armando Galarraga, was well known to me. He was previously with the Detroit Tigers, where he played in 2010 when in June of that year he pitched a near perfect game. He’s now with Baltimore trying to make the team and extend his career as a major league pitcher. For now that wasn’t what was on my mind. Rather my thoughts returned to the day of the near perfect game he had pitched in 2010 for the Tigers against the Cleveland Indians.

Armando pitched very well that day. One after another the Cleveland players registered outs. A few plays required his team-mates to make brilliant plays, including one running over the shoulder catch by the center fielder on a ball hit far over his head, but high enough for him to catch up to. Finally, after 26 batters and 26 recorded outs the last batter of the game (if he made an out) came to the batter’s box. He hit a slow roller to the first baseman and Armando ran to cover first base. The first basemen threw him the ball and he caught it and touched the base. Everyone thought that the third and final out of the inning and the27th out of a perfect game had been recorded.  Surprisingly, Jim Joyce, a seasoned umpire responsible for calling the batter safe or out called the batter safe. Nearly everyone close to the play thought the play had been called incorrectly. Armando smiled registered disappointment, but he said nothing. He returned to the pitcher’s mound and quickly registered the 3rd out of the inning and the 27th of the game.  Detroit won the game and Armando Galarraga registered a one-hit shut out (no runs scored) and given the game victory. But, it was not the perfect game and everyone in the stadium knew it to be. Harsh words were spoken by many Detroit players and fans in the stadium who had seen the play, which was also later shown in a video replay on the stadium score board. But there were no harsh words spoken by Armando.

Later in a press conference after the game Jim Joyce, who had reviewed the film replay of the play admitted he had blown the call. He had called the 27th player safe when, in fact, he was out. But, of course, the game played on; it was now over, and as they might say in Hollywood, it was a wrap. There was no way to go back and do it again. Joyce was clearly upset. He was in tears.

After the game Armando had also been interviewed. The interviewer asked him how he felt about what was clearly a blown call. “It’s just part of the game. Jim Joyce is a good umpire,” he said.

The next day the Detroit manager sent Armando out to home plate with the line up cards. Detroit was again playing Cleveland. The same umpiring crew was doing the game, but this time Jim Joyce would be calling balls and strikes. Armando passed the Detroit Line-up card over to Jim Joyce and shook his hand–as if to say, no hard feelings, it’s all part of the game.

To this day and for a long time to come, this game will be regarded as a perfect game which actually have 28 and not 27 men come to the plate, but a perfect game for which Galarraga will not be given credit in the record books. Jim Joyce should be credited with his honesty in admitting as soon as he saw the replay that somehow he had gotten the call wrong.  The whole nation has heard the story, and even if they did not see the game, few will forget how Armando Galarraga honored and showed his respect for the game.

By the way, Baltimore beat Minnesota today 6-0 and Armando Galarraga pitched two scoreless innings.

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