My View from South Hill
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Fourteen months ago I acquired a hero. He is someone I look up to and seek to emulate, though I know I will never fully be able to mimic what he has done. My hero is Armando Galarraga, a baseball player.
You may know Armando’s story. He has pitched in the major leagues for parts of five seasons and is therefore an elite athlete. At the same time, one would not say Armando has had a distinguished career. He has been traded three times, his lifetime record is 26 wins and 30 losses, and he is currently pitching in the minors.
But on one evening, June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga was a very special player. Pitching for the Detroit Tigers, Armando retired consecutively the first 26 Cleveland batters he faced. One more out and he would complete only the 21st perfect game in 130 years of Major League Baseball.
Part of the wonder of perfect games is that some of them were thrown by the greatest names in pitching history, ranging from Cy Young to Sandy Koufax to Roy Halladay. Others were completed by individuals who were extraordinary only on that one occasion – Charlie Robertson and Dallas Braden. No matter which category a given pitcher falls in, though, to complete a perfect game is to be part of baseball history. As a boy who loved the game, I could name the pitchers and years of all seven perfect games that had been thrown to that point.
On June 2 of last year, Armando Galarraga faced his 27th batter with an opportunity to join the historic roster of perfect game pitchers. Based on his previous career, it was an unlikely situation for him to be in. It was also unlikely he would ever again have this opportunity. Ignoring the wall of noise coming from the home crowd, Armando took a deep breath and threw a strike to Cleveland’s number 9 hitter, Jason Donald. He followed with a ball low, and then threw a pitch that Donald hit on the ground to the Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera. In a play that few of us could execute but that is routine for major league players, Armando ran to first base, took a throw from Cabrera, and touched the base with the ball in his glove just before Donald could get there.
The umpire, Jim Joyce, called Donald safe. It was a judgment that Joyce tearfully admitted after the game he had gotten wrong. That he made a mistake, however, did not matter. The perfect game attempt was over.
It was then that Armando did the first of two things that makes him my hero. He smiled.
Under the circumstances, there was a mysterious quality to that smile that out-does the Mona Lisa. Umpire Joyce later commented that despite the immediate explosion of anger from the stands and from the Detroit dugout, Armando’s smile reassured him that he had gotten the call right. (Joyce realized his error only later, when he saw a replay.)
Pressed by the media immediately after the game to explain his smile, pressed to say something that would express the anger and resentment one might naturally feel, Armando could only say that he smiled because he was happy. He was happy to be pitching the best game of his life, a commanding game in which he felt complete control of every pitch he threw. Of the mistake by Umpire Joyce that had cost him the perfect game, Armando simply said “Nobody’s perfect.”
Armando took his smile back to the mound and then he did the second thing that makes him my hero. He focused on the job at hand, he got the next batter out, and he finished the job.
It is a wonderful thing to see a professional work with a commitment to excellence. It is even more wonderful to see a professional who does not put his or her feelings ahead of the work they are doing. Armando Galarraga’s attitude was that the mistake by Umpire Joyce may have changed the statistics of the game but that it in no way changed or diminished his own performance. He maintained that he had no reason to be upset or angry because he had done nothing wrong. He pitched a perfect game. That it was not a “Perfect Game” in the official records was not under his control. As a professional, he would take care of the things he could control and not worry about things that are the responsibility of others.
A hero is someone we can look up to, learn from, and seek to emulate. Armando Galarraga is my hero. So it is natural that when Galarraga published a book this year about his life and about his perfect-but-not-perfect game, I would be eager to read it. The book, called Nobody’s Perfect, is actually a dual narrative written by Galarraga and by Umpire Joyce. Armando is still my hero, but reading the book last week also gave me a feeling of “Now I know the rest of the story.” The rest of the story will be the subject of my next blog post.
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