NOBODY’S PERFECT

Nearly eight years ago, on June 2, 2010, pitcher Armando Galarraga — then wearing the uniform of the Detroit Tigers — did something very few players in Major League Baseball have ever done. I’m not referring to the fact that he pitched what everyone agrees was clearly a perfect game. Rather, I’m referring to something perhaps even more rare and, in my opinion, more significant. I’m referring to the fact that a Major League Baseball player reacted to a first base umpire’s glaring mistake – in this case, a mistake of truly epic proportions that deprived the player of his rightful place in Major League Baseball history — not by arguing, but by accepting the umpire’s decision with perfect grace and equanimity.

A perfect game – one of the most rarely accomplished feats in professional sports – is defined as a game lasting nine or more innings in which no batter of the opposing team reaches base safely. In other words, the pitcher may not give up a base hit, nor may he walk or hit a batter.

But that’s not enough. A perfect game also requires perfection defensively on the part of the pitcher’s teammates, because a bobbled grounder, an errant throw, a dropped fly ball or even catcher’s interference destroys a perfect game.

We tend to forget, however, that a perfect game also requires perfection on the part of the umpiring crew. As we were reminded on what should have been the 27th consecutive out of what would then have been only the 21st perfect game in MLB history, one bad call – whether on the base paths, the foul lines or in calling balls and strikes – can also destroy a perfect game.

For me, this imperfectly perfect game still had a perfect ending – one with lessons for everyone, especially those of us who engage in conflict resolution on a daily basis — because what was truly perfect on June 2, 2010 was the way two men confronted the reality of human imperfection and dealt with the ensuing conflict.

Robbed of his rightful place in MLB’s record books, Armando Galarraga never once questioned the call, reacting to the first base umpire’s obvious mistake with perfect calm and a quizzical “c’mon, you’re kidding me, right?” smile that said all he needed to say.

First base umpire Jim Joyce, after reviewing videotapes following the game that clearly established the batter had been out at first, was quick to admit his mistake – tearfully accepting responsibility and offering a heartfelt apology, both publicly and privately, to Galarraga, who graciously accepted the apology and even gave Joyce a hug.

Accountability and contrition on the part of the responsible party; acceptance and forgiveness on the part of the injured party. A perfect reminder that nobody’s perfect, but that we can all strive for greater perfection by responding to conflict the way Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce did.

As always, I would be pleased to assist you and your clients in the dispute resolution process. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of service.

Best regards . . .

Floyd J. Siegal

Postscript:

1. As of today, there have now been 23 perfect games in Major League Baseball, with the 21st, 22nd and 23rd all having been thrown during the 2012 season.

2. As it turns out, 2010 was the last time Galarraga appeared in more than 10 games in a season; the following year, he pitched in only 8 games for the Diamondbacks and in 2012 — his final year in the majors — he pitched in only 5 games for the Astros. After several years in the minors, Taiwan and the Mexican Leagues, Armando Galarraga retired from baseball in 2015.

3. On multiple occasions in his career, including a landslide vote conducted by Sports Illustrated in 2011, Joyce was voted the best umpire in the game by MLB players. Jim Joyce retired at the end of the 2016 season.

4. Ultimately, the price that Armando Galarraga paid for Jim Joyce’s obvious mistake — and his dignified reaction and response — helped pave the way for the enhanced use of video replay, because owners, managers, coaches, front office personnel, those in the Commissioner’s office and, most importantly, the fans themselves — including the purists — realized that the paramount concern must be to make sure the umpire’s call is correct. In other words, Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce have left their mark on baseball in ways they never could have imagined back on June 2, 2010.

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