Blown Call: A Lesson in Graciousness

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

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


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,