Friday, June 4, 2010

Sports Imitating Life - A Teachable Moment Via Baseball

Unless you've been living under a rock (or are a practicing "Sports Luddite") you've heard of the recent outstanding baseball game pitched by Armando Galarraga, a fine young member of the Detroit Tigers.

For those of you not baseball savvy, some review:  Last Wednesday, Armando Galarraga pitched the game of his life. Up to the second out of the 9th inning, Galarraga had not allowed a single base runner.  No hits, no walks, no balks - nothing.  With one out to go, Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians hit a fairly easy infield ball.  Galarraga did what good pitchers do when the ball goes to the first base side - ran to 1st base to take the throw - which barely beat - but did beat - the runner.  The umpire, Jim Joyce, mistakenly called the runner safe. His place in history - at least for the moment -  was gone.

A perfect game is a rare event.  In fact, in the history of professional baseball only 20 pitchers have pitched a perfect game.  Galarraga, by rights, should have been the 21st.  

It was not to be.  Although there were options available to overturn umpire Jim Joyce's incorrect (but honest) call at first base - including overturn at the discretion of the league Commissioner Bud Selig - it appears Galarraga will not get his "perfect game" in the record books.

This experience shouldn't be for naught.  There is a teachable moment here which I believe deserves some attention.  And if you would allow me to share a minute or two with you, I tell you how in this case sports really did imitate life.

1. Life happens.  Mistakes happen. S*it happens.  It's part of life.

2. Baseball, like Life, is subject to human frailty. More so than most other sporting games - baseball is a game of judgement.  As such, it is prone to the errors and preconceptions of those who play and judge it.  More subject to perception and human distinction - especially the way balls and strikes are called (different every game, and every umpire).  The play which should have ended the game Wednesday was a play differentiated by about two tenths of a second.  As things turned out it was an incorrect call - but for all the right reasons.  Such is life at times, it's a good lesson to teach.

3. Sometimes people do the wrong thing - for the right reasons. Jim Joyce knew the status of the game when Jason Donald came to the plate.  He could have, I guess, decided as the play went down to hand Galarraga the game by calling any close play an out.  That's the easy thing to do, thus insuring Joyce's place alongside Galarraga on a Wheaties box for being part of history.  But Joyce called the play in its own space - not within the body of the entire game.  Again, the honorable and correct thing to do, even if the result was incorrect.

4. Own your mistakes.  Sports stars have egos - everyone knows that.  But referees also have egos, and more often than not they face an error in judgement in stone-faced defiance.  There are two reasons for this of course, one being they do not want to be perceived as malleable in the eyes of players and coaches.  The other, more severe reason is they don't want to be wrong.  Ever.  So it's so refreshing to see someone publicly own their mistake and do what they can to make it right with those wronged, and within the establishment in which they work.  Ultimately, I don't know that Joyce's career will be more judged by the mistake, or the incredible right-minded response to the aftermath.  Personally, I hope its the later.

5.  Acknowledging an error is ALWAYS the right thing to do.  Anyone who has seen or heard Jim Joyce (a well-regarded umpire and human being by all accounts) can see his sincerity and remorse for the situation.  He manned up, took responsibility and did everything in his power to repair the damage.  Good for him - it's a fine example to our children - and our elected leaders too.

It's a shame our culture is so fixated on "plausible deny-ability" and other such bovine feces. People fear for their jobs, their reputations, their re-election - all over simple mistakes.  People can understand and forgive a honest error - especially one admitted with remorse and resolve to do better.  But if you're just plain dishonest or a "fukk-up", then you deserve the outcome of your actions.  Karma, baby.

6. Not all errors can be fixed, or should be "fixed".  While I feel for Galarraga, I also believe Commissioner Selig did the right thing in not reversing the call.  Selig understands that doing so exposes baseball to a "slippery slope", upon which anyone in later games can protest a call to his office in the hope of a reversal.  And this, IMHO, would degrade the integrity of the game itself.

One of the faulty premises of Liberalism is that there can be nothing without parity.  The "level playing field".  The "equalization of the masses".  And it's just not true. Life, like poker, is about the best play of the hand you're given. Preparing yourself for opportunity, so when it comes you can take advantage of it - not be left wanting. The Socialistic redistribution of life is not life - it's wrong-minded politics.  It's a bad way to lead the country (listening Barry?), and it's a bad lesson for our children.

As such, Selig making a decision, while perhaps justified in this one case, which is bad for the body of the game would be short sighted.  I'm glad he acted as he did - for that very reason.  Again, I wish our elected leaders were listening.

7. Correct what you can.  I believe Joyce has done the right thing here.  He faced his peers, his constituents (players), his union and the masses with genuine remorse and campaigning to right his wrong. Seeking resolution of an error is always the right thing, but as is the case here - not everything can be fixed.  It's the way of things.

8. Life's not fair.  If life bitch-slaps you, get up and get after it again.  We will all face adversity in our lifetimes, and character is both forged and tested in the face of adversity.  As stated above, not all wrongs can be avoided, or planned for.  Not all can or will be made "right".  Face it with the most dignity and grace you can muster and you will earn peoples trust and respect - sometimes more than before your travails.  In this case, both Joyce and Galarraga have said and done the right things for themselves, and the game.  The moral high ground will inspire greater interest in the game, and in these two seemingly right-minded men.  Hell, Galarraga was given a pretty damn nice car for his troubles!  Like I said, Karma, baby!

There's a lot to take away here - IMHO more good than bad.  But then again, life is not a spectator sport.  it requires effort, sacrifice and dedication to get the most of it.  Even then, things do always happen according to plan.  And the next time that happens to me - I hope to follow the examples set above.  It's a good way to live.


  1. Let's not forget that the fans in Detroit applauded him (except for some boos) when he apologized. That surprised me, as being a Michigander I know first hand that many assholes live there...

  2. Linked!