Thursday, June 3, 2010

Three Lessons From The Perfect Game That Wasn't

The Tiger's Armando Gallaraga was in perfect form on his way to a pitching a perfect game until the very last out when someone else's imperfection ruined his perfection.

Last night I watched a major league baseball game. As my daughter could verify, this is not unusual for me. Last night was different though. She got summarily cut off on her nightly phone call because I was watching Armando Gallaraga of the Detroit Tigers pitch a perfect game. This happened at the end of the sixth inning. I told her I would call her back at the end of the game. In the ninth inning I was a basket case. By the end of the game I was stunned. It was a sad phone call.

Gallaraga did pitch his perfect game. He just won't get credit for it because Jim Joyce, the first base umpire, blew a call on the final out. This is not me being a homer. He just flat blew the call. He also had the guts to admit it, to the Tigers and to Gallaraga, in person with tears in eyes.

"It was the biggest call of my career," Joyce conceded as he reportedly paced in his dressing room, "and I kicked the [stuff] out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game."

Gallaraga was unbelievably gracious and forgiving, telling reporters that he knew he had pitched a perfect game, and that Joyce was truly sorry. He could tell by Joyce's body language. Anyway he would get the CD of the game and no matter that his game wouldn't be in the history books, it would be there on the CD and he could show, not tell, his children he really did pitch a perfect game in the major leagues.

Lesson number one. It's easier to be forgiving and gracious when you're view of reality understands official reality is not always the truth. The reality of baseball is bigger than it's rule book. Joyce's mistake only changes the paper reality of Gallaraga's game, not it's core truth.

Jim Joyce's behavior demonstrates lesson number two. Ultimately it's not about rules, it's about relationships. Players and managers respect umpires who understand their authority is based in their relationship with the players even more so than it is the accuracy of their calls. All players know umpires will occasionally make mistakes, but the umpires who can freely admit to those mistakes are very much liked and their authority respected by the players. Jim Joyce is an umpire who is universally respected by players and managers. Gallaraga himself stated that he knew Joyce would feel much worse about this call than he would and that he felt bad for him. This was the view of all the Tigers. To a man they respect and like Jim Joyce and wish this hadn't happened. Relationships can take mistakes when they are based in mutual respect and honesty--even relationships based in the illusion of 'absolute' authority.

Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, has the authority to change the outcome and heal this situation. He could validate Joyce's own assessment of his own call, restore Gallaraga's game to the history books, and take a huge amount of pressure off Jim Joyce. In doing so Selig would transgress a lot of baseball tradition, especially the prime rule about an umpires authority. Most specifically the rule that says all umpire decisions stand as called.

The trouble with absolutes, as we Catholics certainly know, is both the utter lack of compassion and the fact they serve to reinforce a reality which is arbitrary and not actually real. They force human behavior to conform to an illusion of reality and do not forgive when human behavior exposes the illusion. (Which happens with some frequency with instant replay)

Bud Selig, like Pope Benedict, is both the keeper of baseball's tradition and it's ultimate authority. This is his call. Does he support the illusion of the tradition, or the reality as it played out on the field? If he fails to act and supports the illusion, he will not have reinforced the trust the players have in umpires or the system. If he acts in favor of Gallaraga and seemingly against his umpires, he will have accomplished precisely what absolute authority intuitively thinks such a decision won't accomplish. He will have restored trust and respect for the system.

This is one lesson Pope Benedict and most of his bishops still haven't learned. Any system is strongest and most trusted when it most closely conforms to reality. Sometimes that means admitting mistakes and deciding in favor of justice, not preserving an illusion of absolute infallible authority. Lesson number three is sometimes one needs to act counter intuitively. Jesus did this all the time which is why the Apostles had trouble with some of His teachings.

I hope Bud Selig decides to uphold justice rather than mindlessly uphold the tradition of absolute authority in umpires. On field chaos will not ensue. Jim Joyce would breathe a huge sigh of relief and Armando Gallaraga could show his children his name in the record books as well as his CD of the game. Since Cleveland loses either way, this doesn't impinge on the integrity of the game, just the integrity of the whole system.

In any event I can finally say after fifty some years of watching the Tigers that I saw a Tiger pitcher throw a perfect game--no matter what Selig decides. As my daughter's generation says: "I see you Armando."


  1. At least that umpire, shaking hands with the pitcher, looks deeply ashamed.

    If only the hierarchy had that capacity!

  2. Sorry! The photo I saw actually showed the ump shaking hands with the pitcher "before" the game!

    Oh, well....

  3. I watched today's game and the ump really did shake Gallaraga's hand and apologized once again, and he was still broken up over his call.

    The Detroit fans were wonderful to both player and ump, and Chevy gave Gallaraga a brand new Corvette.

    In the meantime Bud Selig released a non statement worthy of Cardinal George.

  4. "A man's errors are his portals of discovery."

    Jim Joyce, meet James Joyce.

    I think umpire Joyce has done the right thing in publicly acknowledging his mistake immediately. Unlike many public figures his apology was direct, appropriate and sincere.

    These two men will forever be linked by this event. It won't simply be the appearance in some game of trivia. They'll be traveling the rubber chicken circuit together too. Gallaraga has been gracious throughout. I admire both of their examples.

    There are precedents, if not in baseball, for sports officials admitting their errors and the organization acknowledging then correcting the mistake. Selig doesn't even need the wisdom of Solomon, as you have so ably argued.

    If you watched the Winter Olympic Games this year you probably heard of the bravery of Canadian Figure Skater, Joannie Rochette, who won the Bronze only a few days after her mother died in Vancouver.

    There's another more amazing story that dates back to 1992 involving Canadian synchronized swimmer Sylvie Frechette whose boyfriend had committed suicide just before the Games.

    From Sports Illustrated: On The Bright Side

    "What happened to Fréchette in the preliminary round of the solo competition was dumbfounding. Brazilian judge Ana Maria da Silveira Lobo inadvertently tapped in a score of 8.7 for one of Fréchette's compulsory figures—the other judges' scores ranged from 9.2 to 9.6—and when the flustered Da Silveira Lobo tried to change it, she again pressed the wrong button. Da Silveira Lobo, who had wanted to give Fréchette a 9.7, couldn't make her English understood to the Japanese assistant referee, and suddenly the 8.7 was on the board, irretrievable."

    It would be more than a year until the international swimming association FINA would correct the error and award Frechette her gold medal. American Kristen Babb-Sprague got to keep the gold medal awarded at the Games.

    Sylvie Frechette was nicknamed Canada's Patron Saint of Patience and Vision by the press.

    I simply love your blog, Colleen.


  5. p2p I got all misty eyed during Joannie Rochette's short program. It was one of the most amazing athletic performances I have ever seen, given under incredible pressure, and in tragic circumstances. When she talked about her mother I just lost it.

    Jim Joyce was behind the plate this afternoon and called a very good game. It took a lot of courage on his part to return to Comerica park, and he didn't have to do it. MLB told him he could skip the game if he wanted.

    I think a load lifted off his shoulders when Detroit fans warmly accepted his presence. It was an example of the point I was trying to make about relationship exceeding mindless adherence to rules and tradition. In admitting he screwed up and being so obviously upset about it he proved he was more than an umpire. He's a man who understands his role and it's importance to major league baseball. He gets that when you don't get it right that it's important to the relationship between umpires and players that you admit you didn't get it right---not to mention his own self respect.

    Selig took the cowards way out. After he released his non statement an 'anonymous' official in his office let out the news that the game would stand as called. All these absolute rulers are all the same. Protect the fantasy at all costs and real integrity be damned.

    Instant replay can't come soon enough. Although I have to admit it gives me heart burn in hockey. Many was the time I wanted to cut the chord to the Toronto command center.

  6. Colleen,

    You've got that right. Protect the fantasy.

    The two at the center of the controversy and everyone else knows Gallaraga pitched a perfect game.

    In a way it will be THE most memorable perfect game ever. I'm reminded of Roger Maris his 61 home runs and the asterisk. (I guess he still holds the drug free record!)

    On the issue of the Toronto "command centre" I know a few things, but not that I can write about here. (I assume you're referring to VP NHL Hockey Operations under Colin Campbell?)

    Off topic: I think you might enjoy a Canadian film called Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006) Who is killing all the hockey executives... and why?


  7. Yes I would be referring to Colin Campbell. Also Betman--he who can't seem to get it through his head that the NHL is not the NBA.
    But pay no attention, I'm a paranoid Redwing fan and as such I know the NHL hates the Redwings. Yzerman to Tampa Bay? NOOOOOOOO

    I'm going to have to check that film out. Thanx for the link.

  8. I, someone who does not follow baseball, have now felt uplifted by this whole event. The pitcher will be long remembered as man with expertise and character. And the ump will be recalled as a man with humility and dignity. What more can one ask of fellow human beings? At times we excel. At times we flub the call. But how much we can learn from these two men and this one event.

    And Colleen here's a gift. Well, it's really a gift to all of us, I think. I am just now reading Linda Greenhouse's musings on a commencement speech by Justice Souter. In the speech he talks about "balancing" the "good" versus the "good" when it comes to "here and now" decisions, how impossible it is to have a simplistic reading of the Constitution (or, in my mind I add any "canon law" or any social/religious values and teachings). He speaks of how we need people to interpret not just "words" but the competing values as they apply to specific situations.

    His commencement address is here:

    And Linda Greenhouse's commentary is here:

    And Justice Souter has uplifted himself in these words and in his work on the Supreme Court - just as our pitcher and umpire have done so in baseball.

    Good men (and women of course!) are all around us, teaching us by their words and behavior. And Souter's words, I think, are an indictment not only of justices who try to slavishly impose "words" on us, but also of popes and cardinals and bishops and anyone who tries to wrest from the people the right to weigh and consider competing "goods" when it comes down to moral decision-making. That is what we need from our theologians and pastors. And that is what the current hierarchy completely misunderstands.


  9. P.S. For anyone who may momentarily have forgotten - at least three sitting justices are Opus people! And thus Souter's words have great bearing on how our nation will address the good versus good which the Constitution holds "in tension" - but point to a kind of literalism, which means we should just "stop thinking" and meekly follow "leaders" who have also "stopped thinking" - due to rigid beliefs that "words" are indisputable and "facts" can always be "known" immediately.

    This is such a brilliant and helpful speech Souter has given us! And so useful in this sad battle, which the pope and his minions and the Opus and its sheeple, which is currently under way within the catholic church.

  10. Sorry for the ungrammatical sentences in the second comment! (gosh, I hope it's not early alzheimers!)

    And Colleen - and others - I am hopeful that you will make use of this "gift" I've found in writing sundry and various blogs. For I think Souter has beautifully clarified (at least for me!) the very problem we keep circling within the church. (as I've already said too many times...)

  11. TheraP, help me here if you would. Three sitting justices are "Opus people"? I still struggle with that. There's a difference in my mind between someone with a conservative sense of their faith and "Opus people", whom I would term as closed minded for the most selfish and unChristian of reasons. Are we accusing the three (Scalia, Roberts, and Alito or Thomas) of evil, collusion with evil, stupidity, vapid faith, or what?

    There's a Eugene Kennedy article on NPR that I responded to, and I felt like my answer drowned in a sea of invective. There is evil in the church, no doubt. There is a strong pull from the Vatican towards loyalty to men not acting like Christ at all, because they've been placed as leaders by a corrupt system. But the wrangling of the faithful over who is right keeps us from solving the hierarchical puzzle. We have to stop the name calling and continue naming evil (e.g. Olmstead, Rode, and the ridiculous efforts to both sanctify JP II immediately as well as blame him for the abuse crisis when it benefits the now infallible Benedict). This has to be an exercise in faith sharing, not a new triumphalism to replace the latest one. Winning the argument prolongs the evil game. Those who say they can see remin blind, but those who admit their blindness get blessed with sight.

    Okay, I'm a sports fan. How did I write this after a sports post? Thanks for listening.

  12. mjc: Not sure where I used the world "evil" in my comments. It's my understanding that 2 of the 3 justices you mentioned are Opus members and the third "may" be a member or is just an adherent. That the Opus is full of conservatives is not really in doubt. Having 1/3 of the Supreme Court being Opus adherents is, to my mind, of concern. (maybe not to you)

    I really have no need or reason to defend my comments above. Not sure what your point is in any case.

  13. @mjc

    I think that Justice Thomas could be counted among the "Opus Dei" people if you look at some of his writing.

    He was rebuked somewhat by Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Sotomayer in the Graham v. Florida ruling. It had to do with the constitutionality of sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-capital crime, theft.

    The above Justices said:


    In his dissenting opinion, Justice Thomas argues that today’s holding is not entirely consistent with the controlling opinions in [a series of earlier cases]. Given that “evolving standards of decency” have played a central role in our Eighth Amendment jurisprudence for at least a century, this argument suggests the dissenting opinions in those cases more accurately describe the law today than does Justice Thomas’ rigid interpretation of the Amendment. Society changes. Knowledge accumulates. We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes. Punishments that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time may, in the light of reason and experience, be found cruel and unusual at a later time; unless we are to abandon the moral commitment embodied in the Eighth Amendment, proportionality review must never become effectively obsolete.

    While Justice Thomas would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old, the Court wisely rejects his static approach to the law. Standards of decency have evolved since 1980. They will never stop doing so.

    * emphasis added


  14. "There is a strong pull from the Vatican towards loyalty to men not acting like Christ at all, because they've been placed as leaders by a corrupt system. But the wrangling of the faithful over who is right keeps us from solving the hierarchical puzzle."

    I submit that we must wrangle with immaturity and spiritual misunderstandings and get on the path that will bring the light of Christ into the world. Since some Church members, Opus Dei in particular, are too willing to call everyone heretics and throw out all ideas pertaining to VII and their supporters, rather than to engage in dialogue, or to broaden their own spiritual horizons beyond their noses, to not speak up against them is to enable the immature to bastardize the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    mjc, if the Vatican has a strong pull toward loyalty to men, and not Christ, the issue of right and wrong as far as the leadership in the Vatican goes, seems clear and not blind-sighted. We are not blind to their injustices, nor are we blind to their absolutism which negates the truth.

    The quote you have referred to before "Those who say they can see remain blind, but those who admit their blindness get blessed with sight."

    The ump thought he could see, but now he sees that he was blind. He has admitted his blindness... and is blessed with sight which is of the truth.

    Admitting our mistakes is admitting that we were blind, but now we see with the wisdom of truth. Such is the process of humility and integrity in making decisions that create justice and not injustice.

    If we know the Vatican's blindness, why not call it blindness? As evil is the absence of good (and only God is good), when blindness equals evil (the lack of good, lack of God) in not seeing the truth, one has no other option but to call evil, evil, and to call blindness, blindness.

    Name calling out of immaturity or a lack of grace for the sake of name calling is immaturity. There is a distinction between calling a spade a spade and calling a spade a diamond. It takes discernment. We cannot deny what we know is the truth. Literal translations of the Bible, without taking those quotes in total context in relation to the entire Bible give rise to injustice and false truths, in much the same way as interpretation of the Constitution can be reinterpreted to mean something contrary to its original intent.

  15. Well, keep firing everyone, because I'm mostly in agreement. TheraP, if they are avowed members of Opus, then I know what I need to know from you. I said evil, not you, and I meant what I said. No offense given, I hope.

    P2p, right now I'm fascinated by progression of faithful thought. Looking forward to grow vs. looking backward to respect what has gone before. Reserving the good vs. changing the bad. I'm just starting to read "The Battle for God: a History of Fundamentalism" by Karen Armstrong (2000). It really hits at this theme so far.

    Butterfly, I agree, but we have to keep the humility of faith in the equation. I have had all I can stand of people saying, "God only believes this, and never that." However, I found myself saying it as well. It stopped the dialogue, stopped growth, entrenched positions. I'm (overly?) sensitive to it at this point, and I want to win this faith discussion with those who want to stop any dialogue at all. Wish I had a non-competitive way to say that.

  16. Butterfly you make some good points. One of the major differences in mentality between folks is their point of focus.

    In our current climate the Orthodox are focused on forcing the external reality to conform to the expectations of their internal reality--a reality that has been given to them by external authority in a process they themselves do not question because they are internally predisposed to defend it. This is seen in reactions to this particular story. Defenders of Selig's choice to leave this decision in place all come from the 'it's always been this way, it happened to my team, don't change it" school of thought.

    To change it is to make the system unfair, not to the reality of the present, but to a MEMORY of a past.

    Other folks start with their internal reality, questioning it's validity and whether it deserves advocating in the greater external reality--precisely because they intuit that they are in fact creating the external reality from the basis of their internal reality. They understand that it's really about relationships and their relationships can only be as good as their internal reality.

    In this situation Jim Joyce, in putting himself in the place of Gallaraga and honoring his relationship with the players and his own integrity, created the external reality which allowed the teams and Tiger fans to move beyond the error in this event and for him to find real forgiveness from the only people who could give it to him.

    Yesterday was phenomenal to watch because Joyce's tears at the start of the game were tears of relief and forgiveness, not the tears of shame and guilt of the night before.

    This entire event was a wonderful real life story about how forgiveness works in relationship. Too bad it went over Bud Selig's head.

    Word verification in broodl. Which is an apt description of Joyce's original call.

  17. Ok mjc. Thanks for the clarification. :)

    I'm just hoping Colleen - or maybe others too - can pull together some thoughts about what I posted earlier. Amazing how a baseball incident has sparked so much!

  18. TheraP I'm trying to get to your links. I've always liked Souter.

    I think of this baseball story as the exact kind of parable Jesus would use to teach His principles in today's society. The beauty of it is it demonstrates spiritual principles in an apparently non religious setting. I say apparently because the reality is spiritual principles, like gravity, are operative in all settings. Not religious rules necessarily, but spiritual principles.

  19. Who but the Holy Spirit can teach these spiritual principles? Surely the Holy Spirit gave the ump new sight and then he saw his error. Then he did not think of himself. He then thought of the consequences of his error. He empathized with Gallaraga.

    Empathy is a very basic spiritual principle. It's connected to loving our neighbor. The umps initial "truth" turned out to be a "false-truth."

    'I'm (overly?) sensitive to it at this point, and I want to win this faith discussion with those who want to stop any dialogue at all."

    mjc, I don't know if that approach will benefit, as those who do not desire to dialogue can not hear and cannot see. They vent. Some are too content in their positions to bother with having real dialogue with anyone. All we can do is tell the truth as we witness it.

    I'm somewhat troubled by your comment. What do you mean by "we have to keep the humility of faith in the equation?"

    I don't consider my faith to be humility. Faith is to be lived. I am humbled by God's love and I know God loves. It is God that is humble towards us.

  20. Butterfly, I don't know if it will either. You said "All we can do is tell the truth as we witness it." I think I may be just learning that now.

    "I don't consider my faith to be humility." I think the hierarchy would look askance at that statement. I think you are just sharing who you are and where God has led you. I hope to do the same.

  21. mjc - I am not asking for what the hierarchy thinks as they are irrelevant in my relationship with God and I am not where the hierarchy dwells in thought. What do you think about it?

  22. There's a difference in how I want to treat the hierarchy as a structure as opposed to the men trapped inside it. We certainly see some of these men acting in an evil manner. That should rightly be pointed out. But there are good people caught in the web, too.

    Look at MADD. Ms Lightner (sp?) changed the entire country's way of looking at driving drunk. When I was a kid, that behavior was seen as bad but done regularly. I don't think I know anyone who didn't drive drunk at some time or another. I am amazed as I watch my kids, where the idea of a designated driver is firmly entrenched. Not always ideal, but much closer to it, I think.

    I want the same thing for the believers. I want the zeitgeist to change, and the only way to do that is one conversation at a time. If we keep cleaning out the hierarchical garbage that leaves Law and Olmstead in positions of power, we can start bringing in some of those unnecessarily marginalized. One hundred years ago, the church was for the most part opposed to interracial marriage. But the Good News was stronger than that, and now most people don't see the problem. I want that victory for gay people, and women leaders, and more. But 2000 year traditions move slowly. I think the Gospel says more about inviting others in than shutting them out. We need to teach and heal, not slash and burn. So many times we see that from the entrenched, that love it or leave faith that is so weak and easily misled. I think God waits for those weak believers and keeps inviting them, taking on the pain just as was done for me. That's where I'm trying to be as well.

    PS Very hard for me to answer this question. I feel hopeless more lately, very much the fool. I erased a few responses before posting this one. I see the effort that Bill Lindsey, Colleen, you, and others put into how you believe and live. Despair seems to come up regularly. But I empathize very strongly with Peter saying to Jesus that he had nowhere else to go. I know no other way than to follow where God leads me, even when it's foolish.

  23. mjc, I hear you brother. I write a great deal about the necessity to shift focus away from self and towards others. Nothing in our culture really reinforces that notion of extending care and concern and empathy to someone other than ourselves and those who immediately impact us. To do so is often considered 'foolish'. One of the hardest steps to take is to redefine for ourselves what is foolish and stick to it.

    One thing I have learned and am totally convinced of, is that we are not here to 'save our souls'. We are here to transcend our ego. When the Church teaches that at core we are to save our individual souls, they are in fact reinforcing the dominant position of ego. In doing so they are working directly against what Jesus actually taught. They are teaching us to place our own ego concerns ahead of everyone else and this leads to really 'foolish' actions counter to the intent of the Gospel.

    It is the size of one's ego which limits the expression of one's soul in this reality. Lose the ego, gain the truth of your eternal soul. It's that simple but oh so hard.

  24. Thanks, Colleen. Bishop Gumbleton says truth must be the first priority in his sermon posted at NCR. I remember hearing that from Richard Rohr as a teenager. He said "Don't look for Jesus. Look for the truth, and I fully believe you'll find Jesus there."

    I think we will always have in the church some users that bring evil. Most people are just being led to the rules rather than to the truth. Like communist Russia falling, untruth will out when we keep exposing it. You've just touched on one untruth that I keep hearing from the controllers, that we are here to get to heaven. That's not what Jesus said, and I don't think the other traditions really go that way either. But, yeah, this dying to yourself sure feels stupider and stupider sometimes.