Sunday, October 9, 2016

EPILOGUE TO PERFECTION: How Perfect Game Pitchers Fared After Their Moment of Glory (Part I: Deadball Era)


While playing for the Worcester Ruby Legs on June 12, 1880, left-hander Lee Richmond spun the first perfect game in baseball history. He accomplished the feat against the Cleveland Blues--a second place club. The ballpark at the Worcester Agricultural Fairgrounds is long gone, but a historical marker indicating the site of the game still stands. The match took less than 90 minutes to complete. Richmond had a distinct advantage in that the mound was located just 50 feet from home plate back then. His feat is somewhat remarkable considering that the gloves of the era were poorly designed and errors were quite common. The Ruby Legs got through the afternoon without a single miscue. 
The 1880 season was Richmond's finest. The perfect game was his third shutout in nine days and was included in a 42-inning scoreless streak. Four days after his perfecto, Richmond graduated from college. He eventually became a practicing physician. His 74 appearances in 1880 were tops in the NL. The heavy workload took its toll as Richmond lost his effectiveness and lasted just four more seasons in the majors. In 1882, he lost 33 games while posting a 3.74 ERA--horrendous for the era.   


Ward tossed his masterpiece just five days after Richmond. Facing the Buffalo Bisons at the Messer Street Grounds in Rhode Island, he got the best of opposing pitcher Pud Galvin--a Hall of Famer who won 40 games in a season twice during his career.  Ward was the ace of the Providence Grays staff in 1880 with 39 wins and a 1.74 ERA. Like Richmond, he benefited from the primitive conventions of the time. Eight "called balls" were required to earn a walk back then and the home team was sometimes determined by a coin toss. Ward made 70 appearances in 1880 and later crumbled under the strain. Reduced to 39 starts the following year, he doubled as an infielder until 1884. After that, he became a full time shortstop. In 1887, he led the NL with 111 stolen bases. He was a lifetime .275 hitter.


Young's perfect game on May 5, 1904 was the first to be thrown from a distance of 60 feet, six inches. Pitching for the Boston Americans that afternoon (later known as the Red Sox), he beat the Philadelphia A's--a team that featured three Hall of Famers on their pitching staff. Young squared off against eccentric left-hander Rube Waddell, facing the minimum 27 batters while striking out 8. The loud-mouthed Waddell had taunted Young before the game. When it was over, Young retorted with uncharacteristic brashness: "How do you like that one, you hayseed?" Young's perfect game was part of a 24-inning hitless streak and was included in a stretch of 45 consecutive scoreless frames. He had several more good seasons after 1904, retiring with 511 wins--an all time record. Including the perfect game, Young tossed three no-hitters during his illustrious career. 


On October 8, 1908, Joss tossed the second perfect game in American League history. The Cleveland ace opposed fellow Hall of Famer Ed Walsh of the White Sox that day. The game was tense, prompting one writer to remark in the exaggerated language of the day: "a mouse working his way along the grandstand floor would have sounded like a shovel scraping over concrete." Walsh was good that day, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits, but Joss was even better, using 74 pitches to retire 27 men in order. Joss won 24 games in 1908 and led the AL with a 1.16 ERA. In 1910, he tore a ligament in his elbow. Still nursing a sore arm the following year, he feinted on the field before a spring training game. His personal physician diagnosed him with pleurisy, but the evaluation proved to be way off the mark as he died of tubercular meningitis less than two weeks later. Joss kept his ERA below the 2.00 mark in five of his nine major league seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame via the Veterans Committee in 1978.       


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