The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.
Armando Galarraga had never pitched a perfect game in his major league baseball career. But on June 2, in a game against the Cleveland Indians, he was one out away from that distinction.
At bat for the Cleveland Indians was Jason Donald who hit a grounder between first and second base. First baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded the ball and threw it to Galarraga to make the tag at first.
Standing down the first base line was veteran umpire Jim Joyce. With more than twenty years experience, Joyce has made thousands of such calls in his career. He is respected as one of the best officials in the game as voted by 100 players in a poll conducted by ESPN magazine. But what happened next was a mistake of historic proportions.
As the ball entered Galarraga’s glove and Donald’s foot subsequently tagged the base, the call would certainly earn Galarraga the biggest game of his career and his shot at baseball glory. But it was not meant to be. Joyce called Donald safe.
Despite a furious appeal by Coach Jim Leyland and others, Joyce defended his call despite instant replay evidence to the contrary. Detroit went on the win the game 3-0 in spite of the controversy.
Whether in the board room or on the ball field, leadership is essential for the way in which your team performs and for lessons that are far more important. Here are a few observations worth noting.
Always give your best. Your best day can be someone else’s worst. On a professional level, Galarraga was enjoying the best day of his career. Just one out separated him from baseball history. For Joyce, a seasoned professional, it would be the darkest day of his career.
Giving your best is a discipline of all leaders. Whether you are winning the game or not, your best efforts are non-negotiable. But what we learn from this game is how suddenly ones fortunes can change. Your response during good times is predictable, but the true test of leadership is your response during the bad.
As we will later observe, both men would rise to the occasion in which their behavior off the field would be more impressive than their actions on the field. Bringing out the best in ourselves and in others may not come in ways of our choosing, but they will make us better if we act with character.
Be willing to be wrong. After the game, Joyce asked to see the video replay of the call. What he would see in the replay is what millions had already observed. He got it wrong. Appalled by his mistake, Joyce sought out Galarraga to apologize. Galarraga said, “He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody is perfect. I give a lot of credit to that guy. He apologized. He feels really bad. What am I gonna do? His eyes were watering and he didn’t have to say much. His body language said a lot.”
Even seasoned leaders get it wrong. As opposed to an attitude of arrogance and pride, a leader must be willing to admit mistakes and learn from them. Joyce teaches us that humility and confession are good for the soul. The outpouring of support that followed his apology endeared him to both fans and players alike and it will do the same for you.
Be quick to forgive. After reviewing the video a tearful Joyce said, “I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw until I saw the replay.” Joyce was distraught. Galarraga was denied.
Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” An attribute of the strong is also to forgive others which gives strength and courage to come back for another day.
After Joyce’s apology, Galarraga said, “You don’t see an umpire tell you that after a game. I gave him a hug.” Both are to be commended for being stand-up men whose actions demonstrate integrity in leadership and remind us of lessons that transcend the game. It just goes to show you that you don’t have to be perfect to be your best.
© 2010 Doug Dickerson