"This," he said, "is going to be all over the airwaves."
A baseball diamond is, most simply, the intersecting of four 90-foot baselines—and, most powerfully, the intersecting of seemingly random lives. At first base at Comerica Park on June 2, Joyce and Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga, the ball in his glove and his right foot on the bag after taking a throw from first baseman Miguel Cabrera, met for what should have been the 27th out of the 21st perfect game in baseball history. Only the formality of the out call by Joyce, the first base umpire, remained.
What happened next changed their lives and may well do the same to baseball, at least to the sacrosanct manner in which out and safe have been determined since the game's inception. Joyce called the runner, Cleveland's Jason Donald, who had bounced a grounder to Cabrera, safe. So preposterously wrong was the call that it sparked instant and voluminous cries for the expanded use of instant replay in baseball, a chorus that had gained amplitude in the wake of several critical blown calls during the 2009 postseason. (Replay is currently used to review disputed home run calls but not plays on the bases.) Last Thursday commissioner Bud Selig issued a statement vowing more consideration of an enhanced replay system.
Bigger than the call, however, were the unscripted responses of Joyce, 54, and Galarraga, 28, to their chance meeting. It was the epitome of the human element—not so much for the mistake that was made as for the subsequent humility and grace of the two men. Galarraga, despite having a place in history suddenly ripped from his grasp, gave Joyce no word of protest. Instead, as many of his teammates held their heads in shock and shouted at Joyce, Galarraga looked at the umpire with a wry smile of disbelief. It stayed on his face for several moments, as the righthander turned and headed back to the mound. "I was so excited, he couldn't ruin my happiness," says Galarraga. "I just started laughing. That included nervousness. With the nerves coming out, I just laughed."
"His smile is burned into my memory," Joyce told SI three days later. "I am absolutely enthralled with the way Armando has handled this."
Galarraga climbed back up the mound and took care of the 28th out, instantly more famous for having lost a perfect game in such a cruel manner than having actually completed one. Several Tigers, especially manager Jim Leyland, ripped into Joyce as he made his way off the field. "I felt pretty good when I made the call," Joyce says. "But halfway off the field was the time I knew I probably missed it. Jimmy came out and said, 'You've got to look at this. You blew it!' And he was right."
When Joyce made it to the umpires' dressing room, he immediately instructed the attendant to cue up a replay. He watched it once—he hasn't watched it a second time—and knew he was wrong. He invited reporters into the room and, distraught and emotional, admitted with brutal honesty that he had just blown the biggest call of his life.
Meanwhile, Tigers president Dave Dombrowski walked up to Galarraga in the Tigers' clubhouse and told him, "He needs to talk to you."
"When I saw him," says Galarraga, who needed only 88 pitches to complete his gem, "I was like, 'Oh, my God.' He was red, like a tomato. He hugged me right away. Not even one word."
Then Joyce managed to say, "Lo siento [I'm sorry]." He started to cry.