Good Sportsmanship

There’s a scene in Barry Levinson’s 1982 flick Diner (one of my very favorite, top-10 flicks, by the way), in which Eddie’s administering his Baltimore Colts quiz to his prospective bride, Elyse.  Elyse comes up short (two points!  two points!), and when asked what his son will do, Eddie’s father replies, “He’ll give it to her.  Good sportsmanship is worth two points.”

We seem to live in the era of bad sportsmanship.  From Goldman Sachs executives to BP CEO Tony Hayward, from Floyd Landis to Mark McGwire, we seem to pass the proverbial buck and it’s win, win, who won?!, not how was the game played.  I think the height of bad sportsmanship can probably be found on any one of 982 reality shows on TV right this moment.

Even Mr. Baseball couldn't have made this one up.

Which is why an event that happened last week that showcased good sportsmanship was pretty damn memorable.  By now you’ve no doubt read the extensive ink spilled on the tale of poor Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, a heretofore undistinguished Venezuelan major league pitcher who, on Wednesday, June 2nd, was on his way to baseball immortality by tossing the game’s 21st perfect game (truly a feat; few sports even have the concept of ‘the perfect game’) when it was spoiled by an erroneous, truly terrible, kill-the-ump-c’mon,-blue! call by Jim Joyce, who ruled the Cleveland Indian’s Jason Donald safe at first when anyone, really, the guys at the International Space Station could’ve seen he was out.

Out!  Clenched fist, perfect game, history books.  Would’a been oh-so-easy.  (If you haven’t seen the video, please take a moment–  it’s one of the most heart wrenching moments I’ve ever seen in sports.  “He’s out, why is he safe?  Are you kidding me?  Oh my God, Jim Joyce, no!”)

Was Enrico Pallazzo the umpire?

And since then stat heads have duked it out, barroom discussions have centered on almost nothing else, MLB commissioner Bud Selig has (in my opinion, appropriately) refused to reverse the call.  The Internet’s been atwitter, and the sports world has had grist for the mill as we hit some soccer tournament.

But, watch the video again:  Miguel Carbrera looks appropriately incredulous, and gets on Joyce’s case; Jim Leyland understandably races out to argue.  The fans in the ballpark boo as loud as their lungs will let ’em, and everyone seems in a state of shock.

Except pitcher Galarraga, who sports a kind of bemused smile.  He doesn’t curse, go berserk, pull a hissy fit–  his one shot a baseball immortality has wrongly vanished, and he just kind of smiles.

In the days that followed Jim Joyce profusely apologized, reducing himself to tears.  And Galarraga?  He smiled and winked, probably unintentionally quoted Billy Wilder (“Nobody’s perfect.”) and forgave Joyce.

And while I think the call has to stand (it sets a dangerous precedent, this idea of reversing blown umpire calls), and I think that instant replay is prevalent enough with just questionable home run calls, and the charming beauty of baseball’s human side, its imperfections that make the game so very perfect, well…  I still think this kind of rare good sportsmanship is worth two points.

This is what good sportsmanship looks like.


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