From Cy to Browning: Perfect games

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Cy Young threw his only perfect game against the Philadelphia A's in 1904. (AP Photo)

With the help of Michael Coffey's excellent book on the subject 27 Men Out, here are some oddities from the 19 perfect games that preceded the one thrown by the Phillies' Roy Halladay on Saturday night:

The cocky opponent. The phrase "perfect game" didn't yet exist when Cy Young threw the modern era's first on May 5, 1904. A Boston paper headlined its story, "Athletics Lose in Unique Game."

Philadelphia's Rube Waddell was the losing pitcher. Three days earlier, Waddell had nearly thrown his own against Boston. He'd allowed a leadoff single to Patsy Dougherty then retired 27 in a row in beating Jesse Tannehill. Waddell probably motivated Young. Before his gem, baseball's winningest all-time pitcher was approached by Waddell.

"I'll give you," he told Young, "the same what I gave Tannehill."

Waddell was unique. As Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen once wrote of the pitcher's '03 season: "Rube began the year sleeping in a firehouse in Camden, New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events he won 21 games for the Philadelphia Athletics; played left end for the Business Men's Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan; toured the nation in a melodrama called The Stain of Guilt; courted, married and became separated from Mae Wynn Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts; saved a woman from drowning; accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion."

Yumpin' yiminy. The last out in the 1908 perfect game by Cleveland's Addie Joss was made by a White Sox pinch-hitter who had been born in Norway, "Honest John" Anderson. Cleveland lost a tight pennant race that year and a few days later Joss, whose off-season job was sportswriting, was covering the World Series for the Toledo Bee. Less than three years later - and unrelated to his work as an ink-stained wretch - Joss would be dead of pleurisy.

Oil spill? When, on April 30, 1922, the White Sox' Charlie Robertson threw what would be the last perfect game for 34 years - 42 if you limit them to the regular season – it wasn't accepted as genuine by the losing Tigers. Convinced the pitcher was using an illegal substance, player-manager Ty Cobb several times asked the home plate umpire to examine the balls and Robertson's uniform. When nothing was found, Cobb kept some of the used balls as evidence. Detroit's team doctor, who saw them, claimed they contained smudges of "black oil."

Robertson vanished quickly from the majors. But on Oct. 14, 1956, six days after Don Larsen's World Series perfecto, he surfaced on the TV show What's My Line. It took the panel just six questions before Dorothy Kilgallen guessed that, like Larsen, he had pitched one. Robertson, who won only 49 games, took home $30.

Good day, bad day. The day after the Yankees' Larsen famously stifled the Dodgers in Game 5 of the '56 Series, he found his name in headlines beyond the sports sections. His estranged wife, Vivian, coincidentally, had chosen the day of his legendary postseason performance to file legal action against her husband. She wanted a portion of his World Series share to go to unpaid child support.

Hours after his historic game, Larsen mailed her $420, assuming he'd be getting a bonus from the Yankees. He never got one.

Meanwhile, if home-plate umpire Babe Pinelli had been at third, the event might never have happened. Pinelli said afterward that he thought the fifth-inning liner to left by Brooklyn's Sandy Amoros was fair, but third-base ump Ed Runge ruled it foul.

VIP visitors. When the Yankees' David Cone threw a perfect game in the Bronx on July 18, 1999, Larsen and his perfect-game catcher Yogi Berra were in attendance.

He did what? After his Father's Day perfect game in New York, Jim Bunning was waiting on the field to do an interview with Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner. Kiner saw home plate ump Ed Sudol and congratulated him on the job he'd done. Sudol looked nonplussed. "You know," said Kiner, "the perfect game." Now Sudol was really surprised. "You mean I umpired a perfect game?" he said.

Robbie connections. Phils great Robin Roberts, who never threw a no-hitter, had a close connection with two other hard-throwing righthanders who did. Oakland's Jim "Catfish" Hunter, whose perfect came against the Twins in 1968, idolized Roberts as a kid in North Carolina and made the long trip to Philadelphia four times in 1959 to see the Phillies.

Bunning and Roberts, meanwhile, were on the players committee that hired Marvin Miller as the union chief. Not long before, those two and Harvey Kuenn had interviewed Richard Nixon for the job in future attorney general John Mitchell's Manhattan offices.

Pregame prescription. Dodgers great Sandy Koufax probably came as close as anyone to throwing two perfect games. The year before he did it against the Cubs in 1965, the lefthander had walked just one in no-hitting the Phillies. Koufax was in such constant physical stress by then that before games he would smear his arm and shoulder with a red-hot chili pepper concoction or take a phenylbutazone tablet - a substance banned in horse racing - or get a shot of cortisone or take some codeine.

Toughest 27th out. In Hunter's gem, on May 8, 1968, Twins pinch-hitter Rich Reese worked the count to 3-2 then fouled off five straight fastballs before striking out to end the game on a sixth. In addition, Hunter may be the only one of the 20 pitchers who inspired a song, Bob Dylan's "Catfish."

Surprise perfect gamer. Cleveland's Len Barker, who grew up in Trevose and went to Neshaminy High, had been so wild that three years before his 1981 gem, he had thrown a pitch onto the top of the backstop in Fenway Park. But on May 15, 1981, throwing 70 percent curveballs, he got all 27 Toronto hitters. Listening back in Trevose, his stepdad lost radio reception in his house and drove his car onto a nearby golf course to hear the last few innings.

A quickie. Tom Browning's sub-2 hour perfect game Sept. 16, 1988, took less time than the 21/2-hour rain delay that had preceded it.

 


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.