Last night I watched a major league baseball game. As my daughter could verify, this is not unusual for me. Last night was different though. She got summarily cut off on her nightly phone call because I was watching Armando Gallaraga of the Detroit Tigers pitch a perfect game. This happened at the end of the sixth inning. I told her I would call her back at the end of the game. In the ninth inning I was a basket case. By the end of the game I was stunned. It was a sad phone call.
Gallaraga did pitch his perfect game. He just won't get credit for it because Jim Joyce, the first base umpire, blew a call on the final out. This is not me being a homer. He just flat blew the call. He also had the guts to admit it, to the Tigers and to Gallaraga, in person with tears in eyes.
"It was the biggest call of my career," Joyce conceded as he reportedly paced in his dressing room, "and I kicked the [stuff] out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game."
Gallaraga was unbelievably gracious and forgiving, telling reporters that he knew he had pitched a perfect game, and that Joyce was truly sorry. He could tell by Joyce's body language. Anyway he would get the CD of the game and no matter that his game wouldn't be in the history books, it would be there on the CD and he could show, not tell, his children he really did pitch a perfect game in the major leagues.
Lesson number one. It's easier to be forgiving and gracious when you're view of reality understands official reality is not always the truth. The reality of baseball is bigger than it's rule book. Joyce's mistake only changes the paper reality of Gallaraga's game, not it's core truth.
Jim Joyce's behavior demonstrates lesson number two. Ultimately it's not about rules, it's about relationships. Players and managers respect umpires who understand their authority is based in their relationship with the players even more so than it is the accuracy of their calls. All players know umpires will occasionally make mistakes, but the umpires who can freely admit to those mistakes are very much liked and their authority respected by the players. Jim Joyce is an umpire who is universally respected by players and managers. Gallaraga himself stated that he knew Joyce would feel much worse about this call than he would and that he felt bad for him. This was the view of all the Tigers. To a man they respect and like Jim Joyce and wish this hadn't happened. Relationships can take mistakes when they are based in mutual respect and honesty--even relationships based in the illusion of 'absolute' authority.
Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, has the authority to change the outcome and heal this situation. He could validate Joyce's own assessment of his own call, restore Gallaraga's game to the history books, and take a huge amount of pressure off Jim Joyce. In doing so Selig would transgress a lot of baseball tradition, especially the prime rule about an umpires authority. Most specifically the rule that says all umpire decisions stand as called.
The trouble with absolutes, as we Catholics certainly know, is both the utter lack of compassion and the fact they serve to reinforce a reality which is arbitrary and not actually real. They force human behavior to conform to an illusion of reality and do not forgive when human behavior exposes the illusion. (Which happens with some frequency with instant replay)
Bud Selig, like Pope Benedict, is both the keeper of baseball's tradition and it's ultimate authority. This is his call. Does he support the illusion of the tradition, or the reality as it played out on the field? If he fails to act and supports the illusion, he will not have reinforced the trust the players have in umpires or the system. If he acts in favor of Gallaraga and seemingly against his umpires, he will have accomplished precisely what absolute authority intuitively thinks such a decision won't accomplish. He will have restored trust and respect for the system.
This is one lesson Pope Benedict and most of his bishops still haven't learned. Any system is strongest and most trusted when it most closely conforms to reality. Sometimes that means admitting mistakes and deciding in favor of justice, not preserving an illusion of absolute infallible authority. Lesson number three is sometimes one needs to act counter intuitively. Jesus did this all the time which is why the Apostles had trouble with some of His teachings.
I hope Bud Selig decides to uphold justice rather than mindlessly uphold the tradition of absolute authority in umpires. On field chaos will not ensue. Jim Joyce would breathe a huge sigh of relief and Armando Gallaraga could show his children his name in the record books as well as his CD of the game. Since Cleveland loses either way, this doesn't impinge on the integrity of the game, just the integrity of the whole system.
In any event I can finally say after fifty some years of watching the Tigers that I saw a Tiger pitcher throw a perfect game--no matter what Selig decides. As my daughter's generation says: "I see you Armando."