Jim Joyce & Helen Thomas

Wednesday, June 09 2010 05:45:19 PM

“To err is human, to forgive divine.” – Alexander Pope.

This was a big week for errors by otherwise highly accomplished American observers: one an umpire, one a journalist. One is Jim Joyce. The other is Helen Thomas. It is instructive to compare and contrast the surprisingly different public reaction to each.

In the case of Joyce, I have to say at the outset that he’s been my very favorite major league baseball umpire for years. It is not about his big handlebar mustache (which has been trimmed back some lately) or any special proficiency in his calls.

No, for me it’s been about Mr. Joyce’s particularly delightful and unparalleled “strike call” when he is behind the plate. All umpires have different styles for this, from those who issue a barely-visible finger point to the side with their right hand to the rather overly exaggerated version provided by actor Leslie Nielsen in the movie, “Naked Gun.”

But apart from the comic version in the movie, Jim Joyce’s “strike call” is truly a sight and sound to behold.” As he turns his torso 90 degrees to the right, and extends his arm up and then thrusts it out full length, he bellows a very loud and growly, “Heeee-riiiike!!!!”

You have to witness it in person to appreciate it. It is pure entertainment. I’ve tried holloring my appreciation to him when he’s called a game I attended, but have never been satisfied that he heard or understood.

So, when this otherwise obscure veteran made his epochal blunder, missing the call at first base in what would have been the last out of a perfect game last week, I was stunned to see it was my favorite Mr. Joyce in the thick of it.

Of course, I felt very badly for him, but he proved very quickly to truly be a “class act,” publicly admitting he’d missed the call and seeking out the violated young pitcher to apologize to him in person.

I disagree with the baseball commissioner’s decision to leave the flawed call alone, and to not reverse it. Had it been reversed based on clear-cut video evidence, then no one would have been hurt, but both the pitcher and Mr. Joyce would have been redeemed. There would have been no losers, only winners.

However, Mr. Joyce’s humility in the face of maybe the most famously bad call in the history of the game drew an outpouring of sympathy for him from every possible quarter of human society. He was forgiven, and is now more famous, and more loved than ever. I am happy for that.

Jim Joyce is a white male. Helen Thomas is an uppity female of Lebanese origin.

Helen Thomas, at age 89, has been the dean of the White House Press Corps since about forever, having covered all the presidents of the post-World War II era to the present. She’s published books and is an incredibly entertaining public speaker talking about the strengths and foibles of America’s chief executives.

This last week, in the face of the deadly Israeli raid on the humanitarian flotilla mission to Gaza in international waters, highlighting the inhumane conditions that the 1.5 million Palestinean civilians trapped in Gaza continue to face at the hands of Israel, Ms. Thomas made angry and intemperate remarks about Israel.

She shouldn’t have, and she subsequently apologized.

Apologies and forgiveness are what make the nation’s florist industry thrive. Angry remarks made in the heat of a stressful situation, remarks that do not reflect true feelings but only reflect internal pain, happen every day. Thomas is admittedly and proudly a liberal progressive in her thinking who thinks that the treatment of Palestineans in the Middle East is cruel and unjustified.

But right wing news commentators, the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reileys of the world, make angry, intemperate remarks lashing out unjustly almost every day, and no one in their case has called for the kind of relentless public excoriation that Ms. Thomas has been subjected to.

Ms. Thomas’ legacy, established over so many years of hard work, has been ripped to shreds in a matter of a days based on her ill-advised comment, and few among the offended are willing to accept her apology. This is very sad.