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Famous fathers, slugging sons — Vlad Jr., Bichette and Biggio

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New Hampshire Fisher Cats manager John Schneider played a starring role in one of the more heartwarming baseball promotions of 2018 when he swung at a ceremonial first pitch from his wife before a recent game and a puff of blue smoke revealed that a second Schneider son is on the way. Husband and wife shared hugs and tears of joy, the crowd cheered, and the moment generated 804 likes on Twitter.

Then John Schneider returned to the regularly scheduled portion of the program — which entails overseeing the development of other people’s sons.

Three players on his New Hampshire roster this summer have surnames that ring a bell. Third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the son of the newly minted Hall of Fame outfielder, is widely regarded as baseball’s top prospect now that the Atlanta Braves have summoned Ronald Acuna Jr. from the minors. Shortstop Bo Bichette, Dante’s boy, is a baseball rat who is tearing it up after a slow start. And second baseman Cavan Biggio, son of Craig, is moving up the prospect charts as a left-handed power bat.

In a perfect developmental scenario, the three MLB offspring might ascend the system together and enjoy a lengthy big league run anchoring Toronto’s infield. For now, they’re content to earn their promotions by laying waste to Eastern League pitching.

Ask Schneider whether he expects to look back on events of this summer with a sense of wonder when his players reach the majors, and he’s on board with the program. He has been in pinch-me mode since last season, when he managed the three players with Dunedin in the Class A Florida State League.

“I think about it now,” Schneider said, “because it’s a unique thing. You don’t see one of those guys usually, with the fathers they have and the careers the dads had and the careers they’re having now as their own players. Getting one is pretty cool. Two is like, ‘Whoa.’ And with three, you need to really step back and realize what’s going on.”

In terms of makeup and demeanor, Toronto’s baseball triplets are a disparate group. Guerrero, 19, has a ready smile and a serene, happy-go-lucky aura. Bichette, 20, treats each at-bat, video game standoff or pingpong match as a personal challenge. And Biggio, the most seasoned of the group at age 23, brings wisdom and perspective to the mix. “He’s like the chaperone at the teenage party,” Schneider said, laughing.

People around the Fisher Cats have noticed an attentiveness to detail beyond the genetically endowed gifts. It’s manifested in the way the three players run the bases, or dissect opposing pitchers, or lean over the dugout rail to find evidence of pitch-tipping. Unlike some hereditary traits, baseball acumen doesn’t skip a generation.

“We definitely have a bond on and around the field and in the clubhouse,” Biggio said. “We all know that what we have is very special and what we’ve been through is very special. It’s three different backgrounds that are all the same.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: The Hit Machine

Before a recent game at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pennsylvania, Guerrero emerged from the dugout to take batting practice with the same distinctively pained gait that heralded his dad’s arrival at the plate through 16 major league seasons.

“He walks like his shoes are too small — or he’s got a pebble in one of them,” said a scout watching from the third-base seats.

Guerrero laid down a bunt, then systematically peppered the outfield with line drives to all fields. As the BP session wound down, the Fisher Cats held a competition to see who could hit the ball the opposite way with maximum authority. Vlad Jr. quickly ended the suspense when he flicked his wrists and achieved splashdown in the fan pool beyond the right-field fence.

About an hour later, he went 2-for-4 with a walk in a 7-2 victory, and the Reading pitchers gratefully exhaled with the knowledge that it could have been worse. Guerrero was hitting .407 with an OPS of 1.124 when the Blue Jays shut him down for four weeks with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee, and Toronto management has received lots of unsolicited advice on the proper course of action for him.

Beyond some internal discussions about moving Guerrero to Triple-A, the Jays have chosen to keep him at Double-A to work on his defense and baserunning while allowing him to play in a winning environment with friends. The big league team is going nowhere, so the Jays are content to stand firm and follow a timetable they deem best for his long-term development.

The bat would play in the majors right now, personnel people agree. Is it possible to give out a grade above 80 on the 20-80 scouts’ scale?

“With the plus bat speed and plus power, there are no weaknesses there,” said the scout in Reading. “He’s not just a hacker. He drives the ball out of the ballpark to any of the outfield positions. You can’t work him away because he might hit a home run to right. You can’t work him in because he has bat speed galore inside. If you’re a pitcher, I don’t know how you try to get him out, because he can leave the ballpark in any area.”

Vladimir Guerrero Sr. was renowned for contorting his body into odd positions to do damage on balls outside the strike zone. Junior, in contrast, learned a more discerning approach at the plate with prompting from his Uncle Wilton, who ran a baseball academy back home in the Dominican Republic. Even though Senior loved to hack, he stressed the importance of getting a good pitch to hit when he talked baseball with his boy.

Vladimir Jr. received plenty of exposure to life in the big league clubhouse when his father played for the Angels from 2004 to 2009.

“I do remember some things, specifically sharing time with Erick Aybar and Mike Napoli and Kendrys Morales,” Junior said through an interpreter. “They’re happy memories for me. Whenever I went to the ballpark, I would spend time with them and try to learn from them.”

Vlad Jr.-mania ramped up to 11 at the end of spring training, when he hit a walk-off homer to give Toronto a 1-0 victory over St. Louis. The shot evoked a wild response and pangs of nostalgia at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, where Senior made four of his nine All-Star Games.

“That was one of the most important games in my life,” Vladimir Jr. said. “I was just trying to stay calm and make good contact. Thank god I was able to do it and hit the home run.”

Junior’s hiatus on the DL gives him a brief reprieve from the speculation, but it’s likely to resume when he’s healthy and raking again. Soon enough, Eastern League pitchers will receive the good news that he has been promoted, and he’ll be somebody else’s problem.

Bo Bichette: The Competitor

Dante Bichette earned a reputation as lovably flaky over 14 seasons with five big league clubs. When Dinger, the Colorado Rockies’ purple dinosaur mascot, emerged from a faux shell during the team’s inaugural season in 1993, it was only fitting that Bichette was the first human life form he encountered. Don Baylor, Colorado’s manager, once recalled how Bichette would emerge from the tunnel before games with a cup of coffee in hand, glance up at the scoreboard and inquire, “Who’s pitching today?” Then he’d take the field and go 3-for-4 with three RBIs.

Bichette named his oldest boy Dante Jr. and his second son Bo Joseph. The Bo was for Bo Jackson, and the Joseph was a shoutout to Joe Girardi, his friend and longtime pal in Denver.

For all the jokes about Bichette as sleepy-eyed space cadet, he was all business when the conversation turned to hitting. Bichette embraced the tenets of Ted Williams’ book “The Science of Hitting” and wore out several copies through the years. He kept a detailed notebook of opposing pitchers and studied film of his at-bats before it became fashionable. His natural gifts and endless hours in the cage led to four All-Star Game appearances and 274 career homers with the Rockies, Angels and three other teams.

In 2013, Bichette spent a summer as hitting coach in Colorado. He missed his home life in Florida and underestimated the demands of the grind, but the assignment provided a wonderful opportunity for Bo to spend some time in a big league clubhouse and learn from Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and the other veteran Rockies.

“You could tell he had a work ethic,” Nolan Arenado said. “He always wanted to be at the ballpark every day, hitting or doing something. He just wanted to play baseball.”

The Rockies remember one other thing about Bo: For a relatively small kid, he took a supersized hack.

“He wanted to hit the ball hard, even when he was young,” Gonzalez said. “When he was 14 or 15, he was hitting the ball over the fence in early BP at Coors Field. Even when he was just a puppy, he was swinging out of his butt. I remember telling him, ‘Hit the ball out of the ballpark.’ He was pushing himself even then and having success.”

The Blue Jays gave Bo a $1.1 million bonus as the 66th pick in the 2016 draft, and they have aggressively pushed him through the system. Despite a slow start this year, he has a .284/.355/.448 slash line and 26 extra-base hits in 62 games. Some talent evaluators expect him to wind up at second base eventually, but Schneider thinks he has the hands, arm and smarts to stick at shortstop.

Like his dad, Bo is most comfortable standing in the batter’s box. He has read the “The Science of Hitting” and filed away several nuggets for future reference.

“It’s the best hitter that ever lived kind of teaching his secrets,” Bo said. “There are a lot of good things in it.”

When Dante Bichette was still playing and he fell behind 0-2 or 1-2 in the count, he would widen out his stance, take a flat-footed approach and shoot the ball to right field. Bo, similarly, will take a big rip until he’s down two strikes and then shorten up and concentrate on making contact. He likens his approach to Tiger Woods gripping and ripping in the tee box before displaying a defter, gentler touch around the greens.

Bo Bichette is a throwback who has a profound distaste for striking out.

“I think it’s probably the most important thing in baseball, to put the ball in play,” he said. “You never know what could happen. I’m not someone who’s going to hit 50 homers, so I have to be able to fight up there. A two-strike approach is really important.”

Between his team and his family, young Bo has the support system in place to navigate the rough patches. His mother, Mariana, goes on many of the Fisher Cats’ road trips, and he speaks regularly with Dante Jr., whose professional journey has been considerably more challenging. After seven years in the Yankees’ system, Dante Jr. was released by the Rockies in spring training and is now playing independent ball for the St. Paul Saints. He is happy to commiserate and offer words of encouragement by phone or text to his little brother.

As Father’s Day approaches, Bo is particularly appreciative of the man who began the family tradition he hopes to perpetuate.

“My dad and mom both ingrained the hard work in me,” Bo said. “If I need to do more and I need extra, I’ll call my dad and he’ll fly up the next day. He’s always there for me, always texting me after games and stuff. He’s been everything for me for my baseball.”

Cavan Biggio: The Thinker

Growing up the son of future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio had its perks.

As baseball-obsessed youngsters, Cavan Biggio and his older brother, Conor, would load up on sunflower seeds, bubble gum and soda and hang around the indoor batting cages at Minute Maid Park until Houston’s pinch hitters ducked inside to get loose. Then they would respectfully step aside and collect the stray balls when the cage was empty. Woody Williams, Roger Clemens, Sean Berry and several other Astros had young sons, so it made for a nice little collaborative.

Lots of kids in Houston were partial to Craig Biggio 15 years ago because of his pine tar-encrusted helmet and aggressive style of play, but Cavan instead adopted Jeff Bagwell as his favorite player.

“Obviously, my dad is someone I idolized and I loved watching him play,” Cavan said. “Every time he came to bat, I was on the edge of my seat. But I never wanted to be that kid when they asked, ‘Who’s your favorite player?’ I would just answer, ‘Oh, my dad.’

“When I was younger, I saw it more in a negative way. I always wanted to just be one of the guys on the team, doing normal things, and they’d label me as Craig Biggio’s son, and I got really tired of that. It was only when I got to high school that I thought, ‘This is really cool. My dad was an amazing baseball player and I’m trying to be the same thing, so why not embody it?”‘

The toughest moments are the ones nobody sees. Craig Biggio was on the road a lot, so his wife, Patty, made sure the kids were fed, they did their homework, and they made it to the games on time. And FaceTime was not a thing when Biggio was nearing the end of his career in 2007.

“For 81 games a year and the six weeks you’re in spring training, you’re gone,” Biggio said. “The mom is the one who picks the kids up after the game when they have a hard game. You might be in California, and you want to pick them up, but you can’t. I’m very fortunate to have a great wife. It’s hard for kids. Your dad is never there in the summer because he’s always working.”

The dynamic changed drastically in 2009, two years after Biggio retired from the Astros. He dove into coaching his two sons at St. Thomas High School in Houston, and they were suddenly around each other every day. Father made sure to treat his boys like everyone else, which meant running balls out, adhering to the fundamentals and abiding by his dual credos to “play the game right” and “respect the game.”

Cavan passed on an opportunity to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school to play ball with his brother at Notre Dame. The Blue Jays selected him in the fifth round in 2016, and he hit .273 with no homers in his first 280 professional plate appearances.

The power started to come in 2017, and Cavan returned home to Texas last winter and made some alterations with his pre-pitch setup and the positioning of his hands. His 13 homers and .579 slugging percentage in 61 games this season have suddenly raised expectations. He has played second base, third, first and a little outfield in the minors. If he can continue to hit, the Blue Jays could eventually carve out a Marwin GonzalezBen ZobristScott Kingery type role for him with the big club to capitalize on his versatility.

“He’s always been a self-taught, self-driven young man,” Craig Biggio said. “The only thing I helped with was soft-toss and batting practice. I might say something occasionally, but he’s very good at making adjustments and keeping his eyes and ears open. This was all him.”

Biggio speaks with a palpable sense of pride in recounting the achievements of all three of his children. Conor received his bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame and is pursuing an MBA from Rice University. Daughter Quinn, the youngest child, is heading to South Bend in the fall to play softball for the Fighting Irish. And now Cavan is immersed in the family business, hitting ropes from the left side of the plate.

Modern technology allows dad to keep tabs, at-bat by at-bat. Craig Biggio can monitor Cavan’s progress on a cellphone app or watch his games on a computer screen while sitting in general manager Jeff Luhnow’s box at Astros games. He doesn’t see much of himself in Cavan’s game, but there are times when Patty will nudge him and remark how their actions or mannerisms are eerily similar.

Unlike Craig, who holds MLB’s modern-day hit-by-pitch record with 285, Cavan doesn’t have a habit of leaning into fastballs. But he never shies away from them.

“He’ll wear it, if he has to,” Craig said. “Anything he needs to do to help the team win.”

While Craig keeps watch, Cavan has grown more comfortable with his status as the son of a Hall of Famer and a Houston sports icon. He thinks about his responsibility every time he takes the field.

“I always say, ‘I don’t want to embarrass him or ruin the name,'” Cavan said. “I want people to say, ‘He plays just like his father,’ which is a good compliment. I want to show that I’m his son by the way I play.”

Pride in the family crest is in vogue in Toronto’s farm system this summer. The Fisher Cats will be on the road in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on Sunday. But every day is Father’s Day in New Hampshire.



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Blown call still haunts Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce

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Editor’s note: This story on Armando Galarraga’s almost-perfect game was originally published on Jan. 5, 2011. Today is the 10-year anniversary of the game.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Jim Joyce’s garage smells of old cigarettes and motor oil. It’s early December, and he is at home playing solitaire on his laptop, which sits on a folding table that doubles as a desk. The wafting odor belies the comfort that the two refrigerators, flat-screen TV, Harley, bunny rabbit, countless Winston Light cigarette butts and solitude provide.

The space has become a necessary refuge for the man whose action on the night of June 2 — and reaction — brought instant fame.

“What normal used to be,” Joyce says, “isn’t normal now.”

Seven months ago and 2,400 miles away, the veteran Major League Baseball umpire cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in Detroit. And every day, something trips Joyce’s memory about his devastating mistake and the subsequent fallout: from the death threats he and his family received and the security team that greeted him on every road trip to the piles of heartwarming e-mails and letters saved by his wife of 28 years, Kay.

“I want us to remember,” Kay says, as her hands smooth over the plastic casings of scrapbooks holding the correspondence.

But what if the memories only reinforce what Joyce calls the biggest mistake in umpiring history? What happens when one action not only annihilates a career-long, concentrated effort at invisibility and accuracy but also wholly contradicts it? What happens when you’re Jim Joyce and you try to resume your normal life?

“I think about it still, almost every day,” Joyce says. “I don’t want to be known as Jim Joyce, the guy that blew the perfect game. But I think that’s inevitable.”

Why?

“Because I’m Jim Joyce,” he says, “the umpire who blew the perfect game.”

He is sure he got it right. Positive.

The three-game series is nondescript; it starts on a Tuesday, during the first week of the month, and features the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers, two teams that would combine for 174 losses by season’s end. As is always the case when Joyce works in Detroit, he stays at his childhood home about an hour away in Toledo, Ohio, with his 86-year-old mother, Ellouise.

The trip is Joyce’s first assignment in Detroit since his father’s death a year earlier. Ahead of the series, he and Ellouise visit his dad’s grave. An avid baseball fan, Jim Joyce Sr. loved Ted Williams and umpired amateur games. He worked in management at a local Jeep factory his entire life; Jim Jr. even worked there for a time after graduating from Bowling Green, where he pitched for four years.

On Tuesday, Joyce worked second base. Tonight, he’s at first base. The game is speeding by — it’s the eighth inning and not even two hours have passed.

The 17,000 fans in the park know Detroit’s Galarraga is throwing a perfect game. By the ninth inning, they’re on their feet, readying for the 21st perfect game in major league history. Joyce had witnessed such history just a few weeks prior, when he worked second base for Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden’s perfect game. He knew Braden had a perfect game as it was being thrown, just as he knew — sometime around the seventh inning — that Galarraga had one going, too.

The ninth starts with a first-pitch fly out. Four pitches later, Joyce makes the call at first base on a weak grounder to shortstop. One more to go. Joyce knows he’s ready. Twenty-three years’ experience brings such confidence that Joyce treats each pitch as routine, but the refrain — “just don’t be the one to miss the call” — runs through his mind, too.

Just like that, Indians shortstop Jason Donald — the final out — is running down the first-base line like a scared deer. Joyce is thrown by how fast he is running — in Joyce’s mind, players don’t run all that hard on a groundout to end a game. Even so, if it’s close, Joyce thinks, the runner will probably be out.

Joyce moves slightly to his right and zones in on the bag. Marvin Hudson, the plate umpire, is following Donald up the line, but his view is restricted; Joyce is in perfect position to make the call. As Donald gets to the bag, Joyce splays his arms outward.

“Something just instinctually, instinctively, told me he was safe,” Joyce says.

And he is sure he got it right. Positive.

Hudson thinks Joyce got it right, too, and tells himself, simply, “Well, there goes the perfect game.”

But when Detroit players start yelling from the dugout a few moments later, experience tells Joyce they saw the replay and are probably right. Yet Joyce’s confidence doesn’t waver. Another ground-ball out at first, this time routine, and the game is over. As Joyce runs off the field, Tigers veteran manager Jim Leyland approaches Joyce.

“Jimmy!” Leyland barks. “You blew it! You blew it, go look at the video!”

Boos cascade from the stands as Joyce walks back to the umpires’ locker room, telling himself over and over that he hopes he got the call right. He asks the locker room attendant to cue up the replay. By the time Joyce reaches the changing area, he’s now yelling, “I hope I got it right! I hope it got it right!” His colleagues, crew chief Derryl Cousins, Jim Wolf and Hudson, don’t say a word. Before seeing the replay, they surround Joyce by his locker. Joyce turns to Cousins and asks whether he made the correct call.

Cousins pauses, then says, “I think he was out, Jimmy.”

Joyce throws his hat, rips off his shirt and pants and paces the room, yelling and cursing. He then watches the replay — the only time he’s seen it — and rages more.

“He was beside himself,” Hudson says. “I felt tremendously bad for him.”

Death threats, tears and decisions that transform a mistake

Back in Oregon, Keri Joyce, Jim’s 21-year-old daughter, returns home from a restaurant to an inbox full of Facebook messages. Many are offering support, but at least two dozen are nasty. Some are worse.

“I hope your dad drinks himself to death,” one reads.

One message threatens to burn her family’s home; another wishes her AIDS. Jim’s son, Jimmy, receives death threats, too.

Keri is shocked, but she also is angry. Later, she posts a status update on her page: I love my dad. You a——- who can’t realise he’s a human can f— off.

In Detroit, unaware of what his children are being subjected to, Joyce’s actions and words begin to alter how his mistake will be remembered.

He chooses to give the media rare access to the umpires’ locker room. He takes full responsibility for kicking the call. When the media leave, Leyland comes in for a beer. He tells Joyce that he blew the call and that he needs to move past it. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski visits, too, concerned for Joyce’s well-being. Both men have known Joyce for decades and, like the players in the league who voted him the top umpire in an ESPN The Magazine poll, hold enormous respect for him.

Joyce appreciates the gestures, but his mind is on one person. He asks Dombrowski whether he can talk to Galarraga.

Dombrowski leaves, and a few minutes later he returns to the umpires’ room with the 28-year-old pitcher from Venezuela. Galarraga walks up to Joyce and while hugging him says, “We are all human.” Joyce, crying, apologizes in English and Spanish and then leaves the room, unable to speak.

“I can’t even explain the feeling, because there are no words,” Joyce says. “It’s almost worse than my dad’s death. That’s how bad I felt.”

Kay, at home in Oregon with their three dogs, has yet to talk with Joyce but is crying, too. She knows how hard her husband will be on himself. She watched the game on TV, blurting, “No, Jimmer, no!” when she saw him make the call.

The phone rings. MLB security is promising a local police patrol outside the house. Kay says she’s fine; she worries about her kids, she worries about Jim.

When Jim leaves the ballpark and drives to his mother’s house in Toledo, the first call he makes is to Kay. She tells him, whatever you do, as soon as you get to your mom’s house, just delete your Facebook account. She tells him their grown children are receiving death threats.

Joyce’s cell phone is stuffed with voice mails and texts. His mother, however, is unaware of what has occurred. The two sit in the living room, and Jim tells his mom he made the biggest mistake of his life.

The local news recaps the play, and as his mother watches it for the first time, he turns his back, hearing but not seeing his mistake.

“That was you?” she asks him. “Why are they so mad at you?”

Ellouise eventually goes to sleep. Joyce deletes his Facebook account without looking at it. He tries to sleep at 5, and closes his eyes for about 30 minutes. He later leaves for Comerica Park. It’s the final game of the series, a day game, and Joyce will work home plate.

Joyce’s routine on game day is to be the last umpire to walk out of the tunnel. But today, he doesn’t want the focus of being last out. “I didn’t want it to appear like I was making an entrance,” he says. “I was kind of hoping I’d just blend in.”

On the way out, Joyce’s steps are a bit slower; he’s listening for the crowd reaction. He thinks he hears boos, he thinks he hears cheers. Tears are welling in his eyes. (Joyce likes to remind people that he’s Irish; he’s emotional and he can’t help it.)

He gets to home plate to exchange the lineup cards, and that’s when Galarraga appears out of the dugout. The crowd stands and applauds, and when Galarraga hands Joyce the lineup card, Joyce can’t even read it, the names a fuzzy blur through the tears. The images from that moment, captured live and broadcast across the country, will change how Galarraga and Joyce will be remembered.

‘Nobody feels worse than we do’

On Friday morning, when he leaves Detroit for his next assignment in Philadelphia, Joyce has a police escort through the airport. He walks by a restaurant and sees every television tuned to “SportsCenter,” showing his face. The cop alongside him says, “You better get used to it.”

When he arrives in Philly, he retrieves his luggage and discovers notes on the luggage tags: “We are all human — Good Luck” and “You gave your best God Bless.” They are signed: “DTW baggage.” Joyce carefully takes them off his bags and places them in his briefcase. He carries them with him for the rest of the season, careful not to check them in case his luggage gets lost.

Hundreds of similar notes, e-mails, cards and letters are sent. Children from an elementary school in upstate New York each write a note telling Joyce how they admired his ability to “man up” and take responsibility for his mistake. Clergy, judges, a Secret Service agent and strangers from around the world write. One person creates his own “Certificate of Appreciation,” prints it and sends it along. Two major league pitchers write notes expressing their respect. Ex-classmates and teammates and long-ago friends say they always knew Joyce to be a person of integrity.

A baseball chaplain sends Joyce his own engraved Bible; a boy with cerebral palsy writes the night of the game, encouraging Joyce to not belabor his mistake. The boy and Joyce would meet in person later in the summer before a Rays game in Tampa Bay and still e-mail regularly. Front-office executives, current and former, e-mail Joyce in support, as do MLB executives.

Bob Delaney and Steve Javie, veteran NBA referees, send along e-mails, as do NHL ref Tim Peel and NFL official Carl Cheffers. Peel, a 13-year veteran, says he doesn’t know Joyce personally but felt compelled to reach out.

“I can sympathize,” Peel says. “When we miss a call in a game, nobody feels worse than we do.”

But an e-mail from Mark Wunderlich, another veteran NBA ref, is one of the most compelling:

I have admired your work for years and I have been thinking about you the last couple of days. Last season in the Play-Offs I missed a take foul in Dallas in the Conference Finals that cost a team a game and had a few sleepless nights that I’m sure you’re familiar with. These are difficult times that only umpires and refs know. It shall pass and the only thing people will remember is the class you showed during this time. From one professional to another, I’m proud of you buddy.

The messages weren’t all positive, though. A letter with a return address was forwarded by MLB to Joyce in late June when Joyce was in Houston. After arriving at his hotel, he opened the letter, which read, in part, the next time Joyce was in Texas, “you will be shot.” The people at MLB thought, not illogically, that a death threat letter would never include a return address, so off it went in a package with other correspondence. Joyce says he was told the FBI visited the author.

Kay kept the death threat, has it sealed in plastic. It’s there in the scrapbook just like all the others, just like the luggage tags.

Still looking for meaning

When the weather is nice and it isn’t raining, Joyce takes his Harley out of the garage. He rides when he can, rides because it’s fun, because it’s freeing, and it’s something to do. Joyce, who’s 55 years old, thinks about his mistake every day. It isn’t just the luggage tags and the notes and the e-mails that remain as reminders. It’s also when he’s out in public. A few weeks before Christmas, he and Kay were shopping at a toy store when Joyce noticed a man following him down each aisle.

Finally, the man sheepishly approached and asked whether he was the umpire. He wanted to shake Joyce’s hand and thank him for his integrity.

Platitudes about sportsmanship, honesty, character, integrity, perfection and imperfection likely will follow Joyce and Galarraga to their epitaphs. Galarraga’s instant reaction — that memorable wry smile after the call — and shrewd recognition later that the blown call and the aftermath made him more famous and generated more good than a perfect game would have — changed both men.

“A lot of positive has come from this,” Joyce says. “And I can’t say enough about how Armando handled this. The positive has helped offset the negative that came with making the mistake. Unfortunately, you can’t have one without the other.”

MLB officials suggested Joyce might benefit from seeing a therapist. But Joyce says his therapy comes in discussions with his wife. He also relies on a sense of humor. He still laughs about the fan in Detroit the day after the blown call who held a sign behind home plate with a photograph of blind musician Stevie Wonder that read “Today’s umpire is … “

Even so, Joyce wrestles with negotiating his new identity.

“I wish I was still invisible, I really do. I wish that I could go back to being the old Jim Joyce, that this didn’t happen … and that everything was normal, and I know that’s not going to happen.”

Kay has watched his struggle. When Joyce first returned home this season, he was spending much more time alone in the garage. Normally an outgoing, lively person, he retreated. When they went out in public and saw friends, it was agonizing, because he knew friends were acting differently; he knew they didn’t know what to say.

“What do you say?” says Katy Robinson, a close family friend. “What do you say to someone who’s just been through something like that?”

It was not until after the World Series ended that Kay noticed he started to change. Joyce spent less time alone in the garage, his refuge.

“He came out of his shell,” Kay says. “I think he thought, ‘OK, I can go out now, baseball is over.'”

In just a few weeks, it will be back. Joyce will return to umpiring games during spring training. He says he’ll be a bit nervous, not sure what to anticipate.

He’s still trying to make sense of it all. He says there must be some larger meaning for all of this, but he’s not yet certain what that is.

What Joyce does know is that for him, the word “perfect” means something entirely different now.

“It means one guy was, and one guy wasn’t. I happen to be the guy who wasn’t. … But what does the word ‘perfect’ mean? Sometimes the word ‘perfect’ means be able to accept imperfection.”

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.

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The 10 worst MLB teams to bet on over the past 20 years

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When the MLB season will begin and in what form are still uncertainties. While we wait to see what transpires, we decided to take a look at some of the worst teams to bet on in recent history.

Here are the teams with the most units lost in a season over the past 20 years (based on 1 unit bets).


How does a team just two years removed from a world championship, with Cy Young runner-up Randy Johnson and emerging stud Brandon Webb at the top of its rotation, lose 111 games — a whopping 33 more defeats than it had the year before? Well, Arizona’s four other pitchers with at least 10 starts (Casey Fossum, Steve Sparks, Casey Daigle and Edgar Gonzalez) went 9-34 with a 6.86 ERA over 65 starts. Plus, the offense was last in the National League in runs and OPS and second to last in home runs, and the D-backs made a league-high 139 errors.


Coming off a 75-win season, there weren’t high expectations for the ’18 Orioles. But finishing 61 games out of first place isn’t your garden variety lousy season. Baltimore’s pitching was only marginally worse in 2018 than it had been the year before, but the offense bottomed out, going from middle of the pack to dead last in the American League in runs, batting average and OBP. Chris Davis epitomized the O’s struggles, with a slash line of .168/.243/.296 and 192 strikeouts as compared to just 139 total bases.


At 43-119, the 2003 Tigers had the worst record in baseball since 1962 and the sixth worst since 1900. After Detroit lost 106 games the year before, it was hard to imagine a 13-game drop, but that’s what Motown got. Needless to say, the Tigers were dreadful in all phases of the game, as their “top” five starters had a collective 5.50 ERA and their offense was last in the league in virtually every category. Detroit started the season 1-17, then had stretches of 2-20, 2-17 and 1-15 as the season went on. Ugh.


No. 4: 2019 Tigers (41.16)

The 2019 Tigers went 47-114 and passed the Orioles as baseball’s top tanker, with an anemic offense that was last in the AL in runs, homers and OPS (among other things). The only player with an OPS+ above the break-even point of 100 was Nicholas Castellanos, who was dealt away at the July trade deadline.


Don’t blame the pitching staff for the 24-game drop in the Mariners’ record in 2010. Led by Felix Hernandez, Seattle had the third-best ERA in the AL. But the offense? Oy. The Mariners scored 100 fewer runs than any other AL team and had an OPS of .637, the only AL team below .700.


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Tim Kurkjian’s Baseball Fix – Randy Johnson brought fear, real fear, to every hitter who stepped into the batter’s box

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You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1990, Randy Johnson threw his first no-hitter.

At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1999 featuring, among others, Nolan Ryan, I interviewed Ted Williams about what it would be like to face Ryan. Instead, for five minutes, Williams went in another direction, saying, “The guy I’d really like to face is Randy Johnson. Left-hander. That slider. Man, I’d love to try to hit that slider. And I would love to face someone that big. He’d be my biggest challenge. That’s why I’d love it.”

The full “On this date …” archive

That’s how good Randy Johnson was. His second no-hitter was a perfect game: He was the oldest pitcher (40) ever to throw a perfect game. He won five Cy Young Awards, including four in a row with the Arizona Diamondbacks; he finished second three times and third once. He won 303 games with a .646 winning percentage, he won four ERA titles and finished second to Ryan in career strikeouts. He was as dominant as any pitcher of his or of any era. He is at least in the conversation as the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.

“A left-handed hitter could see his slider better than a right-handed hitter,” Tony Gwynn said.

“No left-handed hitter other than Tony wanted any part of that slider,” Adam Dunn said, laughing.

Johnson was legendary, all 6-foot-10 of him.

“He is so tall,” veteran coach Rich Donnelly once said, “he doesn’t have a pickoff move to second, he just reaches out and touches the runner.”

Johnson accidentally killed a dove with a pitch in a spring training game. He purposely threw over the head of John Kruk in the 1993 All-Star Game; Kruk patted his heart as if to keep it from beating out of his chest. In the 1997 All-Star Game, Larry Walker put his helmet on backward and got into the right-handed batter’s box. In the 2001 World Series against the Yankees, Johnson started Game 6, won it, then pitched in relief the next day in Game 7; from then on, the toughness in a pitcher would be measured by the Unit.

So many hitters, when listing their least favorite at-bats or their worst at-bats, mention Johnson. He might be the scariest and the most intimidating pitcher the game has ever seen. Jeff Huson, a former infielder and a left-handed hitter, once said, “What’s the worst thing that Michael Jordan can do to you? He can dunk on you. So what? What’s the worst thing Randy Johnson can do to you? He can kill you.”

Other baseball notes for June 2

  • In 1891, Old Hoss Radbourn won his 300th game. He made 502 starts in his career and completed 488 of them. It makes you wonder about the other 14.

  • In 1940, second baseman Horace Clarke was born. I heard Hall of Fame broadcaster Curt Gowdy say it a million times: Clarke became a switch-hitter because on the field where he played as a kid, when he hit from right side, he hit the ball into the ocean.

  • In 1938, Gene Michael was born. The master of the hidden-ball trick as a shortstop. I haven’t met many more astute baseball men than him.

  • In 1972, Raul Ibanez was born. He hit the most career homers (305) of anyone whose last name begins with I. He, Davey Lopes and Hank Sauer are the only non-pitchers to hit more home runs in their 40s than in their 20s. In order to make a major league roster in the mid-1990s, Ibanez took up catching so he could improve his value as an emergency catcher. He went to the minor leagues to learn the position. His first game behind the plate, he whiffed on the first pitch, a fastball. The ball hit the umpire directly in the chest protector. “What the hell are you doing?!” the umpire yelled at him. Ibanez told the umpire, “Sorry, I’ve never caught before.”

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