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After you make the wrong call

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in Leaders & Managers

Some mistakes are memorable not because they provide pyrotechnics but because they show character.

Case in point: Major league umpire Jim Joyce this summer made the most important call of his career, and it was wrong.

His mistake cost Detroit’s 28-year-old pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Only 20 times in major league history has a pitcher turned away 27 straight batters—three up, three down in nine innings.

After reviewing the video, Joyce immediately admitted that he’d blown the call. He went straight to the clubhouse to apologize.

Galarraga hugged him and told him to forget about it, saying nobody’s perfect. Later, the pitcher said he felt worse for the ump than he did for himself.

Both men, observes speechwriter and columnist Peggy Noonan, “comported themselves as fully formed adults, with patience, grace and dignity,” the pitcher showing empathy, and the umpire, as a figure of authority, freely admitting his mistake, with no attempt to spin his decision or dig in his heels.

“I just cost the kid a perfect game,” he announced, clearly shaken. “I thought [the runner] beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw until I saw the replay. It was the biggest call of my career.”

That kind of maturity is rare these days, Noonan says. Too many boomers don’t know how to accept responsibility for their mistakes and thus haven’t passed on that skill to the next generation. She calls this phenomenon a “mentoring gap.”

This time, at least, everybody did the right thing.

The next day, Galarraga received a standing ovation from the crowd and a red Corvette from General Motors.

Joyce had been offered the day off but came to work.

It was perfect.

— Adapted from “Nobody’s Perfect, but They Were Good,” Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal.

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