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COLUMN: Umpire Jim Joyce shows integrity under fire

Thursday, June 10, 2010 | 2:37 p.m. CDT; updated 3:38 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 10, 2010

James A. Joyce III. Not James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, acclaimed Irish writer and poet. No, this James Joyce was born in Toledo, graduated from Bowling Green State, wears black to work and is either the most despised or beloved umpire in Major League Baseball.

Armando Galarraga. Not Andres Galarraga from Caracas, Venezuela, best known for his years with the Colorado Rockies. Armando is a 28-year old pitcher from Cumaná, Venezuela, on the Detroit Tiger’s roster.

We all know the story. On June 2, 2010, Galarraga was heading for a baseball feat few have achieved: the perfect game. The 27th batter, Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians, was up and hit a ground ball. It was a simple play to first base. The first baseman fielded the ball and threw it to Galarraga who had covered first base. In baseball lingo, a 2-1 play. Textbook perfect. The runner was out … No, safe. Umpire Jim Joyce made the call.

In baseball and softball the umpire is God. The call he or she makes is gospel. Hindsight is also 20/20, especially with the aid of instant reply. Donald was out. Joyce erred in his call; he is only human. Galarraga will not be credited for his perfect game.

By itself, the “safe” call makes the game memorable, “The call heard around the world.” The Internet buzzed with various versions of “kill the ump.” The entire Detroit bench looked like death stared them in the face. The head umpire came out to talk with Joyce. The Tigers’ managers came out to yell at Joyce. Galarraga could only smile in disbelief. For a moment, the world forgot about leaking oil pipes, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a $13 trillion national debt, a pending renewal of war between the Koreas and Iran’s nuclear arms threats.

What happened next really made this the perfect game of true sportsmanship, humility, moral courage and forgiveness. James A. Joyce III met with Armando Galarraga after the game and apologized. Galarraga — and the entire Tiger team — accepted the apology with grace and forgiveness. These are two of the greatest heroes in modern baseball history. Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright, the mythical and official inventors of baseball, respectively, are smiling from their dugout in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Recognition for Joyce’s and Galarraga’s heroic actions, however, was not evenly acknowledged. Both men received accolade from the Detroit fans the next day: a standing ovation. General Motors gave Galarraga a new Corvette for his achievement as a pitcher. On June 6, Shawn Windsor, Mark Snyder, Jo-Ann Barnas and John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press wrote a tribute to Joyce and his ability to stand up at the plate when wrong.

I talked with the press relations office at the Major League offices on Monday. I asked if Mr. Joyce had received any special gifts, like the Corvette that Galarraga received. Were there plans to recognize Joyce at the All-Star Game?

Pat Courtney of the MLB told me that Joyce has been “all over the place” talking about what happened as the new poster child for sportsmanship and integrity. Sports Illustrated’s MLB players polls twice selected Joyce as one of the top five umpires in Major League Baseball.

Being honored at the All-Star Game is still up in the air and Joyce has not snagged that Corvette.

My grandfather took me to one of the last Brooklyn Dodgers games and I can tell you about straining behind support posts at Yankee Stadium to watch Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. I learned what it took to really heckle the umpire from cabbies at Shea Stadium. The men in black should receive combat pay.

James A. Joyce III? Will he be honored at the All-Star Game? How about an invitation to the White House and an awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom? A Nobel Peace Prize nomination?

How about the president requiring all members of Congress and executives at BP to listen to Joyce lecture about integrity, honesty and taking responsibility?

If nothing else, Jim Joyce, the Man in Black, has shown integrity in the face of criticism.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.


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