Perfection and History

Frame grab from Fox Sports of Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game.

For me, last night’s near-perfect game by Armando Galarraga and the Detroit Tigers is as memorable for the events in its aftermath as it is for the blown call on Cleveland’s 27th out, which kept the game from the record books. The weight of history hovers over no sport so much as baseball, where the past is enshrined in statistics that upon a single glance might tell you the story of a moment, a game, a season, a career, an era. That weight is at the heart of baseball’s struggle to deal with steroids, which have totally distorted our knowledge and memory of a whole generation of achievement in the sport.

The reactions of both the Tigers and Jim Joyce give us occasion to reflect upon the way we connect records to meaning. For all intents and purposes the Tigers viewed Galarraga’s performance as perfect. Some joked that it was the first 28 out perfect game, and the pitcher received the customary “beer shower” bestowed upon hurlers who accomplish this miraculous feat. Though the Tigers gave it fiercely to Joyce on the field, without exception those who were interviewed later in the clubhouse treated the umpire and the moment with an astonishing level of class. Manager Jim Leyland spoke about what a great umpire Joyce is, about how Joyce was going to feel worse about this than anyone, and, crucially, about how the humanity and error that are at the center of the game are what makes it so great. Austin Jackson, whose Willie Mays-ish over-the-shoulder-catch secured the first out of the ninth for the Tigers, also talked of mistakes as being part of the game, and about how hard it is to be am ump. Third baseman Brandon Inge raved about how proud he was of Galarraga’s poise and performance.

Joyce, upon seeing the replay, immediately copped “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” and went to the Tigers clubhouse to apologize, tears in his eyes. Galarraga gave Joyce a hug, then told reporters that “he feel worse than I do.” He added “nobody’s perfect” with a smile. He then noted that he would save the tape to show his son. Joyce will be haunted by this moment the rest of his career, much more so than Galarraga.

The class shown by Galarraga and his teammates revealed their deep satisfaction with the content of the performance, which reminds us of what records sometimes miss. They knew this was a perfect game, and what frustration they showed was due to the fact that they immediately understood that history would not reflect what they knew to their very cores to be true. The “incident” is already enveloped in larger debates about whether to institute instant replay in the game. There’s debate about whether the Commissioner’s office should give Galarraga the perfect game anyway and Michigan’s Governor, never one to miss an opportunity, has already arrogantly done so!

But the Tigers, at least as they reacted last night, don’t seem like they’re too interested in all this. They know what they did, and whether or not they’re included in the record books won’t change that knowledge, which this Tiger fan hopes makes them pick things up a notch in their battle for the Central with the Twins. They know there’s a hundred and twenty more games to play, a hundred and twenty more opportunities to strive for perfection, and ten thousand times that many mistakes to avoid.

6 thoughts on “Perfection and History”

  1. Moments like this make a team, the 2010 Tigers may very well find some fierce chemistry after this, and I couldn’t agree with you more about their class in the aftermath. And Leyland’s sentiment, “how the humanity and error that are at the center of the game are what makes it so great” is one for the ages. It’s why I hate replay across the board, and really think the more we think of sports as a science, the further we’ve become removed from its spirit. Here’s to the Tigers as an organization today, class is far better than perfection.

  2. Replay is a mixed bag to me. I think it’s useful in basketball to see if, say, a shot beat the buzzer, though in college hoops they go to it too often for small things. I don’t particularly have a problem with the limited way it’s used in football.

    Baseball feels different, though, because it seems to be governed more by art than science. But it certainly would have been useful last night and in 1985.

    Oh… and what a surprisingly classy comment by a Yankee fan. 🙂

  3. You had to go there, didn’t you? Just for that, it will be nice if the Yankees get to whop the Togers ass in the ALCS.

  4. “They know what they did, and whether or not they’re included in the record books won’t change that knowledge.” Isn’t that the truth? Joyce’s call didn’t “cost that kid a perfect game”—it took away its tally in the record books, but the game was still perfect! Even though one thing I love the most about baseball is the stats, this is a reminder that talent, sportsmanship, and achievements of all kinds aren’t always quantified. Can Liberty Mutual incorporate this into their “Responsibility” campaign?

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