Friday, June 4, 2010

Galarraga, Joyce taught us a lesson in sportsmanship

Sometimes something very bad winds up turning into something really good.

Sometimes an imperfect moment is followed by a perfect one.

My lasting memory of Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect performance the other night won’t be the blown call by umpire Jim Joyce that cost the young Detroit Tigers pitcher a shot at baseball immortality.

But rather what occurred afterward.

Galarraga, who would have had every right to lash out at the wrong decision that cost him a perfect game, instead showed his class by not blaming Joyce. He said the umpire was human, just like he was, and that mistakes happen. And Joyce, in a classy act that we never would have seen from most of his peers, sought out Galaragga immediately after the game to apologize for blowing the call.

Then, yesterday afternoon, the story got even better when Tigers manager Jim Leyland, knowing that Joyce would be working behind the plate, sent out Galarraga with the lineup card. Joyce wiped away tears, and patted the pitcher on the back.

Although Galarraga will not be listed as the 21st pitcher in Major League Baseball history to have tossed a perfect game, I believe he will be better remembered than most of those who have retired all 27 hitters they faced.

And, it’s my hope that coaches and parents from Tee-ball on up will use this moment as an example of how you handle adversity.

To me this was a perfect example of sportsmanship.


I’ve been vacillating about whether commissioner Bud “Lite” Selig should have stepped in and changed Joyce’s ruling and given Galaragga the no-hitter after-the-fact. I still think it would have opened up a real can of worms.

I do believe the use of replay in baseball needs to be expanded. The bottom line should be doing everything in your power to make sure a blown call doesn’t either cost a team a game or a player a shot at history.

And I don’t want to hear the baloney about it adding to the length of games. If the commissioner would just have the umpires enforce the pace-of-play rules already in the books – call high strikes, require batters to stay in the box and pitchers to deliver pitches in a timely manner – the game would be played at the crisp pace it was 25 years ago.


I love feedback from readers and I have two I’d like to share with you. The first is from long-time Rochester Red Wings President and all-around good guy Gary Larder. He offers an interesting take on the imperfect-perfect game:

When you make a decision to allow an after-the-fact change, based on a re-play, as the Commissioner is being asked to do, it is a SLIPPERY SLOPE.

Suppose that the reverse situation had occurred – ie, the runner was called out, but the re-play showed that he was really safe. Or suppose that the incident had occurred in the 3rd inning. Etc, etc. Or supposed that the next 4 batters in the game in question had hit home runs. Would you reverse the score and take away their homers?

My solution is that you cannot later CHANGE the outcome. What you can do, however, is adjust historic records. Specifically, what I mean, is that on the official list of baseball’s no-hitters, this game could be included, by act of the Commissioner. If necessary, it could include an asterisk. But it could be on the official list, at the direction of the Commissioner. Galarraga would be immortalized on the list.

That’s my solution.

The second e-mail is a wonderful tribute to Ken Griffey, Jr. penned by Jason Aldred. (Lost, of course, in the blown-call-heard-round-the-world story was the news that Griffey, one of the game’s all-time greats, was retiring.)

And so another era in life comes to an end . . .

Growing up as I did as a Yankees fan, Munson’s death slapped a 12 year old in the face and crushed the spirit of a franchise . . . Mattingly came along to restore hope to that damaged franchise only to have that hope dashed by a bad back and Father Time . . . Jeter emerged and lead the franchise back to glory and continues to help drive it today.

However, as I was emerging from college in 1989, a young face burst on to the scene, a face that was always smiling, playing a game the way it was meant to be played.

A player who, with his bright smile and glowing talent, became the headliner in a sport full of headlines, even though he played on a tiny stage tucked away in Seattle. And when he had the opportunity to use the free agency lottery to pick the franchise that gave him the best opportunity to reach the World Series and command a record setting salary, he instead chose to go home, accept less money and attempt to take a once proud franchise on his shoulders and carry it back to the prominence it had held when his father had worn the Redlegs.

And while he wasn’t able to achieve that championship goal, his mere presence helped turn the lights on in a new stadium in Cincinnati, a stadium that today finds its team tied for first place. In the twilight of his career, with the opportunity to hook on with a team that could give him a shot at a ring, he once again spurned logic and unselfishly went back to the Mariners to help them rebuild, to end his career where it began.

It has been said that because baseball is played every day and follows the seasons of nature, that it becomes part of our lives, it marks the passage of time, like a calendar. Twenty-two years of my life have gone by since I first saw Ken Griffey Jr. playing the game we both love. I got a job, got married, had kids and have watched them grow.

My life has become much less about me and much more about the people I love and my life is much richer for it. And his career has been much less about him and much more about playing the game they way it was meant to be played, in front of the fans it was meant to be played for. While he has never played for my favorite team, I have checked the box score nearly every day to see how he was doing. Whether it was a remarkable defensive play or another game stolen by another injury, he has always been there, smiling in the background of my life.

I will miss him.

Jason, well said. And I would add that Griffey has never been mentioned as a performance-enhancing-drug user. That he was able to achieve what he did while so many of his peers (Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, etc.) were using is another testament to his greatness.


On a final, self-promoting note, longtime friend and colleague Jim Mandelaro and I will be signing copies of our new book, Silver Seasons and a New Frontier: The Story of the Rochester Red Wings from 6-7 tonight before the Wings game against the Toledo Mud Hens at Frontier Field. We’ll be joined by one of my all-time favorite people in sports, Joe Altobelli, the former Wings, San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles manager. We’ll be signing near the Wings gift shop just inside the main gate. Hey, don’t forget, Father’s Day, is coming up.

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