Baseball sermon for the day

Cue the cheesy ballpark organ music. Preach it, Sister Annie Savoy.

I believe in the Church of Baseball.

I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan.

I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. ...

Now, I realize that there are people who doubt that baseball is actually a form of organized, yet interfaith, civil religion. For me, that issue was settled a long time ago. I think it's the high-intensity nature of the game's reverence for relics and the presumed infallibility of its holy statistics that pushes the national pastime over the line from game into religion.

Then there are people on the other side of the question who believe that almost all forms of sport are, to one degree or another, "religions" in the context of modern America.

Whatever. How can you look at the New York Yankees without thinking about the Philistines? How can you ponder the history of the Chicago Cubs without thinking about the fall of man?

All of this is to say that I, like many fans, have been quite caught up in the tragic, yet inspiring story, of umpire Jim Joyce and his incorrect call that cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga the first perfect in the history of this noble, but beleaguered, franchise in a city that can use its share of good breaks, not bad ones.

It's interesting, of course, that the Michigan legislature has already turned this into politics with quick legislation declaring that Galarraga pitched a perfect game, no matter what the commissioner of baseball says. But that feels fake, doesn't it? This story isn't about politics.

No, what got to me was the inspired decision by Detroit manager Jim Leyland to respond to Joyce's heartfelt confession of his own error, and his apology to Galarraga and to the fans, by sending the pitcher out at the very next game to hand over the lineup card to the grieving ump. This was a high-church rite in the baseball faith, no doubt about it.

What's the ghost there? Writers have been trying to figure out how to describe the sheer grace of this gesture, Galarraga's lack of bitterness and Joyce's willingness to own up to his error. On top of all that, most of the Detroit fans cheered Joyce when returned to the workplace.

Maybe this is simply good sportsmanship. But tell me that there isn't something else happening in this passage near the top of this A1 news feature from the noted baseball writer Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post.

What next? World peace?

Galarraga appeared to have completed the 21st perfect game in major league history, when he stepped on first base well before Cleveland Indians runner Jason Donald for what would have been the game's final out. But Joyce ruled Donald safe, a call he admitted was a mistake after viewing television replays following the game.

When that admission and the courage to make it was acknowledged with cheers Thursday afternoon, Joyce's face stayed firm, but the tears of gratitude rolled at the Tigers' magnanimity. After the ump wiped his eyes, Galarraga gave him a slap on the back, and Joyce smacked him back, dugout gestures of respect, unmistakable. Hard men, tough game, we play again today. Joyce, you work the plate; just get all 300 calls right.

Wait for it, because there's more moral language to come.

... (E)verywhere, observers shook their heads that a thing that was so sad and screwed up late Wednesday night could, simply by good will and compassion, be turned into something sparklingly fresh, unexpectedly strong and best-of-baseball by Thursday afternoon.

In fairy tales, human decency transforms bad into good. Don't bet too much on that formula working tomorrow. But it did for one day. In an age of stage-managed news-conference remorse and corporate shirking of responsibility, the Galarraga Imperfecto now shines with a fresh-scrubbed sense of honor. Sometimes, maybe we can tell the difference between what matters and what doesn't.

Handed a baseball disaster Wednesday night, everyone showed the absolute best in themselves. In a kind of cascade effect, one person saw unexpected virtue in another and decided, "Well, I guess I can suck it up and do the right thing, too, if he can."

On one level, this can be called humanism at its best. But doesn't it feel like more than that?

So you tell me, was I the only fan in this God-fearing land of ours who wondered what the ultimate true believer -- in baseball and in the transforming power of religious faith -- Ernie Harwell would have had to say about this scene? What would you give, baseball believers, to have a recording of the graceful voice of Harwell describing these stunning scenes from a press box up in the clouds?

So, what would Ernie do?

The miracle this week was that the folks in Detroit managed to do precisely that.

What a good-news story. Amen.

Please respect our Commenting Policy