Not perfect game, but perfect attitude

Published 8:18 pm Thursday, June 3, 2010

In our culture, we often turn athletes into heros, for better or worse.

Our children idolize them, from Michael Jordan to Tim Tebow. Our society makes celebrities of them: think Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. We forgive their sins, from Pete Rose to Michael Vick, and we tolerate their excesses and outbursts, from Babe Ruth to Terrell Owens.

Not often enough do we laud and celebrate the athletes whose very nature embodies the spirit of sportsmanship.

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At least, for a shining moment, Armando Galarraga is changing that.

The Detroit Tigers’ pitcher who was one botched call away from having only the 21st perfect game ever pitched on Wednesday can teach us all how to be better athletes.

When Galarraga, who had faced and retired 26 batters in the Tigers’ battle against the Cleveland Indians, headed to first to catch what appeared to be an “easy out” toss from the first-baseman, surely even he was thinking about the record book; about the historic achievement of pitching a perfect game. After all, he’s not a superstar pitcher. With a 20-18 record, this was undoubtedly his greatest achievement in what has been a solid, but unremarkable, career.

But umpire Jim Joyce botched the call, signaling the runner safe even as fans and players shouted their disbelief.

Galarraga simply turned and smiled at the ump, even laughing a little bit. And then he went back to the mound and continued to pitch.

Replays would later confirm what Galarraga and the players on the field already knew: the runner was out. He had pitched, and his teammates had played, a perfect game. And the umpire publicly acknowledged his botched call.

Even with that consolation, Galarraga has maintained an air of dignity and respect about the issue, saying only that no one is perfect; mistakes happen.

Life, he seems to say, will go on. As will baseball.

With history and fame snatched from his grasp in a split-second call, Galarraga has by all accounts a right to be indignant, a right to be angry. Instead, he’s reflective, choosing not to pass blame and judgment. Choosing not to wallow in anger or self-pity, but instead to look ahead, like any good athlete should do, at the next game.

He may not have earned that perfect game in the record books, but for this moment in time he is earning the respect of millions of fans by showing perfect sportsmanship.