Perfect game

Perfect game

A perfect game is defined by Major League Baseball as a game in which a pitcher (or combination of pitchers) pitches a victory that lasts a minimum of nine innings and in which no opposing player reaches base. Thus, the pitcher (or pitchers) cannot allow any hits, walks, hit batsmen, or any opposing player to reach base safely for any other reason—in short, "27 up, 27 down." The feat has been achieved only 17 times in major league history.

By definition, a perfect game must be both a no-hitter and a shutout. Since the pitcher cannot control whether or not his teammates commit any errors, the pitcher must be backed up by solid fielding to pitch a perfect game. An error that does not allow a baserunner, such as a misplayed foul ball, does not spoil a perfect game. Weather-shortened contests in which a team has no baserunners and games in which a team reaches first base only in extra innings do not qualify as official under the present definition.

The first confirmed use of the term "perfect game" was in ; the current official definition of the term was formalized in . Although it is possible for multiple pitchers to combine for a perfect game (as has happened nine times at the major league level for a no-hitter), to date every major league perfect game has been a complete game by just a single pitcher.

History

Over the past 132 years of Major League Baseball history, there have been only 17 official perfect games by the current definition (approximately one every eight years). In sum, a perfect game occurs once in about every 11,000 major league contests. For comparison, more people have orbited the moon than have pitched a Major League Baseball perfect game. No pitcher has ever thrown more than one.

19th century

The first two major league perfect games, and the only two of the premodern era, were thrown in 1880, five days apart. The first to accomplish the feat was John Lee Richmond, a left-handed pitcher for the Worcester Worcesters. Richmond would finish his career with a losing record. The second perfect game was thrown by John Montgomery Ward for the Providence Grays. Ward went on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but more for his accomplishments as a position player than as a pitcher.

Modern era

Most of the 15 modern-era players to have thrown perfect games were accomplished major league pitchers. Five are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, and Catfish Hunter. A sixth, Randy Johnson, is a five-time Cy Young Award winner considered certain to be voted into the Hall of Fame when eligible. David Cone also has a Cy Young Award to his name and three other perfect-game throwers, Dennis Martínez, Kenny Rogers, and David Wells, each won over 200 major league games.

For several, the perfect game was the highlight of an otherwise unremarkable career. Mike Witt and Tom Browning were solid major league pitchers; each finished in the top ten in Cy Young voting once. Charlie Robertson, Don Larsen, and Len Barker were journeyman pitchers; each finished his major-league career with a losing record.

Major League Baseball perfect games

19th century

Pitcher Date Game
John Lee Richmond (Wor)
   LHP, 23
   5 K
June 12, 1880

John Montgomery Ward (Prov)
   RHP, 20
   5 K
June 17, 1880

Modern era

Pitcher Date Game
Cy Young (BOS)
   RHP, 37
   3 K
May 5, 1904

Addie Joss (CLE)
   RHP, 28
   74 pitches, 3 K
October 2, 1908

Charlie Robertson (CHW)
   RHP, 26
   90 pitches, 6 K
April 30, 1922

Don Larsen (NYY)
   RHP, 27
   97 pitches, 7 K
October 8, 1956

Jim Bunning (PHI)
   RHP, 32
   90 pitches, 10 K
June 21, 1964

Sandy Koufax (LAD)
   LHP, 29
   113 pitches, 14 K
September 9, 1965

Catfish Hunter (OAK)
   RHP, 22
   107 pitches, 11 K
May 8, 1968

Len Barker (CLE)
   RHP, 25
   103 pitches, 11 K
May 15, 1981

Mike Witt (CAL)
   RHP, 24
   94 pitches, 10 K
September 30, 1984

Tom Browning (CIN)
   LHP, 28
   102 pitches, 7 K
September 16, 1988

Dennis Martínez (MON)
   RHP, 36
   95 pitches, 5 K
July 28, 1991

Kenny Rogers (TEX)
   LHP, 29
   98 pitches, 8 K
July 28, 1994

David Wells (NYY)
   LHP, 34
   120 pitches, 11 K
May 17, 1998

David Cone (NYY)
   RHP, 36
   88 pitches, 10 K
July 18, 1999

Randy Johnson (ARI)
   LHP, 40
   117 pitches, 13 K
May 18, 2004

Game notes

Individual notes

  • Richmond's perfect game featured an unusual 9-3 putout, with Worcester right fielder Lon Knight throwing out Cleveland's Bill Phillips at first. According to some accounts, Richmond hurled his historic perfecto after staying up all night following a pregraduation dinner at Brown University, pitching in an early morning class game, and taking a train to Worcester just in time to perform his professional duties.
  • Ward threw his perfect game at the Grays' park in Providence, but Buffalo, by virtue of a coin toss, was officially the "home" team, batting in the bottom of each inning.
  • Young's perfect game was part of a hitless innings streak (24 1/3 straight innings without a hit, which is still a record) and a scoreless innings streak (45 straight innings without a run, which was then a record).
  • Joss's was the most pressure-packed of any regular-season perfect game. With just four games left on their schedule, the Naps were locked in a tight three-way pennant race with the Tigers and the White Sox, that day's opponents. Joss's counterpart, the great Ed Walsh, struck out 15 and gave up just four scattered singles. The lone, unearned run scored as a result of a botched pickoff play and a wild pitch. The Naps ended the day tied with the Tigers for first, with the White Sox two games back; the Tigers would ultimately win the league by a half game over the Naps.
  • Robertson's perfect game was only his fifth appearance, and fourth start, in the big leagues. He finished his career with the fewest wins and lowest winning percentage (49–80, .380) of any perfect-game pitcher. In terms of the opposing team's ability to get on base, this is statistically the most unlikely of perfectos: the 1922 Tigers had an OBP of .369.
  • Larsen, working in an unusual style, without a windup, pitched the first and only post-season perfect game (also the only post-season no-hitter) in game 5 of the 1956 World Series. The Dodgers had the highest season winning percentage of any team ever to surrender a perfect game: .604.
  • Koufax's perfect game was the first one pitched at night. Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley gave up only one hit—a bloop double to left-fielder Lou Johnson in the seventh inning that did not figure in the scoring. The Dodgers scored their only run in the fifth inning: Lou Johnson reached first on a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, attempted a steal of third, and scored when Cubs catcher Chris Krug overthrew third base. The combined hit total for both teams—1—is the major league record for the fewest in a perfect game. Concidentally, through the 2007 season, Koufax's perfecto is the last time the Cubs have been the victims of a no-hitter.
  • Hunter, a talented batter, was also the hitting star of his perfect game. He went 3 for 4 with a double and 3 RBIs, including a bunt single that drove home the first and thus winning run in the seventh inning—easily the best offensive performance ever by a perfect game hurler.
  • Witt's perfect game came on the last day of the 1984 season.
  • Browning's perfect game came against the team that eventually won that year's World Series, the only time that has happened.
  • Martínez, born in Granada, Nicaragua, is the only major league pitcher born outside of the United States to throw a perfect game. Opposing pitcher Mike Morgan was perfect through five full innings, the latest the opposing starter in a perfect game has remained perfect. Two days earlier, Expos pitcher Mark Gardner no-hit the Dodgers through nine innings but lost the no-hitter in the 10th, meaning the Expos narrowly missed throwing a no-hitter and a perfect game in the same series.
  • Rogers' perfect game against the California Angels came 10 seasons after Witt's perfect game against the Texas Rangers. The Angels and Rangers are the only major league teams to have perfect games pitched for them against each other.
  • Wells attended the same high school as Larsen: Point Loma High School, San Diego, California. They also both enjoyed the night life. Casey Stengel once said of Larsen, "The only thing he fears is sleep." Wells has claimed to have been "half-drunk" and suffering from a "raging, skull-rattling hangover" during his perfect game. Wells's perfect game comprised the core of a streak, running from May 12, 1998, to May 23, 1998, of 38 consecutive retired batters, an American League record he held until 2007.
  • Cone's perfect game was held on Yogi Berra Day with the original battery of the 1956 World Series perfect game in attendance. Don Larsen, the pitcher of the 1956 game, threw out the first pitch to Berra, who had been his catcher during the series. Cone's and Larsen's perfect games are also the only ones pitched in interleague games. Cone's perfect game was also interrupted by a 33-minute rain delay.
  • Johnson threw his perfect game at the age of , becoming, by more than three-and-a-half years, the oldest pitcher to achieve the feat. The former holder of the mark, Cy Young, threw his at the age of . Of the 17 teams to have a perfecto thrown against them, the 2004 Braves had the second-highest OBP (.343) and second-highest winning percentage (.593). In contrast, the Diamondbacks had by far the worst season winning percentage (.315) of any team to benefit from a perfect game.

General notes

  • In at least two perfect games—Barker's and Cone's—no player on the losing team worked even a three-ball count. In Larsen's game, just one Dodgers batter (Pee Wee Reese, in the first inning) worked a three-ball count.
  • Aside from Hunter, only two perfect-game pitchers had RBIs: Bunning (2) and Young (1). None but Hunter had more than one hit: Bunning had a double; Richmond, Ward, and Martínez had singles. No pitcher has ever scored a run during his perfect game. Barker, Witt, Rogers, Wells, and Cone did not bat in their perfect games, as the American League adopted the designated hitter rule in 1973.
  • The latest the winning runs have been scored in a perfect game is the seventh inning—this occurred in the games of Hunter (bottom), Witt (top), and Martínez (top).
  • In the games of Richmond, Joss, Koufax, Witt, and Browning the solitary, winning run was unearned. Both runs scored by the Expos in Martínez's game were unearned.
  • No first-year player has ever pitched a perfect game. Richmond and Robertson were classified as rookies, but were second-year players; each had made a single appearance in a previous season.
  • Two of the three most recent perfect-game pitchers—Wells and Johnson—were traded at the end of the seasons in which they accomplished the feat. Both later returned to the teams from which they were traded away.
  • No pitcher has ever thrown two MLB perfect games, but catcher Ron Hassey caught two: Barker's and Martínez's. Shortstop Alfredo Griffin played for the losing team in the perfect games of Barker, Browning, and Martínez. Right fielder Paul O'Neill played for the winning team in the perfect games of Browning, Wells, and Cone. Don Zimmer was in uniform for all three of the Yankees' perfect games, albeit on the losing side in the first.
  • Five perfect-game pitchers have also thrown at least one additional no-hitter: Young, Joss, Bunning, Koufax, and Johnson. Koufax has the most total no-hitters of any perfect-game pitcher with four.
  • The shortest period between modern-day perfect games was 1 year, 2 months, 1 day, between the perfect games by Wells and Cone. They also represent the only time two successive perfect games have been thrown by the same team, the New York Yankees.
  • The longest period between perfect games was 34 years, 5 months, 8 days, between the perfect games by Robertson and Larsen. The longest between two regular-season perfect games was 42 years, 1 month, 21 days, between Robertson and Bunning.
  • Yankees pitchers have thrown three perfect games (Larsen, Wells, and Cone), the most of any franchise. The only other franchise that has thrown more than one perfect game in its history is the Cleveland Indians (Joss and Barker).
  • The Dodgers have had three perfect games pitched against them (Larsen, Browning, and Martínez), the most of any franchise. The only other team on the losing side of more than one perfect game is the Twins (Hunter and Wells).
  • Although by the latter part of the 20th century, major league games were being played predominantly at night, four of the last seven perfect games have taken place in the daytime.

Origin of term

The term "perfect game" is at least as old as 1908. I. E. Sanborn's report for the Chicago Tribune about Joss's performance against the White Sox calls it, "an absolutely perfect game, without run, without hit, and without letting an opponent reach first base by hook or crook, on hit, walk, or error, in nine innings.

Several sources have claimed (erroneously) that the first recorded usage of the term "perfect game" was by Ernest J. Lanigan in his Baseball Cyclopedia, made in reference to Robertson's 1922 game.

Questions of definition

Richmond and Ward threw their perfect games early in the history of major league play, when the rules were substantially different from those applying to the other official perfect games. Some of those rule differences favored the batter, while some favored the pitcher. In 1880, when both premodern perfect games occurred, pitches were thrown underhand (the pitcher's hand could not rise above his belt); there was no pitching mound (the pitcher threw from flat ground); few fielders used gloves (resulting in many more errors than in the modern game); and batters could call for a high or low pitch. However, the front line of the rectangular "pitcher's box" was 45 feet from home plate (a release point about 8 feet closer than today); eight balls were required for a walk; and hitters were not awarded first when hit by a pitch.

Though convention has it that the modern era of Major League Baseball begins in 1900, the essential rules of the modern game were all in place by the 1893 season. That year the pitching distance was moved back to 60 feet, 6 inches, where it remains, and the pitcher's box was replaced by a rubber slab against which the pitcher was required to place his rear foot. Two other crucial rules changes had been made in recent years: In 1888, the rule awarding a hit batsman first base was instituted. In 1889, the number of balls required for a walk was reduced to four. Thus, from 1893 on, pitchers sought perfection in a game whose most important rules are the same as today, with one significant exception. That exception, the use of the designated hitter in American League games since the 1973 season, might have been expected to make perfect games more difficult to achieve in the AL. In fact, since 1973, five perfect games have been thrown with the DH rule in effect (including one interleague game held at an American League park) and only three without it.

The current official MLB definition of a perfect game is largely a side effect of the decision made by the major leagues' Committee for Statistical Accuracy on September 4, 1991, to redefine a no-hitter as a game in which the pitcher or pitchers on one team throw a complete game of nine innings or more without surrendering a hit. That decision removed a number of games that had long appeared in the record books: those lasting fewer than nine innings, and those in which a team went hitless in regulation but then got a hit in extra innings. The definition of perfect game was made to parallel this new definition of the no-hitter, in effect substituting "baserunner" for "hit". The previous MLB definition of a perfect game had not made allowance for extra-inning flaws, so the game described below in which Harvey Haddix threw 12 perfect innings before allowing a baserunner in the 13th was never officially "perfect". The 1991 redefinition did remove the credit he had once received for throwing a no-hitter in the game.

Unofficial perfect games

There have been three instances in which a major league pitcher retired every player he faced over nine innings without allowing a baserunner, but, by the current definition, is not credited with a perfect game, either because he did not pitch a complete game victory, or because the game went into extra innings and an opposing player eventually reached base:

  • On June 23, 1917, Babe Ruth, then a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, walked the Washington Senators' first batter, Ray Morgan, on four straight pitches. Ruth, who had already been shouting at umpire Brick Owens about the quality of his calls, became even angrier and, in short order, was ejected. Enraged, Ruth charged Owens, swung at him, and had to be led off the field by a policeman. Ernie Shore came in to replace Ruth. Morgan was caught stealing by Sox catcher Pinch Thomas on the first pitch by Shore, who proceeded to retire the next 26 batters. All 27 outs were made while Shore was on the mound. Once recognized as a perfect game by Major League Baseball, this still counts as a combined no-hitter.
  • On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates carried a perfect game through an unprecedented 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves, only to have it ruined when an error by third baseman Don Hoak allowed Felix Mantilla, the leadoff batter in the bottom of the 13th inning, to reach base. A sacrifice by Eddie Matthews and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron followed; the next batter, Joe Adcock, hit a home run that became a double when he passed Aaron on the bases. Haddix, and the Pirates, had lost the game 1-0. This is seen as one of the most agonizing of all baseball defeats, especially as the Pirates had 12 hits in the game but could not bring a run home. The 12 perfect innings—36 consecutive batters retired in a single game—remains a record.
  • On June 3, 1995, Pedro Martínez of the Montreal Expos had a perfect game through nine innings against the San Diego Padres. The Expos scored a run in the top of the tenth inning, but in the bottom, Martínez gave up a leadoff double to Bip Roberts, and was relieved by Mel Rojas, who retired the next three batters. Martínez was therefore the winning pitcher in a 1-0 Expos victory.

Four other "perfect games" are unofficial because the games were called off before nine innings were played:

On March 14, 2000, in a spring training game—by definition unofficial—the Red Sox used six pitchers to retire all 27 Toronto Blue Jays batters in a 5-0 victory. The starting pitcher for the Red Sox was Pedro Martínez, who lost a perfect game in extra innings in 1995 (see above).

Perfect games lost to the 27th batter

On nine occasions in Major League Baseball history, a perfect game has been spoiled when the batter representing what would have been the third and final out in the ninth inning reached base. Unless otherwise noted, the pitcher in question finished and won the game without allowing any more baserunners:

Other notable near-perfect games

Nine or more consecutive innings of perfection

There have been eleven occasions in Major League Baseball history when a pitcher, after allowing one or more runners to reach base, recorded at least 27 consecutive outs. In two cases, the game went into extra innings, and the pitcher recorded more than 27 consecutive outs:

  • On September 24, 1919, Waite Hoyt, pitching for the Red Sox against the Yankees, gave up three singles in a row in the second inning. Hoyt retired the next three batters and did not allow another baserunner until Wally Pipp tripled with one out in the 13th inning of a 1-1 game. The next batter hit a sacrifice fly, and Hoyt lost 2-1. Hoyt had been perfect for 11 1/3 innings, retiring 34 consecutive batters.
  • On September 18, 1971, Rick Wise, pitching for the Phillies against the Cubs, gave up a home run to the leadoff batter in the second inning, Frank Fernandez. He did not allow another baserunner until Ron Santo singled with two outs in the top of the 12th. Wise retired the next batter and the Phillies scored in the bottom of the inning, making him the winner, 4-3. Wise had been perfect for 10 2/3, retiring 32 consecutive batters—the record for most consecutive outs in a game by a winning pitcher. At the plate, Wise helped his cause by going 3 for 6, with a double and the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the 12th. The starting pitcher for the Cubs was Milt Pappas, who would have his near-perfect game one year later.

In the nine other instances, the leadoff batter (or batters) reached base in the first inning, followed by 27 consecutive batters (or batters and baserunners) being retired through the end of a nine-inning game. In one case, the leadoff baserunner was retired, meaning the pitcher faced the minimum:

  • On June 30, 1908, Red Sox pitcher Cy Young walked the Yankees' leadoff batter, Harry Niles, who was caught stealing. No one else reached base against Young, who also had three hits and four RBIs in Boston's 8-0 win. It was the third no-hitter of Young's career and about as close as possible to being his second perfect game.

The remaining instances in which a pitcher recorded 27 consecutive outs in a game, noting how the opponent's leadoff batter (or batters) reached base:

Ward and Young are thus the only two men in baseball history to retire 27 consecutive men in a game on two separate occasions.

No-hit, no-walk, no–hit batsman games

In Major League Baseball play since 1893, with the essential modern rules in place, there have been seven instances when a pitcher performed his (primary) job to perfection over a complete game of at least nine innings, but was not awarded a perfect game because of fielding errors:

  • On June 13, 1905, Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants shut down the Cubs, falling short of a perfect game only because of errors by shortstop Bill Dahlen and second baseman Billy Gilbert. In a classic pitching duel, the Cubs' Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown also carried a no-hitter into the ninth, losing it and the game, 1-0.
  • On September 5, 1908, the Brooklyn Dodgers' Nap Rucker blanked the Boston Doves with a flawless pitching performance, despite errors that allowed three Doves to reach base. In almost a century since, no otherwise perfect game has been spoiled by multiple errors.
  • On July 1, 1920, an error by Senators second baseman Bucky Harris was the lone defect in what would have been a perfect game by Walter Johnson. Harry Hooper, the Red Sox who reached base, was batting leadoff in the seventh.
  • On September 3, 1947, with one out in the second, Philadelphia Athletics' first baseman Ferris Fain, after fielding a routine grounder, threw wildly to pitcher Bill McCahan, covering first base. Stan Spence of the Senators made it all the way to second, the only blemish on McCahan's otherwise perfect game.
  • On July 19, 1974, flawless through 3 2/3, Cleveland Indians pitcher Dick Bosman failed to handle a slow roller hit by Sal Bando. Not one other Oakland Athletic would reach base, making this the only occasion in major league history when the sole demerit on an otherwise perfect defensive line was the pitcher's own fielding error.
  • On June 27, 1980, Jerry Reuss of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitched a virtually immaculate game, but without hope of perfection—a first-inning throwing error by shortstop Bill Russell allowed the San Francisco Giants' Jack Clark to reach base.
  • On August 15, 1990, the Giants' Rick Parker, batting leadoff in the seventh, reached base on a throwing error by Phillies third baseman Charlie Hayes. Parker was retired when the next batter, Dave Anderson, grounded into a double play. Terry Mulholland pitched flawlessly and faced the minimum 27—but, still, no perfect game. Hayes is thought to have redeemed himself for the fielding error by making a spectacular catch on a line drive in the ninth inning, thereby protecting Mulholland's no-hitter.

Note that no otherwise perfect game in major league history has ever been spoiled solely due to a third-strike passed ball, third-strike wild pitch, interference, or an outfield error. Note also that more than one online survey incorrectly lists the game pitched by the Los Angeles Dodgers' Bill Singer against the Phillies on July 20, 1970, as perfect aside from two throwing errors by Singer; in fact, he also hit batter Oscar Gamble in the first inning.

Popular culture

Notes

Sources

Published

  • Alvarez, Mark, ed. (1993). The Perfect Game: A Classic Collection of Facts, Figures, Stories and Characters from the Society for American Baseball Research (Taylor). ISBN 0-87833-815-2
  • Anderson, David W. (2000). More Than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press). ISBN 0-8032-1056-6
  • Buckley, Jr., James (2002). Perfect: The Inside Story of Baseball's Seventeen Perfect Games (Triumph Books). ISBN 1-57243-454-6
  • Coffey, Michael (2004). 27 Men Out: Baseball's Perfect Games (New York: Atria Books). ISBN 0-7434-4606-2
  • Deutsch, Jordan A. et al. (1975). The Scrapbook History of Baseball (New York: Bobbs-Merrill). ISBN 0-672-52028-1
  • Dewey, Donald, and Nicholas Acocella (1995). The Biographical History of Baseball (New York: Carroll & Graf). ISBN 1-57243-567-4
  • Fleitz, David L. (2004). Ghosts in the Gallery at Cooperstown: Sixteen Little-Known Members of the Hall of Fame (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland). ISBN 0-7864-1749-8
  • Holtzman, Jerome (2003). "Pitching Perfection Is in the Eye of the Beholder," Baseball Digest (June; available online).
  • Lewis, Allen (2002). "Tainted No-hitters," Baseball Digest (February; available online).
  • Okrent, Daniel, and Steve Wulf (1989). Baseball Anecdotes (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press). ISBN 0-19-504396-0
  • Schott, Tom, and Nick Peters (2003). The Giants Encyclopedia (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing LLC). ISBN 1-58261-693-0

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