Vol. 3, No. 2: Today’s Baseball Fans photo

The Perfect GameBarbara Petoskey

Compared to the personal and economic havoc caused by the coronavirus, the loss of sporting events was trivial. Yet while arenas, ice rinks, stadiums, and ballparks were dark or off-limits, we came to appreciate just how much we do need sports to lift spirits in grim times. A particular game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland [then] Indians reminds fans why they love baseball and what sportsmanship is all about.

During a home game on June 2, 2010, Tigers right-hander Armando Galarraga threw what should have been a perfect game. After eight innings without a Cleveland player reaching base, excitement amped up among fans in Comerica Park as Galarraga retired the first two batters in the top of the ninth. When the twenty-seventh man bounced a grounder to the right side of the infield, Galarraga covered first base and took the throw in a close play. His teammates went wild in celebration as the umpire, Jim Joyce, called the runner … safe. Galarraga didn’t rant or throw a fit, but rather stood there with an incredulous, almost angelic smile on his face as Tigers manager Jim Leyland—never a man to hide his feelings during a game—raced out to “discuss” the play with Joyce. (Back in those days, only home run calls were subject to instant-replay review.)

After the heated conversation concluded, Galarraga returned to the mound, went about his business, and got the twenty-seventh out—or twenty-eighth, some would say. When Joyce saw the replay afterward in the clubhouse, he realized that his honest mistake had cost Galarraga a place in the record books for one of baseball’s rarest accomplishments; no-hitters number more than three hundred, but there have been only twenty-four perfect games going all the way back to 1880. Joyce, an experienced and well-regarded umpire, went to the Tigers locker room that night and apologized in front of reporters, an apology that Galarraga graciously accepted.

The next day, under the normal umpire rotation, Joyce was scheduled to move from first base to behind the plate. He could have asked to be excused rather than risk the wrath of an outraged Detroit crowd, but he did not. In a brilliant move to defuse the situation, Leyland opted to have Galarraga deliver the starting lineup to Joyce at the plate before the game. How could the crowd not be forgiving when the two men involved shook hands so publicly and gave each other a consoling pat on the back? It also didn’t hurt that General Motors had a brand-new Corvette driven onto the field, and Galarraga was handed the keys.

To honor a perfect game, the Baseball Hall of Fame typically displays a game ball and the pitcher’s cap or shoes. To recognize this uniquely imperfect yet classic example of the human element in the game, the Hall requested Galarraga’s spikes, a game ball, and first base from Comerica Park.

How often—in sports or in life—do we see an injustice resolved with such dignity and charity on both sides? But then, this is baseball, and it can teach us more than just hand-eye coordination.