Most sports-lovers have weighed-in; and even casual fans are aware of what occurred Wednesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Jim Joyce, umpiring at first base in a game where no Cleveland runners had reached base through 26 outs, mistakenly called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe at first base on what would’ve been the game’s final out. Instead of Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga celebrating his own first historic Perfect Game, and the first for a Tiger’s pitcher, now the game was continued and the Perfect Game lost on a blown call. While many Tigers argued, pitcher Galarraga merely smiled and went back to the mound. Galarraga went from becoming only the 21st pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game (and the third in four weeks) to becoming the tenth man in major league history to lose a Perfect Game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The former club is much more revered than the latter.
“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it,” Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires’ locker room. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”
Joyce’s transparency and remorse over the incident, as well as Galarraga’s own sportsmanship in handling the potential disappointment have made this event more about sportsmanship and than about winning, losing or perfection. The outcry by fans and politicians alike has been offset by the umpire’s tearful apology and the player’s graceful response. So is there redemption in this story, and if so, to whom should it go?
According to one story in the Canadian Press: (http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5g900FPu0SSS8KlOu5EgRsTeQX5TQ) after reviewing videotape of the call, umpire Joyce headed to the Tigers’ clubhouse. Pitcher Galarraga was there sipping a beer. Joyce, in tears, apologized. He hugged Galarraga. Galarraga was moved. “You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,’” Galarraga said. “He felt really bad.”
While many people have petitioned the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, to award Galarraga the perfect game, pitcher Galarraga has attained perhaps a greater level of recognition than even this Perfect Game might have afforded him. He has become part of baseball lore, maybe more because he lost the perfect game than if he had completed it. More immediately, the Tigers and Detroit-based General Motors presented Galarraga with a red 2010 Corvette convertible for his performance and sportsmanship (Canadian Press as cited previously).
Perhaps redemption might have come if commissioner Selig had reversed Joyce’s bad call, and if he had it would have been a perfect ending to an imperfect story. Pitcher Galarraga earned the chance to say he had indeed pitched a Perfect Game, and umpire Joyce doesn’t deserve to be remembered for one bad call in a career of mostly very good ones. (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/jon_heyman/06/04/selig.joyce/#ixzz0pwFfjqT9).
One website (http://www.arlev.co.uk/redempti.htm) describes the concept of redemption as having four basic characteristics: there is someone in bondage; there is a redeemer who can provide liberation; there is the payment of a price or random to release the one in bondage; and finally there is a return to freedom for the captive. In the case of the blown call by umpire Joyce, we could say that he was in bondage to his mistake, and that commissioner Selig could have been the “redeemer” and provided a ransom by giving up the fear of setting precedent and by laying down the full weight of his office to assure that justice was served. But would either Jim Joyce, pitcher Armando Galarraga, or even Bud Selig be free? I know, you are thinking, “Naw, they need to accept Jesus as savior to be truly free.” Yes, this is correct. But even if all or none are committed to Christ, in this situation there would be really no freedom in the issuance of a reprieve by the commissioner’s office. Each of the participants would be hounded by constituents of baseball loyalists; or worse yet, they would simply go back to being merely characters in a small drama off the radar screens of most people.
What Jim Joyce has been feeling and verbalizing in the days since the event is more along the lines of a true breakthrough for a man bound by the guilt of a wrong decision. Umpire Joyce has become much more introspective in the few days since this event occurred. “I believe this happened for a reason,” Joyce said. “I’m trying to figure out what that reason is, but I think it’s playing out. This isn’t talking about baseball. It’s honesty, sportsmanship, how we portray each other. Those are all good things. None of this was intended. It just happened.” (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hzgb8cQcbUQLVBr2eJ4up0te3pYwD9G4PC3O2).
Again, according to the Canadian Press, (cited above) the game and its aftermath have prompted circumspect discussions on venues as diverse as television and blogs, in workplaces and in bars about human imperfections, the courage it takes to admit one’s errors, and the grace that accompanies forgiveness. Perhaps reflecting back on Christ’s ministry to the paralytic (Mark Chapter 2) can give us some sense of where Jesus perceives the priority in moments of pain, bondage and remorse. The friends of the paralytic expected that Jesus would see their friend’s condition and immediately seek to relieve him of this apparent “bondage” of paralysis. Jesus confounds everyone by seeking true release from the ultimate bondage of sin. “Jesus, seeing their faith (the faith of the paralytic’s friends to get him there), said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you’” (Mark 2). Perhaps the greatest work of redemption is not in righting this wrongly decided play and awarding the Perfect Game, but in two men who had to choose hard truth over a quick fix, and whose lives will for some time be measured by how they responded to losing themselves to something greater than a baseball game.