Perhaps one of sports’ greatest feats is the elusive and nearly impossible act of pitching a perfect game. It’s only happened 21 times in the MLB’s 143 years of existence — most recently last Saturday when 29-year-old Chicago White Sox pitcher Philip Humber executed the notable achievement seemingly out of nowhere against the Seattle Mariners in a 4-0 victory.
The MLB defines a perfect game as essentially allowing no batter to get on base under any circumstance for a minimum of nine innings — or, in the case of a 0-0 tie going into extra innings, continuing the flawlessness until the favored team can take the lead. Both no-hitters and shutouts share many characteristics with a perfect game only because a pitcher actually encompasses both feats with the completion of a perfect game.
Of all 21 perfect games the league has seen in its extensive history, none has ever gone longer than nine innings — thus, every pitcher saw just 27 batters enter the batter’s box. In 1959, three-time All-Star and then Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Harvey Haddix brought a perfect game into the 12th inning against the Milwaukee Braves. His opposing pitcher, 1957 World Series MVP pitcher Lew Burdette, was also amidst a shutout attempt, hence a 0-0 tie that garnered for extra-inning play.
In possibly one of the greatest pitching performances the game has ever seen, Haddix lost his perfect game, and consequently the game itself, after a fielding error by his third baseman, Don Hoak, in the bottom of the 13th.
Two years ago, on June 2, Venezuelan right-hander and then Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game by first-base umpire Jim Joyce after effectively pitching lights-out for 8 and 2/3 innings. After a routine infield ground ball hit to first base by Cleveland Indians rookie shortstop Jason Donald, which resulted in a close play at first, Joyce called Donald safe, despite ensuing replays that clearly showed the base runner should have been called out.
In 10 different instances, the MLB has seen what would have been a perfect game spoiled by the 27th and final batter of the game.
Both Haddix’s and Galarraga’s stories are prime examples of how amazingly difficult and practically luck-demanding completing a perfect game truly is.
When looking at all 21 pitchers who have successfully pitched perfect games, it’s not surprising to see names like Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay on the list. There are, however, some names that just don’t seem to fit.
Former White Sox pitcher Charlie Robertson pitched baseball’s fifth perfect game on April 30, 1992, in a 2-0 win over Detroit. Robertson will probably go down as one of the worst players to ever pitch a perfect game. His career earned run average was a disastrous 4.44 and overall record was 49-80.
Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden combined with Philadelphia Phillies ace Halladay for two perfect games pitched in the same season of 2010 — an occurrence the league has only seen one other time back in 1880 when Lee Richmond and John Montgomery Ward both pitched the league’s first two. Braden hasn’t seen much luck ever since. He is currently dealing with injuries and stands with a career record of 26-36 with an earned run average over four.
Perhaps the most famous pitcher known for his perfect game is former New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen, who pitched the league’s one and only perfect game in postseason history in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, which evidently led to a Yankees victory and his selection as the World Series MVP of that year.
Larsen would become a journeyman after leaving New York in 1959, playing for six other teams and finishing his career with a losing record of 81-91.
I guess my point is, most of the time, perfection can’t be predicted. It takes a great deal of skill to be able to retire 27 or more consecutive batters, but at the same time, a profusion of luck. When the right things click and a pitcher is feeling it, there’s always the slim chance they might do something remarkable, and that’s exactly what we saw last weekend with Humber.