Joyce’s legacy is countless good calls, one bad one

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Longtime major league baseball umpire Jim Joyce made a whole lot of excellent calls over the years, especially in the era before instant replay, back when there wasn’t much margin for error.

But he’ll be remembered by many for one call he got terribly, terribly wrong.

He called Jason Donald safe, when Donald was out.

And, just like that, there went Armando Galarraga’s perfect game — which would’ve been the first and only one in the long history of Detroit Tigers baseball.

Joyce, 61, officially retired Tuesday, after 30 years on the job.

“He was human. Umpires, how many calls do they make in a game? Like, a lot. Out, safe, out, safe, every play,” Galarraga said over the phone Wednesday. “When you’re doing it over and over, you’re gonna make mistakes. You’re not a machine. You’re not a robot.

“Umpire’s behind home plate, how many balls and strikes is he gonna call, you know?”

Galarraga, 35, is out of baseball now, but his name long will be remembered — perhaps because on that night June 2, 2010, at Comerica Park, Joyce got the call wrong.

In his fourth year pitching in the major leagues, third with the Tigers, Galarraga was an average right-hander just trying to hold down a rotation spot.

Then he set down one Cleveland Indian after another after another, and before you knew it, that Wednesday night, before a crowd of 17,738, he was taking a perfect game into the ninth inning.

Galarraga got the first out, Mark Grudzielanek, when center fielder Austin Jackson made an amazing running catch that led to Rod Allen’s memorable call on Tigers TV: “OH JACKSON!”

The next batter, Mike Redmond, grounded out to shortstop.

And the next batter, Donald, grounded out to first base. Except he didn’t. Miguel Cabrera cut the ball off and fired to Galarraga, and the two, for a split second, started celebrating. That’s when Joyce, unbelievably, signaled safe.

While Cabrera had his hands on his head in disbelief, to go with a scowl on his face, Galarraga, could only muster a shy smile after the call was made. No throwing his glove, no cursing, nothing.

The rest of the Tigers, and manager Jim Leyland, were livid, especially in the immediate moments following the game. Of course, the dugout got to watch the replay.

“He was upset, I don’t think there’s any question,” Leyland said Wednesday, talking of Galarraga’s instinctual response. “He just handled it as professional as you could. I thought that was obviously pretty impressive.

“He was upset, and rightfully so. But he handled it like a true professional.”

Galarraga got the next batter, Trevor Crowe, to ground out to third base, capping a 3-0 Tigers victory.

Baseball fans quickly dubbed it the game’s first and only 28-out perfect game, even though it simply went in the history books as a one-hit shutout. Commissioner Bud Selig declined to overturn the call. Replay only included home runs at that time. Calls on the bases weren’t reviewable until the beginning of the 2014 season.

Joyce, a Toledo-area native like Leyland, met the media afterward, and took complete blame for the call, saying, “I kicked the (bleep) out of it.”

Galarraga and Joyce met later that night, as did Leyland and Joyce.

“He was an absolute wreck,” Leyland recalled. “But he was an outstanding umpire. He always gave you a good day’s work. Obviously, he was a very good umpire for a very long time.

“I don’t think anybody that really knows the game and follows the game, sure they’ll remember that, but I don’t think that will have any bearing on how good an umpire he was. Everybody knew he was a terrific umpire.”

The next day, Leyland sent Galarraga out to home plate to present the lineup card to Joyce, who wiped away tears as some of the Tigers fans cheered and others booed.

Galarraga and Joyce would see each other again about a month-and-a-half later, and again, Joyce had red eyes.

He always had red eyes whenever he saw Galarraga, on the verge of tears.

“Yeah, dude, it’s over,” Galarraga said, laughing.

There have been 23 official perfect games in MLB history, most recently by Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in 2012.

Fans won’t remember every pitcher who threw one. Who remembers Phil Humber? Dallas Braden, anyone?

But everyone remembers Galarraga, because of the class he showed in the aftermath. The story made national news, not just becuase of the mistake, but because it proved a teaching lesson for children from both sides — if you make a mistake, acknowledge it and move on; and if things don’t go your way, however unfairly, there’s certainly a right way to handle adversity. A month after the game, Joyce and Galarraga were honored at the ESPYs.

So it all might’ve worked out the best for Galarraga. The day after the near-perfect game Chevy gave him a sparkling new Corvette. He still has it, and acknowledges he probably wouldn’t have gotten one had Joyce made the right call.

“Oh, probably not,” Galarraga said, laughing. He hasn’t seen Joyce in years, though the two did collaborate on a book, released in 2012. “He felt so bad, he was crying and crying and crying. He felt terrible.

“A lot of people respect him.”

Tim Welke, 59, of Coldwater, Mich., officially retired this week, as well, though he announced that last spring, and he didn’t umpire in 2016 because of knee surgeries.

Among the new full-time umpires for 2017 will be Adam Hamari, 33, of Marquette, Mich.

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