In the long history of Major League Baseball, over a quarter of a million games have been played since the first official pitch was thrown back in 1871. During that span, a total of only 23 perfect games have been pitched. It is one of the rarest and most elite accomplishments in all of sports. In this article, we are going to look at two “near” perfect games – both of them broken up with two outs in the ninth inning – and, specifically, the contrasting reactions of the two pitchers involved.
On September 2, 1972, Milt Pappas of the Chicago Cubs retired the first 26 San Diego Padres. Pinch hitter Larry Stahl then came to the plate, the only batter left between Pappas and perfection. On a 3-2 count, umpire Bruce Froemming called ball four on a pitch just off the outside part of the plate. Stahl had drawn a walk and took first base. The perfect game was ruined, though Pappas did complete the no-hitter.
Milt Pappas never forgot and apparently never forgave umpire Bruce Froemming. From the pitcher’s mound that day, he had some choice words for the umpire and, throughout the rest of his life, the pitcher often made reference to the perfect game that was “taken away from him by Froemming.” Even upon Pappas’ passing in 2016, the headline of the Chicago Tribune newspaper made reference to the conflict between Pappas and Froemming. Milt Pappas never let it go.
Thirty-eight years later, on June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga faced Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians with two outs in the ninth. Like Pappas, Galarraga had retired every batter he had faced up to that point, needing just one more out for the perfect game. Donald hit a ground ball to the right of first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who threw the ball to Galarraga covering first base. The throw clearly beat the runner, but first base umpire Jim Joyce would make the most infamous call of his career when he signaled Donald safe at first, thus ruining Galarraga’s perfect game.
Galarraga, who knew he had beaten the runner to the bag, just stood there and smiled at Joyce. He then walked calmly back to the mound. Not only was the perfect game gone, but unlike Pappas, Galarraga had also lost the no-hitter on what was ruled an infield single.
Galarraga’s response in the aftermath of his quest with baseball immortality garnered national attention and stood in stark contrast to Pappas’. Galarraga was remarkably gracious toward Jim Joyce, saying that he “probably feels more bad than me. Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s human.” The following day, manager Jim Leyland sent Galarraga out to present the line-up card to the home plate umpire, who happened to be Jim Joyce that day. The two men shook hands and a teary-eyed Joyce gave the pitcher a pat on the shoulder.
Will you strive to be like Pappas or Galarraga? Life is not fair and things will happen to you unjustly. Why carry resentment around, for it becomes a poison to your soul? Pray for wisdom to be gracious and forgiving, and let the love of Christ shine through you.
Rev. William Wimmer