Every once in awhile a news story comes along that really helps us to understand how we as a culture think. These are stories that blend in a bunch of social themes which represent our heartbeat. Today the baseball world brings such a story.
Last night in Detroit, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was just one out away from the 23rd perfect game in Big League history. A perfect game refers to a game in which the pitcher retires all 27 batters in a game without allowing any to reach base (via a hit, walk, hit batsman, or error). In light of the skill of the MLB hitters and the variety of ways that things can go wrong, you can imagine how uncommon this (each of the 30 teams play 162 games a year and baseball has been around for over 100 years!).
But the plot thickens.
With 2 outs in the 9th Jason Donald hit a ground ball to first and was called safe. The perfect game is gone.
With the benefit of instant reply the announcers and all at home could see that while it was a close play the runner was clearly out. Galarraga should have gotten the 3rd out and the perfect game.
This missed call has touched off no small amount of angst amongst baseball fans. They clamor for justice and accuracy. Umpire Jim Joyce’s imperfect call is considered a mortal sin.
But what happened next is surprising.
After the game the umpire breeches typical protocol and goes to see the pitcher. He admits that he got the call wrong and he apologizes.
“You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,’ ” Galarraga said. “He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”
Joyce later told the news media:
“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it,” Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires’ locker room. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”
There are a number of things that stand out to me in this story.
First, the clamoring for perfection from imperfect people. Hey, listen, I am a sports fan. I want the calls to go right. But we have got to realize that the human (imperfect) element is part of the game. Major League baseball prides itself on not using instant reply. Therefore, the guys are going to miss calls. They get 99% of the calls right. Now the ump and his family are being roasted on TV, Radio, & social media. Joyce’s family has even received threats. Now the people who love righteousness and perfection are showing their true colors. We see a billboard sized announcement and reminder of human imperfection and our distaste for it.
Second, the contrite apology. In a day and age where professional athletes and other public figures can barely say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” without amending 48 qualifiers and excuses, Jim Joyce’s apology is refreshing. It is short and genuine. He owns the issue. He wears the hat. He was wrong and he knows it. And he, as Galarraga said, feels bad. A good, humble apology is good and refreshing for our culture.
Third, the mercy. Armando Galarraga showed great mercy and grace. He could have gotten quite upset that Joyce missed the call. He could have petitioned MLB to reverse the call. But he didn’t. In fact, after the botched call he went back to the mound and got the next guy out. Our culture is not used to this. Galarraga knows that he is imperfect and he makes mistakes, therefore he can empathize with Joyce.
In a tangible demonstration of this mercy Galarraga brought out the lineup card to Joyce before today’s game. This brought a roar from the crowd and tears from the umpire. This too is good for us to see. It is good themes of imperfection, justice, contrition, and mercy to intersect with us. We need to see it.
Further it is good for Christians to see. It is good for us to see these gospel themes on ESPN and at the water cooler. This is just another example to remind us of the pervasiveness of sin’s effects and the far reaching redemption of Christ’s atonement. Christians could also stand to learn from the humility, confession, and mercy demonstrated by Joyce and Galarraga.
And don’t feel too bad for Armando Galarraga, aside from the privilege of being a millionaire and playing the Major Leagues, he was given a 2010 Coverette by General Motors today before the game. Not bad.