A life lesson from baseball

If you have enough interest in sports to even occasionally check the scores, you are likely aware of a recent American League baseball game in which twenty-six straight batters were retired before the twenty-seventh was called safe on a ground ball to first. It was - as they say - a bang-bang play; first baseman to his right, pitcher covering, close play. It would be twenty-seven straight outs - a perfect game. But wait. The umpire's right hand didn't go up. Instead the arms went out. Safe! Safe? Safe. And worse, it looked like a bad call. It looked like they had him. Number twenty-seven. Baseball has no instant replay - except for long fly balls that are narrowly fair or foul as they go into the stands - so the runner was safe and the game went on. Batter number twenty-eight hit a fly ball which was caught to end the game and the home team, the Detroit Tigers, won. But the real fun, and nonsense, was just starting.

Although there is no official replay there was video of the game and the play at first was run a few more times and from different angles and slower speeds. Indeed it looked as if the pitcher had the ball in his glove and his foot on the base an instant ahead of the runner. If those are the facts the runner should have been called out. Twenty-seven in a row. Perfect game (first ever for the Detroit Tigers). A place in the record books. At least a mention at the Hall of Fame. But the umpire called him safe. So it wasn't a perfect game. Just almost.

Later that day the umpire, Jim Joyce, saw replays and was emotionally torn. I was wrong, he said. (His language was a bit more colorful and emphatic.) "I cost that kid a perfect game," he said. There is no doubt his response was that of a man who holds himself to a high standard of excellence, has the integrity to call what he sees, holds himself accountable for his actions, and doesn't scramble for excuses.

Now a few thoughts about the game and events following. Like many others I saw several replays and I have at least one question. I have heard that on close plays at the bases the umpire watches the feet and listens for the pop of the ball in the glove. In one of the replays it appeared that the ball may have yet been moving in the pitcher's glove when the runner touched base. If so, the runner was safe and the call was correct. The point is that even after a hundred replays dissected frame-by-frame we might still be unable to certify the absolutely correct call. This answers those who insist we must have instant replay. Sure, there would often be some benefit, but no guarantee.

Next there are those say that in that situation with a play that close you call the runner out. Game over. Perfect. But umpires are supposed to call balls and strikes, runners safe or our, catches made or not made. They aren't supposed to decide who wins or loses. Suppose that twenty-seventh batter has a hitting streak of, say, fifty-six straight games. Now what call does a compassionate base umpire make?

And the nonsense. Michigan's Governor declared it a perfect game. That's what it should have been so she declared it to be. The President weighed in with the unoriginal thought that instant replay was clearly needed. A better comment might have been that it was strictly a matter for baseball to deal with. (Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig declared - to his credit - that the game would stand as called.)

Baseball, like life, takes place in the arena; not in the stands, not in the elite boxes, and not in the Capitols. Down there in the dust, those who embrace life are often confronted with bang-bang decisions. Most of the time, amazingly, they get them right. Sometimes, tragically, they get them wrong. But the game goes on.

Finally we need to recognize some heroes. The umpire Jim Joyce. He called what he saw and took whatever lumps it brought. Armando Galarraga, the pitcher who was almost perfect and took it manfully when a call went against him. Tiger manager, Jim Leyland, who sent Galarraga out the next day with the lineup card to present to that day's plate umpire, Jim Joyce. And the Detroit Tiger fans on that same next day who gave Jim Joyce a standing O. At that moment, the stands were a part of the greater game as thousands of Joe Sixpacks showed that they get it.

Would that our current political crop would get it as Joe Sixpack gets it. When the ends, no matter how lofty, allow any means, the immediate casualties are integrity and gallantry. Within these are the absolutes without which no system can endure. Our amazing democratic republic teeters near collapse, having fallen - through inattention, indifference, and sloth - under the control of those who lack the gallantry to put common good before personal gain and the integrity to acknowledge and label the facts as they are rather than as they wish them to be. This nation, beguiled by hope without focus and misled by promises without substance, can yet survive. But only if enough of the caring leave the stands and embrace the greater game.


If you have enough interest in sports to even occasionally check the scores, you are likely aware of a recent American League baseball game in which twenty-six straight batters were retired before the twenty-seventh was called safe on a ground ball to first. It was - as they say - a bang-bang play; first baseman to his right, pitcher covering, close play. It would be twenty-seven straight outs - a perfect game. But wait. The umpire's right hand didn't go up. Instead the arms went out. Safe! Safe? Safe. And worse, it looked like a bad call. It looked like they had him. Number twenty-seven.

Baseball has no instant replay - except for long fly balls that are narrowly fair or foul as they go into the stands - so the runner was safe and the game went on. Batter number twenty-eight hit a fly ball which was caught to end the game and the home team, the Detroit Tigers, won. But the real fun, and nonsense, was just starting.

Although there is no official replay there was video of the game and the play at first was run a few more times and from different angles and slower speeds. Indeed it looked as if the pitcher had the ball in his glove and his foot on the base an instant ahead of the runner. If those are the facts the runner should have been called out. Twenty-seven in a row. Perfect game (first ever for the Detroit Tigers). A place in the record books. At least a mention at the Hall of Fame. But the umpire called him safe. So it wasn't a perfect game. Just almost.

Later that day the umpire, Jim Joyce, saw replays and was emotionally torn. I was wrong, he said. (His language was a bit more colorful and emphatic.) "I cost that kid a perfect game," he said. There is no doubt his response was that of a man who holds himself to a high standard of excellence, has the integrity to call what he sees, holds himself accountable for his actions, and doesn't scramble for excuses.

Now a few thoughts about the game and events following. Like many others I saw several replays and I have at least one question. I have heard that on close plays at the bases the umpire watches the feet and listens for the pop of the ball in the glove. In one of the replays it appeared that the ball may have yet been moving in the pitcher's glove when the runner touched base. If so, the runner was safe and the call was correct. The point is that even after a hundred replays dissected frame-by-frame we might still be unable to certify the absolutely correct call. This answers those who insist we must have instant replay. Sure, there would often be some benefit, but no guarantee.

Next there are those say that in that situation with a play that close you call the runner out. Game over. Perfect. But umpires are supposed to call balls and strikes, runners safe or our, catches made or not made. They aren't supposed to decide who wins or loses. Suppose that twenty-seventh batter has a hitting streak of, say, fifty-six straight games. Now what call does a compassionate base umpire make?

And the nonsense. Michigan's Governor declared it a perfect game. That's what it should have been so she declared it to be. The President weighed in with the unoriginal thought that instant replay was clearly needed. A better comment might have been that it was strictly a matter for baseball to deal with. (Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig declared - to his credit - that the game would stand as called.)

Baseball, like life, takes place in the arena; not in the stands, not in the elite boxes, and not in the Capitols. Down there in the dust, those who embrace life are often confronted with bang-bang decisions. Most of the time, amazingly, they get them right. Sometimes, tragically, they get them wrong. But the game goes on.

Finally we need to recognize some heroes. The umpire Jim Joyce. He called what he saw and took whatever lumps it brought. Armando Galarraga, the pitcher who was almost perfect and took it manfully when a call went against him. Tiger manager, Jim Leyland, who sent Galarraga out the next day with the lineup card to present to that day's plate umpire, Jim Joyce. And the Detroit Tiger fans on that same next day who gave Jim Joyce a standing O. At that moment, the stands were a part of the greater game as thousands of Joe Sixpacks showed that they get it.

Would that our current political crop would get it as Joe Sixpack gets it. When the ends, no matter how lofty, allow any means, the immediate casualties are integrity and gallantry. Within these are the absolutes without which no system can endure. Our amazing democratic republic teeters near collapse, having fallen - through inattention, indifference, and sloth - under the control of those who lack the gallantry to put common good before personal gain and the integrity to acknowledge and label the facts as they are rather than as they wish them to be. This nation, beguiled by hope without focus and misled by promises without substance, can yet survive. But only if enough of the caring leave the stands and embrace the greater game.


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