Jim Joyce follows the World Series.
Baseball fans focus on Philadelphia. Tuesday night’s Game 3 between the hometown Phils and the American League pennant-winning Houston Astros will decide which team will take a 2-1 series lead. Tens of thousands of people will take seats in Citizens Bank Park, while millions more will find themselves in front of television sets across the country and beyond. It’s the Fall Classic, after all. That’s what baseball fans expect, when training camps open in February.
Joyce is one of the legions of baseball fans. For more than two decades, beginning in May 1987 and ending his time in MLB behind home plate and around the infield on October 2, 2016, Joyce managed the integrity of the game at the field level. Considering all the balls and strikes called and the safety signs made on the bases, Joyce remains a fan of the game.
Recently, I called the veteran referee. From his home in Beverton, Oregon, Joyce seemed rested and at peace, now six seasons removed from the namadic lifestyle he encountered for eight months a year.
There are two reasons I decided to give Joyce a ring. One obvious, and one not so obvious.
Before getting to the obvious, I’m still interested in how a professional like Joyce adapted to post-baseball life.
You see, long before trying his luck at the MLB level as an umpire, Joyce hung around in the minors for a decade, until he got his big break. Before setting to work three World Series, three All-Stars Games and a ton of other post-season series, Joyce sacrificed so much to get where he hoped his dream would take him.
Just like minor league baseball players, umpires also work for low wages. They also experience difficult travel conditions. While working at the Triple-A level in the Pacific Coast League and Texas League Double-A, Joyce’s goal was to be able to send his wife Kay $1,000. monthly. At the time, a promotion through the ranks of MLB umpires meant a pay raise to $50,000. per season.
And like any great story to tell, Joyce has his own when it comes to the details of his major league call-up. Dejected by years gone unnoticed, just when Joyce was ready to step down, MLB umpiring supervisor Marty Springstead stepped in.
After seeing what he liked about Joyce’s work, in 1986, at the request of Springstead, his contract was purchased.
Joyce has made a fine career for himself. Driving from his home in Toledo, Ohio, Joyce enrolled in the Bill Kinnamon School of Umpiring in St. Petersburg, which came with $2,000. tuition. It was in the late 1970s. In the end, umpiring and Joyce were a successful combination.
During his career, there were some memorable days at the ballpark for Joyce. There was this time during the 2012 season at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, where Jolyce administered CPR to a woman who was going into cardiac arrest.
Then, June 2, 2010, at Detroit’s Comerica Park – it’s the obvious date and place that defines Joyce’s place in MLB history. Joyce states that not a day goes by that someone doesn’t remind her of that day.
I remembered this game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians just recently while browsing through Amazon’s list of baseball books. There it was – Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call and One Play for Baseball History. Joyce and then Tigers pitcher Armondo Galarraga tell their story to Daniel Paiser. I had to have this book. I had to know the details of one of the most famous near-perfect games in gaming.
I was not deceived. Page 248 offers the game’s box score.
Heading into round nine, Galarraga put on a perfect game. Galarraga retired the first twenty-six batters he faced. With one out to go, for the Indians, Jason Donald walks to home plate. Joyce is the first base umpire. Donald kicks a ground fly to Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who throws the ball to Galarraga covering first base.
The throw beats Donald to the sack. But, instead of celebrating a perfect match, Joyce calls the runner safe.
Let the controversy begin.
At a time when there were no video replays, Joyce’s appeal was valid. Galarraga ends up throwing a hit. Joyce, obviously for many, blew the call.
That’s where Nobody’s Perfect comes in. The story of the game and the two main players in one of baseball’s all-time tragedies is incredibly well told.
Readers are told Joyce’s reaction to his difficult night in Comerica, as he returns to his childhood home in Toledo, to stay with his mother. His conversation with his wife Kay is private, but Joyce allows company. The connection between Detroit and Cleveland, for Joyce growing up as a baseball fan and going to games with her dad, makes this great story even bigger. Galarraga fills readers with his youth growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, being signed by the Montreal Expos, battling arm injuries, and the Tigers then taking a chance with him.
I highly recommend adding Nobody’s Perfect to your baseball library.
During my conversation with Joyce, I was surprised when he told me that there is currently no formal way for his referee peers to stay in touch. There is no official contact with MLB alumni. For most referees, retired and current, they are scattered across the country. Sometimes – out of sight, out of mind. Aside from some knee issues, keeping busy with her grandkids allows Joyce to enjoy life after baseball.
Fellow retried umpire Dale Scott, who also lives in Oregon, is among the ranks Joyce remains friendly and close with.
Thanks to the beauty of Amazon, a wonderful story comes back to me. The more I learn about Jim Joyce and the near-perfect play of a dozen MLB seasons, the more I realize why I love baseball — even in November.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio and the web since the 1980s. His columns are featured weekly on WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted by email at [email protected]
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