MLB Player Spotlight: Armando Galarraga and the ‘Imperfect Game’

A decade later, the impact of Armando Galarraga’s ‘imperfect game’ is still felt around the league.

Armando Galarraga‘s MLB career was short, but it was far from forgetful. Galarraga was born in Cumaná, Venezuela in 1982. At the age of 16, he signed as an international free agent with the Montreal Expos, thus launching his professional career.

In 2005, he was traded to the Texas Rangers in a deal that sent Alfonso Soriano to the now-Washington Nationals. Finally, in 2007 at the age of 25, Galarraga made his MLB debut with the Rangers. His stint was brief, only appearing in 3 games with one start under his belt.

However, Galarraga got his first real opportunity the following season with the Detriot Tigers. He was called up for the injured Dontrelle Willis in early April and quickly secured a spot in the starting rotation. He finished his rookie season with a 13-7 record in 28 starts, along with an impressive 3.73 ERA. He also had a league-low .236 BABIP.  His performance earned him a fourth-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

With high expectations coming into 2009, Galarraga failed to repeat his 2008 success. He went 6-10 with a lackluster 5.64 ERA. His struggle continued in 2010, where a horrid spring training performance placed him in Triple-A to start the season. However, he once again got the opportunity to fight for a rotation spot when Dontrelle Willis was traded away. He was called up in May.

After a series of up-and-down outings, Galarraga was set to start against the Cleveland Indians on June 2nd, 2010. As he stepped on the mound, he had no idea this day would define his career.

Galarraga was pounding the strike zone early, forcing soft contact and cruising through innings with an extremely efficient pitch count. As the innings went on, Galarraga remained cool as a cucumber as a national audience started tuning in to possibly witness the second perfect game of the week (Roy Halladay threw one just four days earlier).

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After retiring 24 straight, Galarraga looked to complete the perfect game. It looked as though fate was on his side when centerfielder Austin Jackson made a spectacular catch to record the first out of the inning. Then, Galarraga got the next batter to groundout softly to short. What happened next changed the course of MLB history.

As batter Jason Donald softly grounds to first, Galarraga runs to cover first and record the final out of his improbable perfect game. However, first base umpire Jim Joyce emphatically calls Donald safe, thus breaking up the perfect game with just one out to go.

When replay cameras showed the play, Donald was unquestionably out. However, instant replay and manager challenges were not yet introduced in the MLB, so there was no way to undo Joyce’s costly blunder. The call put everybody in Comerica Park in a state of disbelief. However, Galarraga smiled it off and finished off the next batter.

Galarraga completed his infamous “28-out perfect game” in just 88 pitches, 67 of which were strikes. However, the blown call made Jim Joyce public enemy number one after the game ended. He received an earful from players, fans, and the national media. When Joyce saw the replay, he immediately owned up to his mistake and directly apologized to Galarraga.

Galarraga then displayed tremendous sportsmanship by graciously accepting his apology, and forming a long-standing friendship with Joyce. The two went on to co-author a book on the event appropriately titled “Nobody’s Perfect.” 

While both Joyce and Galarraga have pleaded for the reversal of the erroneous call, the history books still remain unchanged. However, this game had a palpable effect on the future of the game. Galarraga’s imperfect game brought the possibility of expanding instant replay in MLB games to the forefront. In 2010, only home runs calls could be reviewed and reversed. However, by 2014, the MLB fully expanded their use of in-game instant replay. Now, managers can challenge just about every call except for balls and strikes.

The story of Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce also displayed a great deal of humanity, empathy, and sportsmanship in baseball. The two have been praised for their handling of the situation, and serve as role models on how to navigate the challenges that arise in the game of baseball.

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When reflecting on his legacy 10 years later, Armando Galarraga said, “I got lucky to be unlucky.”