Cyclone, Boomer, Big Unit, King Felix and more … All About Those 23 Perfect Games

Cy Young, appropriately, pitched the first perfect game at the modern 60'6" pitching distance.

Cy Young, appropriately, pitched the first “perfecto” at the modern 60’6″ pitching distance.

Sometimes, when you are looking for one bit of informatiom, it opens a path to a treasure trove.  For example, I was examining the scores of MLB’s 23 officially recognized perfect (27 up/27 down) games.  I found that the most popular score of a perfect game is 1-0, with seven of the 23 perfect outings (30.4 percent) resulting in a 1-0 final score That’s not totally unexpected, but – as I examined MLB’s perfect pitching performances – I learned even more.  I was surprised to find out that in six of those seven 1-0 outcomes, that sole run scored by the winning squad was “unearned.”  At any rate, looking into those 1-0 outcomes led me to keep digging into the history of perfect games – and I’d like to share a few facts I found of interest as I looked into “the best” work of players known by such names as Boomer (Wells), Big Unit (Johnson), Catfish (Hunter), Gambler (Rogers), King Felix (Hernandez), El Presidente (Martinez), Doc (Halladay) and more.

 

  • 16 perfect games were pitched in the winning pitcher’s home park, only seven on the road. (Side note: When the Providence Grays’ John Montgomery Ward totally white-washed the Buffalo Bisons in Providence on June 17, 1880, Buffalo was the”home” team – at the time home team designation was determined by a coin toss.)
  • Fifteen perfect games belong to right-handers, eight to southpaws.
  • Fourteen AL hurlers and nine NL pitchers have fashioned “perfectos.”

FORESHADOWING?

Cy Young, who would toss a perfect game for Boston in 1904, pitched for the 1899 National League Saint Louis team known as the “Perfectos.”  They would become the Cardinals in 1900.

  • Twelve perfect games have occurred in American League games, nine in National League contests, one in an interleague tilt and one in the World Series.
  • David Cone of the Yankees threw the only perfect game in an interleague contest (through 2017), when he stopped the Expos 6-0 on July 18, 1999 at Yankee Stadium.
  • The largest crowd to witness a perfect game was for Don Larsen’s Yankee Stadium 1956 World Series’ performance against the Big Apple rival Dodgers – 65,519.  The smallest crowd was an estimated 1,800 for John Montgomery Ward’s June 17, 1880, 5-0 win for Providence over Buffalo.
  • The youngest pitcher to toss a perfect game was 20-year-old Providence righty John Ward (1880); the oldest was 40-year-old Diamondbacks’ southpaw Randy Johnson (2004).

A BIT OF BALANCE

There are those who question the validity of the two 1880 perfect games – Lee Richmond’s very first MLB perfect outing on June 12 and John Montgomery Wards’ just five days later.  The rules were different then – 45-foot pitching distance and eight balls to draw a walk.  However, that is balanced by the fact that pitchers couldn’t bring their arms above the shoulder in the windup and fielders were primarily gloveless. Consider that, in 1880, there were an average of 8.9 errors per game (both teams combined) and that of the 3,191 runs scored that season, 1,591  (49.9 percent) were unearned. Under those conditions, a perfect game was still quite the accomplishment.

  • Only two players under six-feet tall have pitched perfect games and they were the first two to accomplish it: Worcester’s Lee Richmond (5’10”) and Providence’s John Ward (5’9”).
  • The tallest player to pitch a perfect game was 6’ 10” Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks, the heaviest 6’2”, 240-pound Mark Buehrle of the White Sox

GOOD TIMING

dAVID cONE BASEBALL photo

Photo by clare_and_ben

Yankee righty David Cone pitched a perfect game against the Expos on July 18, 1999 (a 6-0 New York win). To make it even more “perfect,” it was Yogi Berra Day and the ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by former Yankee Don Larsen – author of the only World Series perfect game.

 

 

 

  • The fewest pitches tossed in a perfect outing was 74 – by Addie Joss in his October 2, 1908 perfect outing, as he led his Cleveland Naps over the White Sox by a score of 1-0. As you might expect, his three strikeouts that day are also the fewest K’s in a perfect game.
  • The most pitches in a perfect game were the 125 thrown by Matt Cain as his Giants topped the Astros 10-0 in San Francisco. That ten runs is the most ever scored in support of a perfect game on the mound.
  • The most strikeouts recorded in a perfect outing are 14 – Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax (September 9, 1965 versus the Cubs) and Giants’ Matt Cain (June 13, 2012 versus the Astros).

HE’LL DO IN A PINCH

aDDIE jOSS photo

Photo by guano

The Cleveland Naps’ Addie Joss had to retire three ninth-inning pinch-hitters to complete his October 2, 1908 perfect outing against the White Sox – Doc White (for Al Shaw), who grounded out short to first; Jiggs Donahue (for Lee Tannehil), who fanned swinging; and John Anderson (for Ed Walsh), who grounded out to third. The only other pitcher to face three pinch hitters in the course of a perfect game was the Phillies’ Jim Bunning. In his June 21, 1964 perfecto against the Mets, he faced one pinch batter in the sixth and two in the ninth. (The final two outs of the game saw Bunning facing pinch hitters George Altman and John Stephenson – who both struck out swinging.)

 

  • The quickest perfect game took place on May 5, 1904, as Cy Young and his Boston Americans topped the Philadelphia Athletics 3-0 (in Boston) in a reported 85 minutes. (Some reports list the game at 83 minutes, either way it is the quickest.)
  • The longest perfect game took two hours and forty minutes, as David Wells and the Yankees bested the Twins 4-0 in New York.

TWO GREAT PLAYS TO SAVE TWO GREAT GAMES

Here is BBRT’s take on the two top perfect game-saving plays.

In Lee Richmond’s MLB first-ever perfect game (1880) for Worcester, the Buffalo Bisons’ slow afoot first baseman Bill Phillips appeared to break up the perfecto in the top of the fifth with a hard liner that found the grass in right field.  Worcester right fielder Alonzo Knight charged the ball, picked it up on the hop and fired to Providence first baseman Chub Sullivan to nip Phillips at first.  The perfect game was saved on a seldom seen 9-3 assist/putout.

Number-two. With Chicago’s Mark Buerhle having  eight perfect innings against the Rays under his belt (July 23, 2009), White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen brought speedy outfielder DeWayne Wise in to play center field.  It immediately proved to be a “wise” move.  The first batter in the ninth, Rays’ RF Gabe Kapler, ripped a drive to deep left-center.  Wise, who had been playing shallow to avoid a bloop hit, took off.  He hit the center field wall hard, gloved hand extended above the fence (in home run territory) and snagged the drive.  After hitting the fence, the ball was jarred loose and Wise corralled it with his bare hand as he fell to the ground – saving the perfect outing.  Buehrle went on to retire the final two batters (strikeout/groundout to short) to complete the perfect game.  See the video of Wise’s catch below.

  • The White Sox and Dodgers franchises have been involved in the most perfect games – four each. (Note: The White Sox won three of their four; the Dodgers lost three of their four.)
  • The White Sox and Yankees staffs have pitched the most perfect games – three each.
  • The Rays and Dodgers have been the most frequent victims of perfect outings – three each. (Three of the six most recent perfect games have been pitched against the Rays).
  • Cleveland squads going by the names the Blues, Naps and Indians have been involved in perfect games.

COME ON – JOIN THE PARTY!

Twenty-three of the current thirty MLB franchises have been involved in perfect games (on either the winning or losing side). The following teams have never been on the field for a perfecto: American League – Royals and Orioles. National League – Cardinals, Pirates, Brewers, Rockies and Padres.

  • Nine of the 23 perfect game pitchers logged 200 or more major league wins, led (of course) by Cy Young’s 511.
  • The list of perfect game pitchers includes seven Hall of Famers: John Ward, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Cattish Hunter and Randy Johnson.
  • Seven of the hurlers who caught fire on the mound and achieved perfection for a game had career won-lost records under .500.
  • Seven of the perfect hurlers have more than one no-hitter (including the perfect game) on their resumes: Sandy Koufax (4 no-hitters); Cy Young (3); and two each for Jim Bunning, Mark Buehrle, Randy Johnson, Addie Joss and Roy Halladay.
  • The perfect games tossed by David Cone (1999), Mark Buehrle (2009), Philip Humber (2012) were the only complete game each threw in their perfecto season.

AVAILABLE ONE TIME – AND ONE TIME ONLY

Philip Humber threw just one complete game in his career - but it was "perfect."

Philip Humber threw just one complete game in his career – but it was “perfect.”

Phil Humber has the fewest career wins of any pitcher who has tossed a perfect game.  Humber finished an eight-season MLB career with a record of 16-31 and a 5.31 earned run average.  His perfect outing in 2012 was HIS ONLY COMPLETE GAME in 51 career starts. He finished the 2012 season at 5-5, 6.44 – notching the fewest wins and highest ERA ever for a pitcher in a season in which he reached perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The most wins recorded by a pitcher in a season in which he three of perfect game was 39 – John Montgomery Ward, 39-24, 1.74 in 188o.
  • The most losses in a season in which a pitcher tossed a perfect game was 32 – Lee Richmond, 32-32, 2.15 in 1880.
  • 2012 was a banner year for perfect games with three – the most ever in a season.

GETTING AN EARLY START ON HISTORY

Charlie Robertson, who threw his perfect game for the White Sox against the Tigers on April 201922, was rather unique among perfect game hurlers. He pitched his gem earlier in his career than any other perfect game pitcher – in just his fourth MLB start and fifth career game. (By comparison, Randy Johnson was in his 17th season and Cy Young seeking his 380th victory when they threw their perfect games.) Robertson is also the only pitcher to throw a perfect game – and also finish below .500 for every season of his career (eight campaigns – career record 49-80, 4.44). In addition, he is the only pitcher to throw a perfect game against a team that batted over .300, as a team. In 1922, the Ty Cobb-led Tigers hit .306  – with six .300+ hitters in the everyday lineup, led by Cobb’s .401.   (The Tigers were shut out only five times that season).

  • No pitcher did more to help his cause (offensively) in a perfect game than Jim Hunter. As he shut down the Twins 4-0 on May 8, 1968, Hunter went 3-4 (double and two singles) with three runs batted in – recording the most hits, total bases and RBI by a pitcher in game in which he was perfect on the mound.  (One more hit and he could have been perfect at the plate as well.)
  • Jim Bunning is the only pitcher to record a save in the outing immediately before his perfect game. Three days befre his June 21, 1964 perfect game agasint the Mets, Bunning was brought in to get the last two outs in a 6-3 Phillies win over the Cubs.
  • David Cone (1999), Len Barker (1981) and Tom Browning (1988) all completed their perfect games without ever reaching ball three to any batter.
  • On September 16, 1988, Tom Browning almost became the first pitcher to start a perfect game on one day and finish it on another. The start of the game was delayed nearly 2 1/2 hours (starting just after ten p.m.) – and it wrapped up at about seven minutes to midnight.

WANT TO READ ABOUT PERFECT GAMES LOST WITH TWO OUTS IN THE NINTH INNING (OR LATER)?  Click here. 

 

———-MLB PERFECT GAMES LIST———

June 12, 1880 …. Lee Richmond, Worcester … Cleveland Blues 0 – at Worcester 1

Richmond’s 1880 record: 32-32, 2.15.  Career record: 75-100, 3.06.

June 17, 1880 … John Montgomery Ward, Providence Grays … Providence 5 – versus Buffalo Bisons 0

Wards’ 1880 record: 39-24, 1.74.  Career record: 164-103, 2.10.

May 5, 1904 … Cy Young, Boston Americans … Philadelphia A’s 0 – at Boston 3

Young’s 1904 record: 26-16, 1.97.  Career record: 511-316, 2.63

October 2, 1908 … Addie Joss, Cleveland Naps … Chicago White Sox 0 – at Cleveland 1

Joss’ 1908 record: 24-11, 1.16.  Career record: 160-97, 1.89.

April 30, 1922 … Charlie Robertson, Chicago White Sox … Chicago 2 – at Detroit Tigers 0

Robertson’s 1922 record: 14-15, 3.64. Career record: 49-80, 4.44.

October 8, 1956 … Don Larsen, New York Yankees … Brooklyn Dodgers 0 – at New York 2

Larsen’s 1956 record: 11-5, 3.26.  Career record: 81-91, 3.78.

June 21, 1964 … Jim Bunning, Philadelphia Phillies … Phillies 6 – at New York Mets 0

Bunning’s 1964 record: 19-8, 2.63. Career record: 222-184, 3.27.

September 9, 1965 … Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers … Chicago Cubs 0 – at LA 1

Koufax’ 1965 record: 26-8, 2.04. Career record: 165-87, 2.76.

May 8, 1968 … Jim Hunter, Oakland A’s …. Minnesota Twins 0 – at Oakland 4

Hunter’s 1968 record: 13-13, 3.35. Career record: 224-166, 3.26.

May 15, 1981 … Len Barker, Cleveland Indians … Toronto Blue Jays 0 – at Cleveland 3

Barker’s 1981 record: 8-7, 3.91. Career record: 74-76, 4.34.

September 30, 1984 … Mike Witt, California Angels … California 1 – at Texas Rangers 0

Witt’s 1984 record: 15-11, 3.47. Career record: 117-116, 3.83.

September 16, 1988 … Tom Browning, Cincinnati Reds … LA Dodgers 0 – at Cincinnati 1

Browning’s 1988 record: 18-5, 3.41. Career record: 123-90, 3.94.

July 28, 1991 … Dennis Martinez, Montreal Expos … Montreal 2 – at LA Dodgers 0

Martinez’ 1991 record: 14-11, 2.39. Career record: 245-193, 3.70.

July 28, 1994 … Kenny Rogers, Texas Rangers … California Angels 0 – at Texas 4

Rogers’s 1994 record: 11-8, 2.46. Career record: 219-156, 4.27.

May 17, 1998 … David Wells, New York Yankees … Minnesota Twins 0 – at New York 4

Wells’ 1998 record: 18-4, 3.49.  Career record: 239-157, 4.13.

July 18, 1999 … David Cone, New York Yankees … Montreal Expos 0 – at New York 6

Cone’s 1999 record: 12-9, 3.44.  Career record: 194-126, 3.46.

May 18, 2004 … Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks … Arizona 2 – at Atlanta Braves 0

Johnson’s 2004 record: 16-14, 2.60. Career record: 303-166, 3.29.

July 23, 2009 … Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox … Tampa Bay Rays 0 – at Chicago 5

Buehrle’s 2009 record:  13-10, 3.84. Career record: 214-160, 3.18.

May 9, 2010 … Dallas Braden, Oakland A’s … Tampa Bay Rays 0 – at Oakland 4

Braden’s 2010 record: 11-14, 3.50. Career record: 26-36, 4.16.

May 29, 2010 … Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies …. Phillies 1 – at Marlins 0

Halladay’s 2010 record: 21-10, 2.44.  Career record: 203-105, 3.38.

April 21, 2012 … Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox …. Chicago 4 – at Seattle Mariners 0

Humber’s 2012 record: 5-5, 6.44.  Career record: 16-23, 5.31.

June 13, 2012 … Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants … Houston Astros 0 – at San Francisco 10

Cain’s 2012 record: 16-5, 2.79, Career record: 104-118, 3.68 (through 2017).

August 15, 2012 … Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners …. Tampa Bay Rays 0 – at Seattle 1

Hernandez’ 2012 record: 13-9, 3.06.  Career record: 160-114, 3.20 (through 2017).

Primary resources: Society for American Baseball Research; Baseball-Reference.com; MLB.com; Baseball-Almanac.com

 

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Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliqauary; The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

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