Now that’s perfection!

I was aghast myself, and I’m supposed to be in the grace business!  The headlines around the country said it all.  “Worst Call Ever;” Nobody’s Perfect;” “Perfect Crime;” “Robbed;” “Picture Perfect, Umpire’s Not.”  Last Wednesday Armando Galarraga was pitching a perfect game for the Detroit Tigers.  It was the 9th inning with only one out to go.

Pitching a perfect game (no hits, no errors, no walks) is one of rarest feats in baseball.  Only 20 perfect games have been pitched in major league baseball history, the first two occurring in 1880.  With 2,430 baseball games played in a major league season today, upwards of 300,000 games have been played in the last 130 years.  Only 20 pitchers have ever been able to say that they fulfilled Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The 27th batter on Wednesday was Cleveland Indian shortstop Jason Donald, who hit a grounder to first baseman Miguel Cabrera.  Cabrera threw the ball to Galarraga, who was covering first base.  Umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe, when, in fact, he was clearly out.  It was simply a mistake, just like the mistakes that you and I make every day.  Unfortunately for Jim Joyce, a highly respected veteran umpire, this mistake cost Galarraga his place in history.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw the replay.  Galarraga pitched a perfect game! Yet because major league baseball does not permit instant replay to be used for situations like this, the decision could not be reviewed and reversed.  This would have been the first perfect game in Detroit Tiger history, made all the more amazing by the fact that Armando Galarraga had a lifetime record of only 20-18, was with the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens team a few weeks ago, and threw the fewest pitches in a perfect game in over 100 years.

Don’t let anyone ever talk you into believing that God only shows up in church among people of faith.   Last week, the Holy Spirit moved in a powerful way in the aftermath of this imperfect “perfect” game.

  • Consider the reaction of Armando Garallaga, the pitcher.
    • You’d think he would have been furious.  Instead, Garallaga said, “I had started to celebrate.  But then I looked at him.  I thought, ‘O.K.’  I thought, ‘I can smile or punch this guy.”  He smiled. 
    • Each one of us has been treated unfairly or victimized at one time or another.  We know what it feels like to be denied our just reward.  How do you think you would have responded if you were Galarraga?
  • Consider the reaction of Jim Joyce, the umpire. 
    • Joyce knew that he blew the most significant play of his life.  He was obviously shaken, humbled, and devastated.  In the umpires room after the game, Joyce said, “Nothing like this has ever happened to me, and I don’t know what to say…”  “This isn’t just a call – this is a history call, and I kicked the crap out of it…”  “I took a perfect game away from that kid who worked his butt off all night…” 
    • After Joyce summoned Galarraga to the umpires room so that he could apologize to the pitcher, Galarraga said, “He really feels bad – probably more bad than me.  But nobody’s perfect.  I give a lot of credit to that because he needed to talk to me and say, ‘I’m sorry.’    I gave him a couple of hugs.  There’s going to be a couple more.  I hope so.”
    • Each one of us has made horrendous mistakes during the course of our life.  Fortunately, most of those mistakes were not life-threatening, life-altering for us or others, or had long-lasting consequences.  However, many of us do find it excruciatingly difficult to admit our mistakes.  Joyce was willing to own up to his failure and ask for forgiveness.  How do you think you would have responded if you had been Joyce?
  • Consider the reaction of Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball.
    • Knowing that baseball rules do not currently allow for instant replay to overrule the umpire in this case, numerous voices from the baseball community asked Selig to exercise his authority to declare Galarraga’s masterpiece a perfect game and get it in the history books.  Although Selig said that the outcome was unjust and that he will “examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and other features,” he did not agree to reverse the call. 
    • Would you have been bold enough to realize that something more important is going on here than rules and lead with your heart by making an exception?

Armando Galarraga’s almost perfect game provides a wonderful example of class, sportsmanship, and integrity.  Why did Galarraga smile instead of punch?  Why did he take the lineup card out for the Tigers game the next day, give it to umpire Joyce, and shake hands with him?  Why was he able to so easily forgive Jim Joyce and move on?  Galarraga, who is from Venezuela, said that his father set an example for him.  “The credit goes to my dad.  I’m a calm person and he’s a calm person.  He always shows me the real truth.  It’s life.”

Eugene Peterson paraphrases Matthew 5:48 in The Message, “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects.  Now live like it.  Live out your God-created identity.  Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”   In God’s eyes, perfection is not throwing a perfect game.  Rather, perfection is living generously and graciously toward others, which is exactly what Galarraga did by forgiving Joyce.

John Wooden, one of the greatest coaches in sports history, who won 10 national basketball championships for UCLA, died last Friday at age 99.  John Wooden would have loved coaching Armando Galarraga because Wooden taught all of his players that winning and accolades mean nothing without character.  Wooden was well known for his pyramid of success, which he summarized in this way, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.”  (http://www.coachwooden.com/pyramidpdf.pdf)

Here are 3 other Wooden quotes that came to mind in relation to Galarraga.

  • “Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” 
  • “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
  • “Make each day your masterpiece.”

Armando Galarraga, many people think that Wednesday, June 2, was a perfect day for you because you pitched a masterpiece of a baseball game.  But I suspect that day truly became perfect when you did something that Jim Joyce will never be able to repay you for.  You smiled at him.  You hugged him.  You forgave him.  You made the best out of a raw deal.

Fame is fleeting anyway, Armando.  I know you must be terribly disappointed by the mistaken call, but you also have peace of mind because you know you did your best.  In the end, it’s not going to matter to your children anyway whether your game was officially “perfect” or not.  What they will remember is that you led with your heart by responding graciously and generously toward Jim Joyce.  What they will remember is your character and compassion in the way you treat them and others every day.  What they will remember is that you make each day a masterpiece.

Now that’s perfection!   John Wesley would be proud. 

Blessings, Laurie

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