The power of apology and grace makes the imperfect perfect

Michael Zeytoonian Collaborative Processes, Mediation, Perspectives

Armando Galarraga, Pitcher for the Detroit Tigers

Armando Galarraga, Pitcher for the Detroit Tigers

Armando Galarraga will likely never again pitch a perfect game as he did on June 2, 2010.  The law of averages doesn’t favor it, and no one has ever done it.  So in getting what should have been the final called out of a perfect game wrong, umpire Jim Joyce took away something that no amount of money could ever correct.  And even though there was overwhelming support in the sports world for the Commissioner of Baseball to turn a lose-lose situation into a win–win, overturn the ruling on the field and reinstate the perfect game, most of us also recognized that this particular commissioner lacked the courage to make that decision.

So how could this situation, a problem that needed to be solved, get fixed in a way that restored order, justice and peace in the baseball world, when there was no legal mechanism for doing so?  When the law cannot give you the solution the circumstances need, it reverts back to the people involved and spirit of making things right to take the situation into their hands, go outside of the box and turn typical into transformative.

That is exactly how this problem was fixed, by the graciousness by Mr. Galarraga, the act of apology by Mr. Joyce, and an act of collective acceptance and reinstatement by the community, represented the next day by the players and Detroit Tigers fans at the following game.

The next time some macho person suggests that apologies are for wimps, remind them of the more than perfect, perfect game of June 2, 2010.  Tell them that the one and only way that the situation could be corrected was by two grown men choosing to do the opposite of ego, and rise above ineffective position-taking responses of who is right and who is wrong.

Galarraga’s response was anything but what one might have expected.  It reflected the teachings and grace of Jesus and the discipline of a Zen Buddhist master.   He made the game perfect by tagging first base a step ahead of the runner, and then heard or saw the umpire call the runner safe.   Every one of us would have been argued, been in the umpire’s face, thrown down our glove in disgust and moral outrage;no niceties would have come out of our mouths.  But here is this 28 year old man, who in the moment that someone had wrongfully taken away something that he had rightfully earned and would probably never get again, just smiles the sweetest and most telling smile, doesn’t say a word and calmly walks back to the pitcher’s mound and finishes the game.

I will see badly blown calls again, and will probably see another perfect game and will certainly see people argue about calls again.  But I don’t know if I’ll ever again see the perfection and grace that I saw in the person and response of Armando Galarraga that night.

But the perfection did not end there.  Right after the game, Jim Joyce viewed the replay and realized instantly that he had blown the call.  And he did the unexpected; he called the reporters into the room and admitted that he got the call wrong.  And then, shortly after that, Mr. Joyce and Mr. Galarraga came together, the umpire hugged the pitcher and said “Lo siento (I’m sorry).”

And with the acts of calm graciousness by Mr. Galarraga and the humble, honest admission and apology by Mr. Joyce, they accomplished what no law, no process and no commissioner could achieve:  They made the imperfect perfect game perfect again.

Umpire Jim Joyce receiving lineup card from Tiger pitcher Armando  Galarraga on June 3, 2010

Umpire Jim Joyce receiving lineup card from Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga on June 3, 2010 (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

To make it ever sweeter, and restore some hope that people are inherently good, the stakeholders, represented by the Detroit Tigers and their fans, also followed the lead of the pitcher and the umpire.  The next day, fans greeted Mr. Joyce with applause and he worked the game behind the plate without any incident.

The power of a sincere, honest apology and the power of grace and acceptance.  It’s not what coaches drill into players these days and not what society urges people to embrace.  But on this day, they combined for the ultimate display of sportsmanship and a perfection that far exceeds retiring 27 straight batters.  It reminded us that perfection is within our grasp; I hope we see more of it.