Tuesday, June 08, 2010

SPORTS>>Teachable moment comes from ump’s blunder

Leader sports editor

Why did baseball people get so mad at Jim Joyce last week?

It seems a little late to start cracking on the guy now; he’s been dead 69 years.

Sure “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is a tough read, but Joyce has since earned respect for his use of interior monologue and other technical innovations in the art of the novel.


Oh, JIM Joyce, the umpire who screwed up Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. Not James Joyce the writer.

My bad.

Okay then, yeah, I understand why baseball fans are a little ticked. Exactly a week ago, Joyce was working first base as Galarraga, the Detroit Tigers’ starter, retired the first 26 Cleveland Indians he faced at Comerica Park.

Then Joyce ruled Jason Donald beat out an infield hit, with Galarraga covering first, on a play in which Donald was clearly out.

“I actually thought it was probably one of the worst calls that have ever been called in the major leagues,” said former Arkansas Travelers general manager and executive vice president Bill Valentine, an American League umpire from 1963-68.

Valentine said, with a perfect game or something equally as important on the line, the umpire’s job is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt the runner has beaten the throw before calling him safe. Otherwise the benefit of the doubt should go to the fielder, Galarraga in this case.

“He should have been thinking out, and the runner should have to convince him he was safe,” Valentine said.

After Galarraga retired his final hitter to lock up the 3-0 victory, Detroit manager Jim Leyland and several other Tigers went after Joyce, baseball renewed its introspection over the idea of expanded-replay use and fans howled and revisited notorious blown calls of the past.

Travelers broadcaster Phil Elson joked “Jim Joyce, meet Steve Fritzoni.”

Elson still has flashbacks to Fritzoni’s blunder in Game 4 of the 2005 Texas League Championship Series between the Travelers and Midland RockHounds at Ray Winder Field. Fritzoni lost track of the count, failed to award a base on balls to Arkansas’ Jason Aspito and forced him back into the box for a game-ending strikeout that gave Midland the championship.

The umpires wouldn’t come out of the dressing room and talk to me after that game, which is in marked contrast to the way Joyce handled his mistake.

Instead of ducking the media or avoiding comment, Joyce did something remarkable not just for an umpire, but for many Americans these days — he admitted his goof and apologized. No excuses. He didn’t blame field conditions, a bad childhood or the current administration.

“I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said. “I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.”

Joyce, a full-time Major League umpire since 1989, went straight to Galarraga and expressed his regret, and what do you know? Galarraga turnedout to be a big man too as his post-game bitterness dissolved into on-the-spot forgiveness expressed by a hug for Joyce.

“He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody is perfect,” Galarraga said, even though he could have been for at least one night.

Okay, baseball is going to have to figure out how to keep these things from happening, but the behavior of these two men renewed my faith in the game more than even a perfect outing by Galarraga would have.

Rare as they are, we’ve seen perfect games before, but the way the umpire and the pitcher conducted themselves, with courtesy and as adults, made me realize our games can still teach us something good.

Galarraga may not go into the record books, but the grace with which he accepted his disappointment is certainly something to write about.

Talk about a portrait of an artist.

“The class act in all of this is the pitcher,” Valentine said of Galarraga.

“He hasn’t moaned, he hasn’t groaned and he doesn’t know it now, he doesn’t have any idea about it now, but if he would have pitched that perfect game, three years from now you wouldn’t even have remembered his name,” Valentine said.