Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce and Me
I’ve been a sportswriter for 30 years, and I’ve accumulated some great stories over the years. Tonight, I got a reminder of one of the wildest of them all.
Like most sports networks during the pandemic, Fox Sports Detroit has been showing replays of famous games. They have mostly focused on the championships won by the Pistons and Red Wings, but last night they went with a Tigers game.
Specifically, the game against the Cleveland Indians on June 2, 2010 — the night Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce teamed up to create baseball’s only 28-out perfect game.
If you are a baseball fan, you know the story — it is one of the few regular-season games with its own Wikipedia page. Just saying “the Galarraga/Joyce game” brings memories pouring back for fans, while almost no one remembers Dallas Braden’s perfect game less than a month earlier.
If you don’t know the story, an average major-league pitcher had the night of his life, retiring the first 26 batters in order. He should have gotten the 27th and a perfect game, but one of baseball’s best umpires missed a simple call. It could have ended as a terrible moment in the game’s history, but Galarraga’s class and Joyce’s emotional apology made them into role models.
Just another day at the ballpark
By this point, you’ve probably guessed I covered the game, and you’d be correct. I was working for the Associated Press that night — part of my 21st season covering the Tigers for them. On a typical night, I would have been headed to the Indians clubhouse after the game to collect quotes about the loss.
Instead, I ended up as part of a legendary moment in baseball history — Joyce’s tearful admission of a horrific mistake. You’ve probably have seen the quotes, and millions of fans heard the audio in the following days.
I was the one asking the questions.
When the Indians came to bat in the ninth, I knew we had an excellent chance of seeing two baseball rarities — a perfect game and a night game ending in daylight. Roberto Hernandez only needed 96 pitches for his eight innings while Galarraga came into the 9th, having thrown 75. As a result, the sun was still well above the western horizon when Galarraga took the mound to a standing ovation.
It should have been over on the first pitch. Mark Grudzielanek crushed a line drive into the left-centerfield gap, and, with one exception, everyone in the stadium thought it was a double.
Luckily for Galarraga, the sole doubter was Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson. He sprinted over and made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch an instant before hitting the wall.
Two outs left.
Mike Redmond grounded out on a 1–2 pitch. Twenty-six up, 26 down.
“Why is he safe?!?”
Jason Donald took a strike, then a ball low and outside. On the 1–1 pitch, he hit a soft grounder toward the right side of the infield. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and second baseman Carlos Guillen both broke for the ball, with Galarraga running toward first.
Cabrera fielded the ball and tossed it to Galarraga, who made the catch without breaking stride and stepped on first base. Donald was a full step away.
The Tigers had already begun to celebrate when Joyce stunned everyone, including Donald, by signaling the runner safe. Galarraga broke into a wry smile as Tigers manager Jim Leyland came out for a brief chat with Joyce.
At that point, everyone thought Donald had broken up a perfect game by beating out an infield single.
As Galarraga prepared to pitch to his 28th hitter, Trevor Crowe, Fox Sports Detroit showed the first replay.
“Why is he safe?” shouted color commentator Rod Allen.
Allen and play-by-play announcer Mario Impemba finished the broadcast — Crowe grounded out to end the game — in an apparent state of shock.
“I’ve never been this disappointed after a Tigers win,” Impemba said after third baseman Brandon Inge threw out Crowe.
Next to the broadcast box, the reaction had been similar in the press box. I remember my response to seeing the replay: “Oh god, he’s out. It’s not even close.”
Moments later, a second thought hit me.
“I’m going to be interviewing him. I better get ready.”
Every sport has different rules about choosing the pool reporter to talk to officials after a game. Major League Baseball says it has to be a writer from a neutral outlet, and AP is the only qualifying organization at most games. In Detroit, it is almost always my job on the three or four occasions; it becomes necessary.
Sure enough, before the end of Crowe’s at-bat, I’d been approached by other writers and the Tigers PR staff to make sure I was going to do it.
When the game ended, I saw Leyland and several players charging at Joyce as he tried to leave the field, but I was heading downstairs before it developed beyond that.
The umpires’ room is a few yards down the tunnel behind home plate, and I found a comfortable cinderblock wall to lean on as I waited. There are times I’ve had to wait for 15–20 minutes and other games where I’ve been in the hallway for most of an hour.
At that point, I wasn’t even sure I’d get to talk to Joyce. The rules give the umpires the option to let the crew chief — Jim Wolf on that night — handle any interview requests.
I knew my opening question, but the rest was going to flow from the first answer. I didn’t remember any previous interviews with Joyce, but the general line taken by umpires is “I called what I saw,” so I knew I might have to explain how it looked on TV.
The healing begins
It was a shorter wait than usual, and, unusually, they allowed in other reporters. Joyce was waiting when I walked in, and I introduced myself. As soon as I saw his red-rimmed eyes, I realized this wasn’t going to be a standard umpire interview.
Jim Wolf: Are you sure you don’t want me to handle this, Jim?
Jim Joyce (JJ): I’ve got this. (looks at me) Let’s go.
Me: Jim, have you had a chance to look at a replay of the Donald play?
JJ: Yes. I asked to see it as soon as I got in here.
Me: Do you think you got the call correct?
JJ: No, I did not get the call correct. I kicked the s**t out of it.
By this point, he was already taking deep breaths to keep his emotions in check.
Me: Did you have a tough angle on the play?
JJ: I had a great angle on it. I had great positioning on it. I just missed the damn call. I missed it from here to (gestures) the wall.
Radio reporter: Is that what you told Jim Leyland when you talked to him after the game?
JJ: I did not tell him I missed the call because, at that particular time, I thought I got the call right. I really thought I got the call right.
Me: Did you think…
JJ: I thought he beat the play. I thought he beat him to the bag and I thought … at that particular time, I thought he beat the play. Now that I’m standing here and have seen the replay, and naturally, every Tiger out there was telling me I kicked the call because they’d seen the replay. I told Tim, our clubhouse guy, to cue it up and … I missed it. I missed it.
Me: Obviously, you’re never going to be happy when you miss a call…
JJ: This isn’t a call. This is a history call, and I kicked the s**t out of it. There’s nobody who feels worse than I do. I take pride in this job, and I kicked the s**t out of that call, and I took a perfect game away from that kid over there. He worked his ass off all night.
The other reporters started asking questions at the point, but Joyce never changed his stance. He said he wasn’t close to forgiving himself and refused to blame the Tigers for the post-game confrontation, saying he would have done the same thing.
After talking to us, Joyce tracked down Leyland and Galarraga for personal apologies.
While he was doing that, I talked to Donald, who was also saddened by what had happened.
“You dream of breaking up a perfect game with two out in the ninth, but not like this,” he said. “I was out. He should have gotten the perfect game.”
I went back to the press box and typed up Joyce and Donald’s quotes for distribution to the other writers. That done, I went back onto Twitter and posted the quotes for the small Tigers community — this was 2010, and I probably had about 75 followers.
This isn’t a call. This is a history call, and I kicked the s**t out of it. There’s nobody who feels worse than I do. I take pride in this job, and I kicked the s**t out of that call, and I took a perfect game away from that kid over there. He worked his ass off all night.
Until that moment, I hadn’t thought about the national impact this was going to have. Joyce’s reaction was unexpected, but I didn’t know Galarraga had been incredibly classy when he spoke to reporters. He refused to blame Joyce, saying it was just an honest mistake.
Within minutes, I started to understand — my tweets were blowing up. I began seeing retweets from national media members and famous fans. At one point, I was startled to see a retweet from Alyssa Milano before remembering she’s a huge sports fan. I would have never guessed that, ten years later, she’d be one of my 12,500 Twitter followers.
The next day, I made Joyce tear up again, telling him Mariano Rivera had just said he was the best umpire in baseball, and he’d be happy to have him out there for every game he pitched.
The waterworks started pumping before the game. Joyce was expecting boos when he stepped onto the field but received a lengthy ovation that got even louder when Galarraga brought the Tigers lineup to home plate and embraced him. He had been so angry at himself that he had no idea he and Galarraga’s post-game reactions had turned them into national symbols of sportsmanship, honesty, and forgiveness.
Joyce retired after the 2016 season, still highly regarded within the game, but knowing his legacy will consist of one mistake. Ten years later, the first sentence of his Wikipedia page reads:
For Galarraga, it was the best moment of a short career. He went 2–8 with a 4.81 ERA in the remainder of the 2010 season, then bounced around before retiring in 2015.
The pair co-wrote a book about the game in 2011 and took part in a 2019 documentary for Fox Sports 1.
Is it the most memorable sporting event of my career? No. It isn’t even close, but it’s been a strong second on my list for ten years — ahead of Justin Verlander’s first no-hitter, a Stanley Cup win for the Red Wings, an NBA title for the Pistons, and a World Series title for the Giants.
What’s first on the list? That’s a story for another time, but I’ll say this: it was the only time I’ve ever thought “this can’t be real. I think I’m hallucinating.”