Bob Lutz

Perfect lessons for us all

Instead of celebrating the incredible forgiveness and sportsmanship shown by pitcher Armando Galarraga, who lost the perfect game he had in his hip pocket Wednesday night, or commending the buck-stops-here mentality of umpire-under-duress Jim Joyce, the blower of the call at first base that cost Galarraga his immortality, America does what it does best.

It bickers.

Joyce should be fired, the meek cry. Or beheaded, scream the less tolerant.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig should come riding in on his white horse and right this wrong for the integrity of the game. And then, by golly, he should have some kind of instant replay system in place by, oh, yesterday.

As those of us who weren't on the field for this dark moment in baseball history pointed fingers and laid blame, those who were extended their hands and recognized that we're all just human and we make mistakes.

Galarraga won over more people by losing the perfect game — because of his incredible behavior during and after the call — than he would have if Joyce had made the correct call.

Galarraga's grace and dignity carry more weight in the big picture than any perfect game. His name won't be in the record book. But his name, and his actions, can and should help our society understand that there are civil ways to handle unbearable circumstances.

Most pitchers cheated out of a perfect game would not be able to do what Galarraga did. And that's not a knock on the character of others. It's a me-me-me society in which we live and that's clearly evident in professional sports, where millionaires attempt to out-do and out-bank account other millionaires.

Galarraga, from Venezuela, signed with the Montreal Expos as a free agent in 1998, when he was 18. He spent 10 seasons in the minor leagues, most of it in the lower minor leagues, before making it to the majors with the Texas Rangers in 2007.

He was traded to the Tigers after the season for Michael Hernandez, a deal noticed by no one.

It was in 2008, though, that Galarraga came into his own, going 13-8 for Detroit with a 3.73 ERA. He wasn't able to duplicate that success until Wednesday, when he mowed down one Cleveland Indians player after another, 26 in a row before Jason Donald hit a grounder to the right side.

Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera got to the ball, turned around and whipped a throw to Galarraga, who caught the ball with his right foot on the bag ahead of the Indians' Jason Donald's arrival.

Joyce took a moment to process what he had seen and, to the amazement of everyone, signaled Donald safe.

Everyone in a Tigers uniform came unglued, except Galarraga. He expressed surprise, but not anger and calmly went back to the mound to get the final out.

Joyce, with a chance to see the replay after the game, went to the Detroit locker room and tearfully apologized to Galarraga. It was a moment that surpassed — in important ways — the thrill of a perfect game.

It's the way people are supposed to behave in extreme circumstances. Instead of spiraling into a hateful controversy, it is a diplomatic controversy.

Joyce was wrong and felt terrible for being wrong. But the Tigers — and more impressively Galarraga — didn't pile on. In the heat of the moment, cooler heads prevailed.

How often does that happen in any corner of American society these days?

Joyce was back at Comerica Park, the scene of the crime, for Thursday afternoon's game between the Tigers and Indians. This time, he was behind the plate and there was a smattering of boos as he went onto the field.

Joyce had tears in his eyes; this event has forever changed his life. He's an umpire of 22 years with a solid reputation and lots of postseason experience. But he will forever be defined as the guy who blew the call that blew up a perfect game, one that would have been the 21st in baseball history and the third already this season.

As Joyce struggled to keep his composure, who approached home plate with the Tigers' lineup? None other than Galarraga, with a smile on his face. Joyce extended his hand and Galarraga shook it. Joyce took the lineup card as Galarraga shook hands with the other umpires.

Galarraga patted Joyce on the back before Joyce patted back harder.

It was a touching moment. And for those of us more comfortable confronting our perceived wrongdoings with hostility rather than compassion, it provided a time to think.

Too often, moments such as these pass without any perceptible change. We speak with great admiration about those among us who rise above the emotional challenges of day-to-day life and promise ourselves that we'll try to emulate them, only to fail.

It's too easy to paint with a broad brush. Galarraga is the good guy; Joyce is the villain. There is only good and bad.

We miss the nuances and don't account for the personalities of the individuals.

When the call was missed, I expected Galarraga to fly off the handle and attack Joyce with a verbal assault.

This was a moment he'll probably never repeat, after all. He's a 28-year-old undistinguished pitcher with 21 career victories. He makes around $500,000 a year, which in the big leagues is close to the minimum. He's obviously not someone who takes his professional existence for granted.

Stakes were the highest they had ever been for Galarraga, who could have ridden a perfect game into the history books. Instead, it was snatched away by an umpire who missed the most important call he has ever had to make.

This had all the ingredients for an explosion. Thanks to the astounding maturity of everyone involved, the bomb never went off.