Mark Buehrle’s recent perfect game is an accomplishment so rare that it needs to be put in the proper perspective.
With the current 162-game schedule and 30-team configuration, there are a total of 2,430 games scheduled in a season.
However, there hasn’t always been this number of teams or games in MLB history, and there are many rained out games over the years that didn’t get made up because they did not effect the standings.
The total number of MLB games is hard to quantify with simple multiplication. So I looked it up.
The number of total games played in Major League Baseball history is open to debate, depending on which leagues from the 1870s you want to include in the MLB total. Using round numbers, about 390,000 games have been played officially in MLB history, give or take the few thousand debatables.
Buehrle’s perfect game is only the 18th such game out of those 390,000. That’s about one perfect game every 22,000 starts.
On average, there is a perfect game about once every eight years. Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers broke a 34-year long drought of perfect games.
Some like to separate post-season stats from the regular season, even when it comes to perfect games. If that’s the case for you, then the longest drought of perfect games that began in 1922 did not really end until 42 years later, in 1964, when Philadelphia’s Jim Bunning shut down the New York Mets.
Bunning broke the unwritten rule that you do not talk about perfect games and no-hitters while you are throwing one. His success continued with a stellar career in politics; he is now a U.S. senator in Kentucky.
The shortest gap between perfect games is five days. The first perfect game was thrown on June 12, 1880, by Lee Richmond. The next gem came on June 17th of that same season on the strength of John Ward’s arm.
In contradiction to the dead-ball era and higher mounds, the first nine perfect games covered a span of 105 seasons, while the last nine only cover a span of 29 seasons.
I have had two brushes with perfect games as a viewer/spectator. In 1990, I watched on TV with nervousness as Brian Holman of the Seattle Mariners flirted with a perfect game on the road at Oakland. Holman was from Wichita, KS, where I grew up and lived at the time, and we were about the same age.
In high school, I went to a small school in the area that lacked a baseball team and was limited to playing in summer leagues, and I never faced the teams from the bigger City League schools.
Consequently, I never suffered the misfortune of having to bat against Holman and his fastballs that hit the mid-90s. It’s easier to be a fan for a day when you aren’t a past victim.
After Holman completed six innings, the intensity went up a notch, all the way till the second out of the ninth inning. Tony LaRussa decided to put in Ken Phelps, a left-handed hitter to bat against Holman, a righty.
On one pitch, Holman suffered a trifecta of disappointment, losing the perfect game, no-hitter and shutout all at once as Phelps belted a solo shot. My father forgave the profanities I shouted towards LaRussa and Phelps. Lousy finks.
The only other time I saw a near perfect game was in person when Kevin Brown was a hired gun for the San Diego Padres.
In August of 1998, he threw a one hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers at Qualcomm Stadium. Only a couple of walks and a seeing-eye 37-hopper hit by Jeremy Burnitz, just out of the reach of Chris Gomez, prevented Brown from throwing a perfect game.
Had Brown been successful at preventing a Brewer from reaching base, the Mitchell Report and the court of public opinion would have put an asterisk on the achievement.
Just days ago, Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants no-hit the Padres. Juan Uribe's fielding error separated Sanchez from perfection in that game.
No-hitters are fairly rare in their own right. Only 263 have been thrown in the aforementioned 390,000 games in MLB history. Buehrle has two of those. In addition to Thursday’s perfect game, he no-hit the Texas Rangers in 2007.
This places Buehrle in elite company, as he joins current or future Hall-of-Famers Bunning, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Addie Joss and Cy Young, who have also thrown no-hitters in addition to perfect games.
Rarer than perfect games is the unassisted triple play. Only 14 have happened in MLB history but that’s another story for another day.