BP Could Learn a Thing or Two from MLB Umpire Jim Joyce

by matt stengel on June 7, 2010

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Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce









                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             I’ve been playing baseball for over twenty years now and have been a fan for even longer. Over those twenty plus years, baseball has taught me many valuable life lessons that will serve me well long after I’m done playing. Last Wednesday, the game of baseball and umpire Jim Joyce taught me another valuable life lesson about taking personal responsibility that I think everyone could learn from, including a brand like oil giant BP. In case you’re unaware of what I’m talking about, here’s a little recap of what happened last Wednesday night in Detroit:

With the Detroit Tigers leading the Cleveland Indians 3-0 with two outs in the ninth inning, Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga stood one out away from completing the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history. Standing between Galarraga and baseball history was Indians shortstop Jason Donald, who on a 1-1 count, hit a routine ground ball to the right side of the infield that was fielded by first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who then threw the ball to Galarraga covering at first base. Galarraga caught Cabrera’s throw, stepped on first, clearly beating Donald to the bag to complete what should’ve been an historic night in baseball history. Unfortunately for the Tigers and for Galaragga, the play wasn’t so clear to first base umpire and 22-year MLB veteran, Jim Joyce, who called Donald safe, shocking everyone in attendance including Galarraga and even Jason Donald.

After the game, Joyce faced the media and was quoted with saying, “I really thought he beat the ball. At that time, I thought he beat the ball.” Joyce later admitted he’d watched the replay after the game and immediately knew he’d made the biggest mistake of his professional career.

“This isn’t a big call…this is a history call. And I kicked the shit out of it, said a tearful Joyce. “There’s nobody that feels worse than I do. I take pride in this job and I kicked the shit out of that and I took a perfect game away from that kid over there…” When asked later by the media what happened and if he’d had a bad angle on the play Joyce emphatically said, “I had a great angle, and I missed the call.” You can hear the entirety of Jim Joyce’s post game comments here.

Although I was shocked and outraged by the blown call and firmly believe this is yet another example of why Major League Baseball needs to change its instant replay policy, I have to admit I was thoroughly impressed by the way and the degree to which Joyce handled the entire situation.

Here’s why I was so impressed by Jim Joyce:

Minutes after the games conclusion, Joyce watched the replay (saw he’d screwed up BIG time), tracked down Galarraga AND manager Jim Leyland in the Detroit locker room to personally apologize, then courageously faced the media (which is not required of an umpire by MLB rules) and took full ownership of his epic mistake, all while having no background in PR or crisis management! From a PR/brand management standpoint, Joyce’s authentic and transparent post game actions helped protect the integrity of the MLB brand, but more importantly, Joyce’s own personal brand that took him 22 years to build.  All by simply saying repeatedly right away how sorry he was and how big of a mistake he’d made.

What a brand like BP can learn from Jim Joyce

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past month, you’re well aware of the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and have seen, heard or read about BP’s disastrous PR efforts. Although BP has been trying recently to take responsibility for the massive spill by running full-page print ads in major newspapers and a TV spot featuring CEO Tony Hayward, its’ early PR blunders in the days first following the accident and their inability to say three easy words (We are sorry), made this entire tragedy a brand management nightmare for BP.

The way I look at it, both BP and Jim Joyce found themselves in situations they were totally unprepared for, yet each one handled their respective situations very differently. If BP had taken a course of action similar to Joyce’s right after the oil spill they very well could have salvaged some of the brands’ value and reputation. Had they faced the media with the same level of integrity and honesty as Joyce and admitted fault right away like Joyce did, they might’ve been able to alleviate some of the public’s negative backlash. Unfortunately for BP they didn’t and now find themselves in a position where no matter what they do their brand is permanently tarnished. For Jim Joyce, he may have blown the biggest call of his career but he proved to everyone that the manner in which a person admits fault and wrongdoing defines the character of the person. Couldn’t the same be said about a brand?

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