In the history of Major League baseball, only 24 times has a pitcher completed a perfect game. To be an official perfect game, no opposing batters may reach base in any way, whether it be by any of the seven ways to reach base. Those are hit, walk, error, dropped 3rd strike swinging, hit-by-pitch, fielder’s choice, or defensive interference. Since 1876, only 319 times has a no-hitter been thrown, but that’s different from a perfect game because runners reached base in other ways. As part of the “Degree of Difficulty” series, I’ll be going through each of the 24 perfect games in what I believe is the least difficult to most difficult. It might be better to think of this as “least” surprising to “most” surprising.
To rank them, I looked at the opposing lineup, the pitcher’s season, the pitcher’s career, and the opposing team’s record that season. That adds up to “Difficulty” vs “Ease” points that I then subtract and get a score. It’s all very technical (and arbitrary) but I think it paints a decent picture of comparison between the games. Keep in mind, this is one of the rarest and most impressive achievements in all of sports, the least difficult in this list is harder than almost anything else anybody can do. There have been 53 60-point games in the NBA, 62 4+ goal games in the NHL, and 104 Quarterbacks have thrown for 5+ TDs in a game and the only achievement in baseball that is perhaps more impressive is the four-homer game which has only happened 18x. Maybe that will be a good topic for another edition of “Degree of Difficulty.”
But for now, let us gaze upon perfection.
1880 John Montgomery Ward
Ward pitched for the Providence Grays from 1878-82. He then signed with the New York Gothams from ‘83-89 before jumping to Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders, a team literally named after him. Then in ‘91, he signed with the Brooklyn Grooms and in ‘93 was purchased by the New York Giants before finishing up in ‘94. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964 by the Veteran’s committee. He was a shortstop for most of his career while also pitching for the first seven years.
In ‘80, his third year in pro ball, he was coming off a particularly impressive season in ‘79, during which he went 47-19 with 239 K’s over 587.0 IP. He completed 58 of his 60 starts and appeared in 70 games total. It was a different era than what we’re used to.
On June 17th, he matched up against another eventual Hall of Famer, Pud Galvin of the Buffalo Bisons. The Bisons were not good, they limped to a 24-78 record, finishing 7th in the National League in ‘80. Their only hitter of note was Hardy Richardson but his success was later in his career when he led the league in hits in ‘86 and in HRs and RBIs in ‘90. So, a HOFer who won 47 games a year before and 39 games in ‘80 with 24 career shutouts and a 2.10 ERA over 2469.2 IP against a motley crew like the 1880 Bisons is the least surprising perfect game in my professional opinion.
The Grays won the game 5-0 while amazingly Ward only struck out two Bison batters. Galvin also threw a complete game in the loss but allowed 13 hits and didn’t put much pressure on Ward. The most dumbfounding thing about this game was the fact that it was the 2nd perfect game in Major League history by only five days. Later on in the article, the first perfect game will be discussed which occurred on July 12th.
1964 Jim Bunning
Jim Bunning pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies as part of the second half of his career. He debuted in ‘55 for the Tigers and went to five All-Star games before being traded with Gus Triandos to Philadelphia for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton. He was traded two more times before returning to finish his career with the Phillies in ‘70-71. Bunning was a workhorse righty who piled up 3760.1 innings over 17 years and was elected to the Hall in ‘96.
On June 21st, 1964, he faced off against the New York Mets and Tracy Stallard. Stallard ended up leading the league in losses that year and this game was no different. The Mets were abysmal, losing 109 games and placing 10th in the National League. Their lineup boasted some All-Stars including Ron Hunt, Ed Kranepool, George Altman, and Jim Hickman but none of them were historically great. Bunning cut them to pieces. He K’d 10 Mets en route to a 6-0 drubbing. The Phillies tagged Stallard and his relievers Bill Wakefield and Tom Sturdivant for 6 runs on 8 hits while Bunning cruised.
Similarly to Ward, Bunning was having a great season, he went 19-8 with 5 shutouts and a 2.63 ERA over 284.1 IP. He was an All-Star that season and went on to a Hall of Fame career with 40 shutouts and a 3.27 ERA. Impressive? Of course. As unexpected as the others? Perhaps not.
1904 Cy Young
The award for the best pitcher each year is named after him. I’m not sure what else I can say to impress upon you how good this guy was. In ‘04, he had 10 shutouts and a 1.97 ERA over 380.0 IP, and while that’s an obscenely good season it’s probably not in his top 5. He had 26 wins and walked 29 batters over 41 starts of which he completed 40. Absurd is a word that comes to mind.
In May of that year, he faced off against one of the other great pitchers of his era, Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics. The A’s were no slouches, finishing 4th in the AL that season with an 81-70 record. The lineup that day, however, wasn’t as stacked as Connie Mack’s A’s would be later in the decade. The toughest outs Young faced were Topsy Hartsel, Harry Davis, and Socks Seybold. Hartsel was an on-base machine, Davis led the league in HRs in ‘04, and Seybold was one of the more consistently excellent hitters in the league at that time.
Cy rang up 8 A’s as his Boston Americans teammates put 3 runs on 10 hits up on Waddell to back his perfect effort. Young finished his career with 76 shutouts and 511 wins with a pristine 2.63 ERA over 7356 IP. It’s almost more surprising he was only perfect once.
2012 Felix Hernandez
The Seattle right-hander may have concluded his career by opting out of 2020. If so, it’s been a really strong 15 years with a Cy Young award and some truly dominant performances. August 15, 2012, was probably the best he had.
He was matched up with young righty Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays were a strong team in ‘12 winning 90 games but in the impossible AL East that was only good enough for 3rd. Hellickson was up to the challenge that day and threw 7 innings of 1-run ball before turning it over to Kyle Farnsworth for a scoreless 8th.
On the other side, Felix carved up the Tampa bats with 12 K’s to make the single run stand up. The Rays lineup had some easy outs for sure but its core was a tough group including Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, and Evan Longoria.
Felix secured 5 of his 11 career shutouts in ‘12 and has an excellent 3.42 ERA over 2729.2 IP, so it’s not as unexpected that he secured a perfecto as some of the names coming up. This also has the distinction of being the most recent perfect game. Seven times over the past eight years a pitcher has entered the 9th with a perfect game intact only to lose it including twice last year.
2010 Roy Halladay
After spending the first 12 years of his career in Toronto, Halladay was sent to the Phillies for Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor. He was at the height of his powers dating back to ‘06 having placed in the top 5 of Cy Young voting four years in a row. He won the CY in ‘10 and was the runner-up in ‘11.
On May 29th, he put those powers on full display against the NL East rival Marlins. They were 80-82 in ‘10, good enough for 3rd in the NL East. The lineup they brought out that day had a few All-Stars, Gaby Sanchez, Dan Uggla, and Hanley Ramirez. Halladay had little trouble with them, K’ing 11 en route to his moment of perfection.
On the other side, starter Josh Johnson and relievers Adam Hensley and Juan Oviedo were tough but surrendered a single fatal run on seven hits. Roy was on the way to his 2nd Cy Young award as part of his Hall of Fame career. He also tossed his second career no-hitter in the first round of the playoffs later that same year. Dominance, but not quite as unexpected/impressive as occurrences further down.
1908 Addie Joss
Two Hall of Fame studs squared off on October 2nd, 1908 when the Chicago White Sox came to Cleveland to face Joss’ Naps. The Sox had Ed Walsh on the mound. Joss had a great career but Walsh’s was arguably better.
The White Sox had HOFer George Davis at short and a couple of other stars including Patsy Dougherty and John Anderson. The SouthSiders went 88-64 and were in competition most of the year ending up 3rd in the AL. Walsh was great that day, giving up only a single run on four hits but Joss was better. He only struck out three batters but kept the bases perfectly clean for the 1-0 win.
The pressure was high and he got plenty of help from his defense, so it was a little more impressive an outing than the above. However, he finished his Hall of Fame career with 45 shutouts and a 1.89 ERA over 2327 IP so his chances of perfection were as good as they get.
1999 David Cone
The Yankees acquired Cone from the Blue Jays in ‘95 and then re-signed him several times before letting him walk after the 2000 season. After probably his finest season in ‘98 he had a frustrating go of it in ‘99 going 12-9 over 31 starts despite an above-average 3.44 ERA over 193.1 IP.
On the 18th of July, the Expos came to New York and ran into a buzzsaw. They were hardly a juggernaut and only ended up with 68 wins and a 4th place finish in the East. Cone was matched up against Javier Vazquez, but Javy got shelled to the tune of 6 runs on 8 hits so it was smooth sailing for Cone.
The Expos had a few notable bats, Rondell White and Jose Vidro, not the least of them. The toughest out on the squad was future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, who was an All-Star in ‘99 and slashed an elite .316/.378/.600 with 42 HRs. Didn’t matter as Cone K’d every member of the lineup except Vidro and one pinch hitter. A very impressive performance and his only shutout that year.
1984 Mike Witt
The California Angels were a team on the rise in ‘84 and their rotation was a big part of their success. Mike Witt was their ace for the better part of the 80s and was never better than in September of ‘84.
The rival Rangers had knuckler Charlie Hough on the mound. They had a rough year in ‘84 finishing 7th in the West with a 69-92 record. There weren’t too many tough options in their lineup with only Larry Parrish managing an OPS over .800 that season. Witt K’d 10 but had to be perfect to beat Hough who scattered seven hits over the nine innings. However, in the 7th he allowed a fielder’s choice RBI to HOFer Reggie Jackson which ended up being the difference.
Witt only managed 2 shutouts in ‘84 but finished his career with 11. Struggles in the later 80s left Witt with a 117-116 record despite a solid 3.83 ERA over 2108.1 IP. A very impressive start, particularly considering he out-dueled Hough, but he wasn’t facing murderer’s row and he was pitching as well as he ever would in his career.
2012 Matt Cain
A couple of months before Felix’s perfection, Giants righty Matt Cain had his moment. Cain was in the midst of perhaps his best season during which he was chosen for the All-Star game, went 16-5 with 2 shutouts, a 2.79 ERA over 219.1 IP, and finished 6th in the NL CY voting.
He then proceeded to have one of the greatest pitched games in history. Specifically, by game score it was the best-rated game since Kerry Wood’s famous 20 K game, earning a pristine 101 from that scoring system. The Astros came to AT&T that season in the midst of their infamous tanking years. They finished an abysmal 55-107 their last season in the National League.
Lefty JA Happ was on the mound for the Stros, and he and relievers Rhiner Cruz and Xavier Cedeno did little to pressure Cain that day. The Giants, en route to a World Series championship, drubbed Happ and co. for 10 runs on 15 hits. On the other side, Cain sat down 14 Astros on strikes including later MVP Jose Altuve 3x and Cain added a hit and run scored for good measure.
So a dominant performance that at least by one measure is the greatest in years, however, who he dominated and the level of pressure evens it out to the average category of superhuman achievement. (You can always whine in the comments).
1998 David Wells
“Boomer” Wells had a date with perfection a year before his teammate David Cone crafted his entry on our list. Wells had a very good career pitching in an offensively charged era and is a solid entry in the “Hall of Very Good” type lists of players not quite Hall of Fame material.
The Twins came to town in May of ‘98 and Wells had been drinking the night before the game. He claims that his greatest game was thrown hungover, although it was the Twins hitters who had headaches by the end of the game. He K’d 11 batsmen including All-Stars Ron Coomer and Matt Lawton, and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.
The Twins were in a rough stretch, going 70-92 for 4th in the Central, and starter LaTroy Hawkins had an atrocious year going 7-14 with a 5.25 ERA over 190 IP. For a starter with a career ERA of 4.13 to toss a perfect game is pretty unexpected but when the Twins are factored into the equation it balances it out a bit.
1880 Lee Richmond
The first perfect game in Major League history occurred on June 12th, 1880. Lee Richmond of the repetitiously named Worcester Worcesters faced off against the visiting Naps and their starter Jim McCormick. The Naps were competitive, finishing the season 47-37 which was good enough for 3rd in the NL that season. Richmond’s Worcesters ended up in 5th themselves.
Richmond wasn’t a terrible starter by any means but his career .426 winning percentage and 94 ERA+ both indicate he was below average. On the other side, the Naps had very little by way of an offensive threat in their lineup. A couple of the hitters won batting titles later in their careers and outfielder Ned Hanlon had a Hall of Fame managerial career, otherwise not a dangerous bunch at all.
Richmond K’d five of them and Naps SS Fred Dunlap bobbled a throw allowing a run to score, backing the stellar effort. This one was hard to rank. On the one hand, it was the first-ever, making it extremely surprising, Richmond had very few great days (he led the league in losses just 2 years later with 33), and it was a tight matchup. On the other hand, the Naps weren’t scary at all and Richmond had five shutouts in ‘80 and 243 K’s over 590.2 IP.
2023 Domingo Germán
The most recent perfect game was pretty surprising on the one hand and totally not surprising on the other. Made it difficult to place. I think it was pretty much right in the middle.
Why was it surprising? Germán has been very uneven across his young career to date and has been having a rough 2023. His ERA was over 5 coming into the game and he had allowed 8 and 7 earned runs in his previous two starts. In addition to that, he had already served a suspension for tampering with the ball earlier in the season, so the likelihood he was aiding his stuff in this start is very low.
Why wasn’t it surprising? Few teams have been as bad on paper as this Oakland Athletics squad. Sitting at 21-61 before getting shellacked by New York on the 29th, the A’s have seemed poised to threaten futility records of all kinds. A team OPS of .644, wRC+ of 85, ISO of .178, and K% of 24.7% all sit in the bottom 3 of Baseball. Coupled with a league-worst 6.08 ERA and you’ve got all the ingredients for an imminent relocation to where things that happen, stay.
Still, Germán did have to navigate around Ryan Noda, who came into the game leading the AL in walks and managed to sit down 9 A’s on strikes. The 9 punchies are tied for 3rd highest in his relatively young career.
1994 Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers was a staple of the 90s Rangers rotations, left for a few seasons, and then came back to Texas and had a couple of legit seasons late, including a top-5 CY finish as a 41-year-old in ‘06 with the Tigers before hanging it up. All told, “The Gambler” won 219 games, K’d 1968 batters, and ate 3302.2 IP with a 4.27 ERA. He’d be right next to Wells in the Hall of Very Good.
July 28th, ‘94 he was perfect. The rival Angels came to town featuring a few very good hitters including Jim Edmonds, Chilli Davis, and 2-sport phenom Bo Jackson. Rogers K’d 8 setting them down with little trouble. It was one of two shutouts Kenny threw in ‘94 but the 47-win Angels are not one of the toughest teams to be on the losing end of a perfecto.
1981 Len Barker
Barker completed the 10th perfect game in Major League history on May 15th, 1981. The scuffling Blue Jays came to town en route to a 37-69 finish, which would end up 7th in the AL East. However, the Jays were loaded with talent either past their prime, such as John Mayberry, or not yet at the peak of their powers such as George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, or Alfredo Griffin.
Barker was unhittable, never having a 3-ball count to any Jay and K’ing 11 of them. The Indians backed him up with 3 runs on 7 hits against the ‘81 loss leader Luis Leal. Barker went to the All-Star game but the odd circumstances surrounding ‘81 resulted in an odd line of 22 starts, 3 shutouts, and an 8-7 record over 154.1 IP.
For a starter who finished with only 74 wins and 7 shutouts, reaching perfection is pretty surprising. However, the ‘81 Jays were bad and Barker was right in the middle of his short-lived peak.
1988 Tom Browning
The Cincinnati Reds made a Championship run in 1990 and lefty Tom Browning was a key part of their rotation. He spent eleven years with the Reds and then finished his career in ‘95 after a couple ill fated starts for the Royals. He won 123 games and was awesome in ‘85, winning 20 games and finishing 2nd in the Rookie of the Year race.
In 1988, Browning went 18-5 with a 3.41 ERA over 250.2 IP. He led the NL in starts but also in HR’s allowed. In September, the first place Dodgers came to town and ran into a buzzsaw. The NL MVP, Kirk Gibson, anchored a strong Dodger lineup. All-Star and former Rookie of the Year Steve Sax paired with another former Rookie of the Year, Alfredo Griffin, for the middle of their infield. Despite that firepower, Browning plowed through them.
Seven Dodgers went down on strikes as Browning cruised to perfection. The Dodgers’ starter, Tim Belcher, was also on top of his game and went the distance. He did allow three hits however and a single run to take the loss. Browning was definitely under pressure for the duration of the start and was facing a top notch Dodgers club. He was however in the middle of the second best season of his career.
2004 Randy Johnson
The “Big Unit” is one of the most memorable and recognizable pitchers in baseball history. The 6’10” lefty hit his stride in the 90s and intimidated hitters for Seattle, Houston, Arizona, and the Yankees. He stuck around for one last season in San Francisco to cross the mythical 300 win mark and finished 303-166 with a 3.29 ERA over 4135.1 IP. Hie won his first CY in ‘95 but it wasn’t until he signed with the fledgling Diamondbacks that he reached his peak. He won four straight Cy Young awards from ‘99-02 matching Greg Maddux’s record.
After all that dominance, he had one last season in top form in ‘04. He led the league with his career best WHIP of 0.90 and K’d 290 batters only to end up 2nd in the Cy Young race to Roger Clemens. In May, Johnson took his show on the road to Atlanta and found perfection.
The Braves were on the tail end of one of the most dominant runs in the history of organized sports. The ‘04 squad had former batting champ Julio Franco, free agent slugger JD Drew, All-Star Johnny Estrada, ‘05 HR leader Andruw Jones, and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. Johnson absolutely mowed them down. He K’d 13, sitting down pinch hitter Eddie Perez to seal the epic performance.
Mike Hampton started the game for Atlanta and took a tough luck loss to fall to 0-5 for the season. He turned it around that year and finished a respectable 13-9. Johnson never looked quite as dominant as that night but actually only managed 2 shutouts the whole year. Over 603 career starts, Randy notched 37 shutouts and struck out a ridiculous 4875 batters. He was one of the greatest ever but he needed it all to keep a team with a lineup worth an estimated 5 runs a game from doing anything.
1922 Charlie Robertson
Charlie Roberston debuted with the Chicago White Sox in 1919. He only pitched 2 innings that year and then was out of the league for three years. He returned in ‘22 and pitched for eight seasons between the Chi-Sox, St Louis Browns, and Boston Braves. The first two seasons he was reliable, logging 34 starts and over 200 innings both years. After that he struggled, only topping 150 innings once.
In his first true season, lightning struck. The White Sox were in Detroit and Robertson was matched up against Herman Pillette. The Tigers were not the best team in the American league but they stayed in contention for a while and finished 3rd with a record of 79-75. Robertson managed 3 shutouts in ‘22 and had a decent 3.64 ERA over 272.0 innings.
However, there were three reasons Robertson’s perfect game was nothing short of miraculous. First, there was Tiger LFer Bobby Veach. He had led the league in hits three years prior. Second, there was RFer Harry Heilman. The Hall of Famer finished his career with four batting titles including both in ‘21 and ‘23 and had led the league in hits in ‘21. But most of all, somehow Robertson managed to retire Hall of Famer Ty Cobb three times. Cobb finished his career with 12 batting titles, retired with the most ever hits, runs, total bases, games played, and highest career batting average.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that 3x that day Robertson got the hardest out in the history of the game.
2012 Philip Humber
Humber pitched in 97 games in his 8 year pro career. 71 of them were in the last three years of his career, 2011-2013. He logged a single shutout in his career which was also his only complete game. He retired with a 5.31 ERA over 371.0 total innings. In the 51 games he started, he allowed 53 HRs.
In May of ‘12 the White Sox were in Seattle. The Mariners weren’t contenders, finishing 4th in the West at 75-87. However, they had a few solid ball players including Chone Figgins, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager, and Michael Saunders in the lineup. Humber K’d 9 during the miraculously immaculate start. The most impressive roadblock was the Mariner right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Philip Humber allowed a .349 OBP in 2012 and Ichiro came into that season with a career .370.
Yet, in baseball anything is possible, even Philip Humber getting Ichiro out 3x in the same game.
1965 Sandy Koufax
One of the greatest lefties to ever toe the rubber was Sanford “Sandy” Koufax. He started his career in Brooklyn and followed the Dodgers to L.A. before developing into a force of nature in ‘61 at the age of 25. For the next 6 years, he absolutely dominated the game and then abruptly retired citing arm issues as the cause. Six-straight All-Star games, five-straight ERA titles, and 3 of 4 CY awards are representative of just how utterly transcendent his run was.
On September 9th, 1965, Koufax’s second to last season, he climbed Everest. The fairly potent, albeit struggling Cubs came to town and found nothing but pain. Their lineup was stacked. Three Hall of Famers made up the backbone of the Chicago offense, outfielder Billy Williams, third baseman Ron Santo, and first baseman Ernie Banks. In addition to the 26 All-Star appearances those three represented, another 20 All-Star games came from Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger, and Harvey Keuhn. Keuhn was way past his prime and Banks was on the backside of his career but Santo and Williams were at their respective peaks.
Not only was Koufax contending with that impressive bunch, but Cubs’ starter Bob Hendley also pitched the game of his life, throwing 8 1-hit innings. The only run came in the 5th, when outfielder Lou Johnson walked, was bunted to 2nd, and attempted to steal 3rd. The Catcher Chris Krug’s throw went into left field allowing Johnson to score. Koufax rang up 14 cubbies on his way to a career-high 382 strikeouts that season.
Dominating a lineup like that is incredibly impressive. But Koufax was as dominant as any pitcher has ever been. He finished his career with 40 shutouts and a 2.76 ERA over 2324.1 IP. Before you continue, consider briefly that I am contending that the next five performances are arguably more impressive, each in their own way.
2010 Dallas Braden
Drafted in 2004 out of Texas Tech, lefty Dallas Braden had a bright future ahead of him. He debuted in ‘07 but due to arm injuries was out of the league after only five years. He made a few starts early on but it wasn’t until 2010 that he had established himself as a part of the A’s rotation.
In May, the Rays came to town with “Big Game” James Shields slated to start. We’ve met this Rays squad already in the article as two years later, King Felix would shut them down much like Braden did. However, in ‘10 the Rays were on top of the world, they’d finish 96-66 and win the East and went five tough games with the eventual World Series runner-up Rangers in the ALDS.
The A’s jumped all over Shields, chasing him after six after pounding out 11 hits and 4 runs. One the other side, Braden carved up a lineup with several studs. Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria were All-Stars in ‘10, Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena were All-Stars in ‘09, and Dioner Navarro had been an All-Star in ‘08. Pena also had led the AL in homers just a year prior.
Braden actually led the AL in shutouts with 2 in 2010, the only ones of his career. He finished 26-36 with a 4.16 ERA over 491.1 IP. A blip of a career in the massive sea of MLB history will be preserved by his brilliance that one day. We’ll also never forget him screaming at A-Rod.
2009 Mark Buehrle
Mark Buehrle has a puncher’s chance of getting into the Hall of Fame. The five-time All-Star and World Series Champ pitched for 16 years, the first 12 with the Chicago White Sox. He won 10+ games and threw 200 innings every year but his first (minus 1.1 innings his final season) and retired with a better-than-average 3.81 ERA over 3283.1 IP.
He was in the midst of his 4th All-Star season in ‘09 when the Tampa Bay Rays came to town. Yes, this means the Rays were on the losing side of a perfect game in ‘09, ‘10, and ‘12. It’s almost a tradition. Scott Kazmir toed the rubber for Tampa on the ill-fated July afternoon and was roughed up for 5 runs on 5 hits over 6 innings.
As mentioned above, the Rays had five 2009 All-Stars in their lineup that day, the AL Home Run leader (Carlos Pena), AL triple leader (Carl Crawford), and the 2008 Rookie of the Year (Evan Longoria). Buerhle absolutely cruised through them, finishing the game in just two hours and three minutes. The indelible memory from the game was lightly used defensive speedster Dwayne Wise going into the wall to rob an extra base hit with a juggling catch to preserve perfection.
1968 Catfish Hunter
James Augustus Hunter, the man known as “Catfish” had a dominant career in the late 60s and 70s. From ‘71-75 he won 20+ games, threw 250+ innings, and K’d 120+ batters. He won an ERA title in ‘74 and the Cy Young. He spent the first 10 years of his career with the Athletics, starting in Kansas City and then in Oakland. Then we finished off his career with the Yankees and ended up with five World Series rings.
A pitcher with a career like that shouldn’t surprise when he flirts with perfection. However, in ‘68 he was only 13-13 with a 3.35 ERA over 234.0 innings, all pedestrian numbers for the era. Also, he was facing one of the great lineups of his time.
The Minnesota Twins came to town with some serious credentials. Leading off was Third baseman Cesar Tovar. Tovar led the league in hits in ‘71 and in both doubles and triples in ‘70. After him was Second baseman and eventual Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Carew went to 18 All-Star games, won 7 batting titles, was the ‘67 Rookie of the Year, and won the ‘77 MVP. Sound tough? Just wait. Batting third was First baseman Harmon Killebrew. Another Hall of Famer, Harmon led the league in HRs six times, went to 13 All-Star games, and was the ‘69 MVP. Catfish couldn’t still couldn’t rest and the next two, Tony Oliva and Bob Allison, shared 11 All-Star appearances, 3 batting titles, a pair of Rookie of the Year awards, and were all-around beasts. Johnny Rosesboro made it a five All-Star lineup.
Catfish lit that group up to the tune of 11 strikeouts and joined the annals of history.
1991 Dennis Martinez
Martinez racked up just short of 4000 innings across 23 seasons spanning from 1976-1998. He never won more than 16 games but twice finished in the top 5 of Cy Young voting and won the ‘91 NL ERA title. His 3.70 ERA is almost precisely average for the eras he pitched in. He was particularly effective in the second phase of his career with the Montreal Expos.
During his career-best ‘91 run he logged 9 shutouts including his moment of immortality. The Expos were in Los Angeles taking on the absolutely stacked Dodgers. They brought a combined 23 All-Star selections including four from ‘91. Seven of the eight position players made at least one All-Star game or led the league in something during their careers.
CFer Brett Butler, who had led the league in hits in ‘90 and led the league in walks in ‘91, was the lead-off hitter. Next came Second baseman Juan Samuel who was a ‘91 All-Star and led the league in triples twice. Batting third was Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who was also an All-Star in’91 and finished his career with 500 HRs and 3255 hits. Darryl Strawberry (‘91 All-Star, former Rookie of the Year), Kal Daniels (‘88 On Base leader), Mike Scioscia (2x All-Star), and Alfredo Griffin (former Rookie of the Year). They ended the season 96-69 and 2nd in the NL. Note that Alfredo Griffin was on the losing side of three perfect games, a fact only matched by Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and Ben Zobrist.
Martinez K’d five and the Expos got a pair of runs on four hits to beat Dodger starter (and All-Star) Mike Morgan. Martinez logged 30 shutouts in his career but none were more impressive than against that beastly lineup.
1956 Don Larsen
It is hardly a surprise that I chose this game as the most impressive perfect game in baseball history. It is still the only playoff perfect game, only World Series perfect game, and came from a pitcher with only 11 career shutouts. Don Larsen had a 14 year career but was very mediocre, going 81-91 with a 3.78 ERA over 1548.0 innings. He only managed over 100 K’s in a season once and in ‘54 he set his career high IP with 201.2 while also leading the AL in losses.
The ‘56 World Series was the second of back-to-back Fall Classics between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. In ‘55, the Dodgers toppled the favoured bombers giving Jackie Robinson a title and Larsen threw four disastrous innings, taking a loss in Game 4.
In ‘56, the Dodgers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Brooklyn but dropped the first two back in New York for a 2-2 tie. In Game 2, Larsen had started but didn’t make it out of the 2nd inning, as he gave up a run after an error and then walked the bases loaded before giving way to reliever Johnny Kucks. Kucks promptly allowed two runners to score and was lifted for Byrne who gave a 3-run homer to Hall of Famer Duke Snider.
The Yankees turned back to Larsen, despite these last two disasters. It very well may be the greatest decision of Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel’s storied career.
Larsen faced a lineup with four Hall of Fame plaques (Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, and Pee Wee Reese), 42 All-Star selections, 2 batting titles (Jackie and Carl Furillo), and one MVP (Jackie) and Rookie of the Year (Jackie). On top of that, he was opposed by Sal Maglie, a 2x All-Star who had beaten Hall of Famer Whitey Ford in Game 1. It didn’t matter, as Don Larsen pitched the greatest game in the history of baseball, striking out 7 including First baseman and 8x All-Star Gil Hodgers who had a .500 OBP for the series.
So there you have it, let me know in the comments how you’d rank the MLB perfect games!