Gary Brown: A perfect life lesson from a less than perfect game

Gary Brown

I looked up the words “forgiveness” and “understanding” in the dictionary Friday morning and I think I saw the picture of Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga.

Galarraga was the baseball player whose attempt at pitching a perfect game — no hits, no walks, no errors — was blown by an umpire’s bad call Thursday. The umpire said the 27th batter of the game against the Cleveland Indians beat a throw to first base. A replay showed that there actually was no need for a 28th batter.

Standing near first base after catching that throw from a teammate, Galarraga started to celebrate his accomplishment, immediately showed surprise — no, shock — on his face when he saw the umpire’s “safe” call, then merely smiled.

Unhappy ending

Galarraga pitched to another batter and got him to ground out.

He got hugged by his teammates for finishing a one-hitter.

It was not a happy celebration.

Some argued. The first baseman, the closest Detroit player to the umpire, “asked him what he saw” that others didn’t, an ESPN anchorman noted, likely cleaning up the question for television distribution. Jim Leyland, the Tigers spoke to the umpire following the game. He might have been shouting. Possibly screaming.

Galarraga was sitting in his locker room, calmly, albeit “bitterly,” said The Associated Press, trying to get over his disappointment.

The umpire, Jim Joyce, was saddened, as well, when he came to the clubhouse and asked for a chance to say he was sorry. The umpire said he made a mistake. Galarraga accepted the apology. The two shook hands. They hugged.

Joyce later paced in the umpires’ locker room, “looking and sounding distraught,” the story said. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

“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.”

I looked up “courage” and “sensitivity” in the dictionary, and I thought I saw Jim Joyce’s photo in front of both definitions.

Different ending?

As these words were written, Major League Baseball officials decided not to reverse the erroneous call. While I had hoped the mistake would be corrected — ever so slightly to result in an ending to the story with which Joyce would be pleased and Galarraga would be proud — I understand a decision not to alter history. The events of life happen. Then we live with them. There are no do-overs.

“I made a mistake,” said Joyce, taking ownership of it.

“Nobody’s perfect,” shrugged Galarraga, even though it meant accepting that he wouldn’t be perfect, either, not on this day.

I’m pretty sure if I looked up “class” in the dictionary I’d see a baseball player and an umpire pictured standing together at home plate, slapping shoulders for encouragement, as they did when Galarraga delivered the Tigers’ lineup card to Joyce the very next game.

Gary Brown writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at