The scoring on the play read “base hit.” The call, a mistake by first-base umpire Jim Joyce, cost Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

It set off a national debate over what Major League Baseball should do to rectify the situation, how all the parties involve should act to right this wrong.

In the end, Commissioner Bud Selig did nothing, which was exactly the right thing to do. We can’t go back and rewrite the history book, trying to correct every mistake and human error made in the course of a game.

We can take a moment to appreciate the incredible show of good sportsmanship by Galarraga, Joyce, and everyone else involved in the situation.

Galarraga handled the blown call with incredible grace, standing at first base with the ball in his glove and smiling at Joyce.

It didn’t take long for Joyce to realize how badly he had blown the call. “It was the biggest call of my career,” the 20-year umpiring veteran told the media after the game.

“I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

We live in a win-at-all-costs society, one that believes every mistake is an egregious act committed to rob someone of what is rightfully theirs. If anyone had a right to go off on a rant, to complain to the world about his place in history being stolen by human error, it was Galarraga.

Yet the 28-year old, who started the year in the minors, would have none of it. Even after sports fans from coast-to-coast clamored for justice.

I have a lot of respect for (Joyce),” he told reporters. “It takes a lot to say you’re sorry and to say in interviews he made a mistake. I’m sad, but I know that I pitched a perfect game. The first 28-out perfect game.”

We teach our children to be good sports.

We make them line up and shake hands after every Little League game and youth soccer match.

We spend those long mid-winter drives to and from hockey rinks talking about how it’s okay to do your best and come up short. Sometimes, we say, an opponent will beat you even when you give it everything you’ve got. There’s no shame in that.

Yet we scream at the ref for a bad call. We yell at the ump for squeezing the strike zone and getting in the way of a 12-year old pitcher’s 10-strikeout day. Our actions from the sidelines speak volumes, even while our words on the drive home are reminders that “it’s only a game.”

That’s why Galarraga’s reaction in the days following the failed no-hitter have been so refreshing. He chose civility over outrage. Galarraga was just about the only one remaining calm as the debate intensified. While sports-talk radio blowhards from coast-to-coast screamed about what needed to be done, Galarraga knew the answer. He simply needed to accept Joyce’s apology, thank him for trying his best, and move on with his life.

In doing that, in showing grace when others would show rage, Galarraga was truly perfect. Look around the sidelines the next time you’re at an organized kids’ sport. You’d be hard pressed to find many adults showing that same level of sportsmanship.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.