Leadership Moments of Truth as Presented by Baseball

Posted 06.04.2010

Armando Who would have thought that the feel good story of the week would be one of the biggest blown calls in the history of baseball? By now, you’ve probably heard the story of how Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had a perfect game plucked from his grasp when first base umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe when he was clearly out in what should have been the last play of the game. Galarraga himself was covering first and stepped on the bag with the ball in his glove a good step and a half before the runner got there.

Galarraga and the rest of the Tigers were getting ready to celebrate when he looked over to see Joyce signaling safe. That’s when a series of moments of truth began that have led to such a captivating story. In a time when oil company executives spend their time in front of Congress blaming each other for an environmental disaster and there are countless other examples of nominal leaders not taking accountability for their actions, we get a really simple and clear example of how we’d like our leaders to act and how we hope we’d respond in similar circumstances. 

Here are three simple lessons from the blown call and its aftermath:

Grace:  From the moment he realized the call was blown and ever since, Armando Galarraga has shown what can only be described as a spiritual amount of grace. Standing at first base, he kept total composure, let his manager handle the argument with the ump and headed back to the mound to pitch the 28th out of the game. Since then, he’s shown nothing but compassion to Jim Joyce and has gone out of his way to publicly declare his forgiveness. How many times have you seen someone hang onto and nurture their anger and disappointment over something that was unfairly taken away from them? It eats them up from the inside out. That’s not going to happen to Galarraga. His grace and forgiveness benefits himself as much as it does Jim Joyce.

Contrition:  Immediately after the game, Jim Joyce publicly acknowledged he had blown the call. As reported in the Washington Post, Joyce, in tears, told reporters, "It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game." He found Galarraga after the game, hugged him and apologized. It’s pretty rare for umpires to acknowledge they’re wrong. Unfortunately, lately, we’ve  seen a lot of leaders who won’t admit they’re wrong until their failures become so screamingly obvious that they feel forced to acknowledge them. By showing immediate acknowledgement of and contrition for his mistake, Jim Joyce did the right thing and made it possible to move on. Compare that to all the times that you’ve heard a leader say, “Well that’s in the past, let’s not rehash that. We’re focused on the future.”  You’re going to get a lot more credibility to lead in the future if you demonstrate that you can acknowledge and learn from your mistakes.

Maybe the best part of the story came the day after the blown call. The Tigers were still playing in Detroit and Joyce’s crew was working  the game. In a stroke of humanitarian and leadership brilliance, Tigers manager Jim Leyland asked Galarraga to go out on the field to deliver the lineup card to Joyce in front of all the fans. The two men exchanged pats on the back and the fans loudly cheered them both. Were they still disappointed that the perfect game isn’t going into the record books? Probably, but they cheered anyway. Why? They were cheering a couple of guys who, when faced with a tough situation, responded about as perfectly as anyone could.