Armando Galarraga Is a True American Hero

And so is the umpire who blew the call in last night's (should have been) perfect game. Sometimes it takes the worst to bring out the best in us

As Phillies’ fans continue to bask in the glow of Roy Halladay’s perfect game, let me call your attention for a moment to another game that was almost perfect. Because, as with life, more lessons can be learned by mistakes than perfection.

An important lesson was offered last night in Detroit.

Sports history was unfolding with the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga pitching against the Cleveland Indians. Great individual feats are always propped up by great team play, and that was the case last night in Detroit.  The Tigers were as flawless on the field as Galarraga was on the mound.  It was team perfection. [SIGNUP]

Unfortunately first base umpire Jim Joyce was not perfect.

The 27thbatter, Cleveland’s Jason Donald, hit a weak groundball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He easily scooped it up and tossed it to Galarraga, who ran from the mound to cover first. Perfection again — Galarraga easily got to first base before Donald.

The game would have set several records. It would have been a record third perfect game thrown in the same year. It would have been the fastest perfect game in history with the fewest number of pitches thrown. In short, it would have been the “most perfect” of the perfect games.

It wasn’t.

First base umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe. You can see the play by clicking here. He blew the call.

And then something amazing happened. Galarraga smiled.

He didn’t throw a tantrum. He didn’t berate the umpire. He went back to the mound and got the next batter out to end the game.

That simple smile began a domino effect of sportsmanship that somehow made the night even more important than if Joyce had made the right call.  A different kind of sports history was made.

After the game, Joyce watched the replay and started to cry.  He realized what everyone watching the game already knew.

Joyce then did something amazing himself. He walked into the Tigers’ locker room and made a tearful apology to the young pitcher. The 28-year-old  Venezuelan then hugged the 54-year-old veteran umpire and accepted the apology.

The media gathered around Galaragga’s locker and he continued to smile.  He talked about Joyce and how bad he must have felt watching the replay.  At a moment when most athletes would be selfish and lash out, Galarraga was empathetic.

And he was right, Joyce was still in tears when he spoke to the media. For the record, umpires almost never talk to the media after a game, especially after blowing a call. But Joyce felt it was important to say on the record, “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

Every Little League coach should show the tape of Galaragga’s performance last night.  Not the performance during the game, the one after the game. The class, empathy and understanding that nobody’s perfect.  More importantly, Little League parents should watch the tape.

Galaragga said, “This happen’s every day.  We’re only human.  We make mistakes.”  Joyce should also be commended for admitting his mistake immediately and apologizing for it.

Think of how wonderful the world would be if we could all learn the simple lessons offered by Jim Joyce an Armando Galarraga last night. One man admitted his mistake.  One man forgave him.  And they moved on.

And it all started with Galarraga’s smile.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but something more important happened in Detroit last night.

Galarraga would have been the 21stpitcher in Major League Baseball to pitch a perfect game if Jim Joyce made the right call.  Now Galarraga stands alone after an impeccable feat of restraint, forgiveness and human kindness that we can only hope will be repeated.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his video commentaries at