Perfect

There is something very sad, and elegant, and essential in the blown call by umpire Jim Joyce in what would have been Armando Galarraga’s perfect baseball game last night.

I just read the story, having missed SportsCenter before bed. It was an unattributed AP wire piece on WSJ.com. There was something very old-school and fitting about reading a reporter’s account the day after. As a baseball fan, it made me emotional. So sad, and so real!

The blown call, the fan/player reactions, the inevitable day-after ranting for use of instant replay, and demands that the commish reverse the call all remind me of why baseball – in that most trite and over-worn of similes – is “like life.”

A perfect baseball game is one of the holiest of holy grails in sport. The odds against it are so great that it has occurred only 20 times in a sport that has an 162-game regular season, and has been played since the 1800’s. To happen, it requires things go perfect not just once, but 27 times in a row. This means excellent pitching, excellent fielding, and yes, excellent officiating. The more spiritually-minded will say it also reflects a certain divinity, fate, luck – whatever you want to call it. No one who sits in a baseball stadium ever forgets seeing a perfect game. It’s like seeing a double-perfect rainbow, finding a 100-bill on the sidewalk, meeting the man or woman of your dreams and winning a Porche convertible all on the same day. No other sport even has a statistic called “a perfect game.” Think of that.

Now, witness the reaction of the umpire, who did the very, very hardest thing a person of character can ever do: immediately and publicly admit, with elegance and grace, that you are wrong. “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

Or the fans, who booed as only a crowd will boo when they know in their hearts they are seeing something wrong, something perfect being snatched away, like a child’s stolen popsicle on a summer’s day.

And manager Jim Leyland, as old-school and hardcore a baseball man as is left in the game, this very classy observation: “Emotions were running high for everybody and I think that’s why the guys were emotional after the game. I wish we wouldn’t have been, but we were. But I think it’s understandable in that case. That’s a pretty sacred thing, something like that.”

And read this, from the AP story, heartbreaking in its simplicity: “After Joyce’s call, Mr. Galarraga quietly went back to work as the crowd started to boo.”

There is much worthy criticism – and unworthy sportswriter ranting – decrying the lack of character and role models in professional sports. Here, in a simple game, are the things parents everywhere try to teach their children: life is sometimes unfair. Admit your mistakes immediately and courageously, and apologize. Forgive those who’ve wronged you, and get on with your work. And if there is injustice, or a thing can be improved, say so, and call for change.

Do I have an opinion on overturning the call? Yes. They shouldn’t. Let it stand.

What about changing the rules? Sure, that’s OK. Although I can’t imagine baseball being improved with endless slow-mo replays on base calls.

Nor can I imagine a simple game being more instructive, or poignant than last night’s. It was perfect just the way it was.

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