Angelo Bartlett Giamatti, former President of Yale University and before his untimely death in 1989 at the age of 51, the seventh commissioner of Major League Baseball, said of the game he loved, “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”
Anyone who watched the replay of Armando Galarraga’s elation in that split second when he rightly assumed he had pitched the perfect baseball game — only the 21st perfect game in baseball history, the first 28-out perfect game, the first perfect game for a Detroit Tiger pitcher — anyone who watched him rise to baseball heaven in that ecstatic moment, anyone who winced in sympathy with his pain when an umpire snatched him from it in an instant, pulling him from the joy, pushing him to the agony, and all because of a botched call, anyone who watched the replay where perfect was called imperfect, flawless declared flawed, faultless found blemished, anyone who watched the wry smile on Galarraga’s face at the realization of the loss, anyone who saw the tears of personal disappointment on umpire Jim Joyce’s face upon admitting he made an enormously inexcusable mistake, anyone who viewed that historic scene would agree with Giamatti, “It breaks your heart.”
And that’s why I love baseball.
Baseball is life, really. Not in the sense that it in itself gives us a meaning, a purpose, or a reason for living. Rather, the game of baseball mirrors so many of life’s realities: it is completely fair and subject to an umpire’s mistake; it’s frequently dramatic and often mundane; it’s intense and relaxing; it keeps you on the edge of your seat while you wait and wait for something, anything, to happen; it’s a game in which many are overpaid and more don’t earn enough, a game where a player’s mistakes might be published daily and his perfections forgotten in a moment; it is a sport that displays the spoiled rottenness of some and the graceful compassion of others. Just like life.
And that brings me back to pitcher Armando Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce. Joyce, who is by no means an incompetent, made a mistake. Until he saw the replay, he was convinced had made the right call. As soon as he recognized he hadn’t, he headed to the Tiger’s clubhouse to apologize, requesting to speak personally with Galarraga. Joyce then publicly apologized with sincere sympathy for Galarraga: “I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his (*#*!) off all night.” And Galarraga graciously accepted. “He really feels bad, probably more bad than me,” he said. In a public display of forgiveness, the next day Gallarraga presented the lineup card to Joyce at the beginning of the game. Both shook hands. Then, Joyce wept.
This baseball episode will be a favorite rerun more for the authentic and spontaneous exhibition of compassion and forgiveness in the leading characters’ roles than for the missed call or the perfect game.
And isn’t that like life when lived as it should and can be? What we give in love, kindness, and forgiveness is what endures. We often make mistakes, sometimes enormous ones, publicly. And it’s embarrassing. But, every now and then we get it all together at just the right moment. It’s perfect, beautiful. But it only takes one person who mistakes a work of art for the mediocrity of an amateur, and the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the artist can die in an instant. And sometimes the artist and judge are one and the same: ourselves. It’s then, when we, the judge or the artist, must do what Joyce and Galarraga did: admit our mistake and extend the hand of forgiveness, knowing in our heart that when we pitch the perfect game, no one can take it away, even when no one recognizes it for what it truly is, even when no one recognizes it at all.
And that’s life. It breaks your heart. It’s designed that way.
Life Matters, by David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., is published weekly. You can visit his Web site, DavidBWhitlock.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.