Friday, June 04, 2010

Perfect Imperfection in our Beloved Sport

* Picture courtesy

It's amazing how quickly a sport can fall from grace. One minute, the crowd is up singing "Take me out to the ball game..." and the next minute they're throwing beer bottles and cursing the very turf on which their beloved players play.

But this week was a little different. The crowd was witnessing history: the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers was on the verge of pitching the elusive Perfect Game. He had not allowed one player on base, and now, in the last inning, he could almost taste this once in a lifetime achievement that most players only dream about. Only one more out to go.

You should know the rest. It's been all over the news: There was a clear out at first, yet the ump called the runner safe. Perfect Game gone. Coaches came over to give the ump their favorite choice of words, other players fell over in disbelief. But there was one person who was curiously not a part of the hubbub. The pitcher. I'm sure, he was disappointed, but he just walked back to the mound and waited. When everything settled, he pitched to the final batter and didn't allow him on base.

Here's where it gets good. It's where the imperfect almost becomes perfect. The ump asked to look at the play immediately after the game. After viewing the play, he knew he was wrong, and he said it! He was so remorseful, that he admitted he would understand if Galarraga never spoke to him again. He said, "It was my fault. I robbed this guy of a perfect game. I blew it. This was not just any call, this was the call of a lifetime, and I blew it." Enter Galarraga. With so much grace and humility, he noted that calls like that are part of baseball, and the unpredictability is what makes the game great.

There's a lot of speculation right now about technology and baseball. Some want to bring it into the sport for plays such as these in order to over rule the ump, like in, say, tennis. However, wondering if the ump is going to get the call right is part of the imperfection of the sport that adds to the excitement. If we brought in technology, as tennis has, then there would be no need for an ump to stand behind the catcher and very dramatically yell "STUURRIIIIKE THREEEEEE", and forget about the coach running toward the ump, bumping chests, kicking dirt, letting words fly, being the ultimate advocate for his players. Can you imagine that being gone from the game? It's part of the whole tradition of the sport we love.

The next game, there is a picture of the ump, Jim Joyce, and the pitcher, Armondo Galarraga shaking hands at the beginning of the next night's game. Jim is crying. His immediate acknowledgment of his actions may have even created a new friendship. This event, and the way it was handled, was a defining moment for them in their careers. It may take fans a little longer to come around. But hopefully the sheer honestly of Jim Joyce, the courage he displayed by speaking the truth, and the sheer grace that Galarraga showed at a time when he had every right to be upset, will allow these two men to stand out in their careers for very different reasons.

I'm impressed with them both.

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