Since 1991, a perfect game has been defined by Major League Baseball as a game in which a pitcher pitches a complete game victory that lasts a minimum of nine innings and in which no opposition player reaches first base. In short, the pitcher cannot allow any hits, walks, hit batters, or any other baserunners for any reason, even if they are thrown out trying for extra bases. By definition, such games must also be shutouts. Since the pitcher cannot control whether or not his teammates commit any errors, the pitcher must be backed up by a solid defense to pitch a perfect game. However, an error which does not allow a baserunner, such as a misplayed foul ball, may occur in a perfect game.
Several games have not qualified under this revised definition. Some weather-shortened games featured no baserunners by one team, and there have been two games in which a team reached first base only in extra innings.
A perfect game is widely regarded as the pinnacle of pitching performance, and is one of the most difficult achievements in baseball, or indeed any sport. It is the masterpiece of a pitcher's career and, in Major League Baseball, places that pitcher in exceptionally elite company. In fact, it is so rare (and difficult) that luck, as much as skill, plays an enormous role; there have been many great pitchers who have never pitched a perfect game and a few otherwise forgettable pitchers who have. Over the past 130 years of Major League Baseball history, there have only been 17 perfect games; the two from the 19th century, at a time when the pitching distance was only 45 feet, are often not included in lists. In short, only one in about every 15,000 major league games played sees such an event. That works out to one perfect game every 4 years.
Major League Baseball perfect games
|John Lee Richmond (Wor), 37||June 12, 1880|
|Monte Ward (Prov), 37||June 17, 1880|
|Cy Young (Bos), 37||May 5, 1904|
|Addie Joss (Cle), 28,
|October 2, 1908|
|Charlie Robertson (Chi), 26,
|April 30, 1922|
|Don Larsen (NY), 27,
|October 8, 1956|
|Jim Bunning (Phi), 32,
|June 21, 1964|
|Sandy Koufax (LA), 29,
|September 9, 1965|
|Catfish Hunter (Oak), 22,
|May 8, 1968|
|Len Barker (Cle), 25,
|May 15, 1981|
|Mike Witt (Cal), 24,
|September 30, 1984|
|Tom Browning (Cin), 28,
|September 16, 1988|
|Dennis Martinez (Mon), 36,
|July 28, 1991|
|Kenny Rogers (Tex), 29,
|July 28, 1994|
|David Wells (NY), 34,
|May 17, 1998|
|David Cone (NY), 36,
|July 18, 1999|
|Randy Johnson (Ari), 40,
|May 18, 2004|
- The first two perfect games occurred when pitching was underhanded (the hand could not rise above the belt), from 45 feet away from home plate, 8 balls were required for a walk, hitters could direct a high or low ball, and so on. They were fundamentally different than the rest of those listed and their place in this list is widely debated; changes in the rules since Cy Young's perfect game have been of much less significance.
- Cy Young's perfect game was part of a hitless innings streak (24 straight and still a record) and a scoreless innings streak (45 straight, no longer a record).
- Larsen pitched the first and only post-season perfect game (also the only post-season no-hitter) in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
- In Koufax's perfect game, the Cubs pitcher, Bob Hendley, gave up only one hit, a bloop double in the seventh inning, and stranded the runner on second base. The Dodgers scored their only run in the fifth inning. The winning run reached first on a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, attempted a steal of third, and scored when the Cubs catcher overthrew third base.
- Cone's perfect game was held on Yogi Berra Day with the original players of the 1956 World Series perfect game in attendance. Don Larsen, the pitcher of that game, threw out the first pitch to Yogi Berra, who had been his catcher.
- The Boston Americans (or Pilgrims or any of several other names used by sportwriters) became the Red Sox when John I. Taylor chose the name after the Boston Nationals dropped the red stockings from their uniforms; the Huntington Avenue Grounds became the home of the Boston Braves and the Red Sox moved to Fenway Park when it was finished in 1912. The Cleveland Naps (so-called after they acquired Nap Lajoie) finally settled on 'Indians' for a name.
The official definition of a perfect game requires that a pitcher allow no baserunners over the course of an entire nine inning (or more) game, and that the pitcher pitch a complete game victory. However, there have been a few instances in which a pitcher retired every batter over nine innings (that is, 27 consecutive batters), but did not earn a perfect game, either because the game went into extra innings, or because he did not pitch a complete game victory.
On June 23, 1917, Babe Ruth (Boston Red Sox) walked the first batter in a game against the Washington Senators. Ruth was so enraged with the calls made by umpire Brick Owens that he tried to strike Owens, swore at him, and was ejected. Ernie Shore came in to replace Ruth. The runner on first was caught stealing, and Shore proceeded to retire the next 26 batters. All 27 outs were made while Shore was on the mound. This was once recognized as a perfect game by Major League Baseball. It still counts as a valid combined no-hitter.
On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates carried a perfect game through an amazing twelve innings against the Milwaukee Braves and Lew Burdette, only to have it ruined by an error in the 13th inning, followed by an intentional walk and a home run, which became a single when Hank Aaron passed Joe Adcock on the bases. Haddix, and the Pirates, lost the game. Perhaps the most agonizing of all the 'hidden' perfect games.
On June 3, 1995, Pedro Martinez of the Montreal Expos had a perfect game through nine innings against the San Diego Padres. In the 10th inning, he gave up a leadoff double to Bip Roberts, and was relieved. The Expos went on to win 1-0.
Four other "perfect games" are unofficial because the games ended before nine innings were completed. Dean Chance (Minnesota Twins, August 6, 1967) and David Palmer (Expos, April 21, 1984) pitched perfect games through 5 innings and won rainouts, but neither gets credit for a perfect game as they didn't go nine innings due to bad weather. Both Ed Karger of the St. Louis Cardinals (7 innings, August 11) and Rube Vickers of the Philadelphia Athletics (5 innings, October 5) pitched unofficial perfect games in 1907, each game being ended due to darkness. Astonishingly, Vickers' gem came in the second game of a doubleheader on the last day of the season, in which he had pitched the last 12 innings of the 15-inning first game as well.
Perfect games barely missed
- Cy Young (again) in 1908 came within a walk of another perfect game in his third no-hitter.
- Sandy Koufax walked one batter in his third no-hitter, against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964.
- In his pitching debut, Addie Joss gave up a leadoff hit to Jesse Burkett of the St. Louis Browns. He retired every one of the next twenty-seven batters who faced him.
- Hooks Wiltse (Giants, 1914) hit the opposing pitcher with two out in the ninth of an otherwise perfect game.
- Tommy Bridges (Tigers, 1932) gave up a pinch-hit single to Dave Harris while winning 13-0 against the Senators.
- Milt Pappas (Cubs, 1972) lost a perfect game against San Diego due to a walk on a 3-2 count to the 27th batter, pinch hitter Larry Stahl. The umpire was a first year man, Bruce Froemming, who would go on to umpire in a record 11 no-hitters.
- Milt Wilcox (Tigers) lost a perfect game on a single by Jerry Hairston.
- Dave Stieb (Toronto) and Brian Holman (Seattle) (both in 1988) gave up hits to the 27th batter. The perfect game that Stieb missed was one of two consecutive starts in which Stieb lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth.
- Billy Pierce (White Sox, 1958) also gave up a hit to the 27th batter: a double, which landed just inches in fair territory, to Washington's Ed Fitzgerald.
- Ron Robinson (Reds ) gave up a hit to the 26th batter, Wallace Johnson (Expos).
- Mike Mussina lost a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards with one out in the 9th on May 30, 1997.
- Mike Mussina's second perfect game bid was halted when he gave up a two strike pinch hit single to 27th batter Carl Everett in Fenway Park on September 2, 2001.
- In a 2000 spring training game (for which statistics are not kept rigorously, due to the varying levels of competition), the Red Sox used six pitchers to retire all 27 Blue Jays batters in a 5-0 victory.
- On May 6, 1998, in just his fifth Major League start and against a strong-hitting Astros team, Kerry Wood (Cubs) struck out 20 batters, tying the single-game strikeout record. It would have been a perfect game if not for an infield single by Ricky Gutierrez in the 3rd inning. This is widely thought to have been one of the most dominating pitching performances ever. In Bill James' Game Score, this game is ranked the best pitched 9-inning game of all time.
- 27 Men Out, Michael Coffey, Atria Books, NY, 2004
- The Perfect Game: A Classic Collection of Facts..., Mark Alvarez, Taylor, 1993
- Perfect!, Ron Meyer, 1991
- Perfect, James Buckley, Jr, 2002
Other examples of "perfect" performances in professional sports are:
- 300 game in bowling
- 147 break in snooker
- Nine dart finish in darts
- Ron Necciai struck out 27 batters in a professional baseball game