Perfection

by Russ Roberts on June 3, 2010

in Law, Sports

Last night, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers took a perfect game into the ninth and with two outs, induced the batter to ground out to first. But the umpire blew the call costing Galarraga his rightful place in baseball history.

This unfortunate human error has created a firestorm of outrage, demands for instant replay, an obscenity laced self-indictment from the umpire Jim Joyce who blew the call, and a gracious reaction from Galarraga who hugged Joyce.

I have a different reaction. Galarraga threw a perfect game. The blown call wasn’t in the seventh. It was the last out of the game. The replay is incontrovertible. He got the guy. He threw a perfect game. Everybody knows it. The other team knows it. The ump admits it. He threw a perfect game.

In any discussion of perfect games over the next 20 years, Galarraga’s name will be mentioned. So essentially his achievement is a perfect game with an asterisk or an un-asterisk because presumably his name will not be on the list. But I could see that happening.

The other irony is that there have been no-hitters that were preserved by bad scoring that changed a hit to an error. Those were not “really” no hitters but they go into the pantheon of great pitching performances. Galarraga is in the pantheon in everyone’s mind other than the official list and box score of the game.

Today is a good day to remember Harvey Haddix:

Haddix will always be remembered for taking a perfect game into the 13th inning of a game against the Milwaukee Braves on May 26, 1959. Haddix retired 36 consecutive batters in 12 innings essentially relying on two pitches: fastball and slider.[2][3] However, his Pittsburgh teammates didn’t score, as Braves pitcher Lew Burdette was also pitching a shutout.[1]

A fielding error by Don Hoak ended the perfect game in the bottom of the 13th, with Felix Mantilla being safe at first base. Mantilla later advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, which was followed by an intentional walk to Hank Aaron. Joe Adcock then hit an apparent home run, ending the no-hitter and the game. However, in the confusion, Aaron left the basepaths and was passed by Adcock for the second out and the Braves won 2-0. Eventually the hit was changed from a home run to a double by a ruling from National League president Warren Giles; only the first Braves run counted, for a score of 1-0, but the Pirates and Haddix still lost.[1][4][5]

I could have put a cup on either corner of the plate and hit it.
—Harvey Haddix[1]

Haddix’s 12 and 2/3-inning, one-hit complete game, against the team that had just represented the NL in the previous two World Series, is considered by many to be the best pitching performance in major league history.[1][6] Mazeroski later said of Haddix’s dominance in the game, “Usually you have one or two great or spectacular defensive plays in these no-hitters. Not that night. It was the easiest game I ever played in.”[1]

After the game, Haddix received many letters of congratulations and support, as well as one from a Texas A&M fraternity which read, in its entirety on university stationery, “Dear Harvey, Tough shit.” “It made me mad,” recounted Haddix, “until I realized they were right. That’s exactly what it was.”[1][7][8][9]

In 1991, Major League Baseball changed the definition of a no-hitter to “a game in which a pitcher or pitchers complete a game of nine innings or more without allowing a hit.” Despite having thrown more perfect innings than anyone in a single game, Haddix’s game was taken off the list of perfect games. Haddix’s response was “It’s O.K. I know what I did.”[1]

In 1993, Milwaukee’s Bob Buhl revealed that the Braves pitchers had been stealing the signs from Pittsburgh catcher Smoky Burgess, who was exposing his hand signals due to a high crouch. From their bullpen, Braves pitchers repeatedly repositioned a towel to signal for a fastball or a breaking ball, the only two pitches Haddix used in the game. Despite this assistance, the usually solid Milwaukee offense managed just the one hit.[1][10] All but one Milwaukee hitter, Aaron, took the signals.[1]

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