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That's what I like about sports

I realize that on the surface it doesn’t look like sports’ finest moment, but I can’t help thinking that too many people will see the cloud and miss the silver lining. I’m talking about Armando Galarraga’s loss of a perfect game on a missed call by the umpire (who admitted as much when he saw the replay after the game).

For people who don't follow baseball, a perfect game is one where the pitcher faces the absolute minimum number of batters in a game (27), with no one getting on base for any reason (walk, hit, hit by pitch, or error). There have only been twenty perfect games in the history of baseball (eighteen since the modern era began in 1900). It’s rarer than a perfect game in bowling, a hole in one in golf, or Roger Federer not making the semi-finals of a grand slam.

In the game Galarraga was pitching in, he had retired 26 batters in a row. The last batter hit a ball which the first baseman had to leave the bag to field. Galarraga ran over to receive the throw and the runner was clearly out . . . except the umpire called him safe!

First the obvious:
  • it was an incorrect call,
  • it was a really tough break for Galarraga who deserved the perfect game.

Now for the not-so-obvious --- why didn’t the umpire (Jim Joyce), just give him the call? Why would he want to risk the notoriety that is sure to come his way? (Umpires who do their job well are never remembered --- not fair either).  Joyce will be remembered forever now. Why not just give the benefit of the doubt to Galarraga and call the hitter out?

But he didn’t.

And what about the hitter --- why was he trying so hard to break up the perfect game? Why not hang back just a little and allow yourself to be thrown out?

But he didn’t either.

And the reason why is integrity.

It’s what makes the twenty perfect games that have been pitched mean something. (Think about all of those steroid home run records that mean less than nothing). But there wasn't anything illegal, cheap, or fraudulent about the perfect games. The opposing players did everything they could to get on base and the umpires called them like they saw them. So their perfection was the real thing and that is worth reveling in. 
In the end, I think our choice is between having a few real things to rejoice in or countless items that are phony.  The decision we make will say a lot about us.
Galarraga (and all true fans), know that he pitched a perfect game. He was robbed of the immediate gratification for his performance and it won’t be in the books, but that’s about it. And you know that he will end up more famous now than if the umpire made the right call. What happened to Galarraga is the price that is paid once in a great while to guarantee that what happens is real. In an imperfect world, that’s the price for perfection.  In a world that too often settles for the path of least resistance, I appreciate the games that are willing to pay it.
That's what I like about sports.
Postscript:  Not only did Joyce personally apologize to Galarraga after the game, the two were together the day after the game and shook hands when Galarraga brought the lineup card out for the pregame meeting with the umpires.  You know there will be more to this story.  That's also what I like about sports.
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