Anyone not on life support will by now know what happened last Wednesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit. Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was denied a perfect game when veteran umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly called the twenty-seventh batter safe at first.

Understandably surprised, Galarraga did not need to be restrained by his teammates as we have come to expect in such moments, struggling with vein-popping rage to get his hands on the ump. Instead, the pitcher reacted with a bemused half smile as the crowd went crazy. After seeing the instant replay umpire Joyce, obviously tormented by his mistake, apologized to the pitcher. Later, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said simply, “I make mistakes, players make mistakes, umpires make mistakes.”

This would be a big enough story in any case, but it has gone viral or nova or whatever current jargon applies. It has captured people’s imaginations. The reason I think must be understood in terms of those pictured above, people who represent so many others, and institutions, with names like Madoff, Enron, Worldcom.

The story has quickly captured public interest because of something like a moral or spiritual thirst for subjects worthy of admiration. When the mayor of an on-the-ropes city like Detroit goes to prison for thumbing his nose at the law (Kwame Kilpatrick); when the company responsible for what may well prove to be the worst ecological disaster since Chernobyl has a CEO who can be trusted to be untrustworthy; when the last president and his principal political guide are now known to have betrayed the public trust in numerous ways, and when sports “heroes” turn out to have trashed their families, and the record books through doping, the effect on the collective consciousness of a people can’t be quantified, but is probably hard to exaggerate.

It’s a kind of old fighter’s punch-drunk daze, a society belted around by bad news, lies, deception and greed for so many months stretching into so many years that its members have almost forgotten what “class act” means. And then it happens in all its mythic glory on a Wednesday night in Detroit, when every principal to the story does what he should, immediately, and does it without lawyers or press agents or flack catchers at his elbow.

Armando Galarraga may ultimately come to thank his lucky stars for Jim Joyce’s blunder. As Jeff Kuehn writing in the Oakland (Michigan) Press says, “Galarraga has a place in history for as long as the game is played. No other pitcher will throw a 28-out perfect game. Dads will use this to tell their sons and daughters how to respond when things don’t go your way.”

So cup your hands around this little pilot light of things gone right, and hope it stays lit.


  1. I think Gallaraga himself made the original remark about the 28-out perfect game -- you couldn't find a better example of graciousness. I'm guessing that he knows how lucky he is to be a big league ballplayer, which in that context makes it easy shrug things like this off. My hat is off to the guy.

  2. That, Mr. Knister, was a perfect blog post. In the future, when I want to reference how it should be done, I'll hark back to A League Of Their Own.

  3. You put it in superb context.

  4. K-
    I'm sure you're right. When you come from humble circumstances and you get a Ticket to the Show, a bad call--the worst imaginable--must mean less. Oddly, I think of Galarraga's cool the way I think about Obama: I suspect his own humble origins help to explain why he has been so quick to accept the advice of his Old School Ties financial advisors.

    You are nothing if not generous. If I could produce the kind of thoughtful, extended pieces you so consistently publish, I would. But I can't.

    Thank you. When a genuinely talented writer pays me a compliment, THAT'S a compliment.


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