Fun Facts about the 23 Perfect Games in MLB History

A while back I completed a project of chronicling most of major league baseball’s perfect games. What fun is that if you can’t make out a list of trivia about the games? So yes, the following list (updated to include Braden’s feat, and Halladay’s, and Humber’s, and Cain’s, and Hernandez’s) is trivial—but then, much of life is trivia, and sometimes trivia reveals things about life (and baseball) that bigger, more obvious facts can’t reveal.

And even if it doesn’t, you can still enjoy going through the following facts about the 23 perfect games from 1880 to 2012:

Fourteen have been pitched by A.L. teams and just 9 by N.L. teams, despite the N.L. being 25 years older.

Nine of the 14 pitched after the D.H. rule took effect have been in the A.L.

Seven have had crowds of no more than 10,598 as witnesses.

Six have had crowds of at least 40,000, but Don Larsen’s had easily the most attendees: 64,519.

David Wells’ took the longest, at 2:40; eight took less than two hours, and the quickest was Cy Young’s, which took 83 minutes.

There have been four “complete” perfect games of less than 9 innings, with the latest being a 5-inning job by David Palmer in 1984.

Seven of them were 1-0 affairs.

Six have occurred between May 5 and May 18, four between July 18 and July 28, and four between June 9 and June 17.

They’ve been thrown by pitchers ranging from age 20 (John Ward) to age 40 (Randy Johnson).

The Yankees and White Sox with three and Phillies, Indians, and A’s with two are the five teams with multiple perfect games.

Charlie Robertson is the least successful pitcher (not considering Phil Humber or Dallas Braden, who are still in their 20s) to throw a perfect game: he never had a winning season, pitched over 155 innings in a season just twice, and posted an ERA of 8.36 four years after his perfection.

There are 16 men alive who threw perfect games; for comparison, we now have four living ex-presidents.

Catfish Hunter’s 3-4 (three singles) and three RBI is the best hitting performance by any perfect pitcher; Jim Bunning’s 1-4 with a double and two RBI comes in second.

Catfish wore jersey no. 27 for his perfect game.

The 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks, at 51-111, are easily the worst team to have a perfect game.

Ron Hassey is the one catcher to catch (and call) two perfect games; he nearly caught a third for the 1989 A’s.

The 1988 Dodgers are the only World Series-winning team to never reach first base in a single game in their championship year.

Six perfect games were thrown in the ‘90s and ‘00s, an anomaly for two of the hardest-hitting decades in MLB history.

Six Hall of Famers have thrown perfect games, with Randy Johnson set to become the seventh in six years or so, and Kenny Rogers, David Wells, David Cone, and Dennis Martinez all possible future Hall of Famers (but likely near-misses; there are no Martinezes in the Hall of Fame, by the way).

Seven of these men threw at least one other no-hitter (so far, and Mike Witt as a two-inning reliever for Mark Langston in 1990).

1880 and 2010 and 2012 are the only years to have (at least) two perfect games; 2012 is of course the only one with more than two.

The number of pitches required to retire 27 batters has ranged from 74 (Joss) to 125 (Cain).

Fourteen of the 23 perfect games have happened in the last 30-odd years.

Five of the last seven perfect games have involved three of the four most recent expansion teams in the majors (Arizona, Tampa Bay, and the Marlins.)

These 23 pitchers include a recovering alcoholic (Martinez), an ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease victim (Hunter), a union organizer (John Ward), a construction contractor (Len Barker), two graduates of Point Loma High School (Wells and Larsen), a senator (Bunning), a one-time prisoner (Tom Browning), a man with an arthritic throwing arm who retired within a year (Koufax), a victim of tubercular meningitis who died at age 31, nine months after his final game (Joss), and a Tommy John surgery (Philip Humber).

Here is a nice bit of coincidence; a picture of a Mark Buehrle jersey I saw on a White Sox fan following Humber’s perfect game.

Also, here is a picture of the “King of Perfection” poster the Mariners issued to celebrate Felix Hernandez’s perfect game:


Shane Halter and Scott Sheldon

In 2000, both of these men had a game in which they played all nine positions, Halter on October 1 for the Tigers, and Sheldon on September 6 for the Rangers. Some excerpts from a Houston Chronicle account of Halter’s feat:

DETROIT – Shane Halter did just about everything on a wild final day of the season at Comerica Park.

Halter became the fourth major-leaguer to play all nine positions in a game, went 4-for-5 at the plate and capped his adventure by scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Detroit Tigers over the Minnesota Twins 12-11 on Sunday.

“You think about getting the opportunity to play all nine positions. What’s outstanding is to get the win on top of it – at home, come from behind,” Halter said. “Some things happened today that were awesome, and hopefully they can carry into next year, and we can continue the things we did the second half of the season.”

Halter, who had done everything but pitch for the Tigers this year, became the second person to play all nine positions in a game this season. Texas’ Scott Sheldon did it Sept. 6 against the Chicago White Sox.

The only other players ever to do it were Bert Campaneris of the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 and the Twins’ Cesar Tovar in 1968.

Halter’s position switches and the back-and-forth flow of the game caused Detroit manager Phil Garner and Minnesota’s Tom Kelly to use 42 players combined, tying an AL record.

Halter walked Matt LeCroy, the only batter he faced, in the eighth.

“I’ve never faced a position player as a pitcher, not even in the minors,” LeCroy said. “I was more nervous facing him than one of their regular pitchers.”

Tom Gage of The Detroit News had a hometown account of the game:

The Tigers’ season ended Sunday with a rollicking 12-11 victory over the Minnesota Twins. Manager Phil Garner called it the most fun game he’s ever managed.

First of all, there was Shane Halter, who became the first Tiger to play all nine positions in one game and the fourth major-leaguer to do it.

“But I bet he’s the first ever to play all nine and get four hits in the same game,” said Brad Ausmus, who played first and third in addition to his regular duties behind the plate, as Halter made his rounds.

“I don’t ever want to make a travesty of the game on my watch,” Garner said, “but I don’t think this did. I could tell that the fans were really getting into it from about the third inning on.”

Halter started the game at first base, then went to third in the second inning. After that he moved to right, center, left, shortstop, catcher, pitcher and second. As a pitcher, he walked the batter he faced, catcher Matt LeCroy, in the eighth.

“I definitely spiked some pitches,” Halter said about throwing the ball in the dirt a couple of times.

As for Sheldon’s game, the Florida Times Union reported it like this:

CHICAGO — Scott Sheldon couldn’t believe it when he saw Texas Rangers catcher Randy Knorr shake his head, signaling Sheldon to pretend he was brushing off a sign.

What was Knorr thinking? They didn’t have any signs. Heck, Sheldon barely had any pitches! He’s a utility infielder. The closest he’d ever gotten to pitching before was an inning or two in the annual University of Houston alumni game.

So Sheldon just threw the ball, his almost-slow-motion changeup good enough for a strikeout. Then he moved to third base — and into baseball’s record books.

Sheldon, who’d played only 22 games in the majors before this season, became the third player in baseball history to play all nine positions Wednesday night. It was the only highlight for the Rangers in a 13-1 drubbing by the Chicago White Sox.

“I had a blast,” Sheldon said. “It went by so fast, but there are so many memories I’ll take from this.”

Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez homered as the White Sox scored seven runs in the first inning.

“After it got to be 10-1 . . . I thought it was the perfect night to do it,” Texas manager Johnny Oates said.

After playing eight positions in a spring training game — Sheldon didn’t pitch — Oates decided he was going to give Sheldon a shot at the real thing during the regular season.

He called Sheldon over in the third inning and told him to go for it.

“He deserves it,” Oates said. “For a guy that doesn’t have a lot of major league service, he can say how many thousands of men have played professional baseball and only three have done it?

“It’s something to be proud of.”

He entered the game as a catcher in the fourth and moved to first in the fifth. Sheldon played second base and shortstop in the sixth, moved to right field to start the seventh, before moving to center with one out. He started out the eighth in left, then came on in relief with one out and struck out Liefer. His final position was third base.

The decision by Oates to make a dull Texas season a little more interesting went largely unnoticed by the crowd of 15,622, which annoyed the Rangers manager.

“No one in the stands realized that history was being made,” Oates said. “There was no announcement, nothing.”

Sheldon was just relieved that it was over and no damage was done.

“It’s so hard to keep your mind on one position,” he said. “You’re trying to figure out where you’re going to move and what you’re responsibilities are there. You’ve got 1,000 things going through your mind.”

And the Houston Chronicle had its own report on the game:

“I don’t know so much the history of it,” Sheldon said after Texas’ 13-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. “To know only two other guys have done it, that kind of doesn’t sink in.”

Sheldon had only one ball hit at him all night, and he didn’t make any errors. He struck out the only batter he faced, getting pinch hitter Jeff Liefer to whiff on a changeup clocked at 67 mph.

“Did we get an out? Thank you,” Sheldon said, smiling, when someone made fun of his pitching skills. “I wasn’t trying to throw hard. I was just trying to throw strikes and get out of there.”

Though Liefer knew Sheldon had been moving around the field, he never thought he’d see him on the mound.

Sheldon is a utility player by trade, having started at four different positions so far this year and having made two appearances as a catcher.

After he played Sheldon at eight spots in a game against Texas’ Class AAA club in spring training – Sheldon didn’t pitch – Oates decided he would try it during the regular season.

Oates originally targeted the Rangers’ next homestand to do it. But after the White Sox scored 10 runs in the first two innings, he figured this was as good a game as any.

Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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