It takes a lot to get me to write about sports. I mean the Razorbacks winning the national championship kind of lot. Sports are just something I love watching and playing, and while I think it’s true that sports have given us glimpses into the best and worst of humanity, I still rarely get into the whole Touchdown Jesus thing. But, a couple of years ago, something happened that fascinated me. I immediately started researching it and saving it for a future teaching or blog.
Back in 2010, the Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was pitching a perfect game. A huge accomplishment, that basically means he had not allowed a single batter on base for the entire game. Until the final out. Galarraga had a pitch hit back to him, tossed it over to first base and the runner was called safe by Jim Joyce. The only problem was that Jim Joyce was wrong. Really, really wrong. I mean the guy was more out that bellbottoms. Now to be fair, I imagine it must be an incredibly difficult job to be a major league umpire. The only time I’ve ever referred a game was a girls intramural basketball game at Harding. I was so bad that the players actually started yelling profanity’s at me. At a Christian school, on a girls team! So I’m inclined to cut Jim Joyce a little slack.
But Jim was not. He was an emotional wreck for weeks afterward. He recognized that Galarraga had pitched an entire perfect game, a feat accomplished by one pitcher in a thousand, and he had single handedly stole it from him. The story didn’t just run on ESPN, for days it was talked about on all the major news networks. And to his credit, Jim Joyce was bigger than most people in his situation would have been. In a world of spin and blame avoidance, Jim Joyce took full personal responsibility, he didn’t blame the lights, or the crowd or the pace of the game, he just apologized. Over and over again.
But think about being Jim Joyce…for a solid month you are the world’s scapegoat. You’re the bunt of every joke and the perfect metaphor for every commentator talking about a royal screw up.
This past Monday night, Jim Joyce was walking out onto another baseball field to ump yet another game, and he saw a middle aged woman named Jayne Powers having a life-threatening seizure. So he started administering CPR on this total stranger. For minutes he was keeping this woman alive all while singing Staying Alive (not a joke) to keep him in rhythm. And it worked, Joyce saved her life. He even visited her in the hospital the next day.
And now the networks are airing a very different kind of Jim Joyce story.
Think about this for a second. What’s the worst time in your life? The time that you wish you could go back and erase more than any other. Were you the subject of a public humiliation? Were you shamed in front of your friends and family? What ever it was, most of us can easily remember our “rock-bottom” moment of life. I wonder what it would take in the moment for us to accept the truth that “this too shall pass.” In a time when teen suicides are on the rise, and shame is passed around like currency, this is a story that I think could use some retelling.
Because every now and then our stories take a more poetic turn. Every now and then a scape goat gets a second chance.
For another decade or so Mr. Joyce is going to be a reference point for people to talk about how bad an umpire can screw up a game. He will be the one that we jokingly refer to when we talk about whether an ump is blind or not. But for all our jokes, one think Jim Joyce proved on Monday night was this, he can see a person in need. And as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned, that’s the only kind of eyesight that matters.
Rabbi’s used to say that to save a persons life is the same as saving the entire world. I like that idea. And while I’m not sure how that works out in the real world, I know this much.
Jim Joyce saved Jayne Powers, and that in turn, saved him.