On June 2, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, 28, retired the first 26 batters vs. Cleveland, leaving him one out shy of baseball’s 20th perfect game. The next batter grounded to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He tossed the ball to Galarraga, who stepped on first base. The final out! History! And it was history, if not in the way The Pitcher expected, or hoped.
The Good Book says, “A little child shall lead them.” Equally true: A life well lived can inspire us. A 1984 film, “Mass Appeal,” rued a character’s “order of priorities.” Turned upside-down, they can turn us inside-out.
In my 20s, a co-worker’s every other sentence referenced his $20,000 bank balance: at that time, real money. He could have walked on water, cured the gout or realigned the planets, but I only recall his hubris. My colleague seemed small.
By contrast, broadcaster Curt Gowdy aired 12 World Series, seven Olympics and the Emmy Award-winning “American Sportsman.” Three decades later, NBC TV director Harry Coyle only recalled Curt’s treating the 1958 Series production crew to dinner. To him, Gowdy seemed large.
Famed announcer Mel Allen knew captains and kings but never lost his chivalry.
Being human, we bond with those who act humanely, like The Pitcher, The Umpire and The Coach.
On June 2, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, 28, retired the first 26 batters vs. Cleveland, leaving him one out shy of baseball’s 20th perfect game. The next batter grounded to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He tossed the ball to Galarraga, who stepped on first base. The final out! History!
And it was history, if not in the way The Pitcher expected, or hoped.
The Detroit crowd roared until The Umpire, Jim Joyce, signaled the runner safe. Remember William Bendix’s film “Kill the Umpire?” The throng seemed ready to. At this point, Roger Clemens throws a bat. Barry Bonds cries racism. A hundred different players swear a thousand different ways. Instead, The Pitcher calmly retook the mound, got the last out, and concluded his tour de force.
Afterward, Joyce left the field, watched the play and realized his error. In tears, he went to the Tigers clubhouse, apologized to Galarraga, and blamed not British Petroleum, George W. Bush or the rain in Spain but — stop the presses — himself. Next day, Galarraga, unbitter, gave Joyce the lineup card at home plate, personifying Hemingway’s “grace under pressure”: nobility in an unnoble age.
Hailing a colleague, Edmund Burke once said, “He may live long. He may do much. But here is the summit.” Joyce and Galarraga may scale "American Idol," win the lottery or grand marshal the Rose Parade, but never exceed theirs.
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On June 4, The Coach died, at 99, having shown what a writer called “some quality, deep-going in the world’s glib way.” John Wooden was large, too.
The 1948-75 UCLA coach won 10 college basketball titles. A Merlin on the court, he was even better off. His bluest epithet was “Goodness gracious sakes alive.” He quoted Lincoln on reticence: “It is better to keep quiet and let people think you are a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.” Wife Nell died in 1985. For the next quarter-century, Wooden wrote weekly love letters. His priorities were pure as a rimless jumper: faith, family, friends.
“In the eyes of most observers, my title is Coach Wooden,” he said, “but I have viewed my primary job as one of educating others. I am a teacher.” Longevity bred perspective: “Don’t let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low.”
We are all mortal, thus, fallible, doomed each day to slight, err and fail. Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Watching, we can observe how to keep priorities in order: to wit, The Pitcher, The Umpire, and The Coach.
Curt Smith is the author of 13 books and former speech writer to President George H.W. Bush. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.