“I don’t want to make it sappy and say it was love,” Jim Joyce said about the reception he got today at Comerica Park. “But the support I got was just … love.”
Baseball brings us together. It’s a truism that can smack of cliche when invoked in a sentimental or nostalgic frame of mind, but it’s true all the same. And sometimes the game chokes up even the tough guys and the cynics. (When I worked as an intern on Ken Burns’ “Baseball,” I discovered how Burns loved to see his audience cry, especially the tough guys. “We got tears,” he’d say triumphantly.)
This togetherness is why I chose to write about baseball (and about being a baseball fan) when I started this blog seven-and-a-half years ago. That’s why most of you guys roll through. That’s what we do. Today at work, people that could not care less about baseball were talking about the umpire’s blown call. “WORST CALL EVER” said the headline on the front page of the Daily News. There is nothing like injustice to bring people together, nothing more binding than “He wuz robbed!”
But a funny thing happened on the way to infamy. The two principal characters displayed such authenticity that the moment of greatness prevailed despite Joyce’s terrible mistake. It started with Galarraga, who has been just beautiful. He’s got that vaguely European handsomeness, like his countryman Francisco Cervelli. He looks at people in the eye when he talks to them. I saw a handful of interviews with Galarraga last night and then again this evening and he seemed unfazed by Joyce’s error. He knew what he’d done out there on the field and was still riding the high of that accomplishment. He told the writers that they saw it too.
Everybody knows he got a perfect game. It really doesn’t matter what the record books say. That’s the beauty part. Bud Selig didn’t need to overrule anything.
Galarraga was so at ease with this basic fact that it stripped the drama of a victim. There was no outlet for any outrage. (Now, if the same thing had happened to a jacked-up spaz like Dallas Braden and a hard-nosed blowhard like Joe West it would have been like Wrestlemania and perhaps one of the trashiest scenes since Disco Demolition Night.) But Galarraga didn’t feel persecuted. He felt badly for Joyce. He knew the guy was hurting. After all, it’s got to be every umpire’s worst dream to blow a call of that magnitude. Galarraga didn’t let it ruin anything.
Then of course, Jim Joyce handled himself in such a way that I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that he’s a credit to his profession and to the game. We should all be that forthright, earnest, and professional in face of screwing the pooch. The umpires have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, but in what is clearly the biggest mistake by an umpire in years, Joyce was a full-grown man. He didn’t hide. He admitted that he was wrong. He was genuine. I don’t know what more can you ask from a person.
Jim Leyland said as much today. If Joyce had been defiant and arrogant the Tigers’ reaction would have been much different. But Joyce and Galarraga defused a potentially ugly situation and turned it on its head. This isn’t John Hirschbeck and Robbie Alomar patching things up after their dispute; this was unscripted, which is why it is so compelling. The players may be more removed than ever from us these days but this was something we could feel and understand. It was respect and compassion. Joyce and Galarraga will be linked like Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson, signing autographs together for the rest of their lives.
MLB gave Joyce the option not to work today but he insisted. When the umpires walked onto the field, single-file, Joyce was crying. It was a humbling sight. I shivered trying to imagine myself in a similar spot. Joyce continued to tear-up as the line-up cards were exchanged. The Tigers sent out Galarraga, who stood next to Joyce. They didn’t embrace, but shook hands. Joyce eventually collected himself, and pounded the pitcher in the shoulder. The rest of the umpiring team gave him a bump on the chest and he nodded back, his chin tucked in, eyes still red. Then it was time to go to work.
It was a guy thing and it was a beautiful thing. And it’s why we’ll remember these guys forever. That game last night was transcendent and it brought out the best in these two men. It reminds us that greatness is about much more than being perfect.
[Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya]