On June 3, 2010, one of the greatest moments in sports history occurred. Baseball umpire Jim Joyce made a bad call that forfeited the opportunity for Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers to pitch another perfect game. Yet, unlike many professional athletes, these men did not engage in a verbal or physical altercation. Instead, Joyce owned up to the unfortunate error and immediately apologized to Galarraga. Listening to the recording of this event, one feels the anguish in Joyce’s voice. Although professional athletes are notorious for flying off the handle at the smallest infraction, this incident transpired with zero drama. In an age of rage, Joyce and Galarraga chose a higher path.
When an offensive situation or mistake occurs, people often become fiercely defensive. The one committing the error may refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing and hold the position to be right. Arrogance and ego interfere with integrity and fairness. The one wronged fights to be acknowledged and seeks to restore equality and balance. Both parties care more about their own position, feelings, and reputation than those of the other. Arrogance leads to animosity, animosity escalates to anger, and anger turns to rage.
In this case, however, Joyce immediately recognized his mistake and the enormous impact it would have on Galarraga’s career. His concern for the young pitcher was evident in his public acknowledgement of a bad call. The gut-wrenching agony in his voice was sincere as he offered a heartfelt apology. With no regard for the impact this could have on his own career, he put the other’s well-being above his own. Galarraga, deeply moved by Joyce’s courage and remorse, showed concern that Joyce was so upset. Responding with understanding and forgiveness, he replied, “Mistakes happen.”
What makes this situation unique from others is that both men chose to consider the other person’s feelings above their own. Each removed his ego and reached out to the other with compassion. What could have spiraled into a childish display of inappropriate and aggressive behavior never manifested because these gentlemen chose to take the moral high road and respond to an unfortunate situation with dignity and integrity.
Armando Galarraga may not go down in history as having pitched the 21st perfect game in baseball, but both of these men will hold the title of true sports legends. Their compassion, courage, and maturity raised the bar and set a new standard for excellence in sportsmanship.
It was necessary that this event happen exactly the way it did, for there was a higher good and greater purpose for the entire world to witness. These two men are perfect examples of the definition of “gentle-man”: gentle, calm, and thoughtful. We all need to be reminded that humankind is supposed to be precisely that – kind, sensitive, and forgiving.