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NAX: Baseball always has surprises to offer fans - Odessa American: Ken Brodnax

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NAX: Baseball always has surprises to offer fans

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Posted: Sunday, June 6, 2010 12:00 am

The talk of the baseball world the last few days should have been the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr., a class act during the steroid era when many of the game’s top performers embarrassed themselves with their suspicious behavior.

Instead, Griffey’s quiet departure from the game was overshadowed by the perfect game that wasn’t.

Just a few hours after the future Hall of Famer called it quits, Detroit pitcher Armando Gallaraga was denied his place in baseball history by an incorrect call by an umpire.

On the last out of what would have been only the 21st perfect game in the game’s history, a runner was called safe.

And yet Gallaraga, who instantly had to know the umpire was wrong (because he was covering first and took the toss with his foot on the base an instant before the runner got there), just accepted his fate with a wry smile on his face. There are a lot of pitchers who would have gone ballistic.

Replay clearly showed that umpire Jim Joyce got it wrong.

Detroit’s manager, Jim Leyland, offered a futile argument. And the game ended with a whimper as Gallaraga got the next man out to end the game.

Then something amazing happened. What could have been an explosive situation was tamed by all the right words.

The pitcher, in an ironic choice of words, immediately forgave the umpire by saying, “Nobody’s perfect,” even though that night on the mound he was.

The umpire, once he was off the field, took a look at the replay and admitted his mistake. Among other things, he said, “I cost that kid a perfect game.” And he went to personally apologize to Gallaraga.

Leyland took just the right tone in his comments, pointing out that an injustice had occurred, but acknowledging that the man who made the bad call was among the best umpires in MLB. No one would have blamed him for ranting, but he didn’t.

Baseball fans had difficulty deciding who to feel the most sorry for — the pitcher or a clearly distraught umpire.

And, in feel-good manner, before the next day’s game, Gallaraga was presented with a brand new Corvette in honor of his imperfect perfect game. Then Leyland let the pitcher carry the lineup card to the home plate meeting with the umpires. Gallaraga gave the card to the guy behind the plate that afternoon, Joyce. The clearly emotional ump had his chance to publicly clear the air, muting a lot of fan backlash.

The biggest irony, however, is the fact that Gallaraga, a journeyman pitcher, likely will be more famous for being the guy who didn’t get on the short list of perfect game performers. And Joyce will always be remembered for his role, and hopefully for the grace with which he accepted what likely will be his lasting legacy.

Baseball fans often are disgusted by the direction of the game. But, for once, something that could have been an ugly outcome was turned into an inspiring moment by the behavior of all involved.

What’s more, you get the idea that Griffey wanted to walk away from his career with the least amount of fuss possible. Imperfection in Detroit made that possible.

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