Better than perfect

A perfect game in baseball is one of the rarest of all occurrences.  Since the advent of modern baseball, only twenty pitchers have achieved perfection.  A perfect game is just that.  Twenty-seven hitters come to the plate and are retired in succession without a hit, base on balls or an error.  This requires a combination of great skill and tremendous luck.  Perfect games have been fashioned by some of the game’s greats including Cy Young and Sandy Koufax.  They’ve also been hurled by relative unknowns such as Charlie Robertson and this season’s Dallas Braden.  The most famous perfect game was crafted by spot starter Yankee Don Larsen in a 1956 World Series outing versus Brooklyn.  By decade, the greatest number of perfect games came in the 1990’s when 4 pitchers accomplished the feat.  In a recent twenty-five day span however we came within a tough call of recording three of these gems.  The A’s Dallas Braden fired his emotion filled perfect game on Mother’s Day. The Phil’s Roy Halladay made history twenty days later.  Eighteen in 100 years, followed by two in one month is incomprehensible.  It should have been three.  Instead, Armando Galarraga (admit it, besides Janie Reynolds, had you ever even heard of him?) joins an elite group who became famous for their near brush with perfection.  

When perfect games are mentioned, usually the first name that comes up is Harvey Haddix.  On May 26, 1959, Haddix threw twelve perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves.  He went back out for the 13th and promptly lost the perfect game on an error by Don Hoak.  Later in the inning he lost the no-hitter and the game on a Joe Adcock homerun that turned into a double because he passed Henry Aaron on the basepaths.              

The other game that always comes to mind is Ernie Shore’s 27 consecutive outs recorded in relief of Babe Ruth who was ejected for arguing balls and strikes after walking the leadoff hitter.  

On this day Armando Galarraga accomplished what no man has ever done when he arguably completed the only 28 out perfect game in history.   Jason Donald, the Indians 27th hitter, will forever be credited with an infield single because of first base umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call.  The New York Times’ Tyler Hepner wrote the next morning, “No call has ever been so important and so horribly botched.”

But then unlike the norm in sport today, perfection did indeed reign.  Galarraga simply flashed a wry smile and returned to the mound.  He calmly recorded the 28th out.  In the post game news conference Galarraga offered, “This was my best game so far (only 88 pitches to retire all 28 hitters).  He (Joyce) has to feel worse than me.  Nobody is perfect.  Everybody is human.  I understand.”  

For his part, Joyce was sure he had made the correct call until he saw the replay.  He made no excuses.  “I did not get the call correct…took a perfect game away from the kid.”  Joyce who is considered the very best umpire in the game by the players, went on to exclaim, “I didn’t want something like this to be my 15 minutes of fame.”

The next day, Detroit manager Jim Leyland sent Galarraga to home plate with the line-up card to present to Joyce.  In tears, Joyce received the card and the two men embraced.
There have been cries from fans and even members of Congress to overturn the call, but even Bud Selig got this one right.  The human element of the game must be preserved.  Replay would be an absolute disaster in baseball leading to four hour games.  

Perfect games immediately become a part of the Hall of Fame.  The Museum followed suit in also doing the right thing by preparing a display commemorating the 27th out and referring to the game as “better than perfect”.  For eternity Armando Galarraga will be remembered as the man who went one out beyond.  Keep that in mind when you try to remember who pitched the last perfect game prior to Braden.



Better Than Perfect

John hit the "nail right on the head" as the human element is a random variable that creates the allure of baseball. As exacting as the geometry of the game and the endless statistics that baseball analysts use to predict the future, the umpires have the toughest job probably in any professional sport. How many people would want to be second-guessed where they work by not only your boss but thousands and sometimes millions of people. Not to mention the abuse from players, managers and fans. The story that motivates "Better Than Perfect" is the smile worn by Galarraga as the dream of perfection fell short. So, I for one feel also that this game is even more memorable because of the class exhibited by a pitcher that lost his possibly once in a lifetime bid for a perfect game. The culture of MLB has just had the bar raised after, for the most part, a race to the bottom.

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