7 June 2010

Sport – There Is Hope

I’m a football fan but I’m becoming increasingly disillusioned by all the faking of injuries, the time wasting and the general histrionics of the players although, having said that now that Jens Lehmann (Arsenal) and Christiano Ronaldo (Man Utd) have left these shores, 50% of the stupid behaviour has gone with them.

These guys should look at rugby where, apart from ‘Bloodgate’ last year when a player faked some blood so that he could be replaced by a specialist kicker, their behaviour is generally quite good. OK they do have a few bouts of fisticuffs now and again but at the end of a match, they clap each other off the pitch and then all have dinner together later that night.

But both of them could look to golf where an unwritten etiquette is that a player is self-regulating, i.e. if a player makes a punishable error, even if nobody else has seen it, then they are duty bound by the generally accepted behavior code, to report it and take the appropriate penalty. Only a few months ago, an English golfer by the name of Brian Davis was playing in the US when he made it through to a sudden death play-off. The prize was just over $1,000,000 but as he swung his club in a bunker he thought he had hit something other than the ball. He duly called over an official who studied a replay and noticed that Davis had hit a reed on his backswing. He incurred a two-stroke penalty and finished third.

But whilst that was at an individual level, sporting behavior generally falls short when it’s a team game - players surrounding referees to dispute decisions, cricket teams ‘sledging’ each other (mumbling vicious and mischievous utterances just before the batsman takes a delivery) and Grand Prix teams cheating each other out of finishing places by all sorts of illegal subterfuge.

So it was a breath of fresh air when I read about a baseball game in Detroit last week.

Do you know what a ‘perfect game’ is in baseball? No? I didn’t either until I discovered that it happens when the pitcher manages to get through a complete game without any of the batters getting to first base. In 150-odd years of professional baseball in the US, prior to the start of this season, a perfect game had only been pitched 18 times in the major leagues. No pitcher has ever managed the feat twice. Considering that 2,400 Major League Baseball games are played every season, which means around 400,000 in total, that's roughly a ‘perfect game’ only every 20,000 games.

Then last Wednesday night in Detroit, a city that could use all the good news going, Armando Galarraga of the Tigers was going to join the pantheon of ‘perfect game pitchers ... until one of the umpires, a guy called Joyce, blew it. Galarraga had retired 26 Cleveland Indian batters and was looking for the third and final out of the ninth innings. The batter, Jason Donald, hit a pitch to his right to a waiting fielder whose throw beat him to first base and Donald was out, as the TV replays clearly show, by half a stride. Everybody knew he was out - except umpire Joyce, who quickly and clearly declared Donald to be in, and robbed Galarraga of his place in history.

Well, as you would expect, the Detroit players remonstrated, the fans booed in disgust and the nation agreed an injustice had been done. To his credit, Joyce, after seeing the replays, expressed mortification at his error. But that’s not the end of the story.

As reported in the US press, on Thursday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers and the Indians again came out to play, with Joyce umpiring as usual. But rather than castigate Joyce for his error, fans of the recession hit Motor City stood to a man to cheer a guy who admitted his mistake, which had denied one of their own a perfect game, a feat accomplished just 20 times since 1858. And, everywhere, observers shook their heads that a thing that was so sad and screwed up late Wednesday night could, simply by good will and compassion, be turned into something so humanitarian, so heart-warming, so sporting.

As the game began, Joyce's fellow umpires surrounded him in support, while members of the Tigers stopped by his field position, patted his arm and spoke a few words.

Afterwards, umpire Joyce was lost for words. He described it as ‘love’.

How’s that for a nice story?

The picture is of Gallaraga and Joyce talking before Thursday’s game and after the ‘mistake’ the previous evening.

PS - my PC is dying a slow, painful death so blogs might be infrequent until the problem is sorted.

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