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Jun. 3 2010 - 5:34 pm | 260 views | 0 recommendations | 13 comments

Be like Galarraga: Don’t get upset about the officials

The baseball world is, justifiably, in a state of apoplexy because first-base umpire Jim Joyce’s blown safe call at first base with two outs in the ninth denied on June 2 a perfect game to Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga.

This isn’t the greatest angle to see Joyce’s missed call, but it’s the best shot of a video that doesn’t get pulled for a terms-of-use violation. Plus, you can “hear” the silent shock of the crowd.

This isn’t the spot where you’re going to read an argument over whether Major League Baseball should join the rest of civilized society and institute some form of instant replay (though it should). This is where you’re going to read about the lesson Armando Galarraga has learned, given his reaction to the play: That nothing good comes from worrying and gnashing your teeth over the officials.

When I coach, I tell players all the time that I’m the only one who gets to worry about the referees — and that I won’t. (Exception: when it looks like someone is going to get hurt because of overly rough play. Then I pull the ref aside during a timeout and talk about it.) I tell kids that if you’re blaming the refs or reacting to every call, you’re not going to be on your game.

This has been particularly true with the more talented players. I’ve seen kids who dominate their opposition suddenly look human because they were so busy sulking over a referee’s call. No matter who the player is, however, I’ve never hesitated to bench someone who was worrying more about what the ref was going to do, rather than what the opposing team was going to do.

I extend that message into not blaming teammates or anyone outside yourself for something going wrong. Ask my 7-year-old, whom I chastised after he came back to the bench blaming bad pitches for striking out during coach-pitch baseball. I pointed out, with the double barrels of coach and father lecturing, that he got the same pitches as everyone else, and that if he’s ever going to get better as a baseball player, he had better not blame other people when he is unsuccessful. He seemed a little shocked by that verbal slap to the face.

My message is not that officials never make mistakes, or that your teammates never make mistakes. But in youth sports, if you allow a kid to focus his or her frustrations outward, they’re never going to develop the mindset that maybe they should improve themselves — thus, perhaps, mitigating the effects of a bad call or a teammate’s foul-up.

I also want kids to learn that mistakes happen. If they can’t forgive others for them, they also might not forgive themselves. And sometimes, bad stuff just happens. You have to learn to deal with it quickly and move on.

Fortunately, that is what Armando Galarraga is doing. When Joyce made his call, Galarraga left the arguing to his manager. On June 3, in an afternoon game against the same Cleveland Indians he faced the night before, Galarraga delivered the lineup card to Joyce, this day’s home-plate umpire. And Galarraga smiled with Joyce. Sure, it’s easier for Galarraga to laugh knowing Joyce admitted to blowing the call, and says he feels awful about it. But even though Joyce probably killed Galarraga’s only chance to throw a rare perfect game, the pitcher isn’t letting it define him. I bet he, and Joyce, will be the better for it.

Contrast that with the bitter ex-Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas and the cantankerous ump Bruce Froemming, arguing since 1972 over a ball-four call Pappas said ruined his only chance for a perfect game (though he still got the no-hitter).

Hearing these angry coots still arguing nearly 40 years later is evidence of how much worrying about the officials can eat you up inside, and define your play on the field more than your actual play on the field.


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  1. collapse expand

    when there is a problem with the refs, I tell my kids: we can’t control what the ref does, but we CAN control what WE do.

  2. collapse expand

    Your point about kids in youth sports is absolutely correct. However, your point with tying it in to pro sports missed a few points.

    Joyce is widely recognized as one of the best umps in baseball. He has been around for a long time, so he has undoubtedly blown that same call dozens of times, just never in such a high profile moment. When faced with what must be the low point of his otherwise good career, he did what others don’t. He fell on his sword. In doing so, he respected the players, he respected the fans, and he respected the game.

    Contrast this with another umpire, Angel Hernandez, who blew an important call on the same night, one which may have actually altered the outcome of the game. Despite the fact that replays clearly showed that the player tagged, Hernandez said after the game “I have no comment. The guy missed the bag.”

    Along with this one instance, the difference between the two umps is telling. Hernandez has ejected seventh inning stretch singers and ballpark organists. Hernandez has ejected players standing in their shortstop position during the middle of an inning while working third base. Hernandez misses many calls, but issues ejections at the drop of a hat. Literally.

    In contrast, despite the fact that there were vehement protests, Joyce offered a defense of the protests.

    Definately, kids should not argue with youth league officials. But as the title of this blog is “Your kid’s not going pro,” I think that the better message from last nights incident is that you reap what you sow.

    You can screw up monumentally, and still have the respect of those around you. But you must conduct yourself with honor and always respect those around you. I think we all know that if Angel Hernandez blew that call, the response would have been different in the media, and probably on the field and in the clubhouse as well.

    People respect two things more than all else: effort and honesty. Last night, Joyce demonstrated both qualities. That is the reason that the hometown fans were shaking his hand as he walked onto the field today.

    • collapse expand

      Craig:

      I think you’re right in that “reap what you sow” is another lesson here. Refs aside, I once coached a junior high-aged basketball team that had a kid who was a decent player, but who fooled around a lot in practice and wouldn’t go full-out when other players would. I once made a remark about how you can’t go halfway in practices and expect to do well in games, and then this kid’s teammates — with no prompting from me, with me not even having this kid specifically in mind as I said this — pointed out toward him and called him out by name.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I think the remedy for this is in the hands of sportwriters and sports historians. Regardless of Bud Selig’s ethical cowardice, even lukewarm baseball fans know that Galaragga pitched a perfect game, and know that Jim Joyce seems more upset about his blown call than anyone else.

    Why should we, or future generations acknowledge and legitimize Selig’s refusal to correct a mistake known to almost all fans? It would be much easier for sportswriters and sport historians who compile lists to simply include Galaragga’s in any listing of perfect games? If you want to include a footnote that says it was mistakenly not included in official stats, fine. Such a footnote could even remind future fans about the level of intelligence in the bureaucratic mind. Only those obsessed with official stats would care, and I am not one of them.

  4. collapse expand

    I am amazed by a number of things here. First of all, Galarraga’s reaction to the blown call. His immediate reaction was just a smile that said, “Really? No, really? Okay.” No George Brett pine-tar explosion, no Moises Alou sulking. (I always wonder what might have happened to that Cubs team had they shrugged the Bartman incident off and just gone about their business …)

    I am just as awestruck at the fact that Joyce admitted he blew the call. I want Joyce covering every game I watch because he is such a rare breed. I think that what angers players (and fans) is the apparent hubris of most officials. Simply showing genuine remorse and apologizing for the mistake saved Joyce from a life-time of Don Dekinger ignominy. Hell, the guy was in tears yesterday when Galarraga delivered the line-up card to him. How can you not feel for the guy? That was one of the best moments in sports in a long time.

  5. collapse expand

    you are completely correct. choking seems to happen even in pro sports, when players begin to complain about outside factors. take the blown call in game 6 of the 85 world series, the cards simply choked away the 9th inning as well as the entirety of game 7. take the ohio state/miami 2003 fiesta bowl, the pass interference call in overtime took the wind out of the hurricanes sails. look at the steve bartman incident.

    im sure there are other examples, but the lesson is life isnt always fair, and outside influences only affect the outcome if the contest is tight. had the pitcher induced a pop up or a strikeout rather than a semi-close call at first base, this wouldnt have been an issue. if you dont want the result to hinge on the outside influence, dont allow it to.

    • collapse expand

      All good examples of teams who let outside influences take the wind out of their sails. It’s natural that should happen, although the Cardinals’ meltdown in ‘85 was particularly wild. (Lost game 6, then completely lost their minds in game 7, losing 11-0 and having multiple players ejected.) It’s a tough lesson to learn, ignoring outside influences. Hey, if Moises Alou doesn’t jump up and down and get so angry in ‘03, do the Cubs look at their jerseys, realize they’re the Cubs, and fall apart?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    Kids and adults behave as if perfect officiating is a god given right, even if it is a little league game. Even the best umpires in the world can make mistakes. I’m sure volunteer refs in organized sports don’t like being yelled at when they make an honest mistake. Officiating is harder than it looks. People should learn that missed calls are a part of the game. If you don’t like it, maybe you should try something were success or failure can be decided by someone making a judgment call.

    • collapse expand

      Officials are just another element of the game. Like rain. Or cold. Or an astroturf field v. natural grass. Players and coaches should deal. Which Galarraga did. And Joyce did.

      If anybody thinks it’s easy to officiate, they should try it once. And short of that, I recommend they read Bruce Weber’s book “As They See ‘Em: a Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires.” Excellent read and tremendously enlightening. Bob, if you haven’t read it, I think you’d really enjoy it.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    A youth sports blog written by Bob Cook. He contributes to NBCSports.com, or MSNBC.com, if you prefer. He’s delivered sports commentaries for All Things Considered. For three years he wrote the weekly “Kick Out the Sports!” column for Flak Magazine.

    Most importantly for this blog, Bob is a father of four who is in the throes of being a sports parent and youth coach in an inner-ring suburb of Chicago. He reserves the right to change names to protect the innocent and the extremely, extremely guilty.

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