Galarraga was a perfect role model

Published 12:20 am Sunday, June 6, 2010

Professional athletes are often thought of as role models, but many times their actions are not ones to emulate.

Instead of role models to look up to, professional athletes are often seen throwing temper tantrums or hissy fits when they don’t get their way.

The virtue of sportsmanship seemed to have disappeared under an avalanche of highlight dances, fights and verbal altercations.

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But an incident that occurred early last week proved that sportsmanship and role models still exist in professional sports.

I’m sure everybody knows by now the plight of Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga.

Galarraga, who was just called up from the minor leagues in mid-May, pitched the game of his life on Tuesday.

He retired the first 26 batters of the game in order, leaving him just one out away from what would have been the third perfect game in less than a month in the Major Leagues.

But the 27th batter, Jason Donald, hit a slow ground ball that first baseman Magglio Ordonez fielded and threw to Galarraga covering first.

The replays showed that Donald was clearly out, but first base umpire Jim Joyce called him safe, ruining the perfect game and causing what could have been a very ugly scene.

Galaragga knew what was on the line when he sprinted off the mound to cover first base on the softly hit grounder. He most certainly felt he had attained his perfect game when he heard the ball hit his glove before feeling the base compress under the pressure of the runner.

But even after the runner was called safe, Galaragga never lashed out.

He stood there for a minute with a wry smile. He then regained his focus and retired the next batter on a groundout to complete his masterpiece.

The class and dignity Galarraga showed on the field paled in comparison to what came after the game, from both him and Joyce.

Joyce, after seeing the replay of his blown call, was distraught.

He didn’t hide or try to slip out of the stadium. He went to the Tigers’ locker room and apologized to both Galarraga and manager Jim Leyland.

Galarraga could have refused to accept the apology, or angry about missing his chance at history, angrily criticized Joyce in person or through the media.

Instead, the young pitcher accepted Joyce’s apology and thanked him for it.

He didn’t use the controversy-hungry media to spew meanness or disgust.

Instead he complimented his fellow players and coaches for helping to put him in the position for a perfect game.

The story ended happily the following day when Galarraga presented Joyce, then the home plate umpire, the lineup card.

The crowd greeted both pitcher and umpire with a cheer, and the two shared a handshake before going their separate ways.

That same day, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig decided not to overturn Joyce’s call, and award Galarraga a perfect game.

That was the right decision, not only because of the can of worms such a decision would open, but because it really isn’t about a possible perfect game anymore.

It is about the grace, humility, candor and sportsmanship shown by both Galarraga and Joyce.

Because while the game may not have been perfect, the outcome of the situation sure was.