erik lundegaard


Sunday April 22, 2012

Humber Humber Throws Perfect Game* Against Some Team

My friend Jeff asked me to the M’s game last Sunday, April 15, but I was a little under-the-weather and still had taxes to do and begged off. But as I did my taxes, I checked the score occasionally. I wanted the M’s to win, certainly, and they did, beating the A’s 5-3, but more, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a no-hitter for either side. I’ve never been at the ballpark for a no-hitter, of which there have been 272 in Major League Baseball history, and would’ve kicked myself for missing that one for something as silly as taxes.

Yesterday, a rare sunny day in Seattle, I went with Patricia and Ward to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Port Townsend, Wa. We were driving back around 9 pm when Ward checked his smartphone and came back with news. Apparently someone had pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners.

“You’re kidding,” I said, immediately uncomfortable. “A perfect game? Who was pitching?” We were playing the White Sox, I knew, but did I know even one White Sox pitcher anymore? Mark Buehrle, who pitched a perfect game in 2009, was now with the Miami Marlins.

“You know how rare this is?” I asked the car, which didn’t care. “I think there have only been like 21 ever.”

“Humber,” Ward read. “Philip Humber.”

A nobody. “Crap,” I said.

“It was the 21st perfect game in baseball history,” Ward read.

“Crap crap,” I said.

I wasn’t bummed about missing the game. I hadn’t thought about attending and no one had asked. I’m part of a season-ticket package but scaled back to only five games this year because I ate too many tickets last year, and I picked no games in April. Weather is usually lousy in April and if it wasn’t I knew I could always do the walk-up. Tickets are to be had in Seattle these days.

No, I was bummed it was my Seattle Mariners, my up-and-coming Seattle Mariners, against whom a perfecto had been thrown. Last year or the year before, when they finished last in the Majors in almost every offensive category, sure, I might’ve expected it. But we were getting younger and better now. We were banishing the ghost of Bill Bavasi. Weren’t we?

I thought up excuses. The sun was in their eyes. We’re not used to sun in Seattle. I thought, “Where’s Jim Joyce when you need him?” referring to the first base ump whose blown call upset a perfect game for the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga in 2010. When I got home I even tweeted that, thinking myself clever. Turns out, because the last out was a disputed call, a checked swing by Brendan Ryan on a 3-2 count that should’ve result in a walk and no perfect game, everyone and their brother had already tweeted something similar.

“Crap,” I said.

I looked up the box score. The M’s are better than last year, with more upside, but we still began the game with only two starters with OBPs above .300—Dustin Ackley and Ichiro—and we ended it with no starters with OBPs above .300. As my father wrote yesterday:

Will Humber's perfect game go in to the record books with an asterisk because it was against the Mariners?

I looked up Humber, or “Humber Humber,” as I began to think of him. He was a former No. 1 draft pick with the Mets. Traded to the Twins. Picked up on waivers by the A's and then the ChiSox. Second-fewest career wins for a perfect-game winner.

Articles were already proclaiming him a member of an elite club that included Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Catfish Hunter and Roy Halladay. Yes, I thought, and Len Barker and Tom Browning and Dallas Braden.

It’s called the 21st perfect game in Major League history but to me it’s the 19th. Not sure how you can count the two from 1880, when foul balls picked up on a hop were considered outs, and the losing teams were named the Worcester Ruby Legs and the Buffalo Bisons.

Here are the 19 perfect games of the modern era:

  Date Winning team Losing team Pitcher Catcher Umpire Ks
1 5-May-1904 Boston Americans Philadelphia A's Cy Young Lou Criger Frank Dwyer 8
2 2-Oct-1908 Cleveland Naps Chicago White Sox Addie Joss Nig Clarke Tommy Connolly 3
3 30-Apr-1922 Chicago White Sox Detroit Tigers Charlie Robertson Ray Schalk Dick Nallin 6
4 8-Oct-1956 New York Yankees Brooklyn Dodgers Don Larsen Yogi Berra Babe Pinellli 7
5 21-Jun-1964 Philadelphia Phillies New York Mets Jim Bunning Gus Triandos Ed Sudol 10
6 9-Sep-1965 LA Dodgers Chicago Cubs Sandy Koufax Jeff Torborg Ed Vargo 14
7 8-May-1968 Oakland A's Minnesota Twins Catfish Hunter Jim Pagliaroni Jerry Neudecker 11
8 15-May-1981 Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays Len Barker Ron Hassey Rich Garcia 11
9 30-Sep-1984 California Angels Texas Rangers Mike Witt Bob Boone Greg Kosc 10
10 16-Sep-1988 Cincinnati Reds LA Dodgers Tom Browning Jeff Reed Jim Quick 7
11 28-Jul-1991 Montreal Expos LA Dodgers Dennis Martinez Ron Hassey Larry Poncino 5
12 28-Jul-1994 Texas Rangers California Angels Kenny Rogers Ivan Rodriguez Ed Bean 8
13 17-May-1998 New York Yankees Minnesota Twins David Wells Jorge Posada Tim McClelland 11
14 18-Jul-1999 New York Yankees Montreal Expos David Cone Joe Girardi Ted Barrett 10
15 18-May-2004 Arizona Diamondbacks Atlanta Braves Randy Johnson Robby Hammock Greg Gibson 13
16 23-Jul-2009 Chicago White Sox Tampa Bay Rays Mark Buehrle Ramon Castro Eric Cooper 6
17 9-May-2010 Oakland A's Tampa Bay Rays Dallas Braden Landon Powell Jim Wolf 6
18 29-May-2010 Philadelphia Phillies Florida Marlins Roy Halladay Carlos Ruiz Mike DiMuro 11
19 21-Apr-2012 Chicago White Sox Seattle Mariners Phillip Humber A.J. Pierzynski Brian Runge 9

Remember the name Ron Hassey for potential bar bets. He’s the only guy on this list whose name appears more than once. No one has even umped two perfect games. Perfection is singular, with the exception of Hassey.

So what’s to account for the spate of perfect games in the post-1961 expansion era? Dilution of talent? I thought strikeouts maybe, since it’s easier to keep players off base if they’re not hitting the ball in play; but while Ks have generally gone up, they haven’t necessarily gone up during perfect games. Much.

Looking over the list, I began to see a kind of parity, or karma, in which one year’s victim (1908 ChiSox) became another year’s victor (1922 ChiSox), or vice versa (’84 Angels/’94 Angels). Crunching the numbers further, I realized there was no parity. The Yankees are 3-0 in perfect games, the Phillies and Indians both 2-0, the Twins and Rays both 0-2. In fact, only six teams have been on either end of a pefect game:

Perfect Game Teams Wins Losses
New York Yankees 3 0
Chicago White Sox 3 1
Philadelphia Phillies 2 0
Cleveland Indians 2 0
Oakland A's 2 1
Red Sox 1 0
Cincinnati Reds 1 0
Arizona Diamondbacks 1 0
California Angels 1 1
Montreal Expos 1 1
Texas Rangers 1 1
Los Angeles Dodgers 1 3
Detroit Tigers 0 1
New York Mets 0 1
Chicago Cubs 0 1
Toronto Blue Jays 0 1
Atlanta Braves 0 1
Florida Marlins 0 1
Seattle Mariners 0 1
Minnesota Twins 0 2
Tampa Bay Rays 0 2

And was it my imagination or did more perfect games happen early in the year?

Month No. of Perfect Games
April 2
May 7
June 1
July 4
August 0
September 3
October 2

Not my imagination. And did more of these games happen in American League?

American League 11
National League 6
Inter-League 2

Yep. Even in the DH era, when NL teams should be an easier mark for imperfectos, the AL leads 7-4, with one interleague game in the mix. (The Yankees bolster their numbers with interleague games.)

I was curious: How did losing teams wind up doing the season they were imperfected? The M’s have no shot, of course. But do they have even less of a shot than the no-shot they had before?

Date Losing team Team's final record
5-May-1904 Philadelphia A's 81-70, 5th of 8 teams
2-Oct-1908 Chicago White Sox 88-63, 3rd of 8
30-Apr-1922 Detroit Tigers 79-75, 3rd of 8
8-Oct-1956 Brooklyn Dodgers 93-61, lost World Series, 4-3, to Yankees
21-Jun-1964 New York Mets 53-109, 10th of 10
9-Sep-1965 Chicago Cubs 72-90, 8th of 10
8-May-1968 Minnesota Twins 79-83, 7th of 10
15-May-1981 Toronto Blue Jays 37-69, 7th of 7
30-Sep-1984 Texas Rangers 69-92, 7th of 7
16-Sep-1988 LA Dodgers 94-67, won World Series, 4-1, over A's
28-Jul-1991 LA Dodgers 93-69, 2nd of 6
28-Jul-1994 California Angels 47-68, 4th of 4
17-May-1998 Minnesota Twins 70-92, 4th of 5
18-Jul-1999 Montreal Expos 68-94, 4th of 5
18-May-2004 Atlanta Braves 96-66, 1st of 5, lost LDS, 3-2, to Houston
23-Jul-2009 Tampa Bay Rays 84-78, 3rd of 5
9-May-2010 Tampa Bay Rays 96-66, 1st of 4, lost LDS, 3-2, to Texas
29-May-2010 Florida Marlins 80-82, 3rd of 5
21-Apr-2012 Seattle Mariners ????

Most of the post-’61 perfectos have resulted from bottom-feeding: ’64 Mets, ’81 Blue Jays, ‘99 Twins. These are some of the worst teams in baseball history.

The Dodgers are an intereseting subset here. For being on the wrong end of three perfect games, they’ve done fairly well for themselves in those years. Obviously the ’56 perfecto happened during the World Series, which they lost, 4-3, but the ’88 Dodgers shook off that ‘88 perfecto and actually won the World Series. The ’91 team won 93 games. They give hope to the imperfected.

One positive out of all this? The White Sox are now 3-1 in perfect games and thus have as many perfectos as the New York Yankees, who are a dastardly 3-0. Isn’t it time those bastards wound up on the wrong end of one of these? Now that would be a perfect game. That would be the perfect perfect game.

Humber Humber admires his perfect game against the low-hitting Seattle Mariners: April 21, 2012

Humber Humber admires his perfect game against some team or other: April 21, 2012

Posted at 12:05 PM on Sunday April 22, 2012 in category Seattle Mariners