Q: Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga lost his bid for a perfect game when umpire Jim Joyce botched a call. Joyce apologized to Galarraga, who said he gave the ump "a lot of credit." Why did this classy ending come as such a surprise? Does success lie in the initial achievement, or in what happens next?
If what Saint Augustine wrote is true, that "the very perfection of a man [is] to find out his imperfections," then Jim Joyce may yet find redemption, if not perfection.
Joyce is the umpire whose bad call cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Galarraga responded as a perfect gentleman, forgiving the ump with generous gestures, and Joyce also responded with perfect humility and true regret. In their responses to the imperfect call, both men came as close to perfection as any modern human beings beset with life's travails.
The pre-game scene at home plate the next night, with our hero Armando nobly handing the teary-eyed ump the lineup card in a baseballian act of forgiveness was delightful summer theater. The scene almost made us forget that these gentlemen are just guys who make a living playing in the dirt, spitting, scratching, hitting, running, sweating, arguing, and occasionally hitting home runs or pitching games that are not usually close to perfect.
The elegant tableau of error and acceptance won hearts because our games are, too frequently, gladiatorial death matches where no one dares crack a smile or show mercy to the vanquished. To put on a "game face" means to glare and snarl at the opponent.
We much prefer thumbs down on the competitor who had the misfortune to trip and land under the tip of the lance. (Russell Crowe will definitely NOT play Galarraga in the screen version. Tom Hanks must surely have a lock on the role already! And where is Karl Malden when we need him to play the tragic everyman Joyce?)
Forgiveness rarely snags headlines in the contemporary mosh pit of the daily news. Bitter conflicts, bleeding bodies, snarling screamers fill our screens and front pages. We are a society where "outrage" is a word too often associated with somebody getting small fries at the McDonald's window when she ordered large.
We fly into paroxysms of anger when the car in front of us waits too long in the left-turn lane. We threaten litigation over "B" grades in school. We write the most heinous comments for online news stories --- anonymously, of course, since we never really want to own up to the nasty, hateful, spiteful evil twin lurking within.
We are stunned by Armando Galarraga's gracious acceptance of Jim Joyce's bad call because the odds of any one of us being that gracious are quite slim. We have become socialized to vengeance; forgiveness is for wimps -- taken to the extreme, witness the violence that ensues when a young man feels "dissed" in our neighborhoods.
Galarraga's perfect game may not wind up in the record books, but his perfect response to the disappointment of Joyce's call will ensure that his legend lives for many years to come.
Posted by: thmas | June 14, 2010 11:19 PM
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