Blown Call: A Lesson in Graciousness

When you make a mistake, it's best to own up to it sooner than later.

And that is exactly what umpire Jim Joyce did when he returned to the clubhouse and watched the replay of his disputed call at first base for what would have been, and should have been, the 27th and final out of the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. "It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it," Joyce said. "I just cost that kid [Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga] a perfect game."

Later Joyce went to the Tiger clubhouse and asked to speak to Galarraga. He apologized and gave him a hug. Galarraga was accepting, "You don't see an umpire after the game come out and say, 'Hey, let me tell you I'm sorry,'" Galarraga said. "He felt really bad."

Perfect games are rare in major league baseball; only twenty have been recorded, curiously two in the past month, but they are infrequent. Perfect games, or even no hitters, have been lost in the late innings countless times, even in the final inning, but not that I can recall has a perfect game been lost due to an umpire's missed call.

What Joyce did will live on in the record books as the perfect game that never was. And it's fair to the pitcher, but what Joyce did was not malicious. He made a call he thought was correct. And while he will be jeered in games to come, let's hope he comes to terms with it. Had he done it on purpose, it would have been fraud. Doing it honestly proved he was human. And acknowledging his error so promptly proved that he may be a better man than an umpire.

The man who was robbed of his place in history, Galarraga, took the blown call in stride. He went back to the mound and promptly got the next batter to ground out to an infielder for the "second" final out. Galarraga got the win and a hug from his catcher but his name will not be in the record books as the owner of a "perfecto." His acceptance of the umpire's apology, however, proves that he too might be a better man than a ballplayer.

Those who hold authority over others would do well to remember this story. When you screw up, admit it. Don't try and bull your way through by pretending nothing happened. Owe up to the mistake and find a way to make amends.

Baseball fans like to say that baseball is like life, only more so. What "more so" means was never more evident than in game where one man, an umpire, proved he was subject to human frailty and another man, a wronged pitcher, accepted that frailty as part of the game. Only it was more than a game that night; it was a moment of grace that should be remembered.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world's top 25 leadership experts. John's new book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009). Readers are welcome to visit John's website, www.johnbaldoni.com

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1 Comments

  • Jose Palomino

    Beautiful words, John. It's true that while leaders need confidence in directing others, it's also important to stay humble and be brave enough to admit when you're wrong. Indeed, being the bigger person also means rising above your shortcomings. This starts by facing the fact that it is inevitable for us to make mistakes.

    I think it's great of you to honor Joyce and Gallaraga in this post. Joyce might not have given the right call and Gallaraga might not have had his perfect game, but both definitely were at their best right when it was needed the most. Keep it up, and thanks for this most insightful lesson!