If anyone ever had a good reason to be upset, lose his cool, throw a temper tantrum, hold a grudge and never forgive, it is Armando Galarraga.
This pitcher for the Detroit Tigers faced 26 Cleveland Indians batters last week and got all of them out. He was just one batter a way from pitching a perfect game, something which has only been done 20 other times in the history of major league baseball.
He pitched to Cleveland’s Jason Donald and got exactly what he wanted -- a groundball. First baseman Miguel Cabrera picked up the grounder and threw towards Galarraga who ran over to cover first base.
The throw beat Donald to the base. That’s it! A perfect game!!
But first base umpire, Jim Joyce, inexplicably called Donald safe. Despite the boos throughout Comerica Park, the call was made and Donald was on first base with an infield single.
No perfect game for Galarraga. Not even a no-hitter. No mention of his gem of a pitching performance in the record books.
The replay clearly demonstrated that Donald was out. Even the umpire admitted that he blew the call. “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” he said.
So, how did Galarraga respond? In today’s world of spoiled and selfish professional athletes he no doubt argued in the umpire's face with wild gesticulations and obscenities. He surely went crazy in the post-game press conference, earning himself all kinds of league fines and sanctions.
No, that's nothing like what actually happened. His initial reaction to the botched call was a bit of a smile, and then he went on pitching, getting the final out of the game. Even umpire Joyce was stunned by Galarraga’s sportsmanship. “I would’ve been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me.”
But, then, Galarraga went a step beyond, accepting Joyce's request to apologize face to face. (By the way, let's not overlook the acknowledgement of error and desire to apologize on the part of the umpire.) Galarraga welcomed the meeting, saying, “He feels really bad and I know that nobody’s perfect. I understand.” When Joyce expressed how sorry he was, Galarraga responded, “I don’t know what to say. I can give you a hug.”
Any major league pitcher would describe pitching a perfect game as a career highlight. This certainly applies to Galarraga, a 28-year-old who was sent to the minor leagues after spring training and was just called back up to the majors two weeks earlier. He could have easily justified an angry rant including throwing and breaking things to let out his anger. He certainly could have turned down the umpire's offer for a meeting. And yet, Galarraga handled the situation with the grace, dignity and control.
When it comes to anger, one must go to the complete extreme.
Maimonides teaches that with character traits, we should strive for the middle of road. There are times when we need to refrain from acting with a particular trait but there are other times when it has a good use. For example, kindness is good, but too much kindness can be smothering. Or misplaced kindness (e.g. not punishing a criminal) is dangerous.
However, explains Maimonides, when it comes to anger, one must go to the complete extreme and strive to never get angry. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in Path of the Just, notes that the behavior of the grate sage Hillel "transcends all others, for he took offense at nothing and felt not even a stirring of anger." This even in the face of extreme provocation.
Is this really possible? Can we really be expected to never get angry? Don't all humans get angry when others insult us? Don't all humans fill with rage when someone breaks or damages one of our belongings? Don't all humans throw a temper when we are not treated with respect? Don't all humans rant and bear a grudge when someone robs us of our life’s dream?
Armando Galarraga showed us that the impossible is possible: We can avoid getting angry even in the most tense, difficult and insulting situations.
In my book, Galarraga scored even better than a perfect game.