Mr. Willet’s Point of View: Chasing Perfection

Good for Mark Buehrle. Well done. A perfect game. A masterpiece. Congratulations.

Larsen and BerraI’ve never witnessed a perfect game. At least not from the start. I’ve seen the ends of them when ESPN jumps over to them. I’ve seen highlights (boy, was that catch by Wise amazing, or what). But I’ve never once witnessed one, either in person, on the radio or on television. There are a couple of reasons for that. One, I am a Mets fan (more on that later) and two, there have only been twelve since I’ve been alive.

After I saw the highlights from Buehrle on Thursday, I called my father. He laughed when he heard my voice. “Let me guess,” he immediately inquired, “you want to talk about Larson?” I did, of course. I knew what the next line out of his mouth would be and I silently mouth the words with my dad: “I should have been there. God dammit. If not for that damned Jerry Krause kid, I would have been there.”

My dad was at work on October 8, 1956. He was at work with a ticket to Game 5 of the World Series in his pocket. He was suppose to have the day off. Dad lined up another guy to work for him, Jerry Krause. When Jerry fell down a manhole because he was flirting with some “dame” and not paying attention (he was okay from the fall, but not necessarily by the time dad was done with him), dad was forced into work and forced to listen to one of the greatest games ever pitched on the radio.

On that day in October, Don Larson pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. He shut down the Brooklyn Dodgers, 2-0. Dad always struggles with this one. Like me, he appreciates baseball history. He loves it, in fact. He also loved the Dodgers. On some days, when I talk to him about it he talks with nostalgia about that afternoon. He talks about his pulse racing and the way strangers gathered around him in the store to listen to the ninth inning. He talks about the electricity that filled the streets of New York that day. And he curses poor Jerry Krause. My father is a gentleman, but when he gets going on Jerry Krause, you would have thought he worked in the Brooklyn Naval Yards. Perfect games need to be savored and not missed because a guy can’t walk and talk at the same time. This was how he talked on Thursday.

On other days, when he talks about the perfect game, it is Larson who receives his wrath and it’s Jerry who is the hero that saved him from watching his beloveds from getting mowed down. In 1957, the Dodgers did not make the series, meaning 1956 was the last series Brooklyn ever saw. Larson helped nail that coffin closed. Dad knows this all to well, and if he is not in the right mood…Larson is Satan on earth and October 8, 1956 was the apocalypse.

I came close to witnessing one, once. In spite of the fact that it didn’t happen, it remains, to this day, one of the most exciting games I have ever witnessed, and certainly, the best pitching performance. Sandy Alomar would be my Jerry Krause. I was visiting a friend in Baltimore and we decided to go see the Orioles play the Indians. Mike Mussina was pitching for the Orioles. He was always one of my favorites. Anyway, he just mowed down the Cleveland batters with ease and the defense behind him was flawless. When Mussina struckout Alomar and Omar Vizquel to end the sixth, the Camden Yards crowd got loud. When Jim Thome grounded out to end the seventh, the crowd was even louder, but now there was a nervous undertone. When Manny Ramirez flew out to right field to end the eighth, Camden Yards turned into a quivering bowl of jell-o sitting on the San Andreas fault. The crowd was going nuts but in everyones eyes, you could see hope mixed with dread. There were three outs to go, but Mussina seemed as cool as a cucumber.

When he came out to start the ninth, I felt like I was going to throw up. My hands were sweaty and my heart was racing. I felt on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Moose got Tony Fernandez to groundout to start the inning. The whole stadium was on it’s feet. Then Alomar came to bat. He would rope a single to left field. It was as if he had gone through the whole stadium and punched each and everyone of us in the stomach. I still hate Alomar to this day for that hit. Moose got a nice standing ovation and then promptly struck out the next two batters to end the game. He was left with a one hit, 10 strikeout masterpiece. It wasn’t perfection, but it is one of the top five games I have ever witnessed in my life.

The New York Mets have never had a pitcher throw a perfect game. In fact, they have never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter. Kenny Rodgers would throw a perfect game before he became a Met. David Cone would throw one for the Yankees years after being a Met. Tom Seaver (who would come close against the Cubs for the Mets) and Dwight Gooden each would throw no-hitters after being Mets. The greatest insult might be the seven no-hitters that Nolan Ryan would throw after being a Met. The Mets have had some great pitchers throw from the mound for them, but not a single no-hitter.

I, obviously, cannot watch every inning of every game. Because of work, family and other responsibilities, there are a number of Mets games that I miss. However, I will make sure I track these games, one way or another, until the opposing team has at least one hit. I do not want to miss the last out of the Mets first no-hitter. It’s a bit obsessive, but isn’t that what internet connect cell phone are for?

A side note, something tells me that if I keep watching the current Mets lineup, I may see a perfect game thrown against them before the end of the season.

I asked dad if he had seen the SI article about Harvey Haddix. SI was marking the 50th anniversary of what may have been the greatest game ever pitched. Dad was a fan of Haddix…sort of. In May of 1959, Haddix had the following line for a game he pitched: 12.2 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 8 SO. And he lost. Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings. 36 batters up. 36 batters down. And he lost the game. Hank Aaron (batting .442 at the time) came to bat four times and sat back down four times. Eddie Mathews (512 career home runs) came up to bat four times and sat back down four times. In the 13th inning, Don Hoak would make a bad throw on a leadoff grounder by Felix Mantilla. Mathews bunted him over. Aarons was intentionally walked and Joe Adcock got the only hit of the game for Milwaukee, driving in Mantilla. Haddix had pitched 12 perfect innings and lost.

Dad loves the Haddix story. Oh, he feels awful for the guy, but he believes it is what is great about baseball. Somehow, Haddix’s imperfection is what makes baseball perfect. In any given game, the amazing can happen. It breaks your heart, but you go back out the next day and play again. You can do everything within your power and even be in-human, but, ultimately, it is a team sport. You need to rely on other guys to help get the job done. A perfect game is about the pitcher and the team around him. Just ask Haddix and just ask Buehrle. That, is the perfection of the sport.

Just don’t ask me about Jim Bunning.

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