Perfect Game (by Billy Coffey)

Paul Sancya/AP

Paul Sancya/AP

There have been over 347,000 professional baseball games played since the sport began in the late 1800s. That’s a lot of ball, even for a guy like me.

And in all of those 347,000 games, only twenty have resulted in a pitcher facing twenty-seven batters and recording twenty-seven consecutive outs, giving up no hits, no runs, no walks, and no errors.

A perfect game.

It may well be the single most difficult thing to do in all of sports. And depending on your view of things, it almost happened last Wednesday night.

Chances are that even if you’re not a baseball fan, you’ve heard the story. A young pitcher named Armando Galarraga was pitching for the Detroit Tigers and had retired twenty-six Cleveland Indians batters.

Two outs, bottom of the ninth. The only person standing in the way of Galarraga and history was Jason Donald, the shortstop for the Indians. He hit a ground ball to the right of Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who tossed the ball to Galarraga, who touched first base one step ahead of the batter.

Game over. In the one hundred and sixteen years of the Detroit Tigers, no one had pitched a perfect game.

And no one still had. Because as it turned out, Jason Donald wasn’t the one standing in the way of history. The first base umpire was.

Jim Joyce has been a major league umpire for over twenty years and a favorite of both fans and players. But just as Galarraga, his teammates, and the fans began to raise their hands in triumph, Joyce did the unexpected.

He called the batter safe.

Chaos ensued. Boos from the crowd. Arguments from the Tigers’ first baseman, from the Tigers’ manager. Even Jason Donald, the batter, was confused.

But Galarraga did nothing. He merely took the ball and walked back to the pitcher’s mound, ready to face the next batter.

Jim Joyce knew his call was right. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind. But then he watched the replay after the game was over, and he knew.

“It was the biggest call of my career,” he said, “and I kicked the $%#! out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

He asked Galarraga to come to the umpire’s room and apologized to the pitcher.

Don’t worry about it, Galarraga told him. “Nobody’s perfect.”


Reaction was swift. There were pleas for the Commissioner’s office to overturn the call and award Galarraga the perfect game he deserved. Polls were conducted and found that over 85 percent of baseball fans favored giving Galarraga his place in history.

And of course the whole thing turned political. Pundits from Keith Olbermann to Sean Hannity said this was a chance for the Commissioner to make things right. Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm issued a proclamation declaring that Galarraga did indeed pitch a perfect game (whatever that’s worth). Representative Thaddeus McCotter wrote a letter to Commissioner Bud Selig imploring him to reverse the call.

Selig, though, didn’t. The call stood, he said. No perfect game.

I was never much of a fan of Bud Selig. But I was then.

Because he was right. The call should stand.

People from poets to Presidents have espoused the greatness of baseball. Not just because of the beauty of the game, but because it so closely mirrors the trials and triumphs of life. And rule number one of both has always been the same.

It’s not fair.

Bad things happen. Things you don’t deserve. It isn’t safe, it isn’t predictable, and sometimes you can do everything right and still have everything go wrong in the end.

Baseball has taught us much over the years. It’s shown the value in sacrifice, in hard work and practice. It’s taught us the inevitability of failure and the glories of success.

And last Wednesday night, it taught us something more.

It taught us grace.

It showed us the value in admitting one’s mistakes and the healing power of forgiveness.

“I blew it.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

We can all learn a lot from that.

The letter from Michigan Representative McCotter to Commissioner Bud Selig said in part, “Only the truth will uphold and honor the integrity of the game; and the truth is that this game was perfect.”

He was right.

It was perfect.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

« « Previous Post: Come thou fount (repost) | Next Post: Victory or Death! » »

24 Responses to “Perfect Game (by Billy Coffey)”