On June 2, 2010, Jim Joyce was put under perhaps the worst spotlight ever placed on an umpire. With two outs in the ninth inning, Joyce blew a call, wrongly ruling that Cleveland Indians batter Jason Donald beat out an infield single. That call infamously stole a perfect game away from Detroit Tigers starter Armando Galarraga, but what happened afterward was far more miraculous and rare than retiring 27 consecutive batters.
According to reporters on the scene, Joyce addressed the media after the game while literally in tears. He didn’t get belligerent or try to hide from his mistake, but owned it, openly bemoaning that “I just cost the kid a perfect game.”
Galarraga’s reaction was downright heartwarming. He showed little emotion on the field after being informed of the call — after he had already begun celebrating the non-perfect game. Afterwards, Galarraga focused not on the blown call or his robbed perfecto, but the fact that it was the best game of his career.
“[Joyce] probably feels more bad than me,” said Galarraga, noting that Joyce had approached him and apologized after the game. “Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s human. I understand. I give the guy a lot of credit for saying, ‘I need to talk to you.’ You don’t see an umpire tell you that after a game. I gave him a hug.”
In short, what came about from that singular moment of Joyce’s failure turned out to be one of the best showings of sportsmanship in the history of professional sports. The two continue to be friends to this day and even wrote a book together about the whole ordeal.
Beyond sportsmanship, however, the underlying theme of Joyce’s redemption was one of accountability. And accountability was something that umpire Angel Hernandez was sorely missing after Wednesday night’s contest between the Athletics and Indians at Progressive Field.
After the game, which the Indians won 4-3 because Adam Rosales‘ home run was ruled a double, even after video review by the umpiring crew, Hernandez shirked accountability in a pretty stunning way. Multiple reporters on the scene noted that the 23-year umpiring veteran did answer questions after the game, but demanded that journalists were not allowed to electronically record his comments and asked to only take notes by hand.
The human element is intrinsic to baseball and will always be until cameras and computers completely replace umpires. In short, we accept missed calls as a part of the game, the idea being that everyone eventually winds up with an equal number of lucky breaks and cheated opportunities. Hernandez’s gaffe was a bad one, but it’s the apparent belligerence with which he behaved afterward is what was truly problematic.
Now, all of this being said, Hernandez is flatly a bad umpire. He’s drawn the ire of players for a long time now, and the statistics (about his work behind the plate, in particular) of his consistency also bear that out. There’s a different discussion to be had about performance reviews of umpires, but, again, even the variables of different umpires and their proclivities and weaknesses is something we accept in baseball.
If Hernandez is bad at his job, then that is something that needs to be addressed by Major League Baseball. Presumably he’s not intentionally trying to miff calls on the field. Mistakes are a part of the game, whether they’re made by coaches, player or umpires. That human element is part of what makes baseball great, and it’s also what occasionally makes moments, such as the one shared between Galarraga and Joyce, truly transcendent of sports, entirely.
If Galarraga had completed his perfect game, he would have soon been forgotten — how many people have already forgotten what Philip Humber did just over a year ago? But thanks to Joyce, Galarraga shared in a moment that will live on much longer in the annals of baseball.
Getting back to Hernandez, it’s a matter of character. This 700-word essay is not to suggest any fundamental change in MLB, or to suggest Hernandez should be fired. It’s not meant to accomplish anything at all.
The point here is nothing but mere moral outrage, and to point out the lack of character Hernandez has. Human mistakes we can live with, but failing to hold yourself accountable for them is cowardice.
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