Thoughts on perfection … and the Cubs

This weekend’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Thoughts on perfection … and the Cubs


April 28, 2012

This past Monday on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” Chicago White Sox perfectionist Philip Humber shared a Top 10 list of “thoughts” that crossed his mind while on the mound Sunday afternoon.

But, really, to understand Humber’s perfect game there’s only one thing that you truly need to know: There have been more people to orbit the moon than pitch a perfecto.

And the moon men are still leading by three.

During NASA’s Apollo missions, just 24 men circled the moon, the last one in 1972. However, despite being given four uncontested decades to catch up to Apollo’s lead, the number of major leaguers to toss a perfect game still stands at a mere 21.

Pitching perfect is one of the most difficult feats to accomplish in sports. And although you need only to know that piece of moon trivia to understand its magnitude, I still wanted to help, well, perfect your knowledge with my own Top 5 list of facts about the perfect game, as well as its more common cousin, the no-hitter. So, here’s the windup …

The Perfect Club

During baseball’s modern era, only 19 pitchers have tossed perfect games and they can be placed into four categories.

There are the “Greats” with Hall of Famers Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax and Catfish Hunter, as well as HOF shoo-in Randy Johnson. There are the “Very Goods” with Roy Halladay, David Cone, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Wells and Mark Buehrle. And there are the “Solids” with Mike Witt and Tom Browning.

Then there are the “Say Whats?” which has to include Humber, who had only an 11-10 record in 30 career starts. Humber’s perfect peers include the Yankees’ Don Larsen, the White Sox’s Charlie Robertson, Cleveland’s Len Barker and Oakland’s Dallas Braden, who each had sub-.500 career marks at their moments of greatness.

The Golden Age of Perfection

Since just July 2009, there have been a whopping four perfect games thrown. How remarkable is that? By comparison, there previously have been spans of 23 and 33 consecutive seasons pass without a single perfect game.

Now, that’s Old Style

Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs and John Montgomery Ward of the Providence Grays were the first two men throw perfect games, both in 1880. But baseball’s rules back then were, well, a tad different than today.

In 1880, pitchers were only allowed to pitch underhand from a flat, marked-out box located 45 feet from home plate. It took eight balls to draw a walk, and batters hit by a pitch didn’t get first base.

Sounds more like beer league than big league.

No-No comparison

Since 1876, there have been just 273 no-hitters with only 7.7 percent of them being perfect games, as well.

The most no-hitters thrown in one season during the modern era is seven (1990 and 1991), while the longest stretch between any two was the three years, 44 days between Bobby Burke’s no-no on August 8, 1931, and Paul “Daffy” Dean’s on September 21, 1934.

The hit kings

It often seems as if the Cubs can’t hit at all. But the team actually owns the record for the longest streak without being no-hit in a game – and it’s still ongoing.
Since falling victim to Sandy Koufax’s perfect game on Sept. 9, 1965, the Cubs have scratched out at least a single in every contest since. That’s a run of more than 46 years and 7,350 games, including the postseason, which broke the Yankees’ 44-year, 263-day streak from Sept. 21, 1958, to June 10, 2003.

A nice notch in the Cubs’ belt. But don’t compare the rings on their fingers.