The Other Eighteen

It is an unwritten rule in baseball that if a pitcher throws a Perfect Game, you are allowed to milk the accomplishment until said pitcher's next start. And I've never been one to mess with baseball etiquette.

Now that the rest of the world knows as much as we do about the awesomeness that is Dallas Braden (ok maybe not as much, but clearly more than say, a week ago), let's look at the other eighteen men with whom Braden- who makes his first post-perfecto start tomorrow night in Anaheim- will be forever linked.

The first two men to toss Perfect Games were Lee Richmond and Monte Ward, whose gems came just five days apart in the year 1880. Contrary to popular belief, I did not attend either contest.

Even Joe Posnanski dismisses these long-ago masterpieces:

For some reason these always include two thrown in 1880 when it took eight balls to walk somebody, the mound was 50 feet from home plate and pitchers were still supposed to throw underhand. Completely different game then …but baseball does cherish its past.

Look, here's how ridiculous that 1880 season was: only two of the eight teams that made up the National League (and that was the only league, folks) still exist: the Cubs (who were called the White Stockings) and the Braves (known then as the Boston Red Caps).

Richmond's team, the Worcester Ruby Legs, played 85 games. Richmond pitched in 74 of them, starting 66 and completing 57.  Ward appeared in 70 of the Providence Grays' 87 contests (67 starts, 59 CG's); in fact he was the starting pitcher for his team's first twenty-seven games!

So yeah, not to tarnish their efforts at all, but there you go.

The first Perfect Game pitched that involved players and teams you might have actually heard of took place on May 5, 1904.  The participants: the Boston Americans (aka Red Sox), fresh off the winning the very first World Series, and the Philadelphia Athletics.  On the mound for the Red Sox was Denton True Young, known to most of the baseball universe as "Cy".  Yes, it was Cy Young who hurled the first unblemished game in the modern era, and it came at the expense of "our" A's.

Accounts of that game are, um, interesting:

"Young equaled the world's record this afternoon when he shut out the Athletics at the American League grounds without allowing one of the visitors to reach first base."

"There was not a ghost of a show during the entire innings for an Athletic to reach first, for all the put-outs were clean-cut plays."

Cy Young once said, "a pitcher's got to be good and he's got to be lucky to get a no hit game", and the man whose name adorns baseball's most prestigious award for pitchers, was both good and lucky against the A's.  But it would not be the last time: on June 30, 1908, he blanked the Yankees without allowing a base hit.

Young is one of five Perfect Game hurlers to spin multiple no-no's (Bunning, Johnson, Joss, and Koufax), and one of five to be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame (Bunning, Hunter, Joss, Koufax).  Randy Johnson will surely be added to the HOF list in five years.  So there you go, Dallas.  Add another no-hitter to your achievement and we'll see in you Cooperstown.

A couple of random notables:

- The A's are one of six franchises to be on both ends of a perfect game (Angels, Dodgers, Expos, Rangers, White Sox).

- Young's gem is one of six to take place in May (including both of Oakland's); the most of any month.

***

The career and life of Adrian (Addie) Joss were cut short, the former due to arm ailments, the latter to a bacterial infection that proved fatal before his 32nd birthday.  But during his nine seasons, few dominated the sport like Joss, whose lifetime ERA of 1.89 ranks second of all pitchers with at least 1000 innings logged.

"Joss not only had great speed and a fast-breaking curve," Baseball Magazine observed in 1911, "but [also] a very effective pitching motion, bringing the ball behind him with a complete body swing and having it on the batter almost before the latter got sight of it."

At the end of the 1908 season, the Cleveland Naps were in a four-team race for the American League pennant.  Joss took the mound against the Chicago White Sox on October 2, and set down 27 straight batters, the second perfecto in league history.

Joss would toss a second no-hitter in 1910 (also against the White Sox), his last season in the majors.

***

Charlie Robertson's career was even shorter than that of Joss, and not nearly as successful.  He recorded only six shutouts lifetime, 39 less than Joss, and three came during the 1922 season.  The first of those three came on April 30 at Detroit's Navin Field as Robertson mowed through a lineup that featured the likes of Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann.  Almost fittingly, Cobb- and several of his teammates- accused Robertson, making just his fourth big-league start of cheating:

Ty Cobb, to the day he died, always said that Charlie Robertson doctored the ball during the game. After the game, the Tigers sent several game used balls to the American League President Ban Johnson who found no trace of tampering.

***

Imagine what a list of top feats for the New York Yankees would look like?  Here's a short list: most World Series champions (26) and most perfect games thrown (3).

But how about a perfecto during the World Series?

That's what Don Larsen did to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and it came in Game 5 of a deadlocked Classic.  Until a pitcher is perfect in a Series-clinching contest, you'll find no greater individual achievement that doubles as the ultimate team accomplishment.  And yes, the Yankees did win that 1956 Series, in seven games.

In his previous start, Larsen gave no indication of what was to come.  His four walks and four runs allowed in 1-2/3 innings of work in Game 2 were instrumental to the Dodgers fighting back from a 6-0 deficit and putting the Yankees in a 2-0 hole in the Series.

Mediocre would not begin to describe Larsen, and even those in the Yankee family acknowledged as much:

"If Nolan Ryan had done it, if Sandy Koufax had done it, if Don Drysdale had done it, I would have nodded and said, 'Well, it could happen.' But Don Larsen?" says Yankees public-address announcer Bob Sheppard on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.

Larsen

Yogi Berra leaps into the arms of Don Larsen after the latter pitched a WS Perfecto.

Photo courtesty of newyorkology.com

The last out came against Dale Mitchell who took a called strike three.  Larsen didn't portray any false bravado:

"He really scared me up there," Larsen said. "Looking back on it, though, I know how much pressure he was under. He must have been paralyzed. That made two of us."

Don Larsen didn't pitch again until the third game of the 1957 season, at Fenway Park.  In 1.1 innings he faced 10 batters.  Six reached base. Four scored. 

The Yankees won anyway. (Of course they did).

***

Not to bring politics into a near-perfect post but our next guest is U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, a father of seven, who pitched his Perfect Game- the first in modern National League history- on Father's Day 1964.  Bunning was not one for no-hit jinx folly:

"Normally a catcher would not dare to go to the mound while a pitcher was throwing a no hitter let alone a perfect game, but Bunning called Gus Triandos to the mound in the ninth inning. Bunning asked him to tell him a joke, just to get a breather. Triandos could not think of one and just laughed at him then told him to go get this guy. Bunning broke every superstition during the game. He talked about the game to his teammates. He counted down outs saying 9 more to go, 6 more, 3 more."

***

Sandy Koufax knew a thing or two about no-hitters; he had pitched one in each of three seasons from 1962 to 1964.

So it came as hardly a shock that he was setting down the Chicago Cubs in typical fashion on September 9, 1965.  But this was different.  In his previous three no-no's he had allowed at least one batter to reach base via a walk.  Then there was the fact that Koufax's counterpart, Bob Hendley, was matching him pitch for pitch, batter for batter.  Through six innings, neither team had a hit, though the Dodgers pushed across an unearned run in the fifth. In the seventh, LA's Lou Johnson doubled.

It was the game's only hit.

The perfect game was surely special in a career full of special moments for Koufax, but it was his Game 7 shutout in that season's World Series that he will no doubt remember most.  He is the first of three hurlers to cap a "perfect season" with a world championship.

As fate would have it, Koufax and Hendley would face each other five days later, and again it was tightly contested, with the Cubs winning 2-1.

***

The Oakland A's were barely a month into their new digs when 22-year old Jim "Catfish" Hunter took the hill against the Minnesota Twins.  A sparse crowd of 6,298 at the Coliseum- the smallest to ever witness a perfect game- was treated to the first one thrown in an American League game in 46 years.

Catfish

Catfish's supremacy over Minnesota was not limited to the mound that night; he also had three hits and drove in three of his team's four runs.  Ron Bergman, from Mustache Gang:

"Hunter might have turned in the best-pitched game in major league history. There really wasn't one tough fielding chance, only six outs left the infield, and Hunter threw only 107 pitches."

(Actually only five pitchers have thrown more pitches during a Perfect Game, including Braden).

The power-laden Twins got a second chance at Catfish six days later, and they teed off; the first four batters reached base in a five-run first inning in which three Twins homered.  But the A's stormed back to win 13-8, which is an anomaly within itself; runs were rather hard to come by in the Year of the Pitcher.

***

It would be 13 seasons before another Perfect Game was thrown, as the seventies proved to be flawed (except for the part where the A's won three straight World Series), and it came from an unlikely source.

Barker scorecard

Official scorecard from Len Barker's perfect game on May 15, 1981.

Photo courtesy of Seth.com

Len Barker is not a name that jumps out at you.  I doubt he ever appeared on Letterman.  But on May 15, 1981 against the Toronto Blue Jays he made history. Perhaps equally important, he kept from making an ass of himself:

The Big Donkey, as he was called by his manager, threw a brutal slider and a blazing fastball on a night when only a handful of fans turned out to see a gem at Cleveland Stadium. The game temperature was a frigid forty-nine degrees, but the often wild righthander was on fire.

The gem earned Barker his only All-Star selection, and he followed up his perfect night with a complete-game loss to Seattle in his next start.

***

Mike Witt had very little wiggle room while facing the Texas Rangers on the last day of the 1984 season. His California Angels had only provided one measly fan-aided run of support, and that came in the top of the seventh inning.

But as reported here, it hardly mattered to Witt on this day:

They were supposed to be just playing out the string on the season's final day, with neither the hometown Rangers nor the visiting Angels headed to the postseason. But California's Mike Witt gave a thrill to the small crowd of 8,375 as he pulled off the rarest individual feat in baseball, tossing the 11th perfect game in MLB history.

Like Addie Joss and Don Larsen before him, Witt had to wait until the following season for his perfect encore, and it was hardly that: he allowed ten hits in seven innings in an Opening Night loss to the Twins.

***

Tom Browning could relate to Witt's quest for immortality with the tiniest margin for error.  On September 16, 1988, he and Dodger starter Tim Belcher had pitched five innings each of no-hit ball. The Reds finally broke through with a hit in the sixth, and the game's only run (making this the fifth and last of the perfect games that had a 1-0 score).

Browning

Photo courtesy of sportsvideodaily.com

In the seventh, Browning struck out Some Guy Whose Name Shall Never Be Mentioned Here, and that Guy protested the call and was ejected.  His team ended up winning the World Series.

Thanks a lot, Tom Browning.  You pissed them off.

Browning pitched well in his next start- a rarity for Perfect Game pitchers- shutting down the Giants on five hits over eight innings in a 5-1 victory.  But his shining moment came two years later during Game 3 of the 1990 World Series. Not sure why I decided to bring that up at this moment. Let's move on.

***

Although they took place three years apart, the Dodgers became the first team to be victimized in consecutive perfect games; this time it was Dennis Martinez of the Expos to keep the Dodgers off the bases. The only Latin-born player in this elite group, El Presidente had more trouble with his emotions than he did with Los Angeles batters:

"I was blank -- there was nothing in my mind," Martinez, who is 36 years old, said of his reaction when the game ended. "I had no words to say. I could only cry. I didn't know how to express myself. I didn't know how to respond to this kind of game."

Three years- to the day- later the Rangers' Kenny Rogers retired 27 consecutive Angels. Coupled with Mike Witt's performance in 1984 it marks the only time that two teams have out-perfected each other.

Rogers, who did appear on Letterman, laughed later about how fortunate he was to be playing baseball for a living:

"If Joe Marchese hadn't been there one day by accident and seen me make one throw from shortstop," Rogers says, shaking his head, "I'd be back in Dover working on a berry truck." Instead, his hat and a ball from his perfect game are being flown to Cooperstown. "Can you believe it?" he says.

***

The Yankees became the first- and only- team to throw perfect games in back-to-back seasons: David Wells in 1998 and David Cone in 1999.  Both years the Yankees won the World Series.  Yawn.

Wells

David Wells gets a lift from his teammates after setting down 27 Minnesota Twins in a row.

Photo courtesy of uniwatchblog.com

Amazingly, Don Larsen and Yogi Berra were in attendance for Cone's feat; Larsen threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and apparently left his mojo on the mound.

David Wells didn't need baseball royalty hanging around; not his style. This fits, though:

Billy Crystal walked into the clubhouse after the game, approached David Wells and said, "I got here late, what happened?"

***

Randy Johnson is the oldest member of the PG Club.  At the age of 40, having tossed a no-hitter 14 years prior, Johnson was a beacon of light in an otherwise dreary season for the Arizona Diamondbacks (51-111).  That night in Atlanta, May 18, 2004, he struck out 13 batters.

Johnson

Photo courtesy of brianbehrend.com

Last year, Chicago's Mark Buehrle etched his name in the record books by tossing  the 18th perfect game in baseball history.

***

History.

My favorite thing about history being made or rewritten; it allows us to remember and celebrate the players whose records were matched or broken.  To be sure, Barry Bonds' assault on the all-time home run record thrust Hank Aaron into the limelight some 33 years after he turned on an Al Downing offering on a cool night in Atlanta, thus ending his "great ordeal" of passing The Babe.

 

For as long as the game of baseball is played, for any pitcher who sets down 27 in order- or even flirts with the possibility- Dallas Braden's name will be mentioned, even if it's only by A's fans, who will immediately remember exactly where they were on that magical Mother's Day afternoon.

 

And that, my dear readers, beats the crap out of a Letterman's Top 10 any day of the week.

97516552JJ012_Tampa_Bay_Ray

Nope. This hasn't gotten old yet.

 

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