Two Good Men: Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga

Published 9:15 am Thursday, July 1, 2010

Perhaps it’s the summer cold. Not to point any fingers, but it started two days after I attended a Twins’ game. I suppose when you don’t feel good it is easier to write negative articles. After looking at them I realized that I had been hard on sports and while they are certainly not perfect they may on occasion remind us of our humanity.

Something occurred the other day that provided me with a renewal of my belief in sports morality: Armando Galarraga from the Detroit Tigers flirted with immortality. Make no mistake, for while he is not a Nolan Ryan or even a Bert Blyleven, he almost pitched a perfect game. This was probably his only chance at baseball greatness for he is a good pitcher not a great one.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the feat, there have been 20 such major league games in the more than 150 years of professional baseball in the United States. That works out to around one perfect game every 20,000 baseball games. A tremendous achievement and it would have given Galarraga baseball immortality. It was not to be for on a play that would have been the final out to end the game, Umpire James Joyce called a runner safe.

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However, after reviewing his call, Joyce realized he was wrong and went to the Detroit locker room with tears in his eyes and apologized to pitcher Galarraga saying he had cost the young man his chance at immortality. Galarraga responded with dignity forgiving Joyce.

It was a terrible mistake, but the heartfelt apology by Joyce and the acceptance by Galarraga took a very unhappy moment and by understanding, good will and compassion turned it into a plus for Joyce, Galarraga and baseball. Before the beginning of the next days’ game Joyce’s fellow umpires came and stood by him and the Detroit players stopped and said a few kind words to Joyce.

Joyce is considered a fine umpire; in fact, was voted by 100 players as the best umpire in the Major Leagues in a recent poll conducted by ESPN.

I guess the bottom line is that even the best of us can make a mistake. But if you’re honest and moral and admit your mistake, your character and past accomplishments are considered and you are forgiven. The mistake will not go away, but Joyce will not only be remembered for the error, but also for the kind of man he is. And who knows, Galarraga may be better remembered for his almost no-hitter longer than previous perfect game pitchers. What is the name of that pitcher who had one earlier this year?

It is an inspiring story and got me thinking about the good things that occur in baseball. I’m sure that other teams have their commitments to help people also, but let me just speak to the Minnesota Twins. Two events take place each year, the Twins’ annual Twinsfest and Autograph Party. I have attended both along with what appears to be thousands of fans. Both are done for charity and many of the past and what seems to be all of the present Twins’ players are there signing autographs and in general rubbing elbows with us. Just the Twinsfest alone has raised more than four million dollars for charity. In addition many of the past and present Twins have their foundations and special events for charity. Justin Morneau sponsors and is a waiter at a charity dinner with many of his teammates. Bert Blyleven and Harmon Killebrew have charity golf tournaments to name just a few out of many.

WCCO radio had a signature phrase for many years. It called itself: “The good neighbor to the great Northwest.” I think we can say the same thing about the Minnesota Twins.