The Mystique of the Perfect Game
The idea of a perfect game in baseball absolutely blows my mind. 27 batters up, 27 down. No walks, no errors, just perfection. The intersection of talent, execution, and luck. On one hand, you have a pitcher who is in a zone that he maybe reaches a handful of times in his career. You also have to consider the other eight men on the field with him, who must be able to calm their collective nerves and play error-free ball in support of their man and his quest to perfection.
There have only been 23 perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball, which is comprised of hundreds of thousands of games since the late 1800s. However, there have been three during the 2012 season thus far, all occurring in a four month span between April 21st and August 15th. In addition, no pitcher has pitched more than one perfect game, both perfect games pitched by the Oakland Athletics came in 4-0 victories, and three of the last five perfect games were pitched AGAINST the Tampa Bay Rays.
To put into perspective how rare this feat actually is, consider the following:
- Since Major League Baseball begin in 1869, there have been more presidents (26) than perfect games
- More people have orbited the moon than thrown a perfect game
- There have been ten (10) occasions where a perfect game was spoiled by the 27th (and otherwise final) batter
- In eight other instances, a pitcher threw nine innings without allowing a hit or a walk, but had his perfect game spoiled by a teammate’s fielding error
- There have been exactly 23 instances where an NFL quarterback has posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3, albeit there are far fewer NFL games played per year and it still allows for incomplete passes and interceptions (i.e. nowhere near is difficult to achieve – statistically and in my opinion – as a MLB perfect game)
In other words, perfect games are essentially considered to be once-in-a-lifetime events, and have NEARLY happened on as many (if not more) occasions as they have ACTUALLY happened.
My Quest for the ‘Perfecto’
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to witness a perfect game. Whether it was in person or on TV, it didn’t matter. Just to say I willingly sat down to take in a ball game and was rewarded with a perfect game. That’s all that mattered. That’s all that still matters.
I realize the very idea of wanting to see a perfect game is silly, since it is an event that I would consider to be 100% out of my control (aside from the number of games I choose to watch / attend). I would say I watch about 50-60 games a year from start to finish, so out of a 162 game season – assuming I watch primarily one team – that only covers about a third of the season. If you factor in the extreme rarity of a perfect game (discussed above), the idea of planning for a perfect game goes out the window.
The closest I ever came to a perfect game was one day. I went to an Oakland Athletics game on May 8, 2010 to see Ben Sheets get a win over the Tampa Bay Rays. It was the Saturday before Mother’s Day, which meant that out of the two games that weekend it was the most logical to use to spend an afternoon at the ball park. The next day, as I was taking part in Mother’s Day festivities, I tuned into that days game in the 7th inning to see Dallas Braden finish off 27 straight batters.
To this day, I also sort of feel cheated out of Matt Cain’s perfect game, which occurred on June 13, 2012. I was out of town working on a new client in Oregon, and I did not have FSN Bay Area in my hotel room. Therefore, instead of coming home from work and turning on the Giants game, I went for a run and started watching SportsCenter, only to see a ‘live look-in’ on the 9th inning of Matt Cain’s perfect game.
As rare as perfect games are, I know a handful of people who are actually at the Matt Cain game. They said it was one of the coolest things they’ve ever seen, and I believe them.
At the end of the day, you can’t plan for a perfect game, similar to how you can’t plan for any statistically improbable event in life. All you can really do is enjoy the ride and be thankful when you’re able to be part of something special (this applies to perfect games in baseball, as well as significant life events of almost any kind).
The next baseball game I’ll be watching is tonight, when the San Francisco Giants take on the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park. My work is having a social outing at the game, so it should be a good time. Who’s pitching? Some guy named Matt Cain. Here’s to wishful thinking.