In the first week of June 2010, Major League Baseball was in full swing (we’re off to a great start on the puns). I was home from college on break, and like the previous summers, I spent most of my days tuning in to watch the Detroit Tigers play baseball. In fact, never has there been a year where I paid more close attention to the baseball season and the daily goings-on of my favorite team. Couple that with the midweek series the Tigers were playing with the Cleveland Indians, the next closest and next most admired team of mine, and I was positively giddy to sit my ass on the couch and occasionally leap up and scream with delight or disgust, depending on the action on the most valued diamond in American hearts. And on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 2, I was… doing something completely different. I missed the game! Knowing there was a game on, I went out somewhere I do not remember and did something I do not recall. This is not to say that I got shitfaced and the whole day is a blur; I simply felt like doing something else that day. There are 162 regular season games in the MLB season, and, as much as I like the Tigers, I am not watching all of them unless somebody pays me to. I had already watched a number of games since April, and I set my sights on enjoying that day some other way instead. Besides, there was not much to get excited about regarding the game that day. The Indians were not bad, but the Tigers had lately had command of their contests together, and being a division opponent it’s not like the Tigers and Tribe wouldn’t meet again soon. Now if Justin Verlander had been pitching that day… my eyes would have been glued to the television and I wouldn’t have blinked because every time he threw the ball something amazing could have happened (this is still true). I mean, just four days earlier, Roy Halladay had thrown a Perfect Game for the Phillies. A Perfect Game! One of the rarest and most incredible feats in any sport, let alone baseball, and we were filthy with them in early 2010! Dallas Braden threw one for the Oakland A’s earlier that May, then came Halladay’s. Verlander, the Tigers’ ace pitcher, seemed just the man to step up to that mound next. Verlander had been a showstopper since his breakout rookie season in 2006 when he won Rookie of the Year and helped the team capture the American League (AL) pennant, and he would go on to win both the AL Cy Young Award given to the best pitcher each season, and the AL MVP in 2011. Even without that knowledge of his future accomplishments, I was pretty jazzed to see #35 take the mound. Nothing against him, but compared to Verlander, fellow Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga, the man who was slated to pitch on June 2, 2010, did not demand to be seen each time he grabbed his glove. Galarraga was a good, but not great pitcher. A solid addition to any rotation who gave your team a reliable outing against most lineups and could hand over a competitive game to the bull pen past the 6th or 7th inning. He had been the Tigers’ best rookie the year before, but not anywhere near the instant phenom status that Verlander cemented himself during his rookie year. Naturally then, Armando Galarraga, on a day when myself and many others were not paying particularly close attention, threw the 21st Perfect Game in Major League Baseball history.
Only… he didn’t. Not technically, anyway. If you look in any official records it will state that Galarraga won a complete game one-hitter because Indians shortstop Jason Donald safely hit a single with one out left in the game.
Only… he didn’t. Technically, yes, but anyone with eyes can look at the replay and see that what should have been the final out was a tag of first base appropriately done by Galarraga himself. Galarraga beat Donald by a relatively wide margin compared to most baseball close-calls, but first base umpire Jim Joyce signaled “safe” and was immediately met by boos and a livid Jim Leyland, the Tigers’ manager. Galarraga was initially surprised by Joyce’s call, but quickly gave the man a smile. A few superfluous pitches later, and Galarraga had his first complete game shutout while Joyce had a number of pissed players and coaches come up to him and scream in his face about how wrong he was. And the man took it. Every. Single. Word. He stood stoically, letting the emotions of the angered men crash into him like the pounding waves of a storm at sea smashing into the breakwater. Then he went back and lived his life as usual.
Only… of course he didn’t! You don’t just pick up and carry on from that! Jim Joyce, the man who was the most beloved of all umpires in the MLB, was instantly the most hated man in baseball. Move over Steve Bartman, the town of “Everyone in Baseball Unfairly Hates You” has a new mayor and he’s the last man anyone expected to receive that scorn. Just like Armando Galarraga was the last starting pitcher anyone expected to pitch a perfect game in June 2010. That’s what makes sports so beautiful and terrible. We play the same games over and over and over again to the point where even the most devoted fans need a break from the monotony every once in a while. But sometimes, when you least expect it, and often featuring the people you least expect it from, we get a game, a play, a moment where something truly incredible happens. Sometimes it is as glorious as Galadriel in Lothlorien, but too frequently it takes a turn down that “All shall love me and despair!” thing she did that one time. Even though I did not see the game, I saw all of the coverage that lasted morning, noon, and night for the remainder of that season going over every last detail of it. As a baseball fan, and especially as a Tigers fan, I was wound up. Many other people were even more wound up, and Jim Joyce was not a well-liked man in Detroit, Michigan that evening and the next day. This moment brought out the worst in too many of us.
But not the two men in the crux of it all.
Joyce, upon seeing the play on replay from other angles, realized he was wrong and immediately apologized. He sought out Galarraga in the locker room and told him face to face that he was sorry. Galarraga forgave him. As surprising as that was, deep down we knew that the moment he flashed that smile after Joyce called Jason Donald safe at first. Galarraga became Joyce’s greatest supporter in the midst of the biggest call of the man’s career. He summed up the unfortunate situation with humor, truth, and irony, by simply saying, “Nobody’s perfect.” You were, Armando. You and Jim Joyce who owned up to his mistake and offered his sincerest apology, were the epitome of sportsmanship in the sweltering heat of early June, and I’m not talking about the weather. While every other talking head was clamoring for instant replay (which this did help along), or more savagely fro Joyce’s head, Galarraga and Joyce were honest and kind to one another, and helped set the tone for all their peers to adhere to. The next day, Joyce was the lead umpire. Before the game began, Jim Leyland sent Galarraga in place of one of the coaches to deliver the Tigers’ lineup card to Joyce.
The brief interaction between the two men was one of the glorious moments of sports; a reason why we play these games. Even after a stunning occurrence, baseball, like life, goes on. Galarraga and Joyce helped to bring everything back down to Earth so that we could get back to playing ball. It may not say so in Cooperstown, but that wild evening and ensuing afternoon proved to us all that every once in a while a shitshow of a situation can end in perfection.
Armando Galarraga retired from baseball in 2015. He had other great games, but this was certainly the highlight of his career. It’s easy to lose how thrilling the game was (you bet your ass I watched the replay) and that magnificent catch center fielder Austin Jackson made late in it to preserve the perfect game. Check out the outs and crazy finish here:
Jim Joyce recently announced his retirement after 30 years of umpiring. While this will always be the situation that Joyce is best remembered for, it should not be forgotten that he saved a woman’s life by giving her CPR after here heart stopped in 2012. The woman was working for the Arizona Diamondbacks and collapsed before the game.
Here’s hoping retirement is good to both men and their families, and that we all can make the most of the biggest moments in our lives with as much humility and understanding as they did with theirs.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Come on back here again next week for another round of whatever may come to mind.
Todos sabemos que fue perfecto,