Sports provide an amazing training ground for life. In 2010, Baseball, “America’s Pastime,” provided a near-perfect example of grace in action. Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, was having a tough season. In fact, he was on the verge of being sent back to the Minor Leagues. Given one more starting assignment, he pitched eight flawless innings and stood only three outs away from the rare and coveted “perfect game.” With only two outs to go, the next batter hit a groundball fielded by the first baseman, who tossed it to Galarraga as he covered first base. This play, like the entire game up to that point, was worked to perfection—except the umpire called the runner safe although he was obviously out. Galarraga simply smiled. It was a smile that conveyed, as one sports writer said, “a hope that the umpire was right because it sure seemed as if he was wrong.” The instant replay showed the runner was out and the umpire, Jim Joyce, was wrong. The expected anger descended upon Joyce from the manager, team, and crowd, but not from the one person with perhaps the most right to be angry—Galarraga himself. After the game, while the media attempted to bait him into an angry response of condemning the umpire who made the bad call, Galarraga again simply smiled and softly said, “We all make mistakes.”
When Joyce saw the replay, he immediately and sincerely declared, “I cost that kid a perfect game.” Joyce personally went to Galarraga and asked for forgiveness. Galarraga not only forgave Joyce but attempted to console the visibly distraught umpire. Whether the two men are believers or not, they both exhibited the grace of confession and
But this story was not yet over. Joyce would be the home plate umpire the next day, and, of course, he expected nothing but abuse, anger, and jeers from the crowd. To start a game, the manager normally brings the starting lineup card to the home plate umpire; but this time, the Tigers’ manager sent Galarraga with the card. When the two men met at home plate, Joyce wept and Galarraga again smiled, put his arm around him, and consoled him. The private reconciliation of the day before became public. The crowd erupted into spontaneous cheers and applause.
What would happen if Christ’s followers intentionally acted this way toward each other? Did not Christ call us to “forgive others as we have been forgiven?” Would the world then react the same way those baseball fans did if we responded to the challenges of life graciously for Christ’s sake? They might not cheer, but they might be amazed and might even ask us what enables us to forgive and encourage one another.
That day, baseball did its job of teaching lessons of life. We live in a broken world. Therefore, we have to deal with disappointments constantly. We are not allowed to respond with vengeance. We are called to overcome evil with good. Here was a young man who had in his hands “the perfect game.” It was taken from him by an error, but he rose above the circumstance, realizing that he was denied a “perfect game” because he lived in an “imperfect world.”
I hope and pray that Galarraga knows the Redeemer. I also pray that those who are redeemed will be challenged by this event to live redemptively by grace because of God’s saving grace. Because of his response, I was curious to know what or who was in Galarraga’s life that caused him to exhibit such courage and grace. Shortly thereafter in an interview, his wife said his response was no surprise because that “is just who he is.” Her comment reminded me of a maxim that I developed earlier to challenge my faltering life: circumstances do not dictate your character, they reveal it and provide the opportunity to refine it. Armando Galar-raga’s character was revealed in a circumstance that challenges me to call upon God’s transforming grace in my life to be courageous, forgiving, and gracious for Christ in the midst of disappointments.
In humble reliance upon divine grace, let’s display the gospel response of graciousness in an “imperfect world.” The world may not cheer, but Christ will be exalted, and that will be glorious.