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It's only a game, not a perfect one

Armando Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce don't overreact and neither should anyone else in baseball.

June 03, 2010|Bill Dwyre

We had a truly wonderful moment this week. Somebody hit the pause button on the daily noise in our world of sports.

The anger and finger-pointing went on hold. The win-at-all-costs, the pressure-cooker pursuit of power and prominence, momentarily halted.

For this, we can thank an umpire and a pitcher, neither of whom we had heard of before. Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga turned a baseball game into a teaching moment. Henceforth, Little League instructional sessions should include pitching, hitting and behaving like Mr. Joyce and Mr. Galarraga.

What happened had everything to do with baseball and, nothing. Think of it as two days of life lessons.

Wednesday, Joyce called a Cleveland Indians batter safe at first base on what would have been the game's last out. That ruined a perfect game pitched by the Detroit Tigers' Galarraga.

There was immediate outrage. It wasn't only a bad call. It was a sacrilege. It would have been only the 21st perfect game in the history of baseball. Baseball needed more instant replay. Commissioner Bud Selig had screwed up again. This was awful. A breach of history. An affront to the game. Within hours, there was a website up and running called firejimjoyce.com.

Thursday, in place of Manager Jim Leyland, Galarraga carried the Tigers' starting lineup to the plate for the pregame meeting with the umpires. That was done so Galarraga and Joyce could shake hands. By now, Joyce had seen replays, said his call was wrong, said he was sorry, said he understood the magnitude of the moment. He had personally apologized to Galarraga after the game and Galarraga, who had smiled bemusedly after the call and merely gone back to the mound to pitch the final out, accepted the apology.

"He even gave me a couple of hugs," Galarraga said.

At home plate, Joyce saw Galarraga and got teary.

So should the rest of us, out of gratitude.

We have been given an oasis of decency in a desert of fist-pounding and bulging neck veins. Instead of implosion, we got perspective. All too often, baseball has been about only winning and losing, about who took the most juice, which manager left pitchers in too long and which owner was the biggest cheapskate. We lose sight of the only axiom that matters. It is a game.

Galarraga handled it like a kid on a sandlot. He heard the call, smiled one of those "you've got to be kidding" smiles and let it go. He was playing a game.

Joyce handled it like a professional. He called what he saw, watched the replay, realized he had seen it wrong, and apologized. It was not one of those "I'm sorry if I hurt the fans" things. Or "I'm sorry if other people are angry." He said he screwed up. Nobody else was to blame. His mistake, his apology. Corporations, politicians and sports heroes pay thousands of dollars to public relations firms for guidance in crisis management. They should hire Joyce. He got it right.

Although there has been much talk about how Galarraga lost his place in history, the opposite is true.

It is reminiscent of the moment in the movie "Tin Cup," where Roy McAvoy ( Kevin Costner) has finished his final round of the U.S. Open. He has stubbornly hit ball after ball into the water on No. 18, a nearly impossible second shot on a par-five hole, instead of taking a drop. With the last ball in his bag, he clears the water and the ball trickles into the cup. For a 12.

As he walks to the scorer's tent, he bemoans his stupidity for blowing his chance at winning the tournament, at making history. Dr. Molly Griswold ( Rene Russo), a psychologist and his girlfriend, sets him straight by pointing out that, as years pass, nobody will remember who won the tournament, but everybody will remember what he did on the 18th hole.

Likewise, more will remember Galarraga because of how his perfect game wasn't than will remember the 20 whose were.

Joyce will be remembered too, for decency, honesty under fire, and for reminding us that baseball is played and officiated by humans.

Selig now can do several things.

He can reverse Joyce's call and make Galarraga's game officially perfect. Indications are he will not.

He can radically change replay rules to include situations such as this. Indications are he will not.

Or he could thank Joyce for years of good work and his integrity in this matter by making sure he works the World Series this year. No indications on that until late October.

Meanwhile, Manager Ned Yost of the Royals got into a finger-waving, nose-to-nose dispute with umpire Mike Estabrook during Thursday's Angels game and was tossed.

We are back.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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