Jim Joyce had just joined Denkinger, Bartman, Buckner, and Merkle in that special place in hell reserved for men whose momentary blunders denied others their historic baseball achievements. Armando Galarraga had suddenly and shockingly lost his spot as the 21st pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game.
And then less than 24 hours later it was all reversed. No, better than reversed. The two gentlemen had suddenly become the center of the feel good story that touched the most cynical sports fans.
Galarraga started the turnaround by doing what almost nobody else would do after he seemed to complete the perfect game only to see the umpire blow the final call. He smiled. Then he went and retired the 28th hitter to get the last out.
Joyce was next. He apologized publicly and privately, walking up to Galarraga after the game. Players and umpires came out with statements saying nice things about Joyce.
And then the next day, the Tigers, their fans, Joyce, and Galarraga finished it off.
First GM played a part by delivering a little red Corvette to the Detroit pitcher on the field before the game, in recognition of his accomplishment and his sportsmanship.
Then, though offered the day off by baseball’s commissioner, Joyce showed up, and walked right into what could have been a Tigers’ den of fans booing him hysterically. Instead they cheered him. Galarraga walked the lineup card out to Joyce.
I’d like to say that this was my happiest moment as a sports fan but that would have to go to either the 2008 Super Bowl or the ’86 World Series. I’m not that evolved. But this sportsmanship moment involving teams I don’t care about and people I never heard of was up there.
To sum up the actions taken:
- Galarraga somehow reacting on the spot with grace and a smile, and returning to the mound to finish the game.
- Joyce issuing the perfect apologies, with no excuses. Immediate, emotional, in person, and in public.
- Players and umpires coming out of nowhere to express what a gentleman and a professional Joyce was in this long umpiring career.
- The Tigers manager and fans reacting with tremendous grace in accepting the apology and embracing the umpire.
- GM capitalizing on the moment to both generate and earn goodwill.
It was a Disney moment, but better. The pitcher didn’t get his perfect game, but something more. He’ll be remembered more than most of the guys who did throw perfect games.
Most of the press started out trying to fan the flames. But Joyce, Galarraga, and the fans provided them a better story in its place.
It was perfect reputation management, a perfect recovery. A perfect moment of humanity, of people acknowledging their fallibility and moving on. It was what sports is supposed to be. Thank you to all involved. You’ve earned your reputations.