Thursday, June 3, 2010

Give Galarraga his perfect game

I live half an hour west of Detroit. Last night Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game...except he didn't. I was casually watching the game from the start. I was reading the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and popping my head up to keep track of where things were. After the end of the 3rd inning it occured to me, I'm watching a perfect game!

I kept a much keener eye from there on, but I was still mainly reading my book and just keeping tabs. Perfect games never happen, not in Detroit. After the end of the 6th inning things got more serious. He had pitched two-thirds of a game of perfect baseball!

At this point I told my son Tony, who is ten, to stop doing his homework and come watch the game. I kept wanting to grab my phone and send out a dozen text messages to tell everyone to watch the game. But I know the rules of baseball, and the last thing I wanted to do was jinx them. I even kept reading my book, although I have no memory of anything in it from that point forward.

At the end of the 8th inning I was stunned, could it really happen? I tried over and over to explain to my son what was happening, the significance of it all. How it has only happened 20 times before. How it meant so much to me to be watching this game with him. He didn't get it. All he knew was that dad was excited. The 9th inning started and I was holding my breath. 3 outs. 3 outs to forever.

Bam, the 1st pitch of the inning was blasted towards right-center field. The center fielder had turned and was sprinting towards the wall. It was over. I've watched a lot of baseball, and that ball was a double. Every time. Except for that time. Austin Jackson had run it down and made a spectacular play. A play that saves history. A legendary play.

I was literally on the floor celebrating, writhing like a madman with glee. My son was hysterically laughing, I was making such a fool of myself. The moment was still alive. Next batter, out. One out away, 26 straight down. I clutched my book tightly, still paranoid of jinxing it.

Plunk! A little grounder towards first base. Oh no! But Cabrera was there, he had chased it down and it was now a race between the pitcher and the hitter to the base. A race to immortality. The throw was on target, it looked in time, SAFE!

What? Just like that it was all over. My heart had sunk. I immediately thought he must have bobbled the ball. He must have missed the bag. Then the replay, he had beaten the runner to the bag by almost half a step! In baseball terms it wasn't even close!

The Tigers manager Jim Leyland was out of the dugout to argue, the Tigers announcer with a voice filled with childlike shock murmured, "Why is he safe?".

My son echoed his comments, "What happened dad?" Why did he do that?". My moment had been taken from me. Stolen. There would be no perfect game memory. A memory celebrating with my son, sharing in a Michigan history that he would always remember.

Galarraga retired the next batter, the game was over. The Tigers players were all over the ump. By now he had realized what an awful mistake he had made. He robbed history. He had blown it.

I was livid, texting anyone I knew that cared about baseball. Telling them the tragedy. How can he make that call there? Even if it was close, how can you not give that to the pitcher? It was 3 to 0, it wasn't a one run game where that was going to make the difference. How can you make that call? How can you let an infield squeaker on the last out spoil a perfect game? Even if he hit the bag at the same time, how can you not call that out?

I was sick to my stomach. Instead of a jubilant moment with my son, I was once again giving him a speech about how sometimes life just wasn't fair. I'm tired of giving him that talk. I'm tired of facing it myself.

Today, the day after, the umpire has done all the right things. He has profusely apologized. You can see how badly he regrets his call. He was too caught up in the moment. I'm sure he was trying to protect the moment. Be sure the call was right, even if it meant ruining the perfection. But he too was overwhelmed, and his desire to protect it turned into a force that destroyed it. Anyone who has truly loved something has done the same thing. Sometimes you can care too much. Sometimes you wreck the thing you sought to protect.

Jim Joyce made a terrible call. If he had one wish right now I know what it would be. But that's not how it works, it's out of his hands just as it was taken out of Galarraga's hands. Done can't be undone.

Except by one man. Bud Selig can undo this. The commissioner of baseball, he can overturn the call and give Galarraga his perfect game. He cannot give me my moment of joy celebrating with my son in my living room, but he can give me the ability to tell my son that someone fixed what was broken. Maybe life is a littler fairer than we had thought.

After the horrendous call, Galarraga just smiled. He didn't say one cross word. Did not stomp and kick the ground, curse the gods, flip the bird to the Indian's bench. He was a class act. Calm and collected. He was a better person than I would have been, I can assure you of that. He showed the world what sportsmanship and general human kindness is all about. Two things sorely lacking on the planet today.

I've read that after the game the umpire personally apologized to Galarraga. Galarraga's response? Don't worry about it. We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect.

After all that had happened to him. After pitching the 21st perfect game in the 100 plus years of baseball history only to have it ripped away by what in my opinion is the worst call in sports history, that is what he had to say. No one is perfect.

Mr. Selig, who deserves a perfect game more than someone who can do that? So rarely in life can we truly right a wrong. Don't let this opportunity pass you by. This is your moment.

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