When Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce blundered his way into baseball lore recently by making an erroneous call and thereby denying a young pitcher a chance at a perfect game; one of the sport's rarest accomplishments, the nation's outraged reaction was immediate and in some cases hysterical.
Perfect games are a holy grail of sorts to baseball pitchers and because there have only been twenty of them in the history of the sport their rarity evokes great passion in players and fans alike. Within hours there were vituperative Facebook pages and web sites dedicated to denigrating all things Jim Joyce and threats to him and his family.
While it is sadly not surprising that the sniping, aggressive and largely unenlightened segment of our society that revels in the anonymity of the internet, might react with militant hostility and in doing so create groundswells of varying opinion at breakfast tables and watercoolers across the country, it is the reaction of the pitcher himself that has been most noteworthy.
Armando Galaraga, a heretofore unheralded pitcher in the Detroit Tigers organization, was one out away from immortality and, when Joyce's mistake took that away from him, he simply looked at the umpire
and smiled. Granted it was probably that stunned smile that evinces speechless disbelief but nonetheless there was no meltdown, no physical confrontation, no complaining.
Joyce's error may have cost Galaraga a considerable amount of money in endorsements and contractual clauses as well as the status of joining an elite group, and he might have been forgiven for letting his frustration get the better of him. But the sight of his calm equanimity burned an unforgettable image into the sensibilities of all but the snarkiest opinionistas of the blogosphere.
Afterwards he held no grudge and admirably refrained from verbally kicking a distraught Joyce while he was down or from parading himself in the role of glorified victim.
How rare and refreshing it is in the world of sports to see somebody handle a potentially career-changing moment with such grace and what a welcome respite for what passes as the norm at all levels of sports.
Professional, college and high school athletes of every stripe are often quick to salve their failings and inadequacies with the "we got screwed" balm, leading one to ponder why defeat should inevitably confer victimhood upon the vanquished? For most, the only tenable outcome of competition is to win and to do so convincingly, but because defeat is inevitable there needs to be an acceptance that sometimes, despite an individual or team's best efforts, outcomes and circumstances can and will go against you and you need to find a way to handle and deal with it.
In the English Premier Soccer League it is almost comical but not at all uncommon to see losing coaches claim to have been the better team in their post-game press conferences even when the score
and other empirical evidence indicates otherwise . This "poor me" bleating is a glaring example of the "theater of the hard-done-by" and amounts to questionable sportsmanship.
Defining moments are a part of sports and are integral in any victory or defeat; they can be the difference between exhilaration and agony, fulfillment and disappointment. How an individual or team responds to those moments and their outcomes and consequences is at the heart of sportsmanship and character.
So while video evidence and the umpire's own admission may show that Armando Galaraga probably got "screwed", his exemplary and unaffected handling of himself and the situation showed all of us, coaches, players, kids and parents, that sportsmanship, like victimhood is a matter of choice.