On Wednesday evening, June 2, a perfect game turned into a routine win on the flawed call of a first base umpire.
With 26 outs—only one away from baseball immortality, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one away from the fabled “perfect game” as he ran to first base to make the last out, but first base umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe. His self-confessed error wrenched defeat from the hands of obvious victory as the video replay clearly showed. And baseball commissioner Bud Selig has refused to overturn the umpire’s call.
A blog by John Aloysius Farrell says it all. “But there’s no need to weep for Armando. Over time, Galarraga’s sublime effort will be mentioned and remembered more than any other perfect game… Galarraga will get a footnote in every baseball book and a display of his own in Cooperstown, no doubt, as the victim of the worst call ever.”
Farrell continued, “Out of the ultimate baseball distress, Galarraga has immortalized forgiveness and magnificent character. He did not explode in rage as his teammates understandably did nor grouse endlessly as many fans have done. Nor did he scream for new instant replay rules which many sport officials and devotees are asking.”
Galarraga is a champion of character if not of record. The cheated pitcher humbly said of Joyce, “Nobody is perfect.” After the game, Joyce said, “I just cost that kid a perfect game. I would’ve been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me.”
Several biblical themes find focus in this absorbing story: justification, confession and forgiveness.
Video doesn’t lie, and the replay shows Galarraga beating the runner by a step. Although the umpire missed the truth, the scene replayed thousands of times justified pitcher perfection. To each other, we humans are invariably and hopelessly flawed, yet in God’s perfect redemption picture we are justified by faith in Christ. Unlike Galarraga, we lose badly in the quest for perfection and called “out” for our sin, but trusting the completed work of Christ centers us in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The old saying repeated by countless Bible teachers holds here. Justified means “just as if I’d never sinned.”
The pitcher’s forgiveness is a bright light in a dark world where the blame game has been elevated to an art form. He could focus on the wrong and hold the ump in disgust, thus creating a permanent misery, but he’s moving on, more concerned about responsibilities than rights.
The sour episode is sweetened some by Joyce’s forthright admission of error—no excuses, just a flat-out confession that he really messed up and hurt a young player’s chances for baseball immortality. He will bear the scar for life, but his immediate hope was instant confession. In our Christian lives, unconfessed sin merely grows scar tissue more evident with passing time. The cleared slate is described in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Seldom has a sports goof ended so well for so many. The pitcher is justified and offers forgiveness, and the umpire features confession and is forgiven. Perhaps the day of baseball instant replay is at hand. Whether instituted or not, that June evening in the Detroit ballpark will engage lively athletic discussion for years to come and hopefully be remembered as an illustration of some great spiritual lessons.