“I say many times: Nobody’s perfect,” Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers said. “Everybody makes a mistake. I’m sure he don’t want to make that call. You see that guy last night, he feels really bad. He don’t even change. The other umpires shower, eat. He was sitting in the seat (and saying), ‘I’m so sorry.’ Galarraga knew all about nobody being perfect from his own career. He was an up and down pitcher. Two years before in 2008 he had been traded to the Tigers and had his best year of his career! He won 13 games and only lost only 7. In 2009 he was relegated to the bull pen and coming out of spring training for 2010 Galarraga didn’t make the team. He was later called up and 2010 would continue his down slide. He only won 4 games and this one would be one of them. The date was June 2, 2010 and the Tigers were hoping for the best from their fifth pitcher in their rotation. Have you ever had one of those days when everything went right? When every thought, every action, and every result went your way? That seemed to be what Galarraga was experiencing that day! His pitches were working beautifully as he had the Cleveland Indians hitting grounders and easy fly balls to his awaiting teammates. Once in a while he would mix a strikeout in (he had 3). In the second inning his teammate Miguel Cabrera hit a home run! As the game progressed Galarraga clung to that 1-0 lead.
Jim Joyce was the first base umpire that day. Joyce was 54 year old and had been a veteran major league umpire since 1987. Joyce was well respected by players and his peers alike. He was voted the best overall major league baseball umpire by a group of 100 major league players. Joyce has umpired many big games in his career including the All-Star games of 1994, 2001, and 2012, the Division Series in 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2013, the League Championship Series in 1997, 2004, 2006, and 2007, and the World Series in 1999, 2001, and 2013.
If there was such a game for an umpire called easy this one was it. Working first base could require some close calls but that was not the case in this game. All of Joyce’s calls were obvious. Although umpires are trained to be unbiased Joyce had to admire the way this kid Galarraga was mowing down the Indians that day.
It is thought to be bad luck in baseball to talk to a pitcher who is throwing a no-hitter. Usually they will show a camera shot where the pitcher is sitting all by himself under such circumstances. Inning after inning Galarraga was going to the mound and retiring the three Indians placed before him. As well as he was pitching and not giving the Indians any runs his counterpart for the Indians Fausto Carmona AKA Roberto Hernandez had only given the Tigers one run. There was not a cushion for Galarraga to let up on anyone.
Not only had he not given up a hit but he hadn’t allowed a base runner! He was pitching a perfect game! In the 135 years of major league history there have been only 23 perfect games out of more than 300,000 played! It is one of the rarest things to happen in baseball. In the Tigers half of the 8th inning they scored two more runs. The score was 3-0 as Galaragga made his way out to the mound for the 9th inning.
Mark Grudzielanek was the first batter up. The crowd of Comerica Park was on it’s feet. No Tiger pitcher had ever pitched a perfect game and here this unlikely candidate Galarraga had one going! It didn’t take long for the crowd to be crushed in silence. Grudzielanek swung at the first pitch with all of his might and the crisp sound of the bat crushing the ball filled the air. The ball went flying into deep left center field and in that split second it seemed sure Galarraga’s perfect game dream had ended.
The ball was absolutely crushed, along with the crowd’s spirit. But the crowd didn’t stay that way for long. Austin Jackson the Tigers center fielder got a great jump on it. “The initial reaction was, ‘Oh my goodness, this ball is going to drop,'” Jackson said later. Running with his back to home plate he raced as fast as his legs could take him covering a vast amount of real estate in a short time. As he was about to reach the warning track he put his glove out much like a receiver trying to haul in a long touchdown pass over his shoulder. The ball hit his glove just as he hoped it would and he squeezed it tight! “I think it hung in the air a little longer than I expected it to, and I got to it.”It was a miraculous catch made even better by the situation! There was a collective sigh of relief from the stands along with an incredible thunderous applause! “It’s destined to happen”, thought Jackson as he threw the ball back into the infield.
The next batter Mike Redmond Cleveland’s catcher grounded out short to first. Galaragga towed the mound. Only one Indian was left between him and his perfect game. The Indian batter was a rookie shortstop named Jason Donald. Donald hit a weak grounder between the first and second baseman. Miguel Cabrerra (the Tigers first baseman) quickly reacted by taking three steps to his right and backhanding the ball. Galarraga meanwhile seeing the ball hit on the right side made a dash to cover first. It was a play practiced in spring training often and it was second nature for Galarraga at that moment. Cabrera stopped, planted himself and threw to Galarraga now standing with his foot touching first base. Galarraga caught the ball, held his glove there and awaited Jim Joyce’s call and the ensuing celebration! That celebration never came as Joyce emphatically stretched his arms in the “Safe” position.
Joyce had no doubt he had made the right call. However, replays from the TV were slowed down to a crawl and it was clearly seen that the batter Donald should have been called out. After an ensuing argument occurred with Jim Leyland the Tiger’s manager leading the way play was resumed. Galarraga composed himself and got the next batter out to complete the victory.
After the game and with a chance to view the replays Joyce was beside himself. “Most important call of my career and I kicked the s—t out of it. I cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce said through tears of regret. Later Joyce confronted Galarraga and apologized for what happened. It was a classy move by both as they embraced.
In 2012 something happened in Jim Joyce’s life that made people remember him for more than a blown call.
Joyce was heading to the umpires dressing room in Arizona when he saw a team food service employee named Jayne Powers start shaking and collapse.
After ensuring her head was adequately protected, Joyce noticed Powers had become limp, her breathing coming to a stop as what staff initially believed had been a seizure, to Joyce, turned into a case of severe cardiac arrest.
Joyce, who learned CPR while in high school nearly four decades ago, immediately began performing compressions on Powers’ chest, singing the Bee Gees’ classic hit “Staying Alive” both to maintain an appropriate compression rate and in an attempt to revive Powers.
Joyce continued his administration of CPR, even as paramedics arrived with a defibrillator whose first shock failed to revive Powers. When the AED delivered its second shock, Powers began breathing again and Joyce stayed with her until the EMTs had stabilized and transported Powers into a waiting ambulance.
Joyce was supposed to work the plate that night and he was offered a switch by one the other umpires on his team. Joyce would not hear of it because he thought working the plate would keep his mind occupied. The event shook him up so much that he was afraid umpiring third base would give him too much time to relive the event. Late in the game Joyce was told that Jayne had regained consciousness and was resting comfortably. Joyce was overcome with emotion as he met Jayne in the hospital the next day and she recognized his voice. His fast response when she was in need had literally saved her life and he was thankful he had acted swiftly and correctly.
The day after the blown call Galarraga wanted to bring the lineup card to home plate and present it to Joyce who was umpiring behind the plate that day. Usually this duty is done by the manager but in this case Jim Leyland, his manager, thought it was a good idea for Galarraga to do the honors. As he went out with the lineup card in hand and a smile on his face Galarraga was greeted by Joyce. It was clear that the gesture that was made in kindness was totally appreciiated! Once again the decision from Galarraga seemed like the perfect solution! Joyce, with tears in his eyes, in a show of emotion that never is seen on the baseball diamond, and Galarraga shook hands. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing and Galarraga’s heartfelt forgiveness helped Joyce, who felt like his world had ended because of his wrong split second decision. Galarraga is not in the record books for throwing a perfect game, however his act of forgiveness that day will be remembered more clearly than any perfect game! It was the ultimate lesson to all of us of what really is important! Joyce continued with his umpiring position and in 2012 in Arizona when he had to make a more important split second decision he made the right one!