You see, this is why I am a lifetime underachiever. Here I am, desperately preparing for a challenging 3-hour seminar, and when Jutgory sends me a story about a controversy over what should count as a “perfect game” in baseball, I can’t think of anything else. Baseball and ethics. The combination gets me every time! So I am writing a post instead of doing my job. Pathetic.
For some reason, 2021 has been a big year for no-hitter definition categories. About ten days ago, Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Madison Bumgarner threw seven hitless innings against the Atlanta Braves, winning 7-0. However,the game was part of a doubleheader, and this year, as in the 2020 season, twinbills consist of two 7 inning games. Bumgarner’s gem does not officially count as a no-hitter, because MLB declared many years ago that an official no-hitter must be nine innings, a shutout, a victory, and a complete game. This eliminated no-hitters that had been shortened because of rain but were still official games, and the strange games where a pitcher gave up a run or more because of errors or walks. It also wiped out one of the most famous no-hitters of all time.
Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Piratesgave up no hits, walks or baserunners for 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves on May 26, 1959 in a 0-0 extra-inning tie. He retired 36 consecutive consecutive batters until an error in the 13th ended the perfect game bid, then he gave up a hit, and eventually a run and the game. It was one of the greatest pitching performances of all time, but did not count, sayeth the rule-makers, as a perfect game or a no-hitter.
Not giving Baumgarner credit for a “no-no,” as no-hitters are called by their close friends, seems very unfair. The game was official and not shortened by the elements. He did everything he could do: it wasn’t his fault MLB is lazy and incompetent and decided to allow kiddie rule 7-inning games this season. (The excuse was, as with much that is outrageous, the pandemic.) I am quite sure that baseball didn’t think through such possibilities as a double-header no-hitter, and was stuck with a rule that really shouldn’t have applied.
Which brings us to Baltimore Orioles pitcher John Means, who yesterday threw the first complete-game, no-hitter for the Orioles since Jim Palmer’s in 1969. It would have been a perfect game, except that Seattle Mariner Sam Haggerty struck out on a wild pitch, and was able to reach first base before the catcher could retrieve the ball and throw to first. Moments later, Haggerty was caught stealing. This inspired a truly inept bit of baseball punditry from Andrew Joseph in USA Today, who thinks the rule that allowed Haggerty to reach base is “lame”:
But the fact that hitters can reach first base AFTER striking out is a rule that has never made sense. MLB rules state that a batter becomes a runner whenever the third strike is uncaught (and first base is unoccupied or occupied with two outs), but there’s never been an acceptable explanation for why this is a thing. If an out needs to be caught, then why have an infield fly rule? Why is a baserunner out if a batted ball strikes him? Those outs aren’t caught. There’s no reason why a batter should be rewarded with a chance to reach first base after a pitcher completely owned him by drawing a swing at an uncatchable pitch.
This guy is a baseball writer? To being with the obvious, “why” is an absurd question to ask about any baseball rule. Why three strikes? Why three outs? Why not four strikes and six outs? Unlike a lot of baseball rules, the one Joseph is complaining about has sound reasons behind it. The strikeout is completed when the catcher receives the ball from the pitcher, otherwise, the ball is live and in play. If the out has not been completed, the player can still run to first (if it’s unoccupied). Wild pitches and passed balls (by the catcher) are considered mistakes, the equivalent of errors. A wild pitch isn’t “owning” the batter who swings at it, it’s called “being lucky” depite screwing up. The rules require a team that receives such a gift to do a little extra to get the out. Good. The rule has also resulted in some of baseball’s most famous moments.
The writer’s analogies are also terrible. The infield fly rule is a famous anomaly, but again, there’s a good reason for it: without the rule, infielders could always get cheap force-outs or even double plays by intentionally allowing pop-ups to bounce. Runner are out when batted balls strike them to stop baserunners from intentionally interfering with balls in play.
Meanwhile, the question I often heard (from girlfriends I was trying to introduce to my beloved obsession) was why a perfect game was called perfect when every player didn’t strike out. I patiently explained that no game was or would ever be that perfect.
Last month, softball pitcher Hope Trautwein of the University of North Texas (above) struck out every single one of the batters she faced from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff for a really perfect game.
Too bad it was only seven innings…