The Botched Call in Detroit

Armando Galarraga

A week ago, on June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga was one out away from a perfect baseball game: 26 batters had been put out with no batter reaching first base safely.  One batter remained.  People sometimes ask what folks can learn from sports. Read on if this question has crossed your mind.

Larry Lage of the Associated Press describes what happened next: “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.

Umpire Jim Joyce

“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.”

What happened next is developing into the best good sportsmanship story I’ve heard of in a long while.  As I outline what happened next think of the central figures in the Gulf oil spill; the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Connecticut, who claimed repeatedly that he had fought in Vietnam when he hadn’t; and the born again Christian Republican Senator from Nevada, John Ensign, who paid close to $100,000 to the husband of staffer Cynthia Hampton, with whom he had had an eight month affair.

But perhaps most importantly, think about this botched call the next time someone makes a mistake that hurts you or you make a mistake that hurts someone else.

Here are some of the ways Armando Galarraga, umpire Jim Joyce, the Detroit manager, Jim Leyland, the Detroit Tiger fans, and even General Motors, responded to the botched call.

A smile rather than a scowl or an expression of pain came to the face of Armando Galarraga when he realized that the umpire had called the runner safe when he knew his foot had hit the bag first and the runner was out. He had failed in his goal to pitch a perfect game because of the umpire’s mistake.

The umpire thought he had made the right call, but when he saw the replay on tape he said he had blown the call.

In expressing his disappointment with himself, Joyce went on to say that this was the biggest call of his life and that he would be remembered for getting the call wrong.

Jim Leyland, the much respected manager of the Detroit Tigers, whose young pitcher had just lost his perfect game, pointed out that the umpire was actually a great umpire and that everyone makes mistakes.

Although booed lustily by the fans when he left the field after the game, the umpire handled himself so well in the next 24 hours that the next night when he came onto the field he was greeted by loud applause not jeering by the Detroit Tiger fans.

And what did Joyce say of criticisms aimed his way: “I don’t blame them a bit for 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.”

General Motors gave Armando Galarraga a new car at the start of the next night’s game.

And perhaps most poignant, the next night Detroit manager, Jim Leyland, gave the starting lineup card to Galarraga to carry out to the home plate umpire.  The home plate umpire, Jim Joyce, accepted the card with his face down and brushing off tears. As Galarraga walked off Joyce gave him a gentle fist pump to his shoulder.

The world learned much about responding to a mistake and forgiveness at the end of a baseball game in Detroit on June 2, 2010.