Emerson Essay 06.05.10

Perfection (sort of)

Never before has the term “Kill the ump!” seemed more appropriate. Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers had retired 26 straight batters and was flirting with history. I’m not a Detroit Tigers fan but I am a fan of the unexpected, the miracle that happens in sports once in a tiger moon. I watched intently, waiting for the Perfect Game.

The 27th batter hit a grounder to the right side that was fielded by the first baseman. Galarraga himself covered the bag and took the throw. The announcer proclaimed, “Out!…No…SAFE!”

Galarraga was ready to jump for glee into the arms of his teammates, but it was not to be. It took two seconds for the “safe” call to sink into Galarraga’s consciousness. Instead of an outburst of anger, a gentle “I can’t believe it smile” spread across his face. Several of the other Detroit Tigers gave umpire Jim Joyce a ration of crap after the game but Galarraga was gracious and accepting.

Galarraga did get the 28th batter he faced to ground out innocently. He had a perfect game, in the sense that he got every singe batter he faced to make an out but he had to do it by retiring 28 batters not 27. The record books will never show him as the pitcher of a “perfect game.” There will be no mention of umpire Joyce’s incorrect call.

I did what any red blooded American sports fan who believes in justice would do. I posted a video of the play and recounted the incident on my Facebook Wall. I concluded with, “This makes me sick!”

I’ve had several days to process all of this. A bad umpiring call is no reason to get sick. I should save my “makes me sick” credits for other causes such as:  the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico or the Honolulu Symphony Executives Director’s salary. Bill Maher on the Left and Glen Beck on the Right make me sick. A baseball game should not.

This bizarre incident has simmered down to a kinder, gentler conclusion as the participants have apologized, accepted apologies, shook hands and shed tears. Jim Joyce’s apology to pitcher Galarraga after the game was contrite, sincere and had no strings attached. “That kid worked his ass off all afternoon and I kicked the shit out of the call.”

Armando Galarraga showed the most class of all with never a bitter gesture or word. During the pre-game exchanged of lineups the next day, Tiger management asked Galarraga to hand the starting lineup personally to umpire Jim Joyce. Galarraga’s handsome smile was genuine. Tears rolled down Joyce’s face as he slapped Armando on the back as if to say, “Go get ‘em, Tiger.”

This entire episode has sparked more talk of the use of instant replay in baseball. I have long held the position that instant replay wastes a lot of time. Baseball umpires and football referees don’t blow calls on purpose. They are human and they make mistakes. When they do make a bad call it’s part of the game and the players have to live with the results.

So let’s consider what did happen on June 2, 2010 in Detroit. The blown call had no bearing on the score or the outcome of the game. Armando Galarraga lost his right to claim he had pitched a perfect game and probably lost a lot of money in endorsements. But this game will be long remembered after the 2010 baseball season is finished. It has been talked about more than either of the two perfect games which preceded it this season.

Jim Joyce blew a call and apologized. Armando Galarraga accepted that apology with grace and dignity. Gentlemen being gentlemen. That doesn’t always happen in professional sports but when it does, it makes watching worthwhile.

I no longer feel sick.

© William Emerson Wiley 2010



  1. Chinese Boy said,

    June 6, 2010 at 5:35 am

    Nice story–I wish we could all take time to realize that there are certain events that happen through out our day that should NOT make us sick. But–we live a different reality, don’t we? =)

  2. ELF said,

    June 6, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Another enjoyable essay. Thanks Bill.

  3. Kristina Nilsson said,

    June 7, 2010 at 12:14 am

    As usual, you yourself did not miss perfection; you hit it out of the park, as you always do in your essays — each one a flawless gem, typos (“singe batter”) and grammar solecisms (“have…shook” instead of “have…shaken”) notwithstanding!

  4. Becky said,

    June 7, 2010 at 3:34 am

    Great story. I felt your frustration, then admiration for “gentlemen being gentlemen.” I’m almost glad I didn’t see the game.

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