Sports Illustrated announced today that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was named the “Sportsman of the Year.” SI has given the honor each year for the past 57 years. Brees lead the Saints to a their first ever Super Bowl title and SI credits him with “helping lead the city of New Orleans’ rebirth after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.”
I have no issue with SI‘s pick. Brees is not only a fine player, but his generosity in giving of his time and money to the city of New Orleans is well documented. Surely, if more athletes “got it” the way Brees does, the world would be a better place.
That said, the Tigers missed out on another award this off-season. When Austin Jackson placed second to Neftali Feliz in the Rookie of the Year balloting, many fans (me) felt like we were robbed. Miguel Cabrera was runner-up for Josh Hamilton for the MVP award as well, despite a compelling case for the honor. Hamilton’s numbers, and his story, were just too good to not be rewarded. Cabrera has his own story of redemption, but this wasn’t his time. That time will come soon enough, I suppose.
But this honor, the Sportsman of the Year, could have easily gone to another Tiger; Armando Galarraga.
We all know the back-story. Galarraga’s date with immortality was on the line when Cleveland shortstop Jason Donald came to the plate with two outs in the ninth on June 2 in Detroit. Donald was the last Indians hope, the only batter standing in the way of perfection for Galarraga. Twenty-six consecutive batters has come to the plate during this night, and all of them had gone back to the bench without reaching base.
When Galarraga took the throw from Cabrera on Donald’s slow roller to the right side, he stepped on the bag and immediately began to raise his arms in triumph, but only for a split-second. Jim Joyce, by all accounts one of the games better umpires, called the runner safe and Galarraga’s perfect game was gone.
Instead of charging after Joyce, instead of verbally berating him like so many of his Tiger teammates did, Galarraga simply smiled, went back to the mound, and calmly retired the next batter. His pitching performance was more than masterful that night, but what made the evening all the more memorable was not the blown call, but the way Galarraga took in all in stride.
He was never angry with Joyce after the game. He didn’t sulk about being robbed of his rightful place in the history books. When he learned Joyce’s emotional state after the game, once Joyce had seen the replays, it was Galarraga that wanted to comfort the umpire.
SI‘s own Joe Posnanski wrote a similar column to this post today. Similar only in subject matter, as I would never compare myself to a writer so great. It was his column that inspired me to give my take here. I encourage all of you to go read it.
There are a great many athletes who excel on the field and give back to their community off of it. There have been countless athletes that have had an on-field performance ripped away by a bad call from an official. But very few athletes have ever had something so rightfully their stolen away from them by a blown call and handled that situation with the grace, dignity, and kindness that Galarraga displayed on that night.
I’m not sure the criteria SI uses to name their winner, but I find it hard to believe there was anyone who displayed more sportsmanship than Galarraga did.