Counting Down a True Rarity: MLB's 20 Perfect Games
Pitching perfection is one of the rarest feats in the world of sports. Just 20 times in the long history of the national pastime have perfect games been recorded.
Now, for the first time in 130 years, two pitchers have accomplished the remarkable feat in the same season—less than three weeks apart to boot.
First, it was Dallas Braden becoming the 19th player to enter his name on the historic list with his Mother's Day masterpiece.
Then, it was baseball's reigning pitching master—Roy Halladay—matching that feat just 20 days later.
While Braden is just trying to establish himself in his young career, Halladay has been recognized as a pitching stud for the past decade.
Regardless of what each has or has not done thus far in his career, both pitchers have now crossed into baseball immortality by placing their names on this highly exclusive list.
In order to provide some backdrop and highlight this truly improbable feat, we count down the 20 pitchers that have achieved this landmark accomplishment. We reach back to the days of mitts the size of ski gloves and franchises with names such as "Ruby Legs" and the "Bisons" to find this score of historic pitching performances.
1. Lee Richmond, Worcester Ruby Legs, June 12, 1880
A 23-year-old left-hander playing in his first full season recorded baseball's first perfect game.
Lee Richmond accomplished the feat for the not-so-storied Worcester Ruby Legs against the Cleveland Blues (not to be confused with the more mundanely colored NFL franchise).
The landmark outing was marked by a couple oddities, including a 9-3 putout and three outs being recorded via the popular "foul bound." (At the time, foul balls caught on one hop resulted in outs.) Only three balls left the infield besides the five batters that went down swinging.
The pitching masterpiece was clearly the highlight of Richmond's six-year career. His overall record was 75-100, although he was surely a workhorse. In 1880, Richmond compiled a 32-32 record, tossing a "Bengay-worthy" 590.2 innings.
Perhaps the 1,053 innings he worked over two seasons from 1880-1881 led to fatigue, resulting in a 14-33 record in 1882 and soon departure from the game.
2. John Montgomery Ward, Providence Grays, June 17, 1880
The pitcher sporting the name of a once famous retail chain matched Richmond's feat just five days later. Monte Ward still stands as the youngest pitcher to ever hurl a perfect game at just 20 years old.
Ward matched Richmond with five K's. Regardless of his performance or the situation, it was his game to finish, as he was the only pitcher on the Grays' roster.
Although arm trouble eventually led him to permanently become a position player, Ward posted some eye-popping numbers in 1879-1880. After going 47-19, the diminutive right-hander fell short of back-to-back 40-win seasons when he "dropped" to a 39-24 record the following season.
Ward was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the strength of his early pitching success and then his later work in the middle infield.
3. Cy Young, Boston Americans, May 5, 1904
Cy Young is the winningest pitcher in Major League Baseball history and synonymous with pitching excellence. It is only fitting that he recorded the first perfect game in the "Modern Era."
Young set down 27 batters in order against the Philadelphia A's at the age of 37. Leading into the game, the Hall of Fame hurler pitched eight hitless innings and then followed with six hitless innings after his perfect game—an almost incomprehensible streak of 23 straight hitless innings.
The sturdy right-hander registered a 511-316 record over 22 seasons, including five 30-win campaigns. All told, Young threw a record 7,356 innings in the majors.
4. Addie Joss, Cleveland Naps, Oct. 2, 1908
Pitching in a tight pennant race with just four days left in the regular season, Addie Joss came up big with the most efficient perfect game in history.
Joss needed just 74 pitches to record a 1-0 win that moved his team into a tie for first, two games ahead of that day's opponents—the Chicago White Sox.
That particular day, Joss bested Hall of Famer Ed Walsh, who struck out 15 batters and yielded but one unearned run. Cleveland's tall right-hander only managed three strikeouts but won the game by setting every hitter down in order.
Joss' playing career was cut tragically short by illness in 1910, and a year later he passed away at just 31 years of age. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by vote of the Veterans Committee in 1964 in recognition of his 160-97 record with a sparkling 1.89 career ERA.
5. Charlie Robertson, Chicago White Sox, April 30, 1922
In just his fifth appearance in the majors, Charlie Robertson pitched the game of his life. Overall, this was the most unlikely "perfecto" of them all.
The opposing team was the Ty Cobb-led Detroit Tigers that compiled a .369 OBP that season. Additionally, Robertson never enjoyed a winning season as a pitcher on his way to a 49-80 career record.
Of course, on this "red letter" day, the 26-year-old righty had it going on. He struck out six of the 27 batters that he retired in order in the 2-0 win at Detroit's Navin Field.
6. Don Larsen, New York Yankees, Oct. 8, 1956
This is the most famous of the 20 games marked by pitching perfection, as it occurred in the 1956 World Series.
Don Larsen earned MVP honors for his pitching masterpiece as his New York Yankees went on to defeat the crosstown Brooklyn Dodgers 4-3 in the Fall Classic.
Learning just hours before the game that he would pitch, Larsen made a case against mental preparation by tossing the first perfect game in 34 years on the sport's biggest stage.
Overall, he struck out seven hitters, and only once did he go as deep as three balls in the count.
Like Richmond and Robertson before him, Larsen finished his playing days with a losing record at 81-91. Despite an otherwise largely undistinguished career, the tall righty etched his name in baseball's history books with a game for the ages.
No pitcher before or after has hurled a no-hitter in the postseason, let alone a perfect game.
7. Jim Bunning, Philadelphia Phillies, June 21, 1964
Fittingly, the father of nine children placed his name on this prestigious list on Father's Day.
Jim Bunning, who later was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, dominated the New York Mets in the first game of a doubleheader.
Bunning struck out 10 batters on the way to the 6-0 victory that was the National League's first perfect game in 84 years. The game was his second no-hitter in an accomplished career.
Although he recorded 20 wins just one season, Bunning finished with a 224-184 mark and a 3.27 ERA. After falling short of the necessary votes from the Baseball Writers' Association, the Veterans Committee selected him to be inducted into the Cooperstown venue in 1996.
8. Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers, Sept. 9, 1965
Sandy Koufax was one of the game's most dominant pitchers, recording four no-hitters and a bevy of awards over his 12 major league seasons.
Ultimately, the flamethrowing lefty retired at the peak of his career on the advice of physicians due to arthritis.
The 1966 season was both his finest and final campaign—including baseball's eighth perfect game. Not surprisingly, Koufax recorded arguably the most dominant "perfecto"—mowing down 14 batters on strikes.
The 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs was also the only game in history with just one hit, but the Dodgers were able to scratch out one unearned run with that one base knock.
Koufax came very close to hurling perfect games a couple times earlier in his career. In 1963, he went into the eighth inning before yielding a walk but was able to complete his second no-hitter.
In 1964, he faced the minimum 27 batters when Richie Allen walked but was thrown out stealing in Koufax's third no-no.
In the period from 1963 to 1966, the Dodgers hurler posted 25-5, 19-5, 26-8, and 27-9 win/loss records with a 1.86 ERA. For his efforts, he was recognized with three Cy Young Awards and one MVP trophy.
9. Catfish Hunter, Oakland Athletics, May 8, 1968
The late Jim "Catfish" Hunter put his name in the history books before he developed into one of the game's top pitchers.
In his fourth year, at the age of 22, Hunter twirled baseball's ninth flawless masterpiece for the Oakland A's against a lineup featuring three all-time greats.
The young right-hander shut down a Minnesota Twins team that included Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, and Harmon Killebrew—winners of 10 batting and six home run titles between them. And he did so in convincing fashion with 11 K's.
Catfish was also the hitting star of the game, going 3-for-4 and driving in three of his team's four runs.
Hunter sadly passed away in 1999 at the age of 53, a victim of ALS.
10. Len Barker, Cleveland Indians, May 15, 1981
Although Len Barker never realized his overall potential due to issues with his command, he was completely dialed in on one particular cold, damp night in Cleveland.
The hard-throwing right-hander never once threw as many as three balls to any Blue Jays hitter on his way to an 11-strikeout perfect game.
Barker's masterpiece was the first against a team using the designated hitter. It is also the last time an Indians pitcher has thrown a no-hitter.
Over 11 seasons, Barker compiled a 74-76 record with a 4.34 ERA. That misty night in 1981 was undoubtedly the zenith of his career.
11. Mike Witt, California Angels, Sept. 30, 1984
California Angels hurler Mike Witt ended the 1984 season with a bang. Playing on the road against the Texas Rangers, Witt tossed a 10-strikeout perfect game to secure a 1-0 win.
The 6'7" righty's signature pitch was a hard breaking curve ball to go along with a lively fastball. Earlier in the year, Witt struck out 16 hitters in a complete-game victory against the Mariners, but he saved the best for last.
Overall, Witt registered a 117-116 mark over 12 years. His best seasons were from 1984 to 1987, when he compiled a 64-44 win/loss record.
12. Tom Browning, Cincinnati Reds, Sept. 16, 1988
For the fifth time in 12 games, the author of a perfect game eked out a 1-0 victory. Cincinnati Reds left-hander Tom Browning prevailed over the Los Angeles Dodgers in a late-season contest at Riverfront Stadium, whiffing seven along the way.
Browning became the first and only Reds hurler to throw a perfect game in 1988. Less than a year later, he made a second bid before the Phillies' Dickie Thon broke up the flawless game to lead off the ninth inning.
He accumulated 123 wins (all with the Reds) to go against 90 losses over 12 seasons.
13. Dennis Martinez, Montreal Expos, July 28, 1991
Dennis Martinez is one of just nine pitchers to win at least 100 games in both leagues, but his most shining accomplishment came at the age of 36, when he tossed a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Nicaraguan right-hander is the only pitcher born outside of the United States on the exclusive list of 20.
Interestingly, both Martinez and Dodgers hurler Mike Morgan were perfect through five innings, which is the latest that opposing pitchers have gotten to that point.
Also, just two days earlier, teammate Mark Gardner no-hit the Dodgers through nine innings before giving up a hit in the 10th.
Although he never exceeded 16 wins in a season, Martinez racked up a 245-193 record. Overall, he played 23 years until the age of 43.
14. Kenny Rogers, Texas Rangers, July 28, 1994
Three years later to the day, Kenny Rogers hurled Major League Baseball's 14th perfect game. In doing so, he also returned the favor to the California Angels, who behind Mike Witt had bestowed a perfect game on the Rangers 10 years earlier.
In this game, apparently Rogers "knew when to hold 'em, knew when to fold 'em” as he kept the Angels off balance all evening. The Rangers' left-hander cruised along for eight innings, striking out eight in the process.
He faced a large scare leading off the ninth, when Rex Hudler lined a ball to right-center. Center fielder Rusty Greer got a good break to track it down and then made a spectacular diving catch to keep the gem alive. Two outs later, Greer clutched the final out on a "can of corn" to center to put Rogers in the history books.
Rogers finished his career with a 219-156 record, retiring after the 2008 season. The athletic pitcher won five Gold Glove Awards and made four trips to the All-Star Game.
15. David Wells, New York Yankees, May 17, 1998
Later claiming to have been "half drunk" and suffering from a major hangover, New York Yankees pitcher David Wells etched his name in the baseball history books when he fired a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins. The 4-0 victory required 120 pitches and featured 11 K's.
Playing on the World Series Champion team that racked up 114 wins during the regular season, Wells turned in the finest season of his distinguished career. His 18-4 won/loss record was punctuated by his early season "perfecto."
The burly lefty amassed a 239-157 career record over 21 seasons. A point of interest is that Wells attended the same high school as Don Larsen.
16. David Cone, New York Yankees, July 18, 1999
Something must have been in the air on July 18, 1999. David Cone gave the storied Yankees franchise another perfect game in just a little over a year.
Most interestingly, though, the masterpiece came on "Yogi Berra Day" at Yankee Stadium. The special event featured Don Larsen throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Berra, who caught the pitcher's famous World Series perfect game.
Perhaps destiny was in play, but if so, it was not without challenge. Cone dispensed the Montreal Expos that day on just 88 pitches but had to endure a 33-minute rain delay along the way. He struck out 10 hitters in the contest and never worked a three-ball count.
Cone enjoyed a fine 17-year career, compiling a .606 winning percentage with a 194-126 record. Oddly enough, after pitching the greatest game of his career that ran his record to 10-4, the right-handed hurler suddenly lost effectiveness and was never the same pitcher again.
17. Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks, May 18, 2004
As former Phillie John Kruk would attest, Randy Johnson was one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball history.
Sporting a triple-digit fastball and an obscene slider—both delivered by a 6'10" hurler with a sidearm delivery—Johnson seemed capable of throwing a no-hitter every time he took the mound.
On this particular night, at the advanced age of 40, "The Big Unit" was at his dominant best against the Atlanta Braves. Johnson fired 117 pitches, striking out 13 batters in the masterpiece, including the last two outs of the game.
His performance rivaled that of Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in terms of dominance. Although he went on to play five more seasons, Johnson is the oldest player ever to achieve this rare feat.
Besides throwing a no-hitter earlier in his career, Johnson's overall résumé ranks him among the game's all-time greats—so adding a perfect game was surely not shocking throughout the baseball world. Over 22 seasons, he amassed five Cy Young Awards, a 303-166 record, 3.29 ERA, and the second most strikeouts.
18. Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox, July 23, 2009
While Johnson was perhaps a perfect game waiting to happen, Mark Buehrle is not equipped quite the same way. The Chicago White Sox hurler does not possess dominant stuff, but instead relies on great command and precision to be effective.
Although he has enjoyed a fine career mixing up his wide array of pitches, Buehrle deploys a pitch-to-contact style that leans heavily on his fielders behind him.
In last season's perfect game, the White Sox lefty benefited from a spectacular, home-run-robbing catch by center fielder DeWayne Wise to preserve the masterpiece in the ninth.
Overall, Buehrle eased his way through the game against a hard-hitting Tampa Bay Rays team until the dramatic play in the final frame. He retired 11 via ground ball, 10 via fly ball, and six via strikes.
Just two seasons earlier, Buehrle tossed a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers. Coincidentally, the same home plate umpire (Eric Cooper) called both games, so hitters might not be thrilled to see him donning a chest protector when Buehrle takes the mound down the road.
19. Dallas Braden, Oakland Athletics, May 9, 2010
Like Jim Bunning 16 seasons earlier, Dallas Braden tossed his gem on a personally highly meaningful day—Mother's Day.
The Oakland A's left-hander lost his mother to cancer as a teenager and was raised by his grandmother, who happened to be in the stands to witness his historic achievement.
Braden's feat came against the same Tampa Bay Rays team that suffered a perfect game at the hands of Buehrle less than a year earlier. The 2010 edition, though, came into the game as the hottest team in baseball, sporting a major league-best 22-8 record.
Apparently, the Rays do not match up well against crafty lefties, as Braden deploys a very similar pitching style to that of Buehrle. The only major difference this time around was that there were no ninth inning histrionics. The closest the Rays got to a hit was Jason Bartlett's lineout to open the game.
The young pitcher is just 18-26 at this point in his career but has demonstrated continual improvement over his four years in the "Bigs." Based on his Mother's Day performance, the future looks bright for the 26-year-old pitcher.
20. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies, May 29, 2010
With the newspaper ink barely dry on Braden's big day, Philadelphia Phillies ace pitcher Roy Halladay added his name to the hallowed list.
Coming off his worst performance of the season and surrounded by a slumping team, Halladay made one unearned run stand up by setting every Marlins hitter down in order.
The lanky right-hander overpowered the Marlins primarily with his signature heavy, sinking fastball. Halladay pounded the edges of the strike zone inside and out, while occasionally mixing in breaking balls.
The former Blue Jays star, who was acquired by the Phillies in the offseason in a much celebrated trade, needed 115 pitches to secure the masterpiece. He set down eight hitters by ground ball and the same number via fly ball, while striking out 11 for the game.
Similar to pitchers such as Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson, Halladay possesses the demeanor, command, and overall stuff that made him a candidate to accomplish such a remarkable feat. He is arguably the game's best pitcher with a 155-79 record and 3.37 ERA over his first 13 seasons.
In just his second major league start, Halladay came within one out of a no-hitter before the Tigers' Bobby Higginson jacked a home run to spoil it. This time around, Halladay was up to the task to add another great accomplishment to his sparkling resume.
The Final Word
Over the course of 130 years—from Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs to Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies—there have been a grand total of 20 pitchers to achieve perfection.
It is surely an exclusive club with a very clear requirement for entry. Having two players sign on in the month of May is truly extraordinary, particularly considering that as many as 34 years have passed between occurrences.
Interestingly, half of the perfect games have featured two or fewer runs—six with just one run. Perhaps the low run support causes pitchers to maintain greater focus, almost forcing them towards perfection.
Fortunately for Halladay, the Phillies scratched out an unearned run on Saturday—or this club's list might be at 19 and holding.