Sports

Another Not-So-Perfect Game

Terry Mulholland winds up the pitch

hide captionTerry Mulholland of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against Pittsburgh in 1990.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

In August of 1990, my father and I went to a baseball game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Terry Mulholland was pitching for the Phillies against the Giants; he was not a particularly renowned pitcher at that time.

Not only did he pitch a no-hitter that night, but he only faced 27 batters. That sounds a lot like a perfect game, but it wasn't. One guy reached base — on an error by third baseman Charlie Hayes — and then was removed on a double play.

Everything Mulholland did was perfect-game material. The error had nothing to do with him, but unlike a no-hitter, where an error isn't a hit and therefore a fielder can't as easily lose it for a pitcher, they don't call it a perfect game if anyone reaches base. You can get every single guy out, and you don't get your perfect game.

On the last play of the game, Mulholland pitched to a guy who hit a screaming line drive down the third base line, which was nabbed in a fabulous play by ... Charlie Hayes.

I have never forgotten that game. How it went, how it ended. In baseball, other people giveth, and other people taketh away. Your perfect game is never a perfect reflection of the quality of your own efforts; to think statistics will ever genuinely represent how good you were and nothing else is utter folly. Mulholland could have lost the no-hitter if Hayes didn't make the play; he could have kept the perfect game if Hayes didn't make the error.

It's not that I'm not sympathetic to those who are most agitated over the fact that a blown call led to the Tigers' Armando Galarraga losing his perfect game last night. I am. Mostly, I'm sympathetic to Galarraga — more so because he reacted so beautifully. The little smile is utterly charming. (And, of course, to Jim Joyce, who is currently being subjected to the kind of preposterous scrutiny that can only be applied by people who know they'll never experience it.)

I don't think instant replay, on a limited basis, is a bad idea. But before you get too OMG INJUSTICE MUST BE REPAIRED REVERSE REVERSE FIX IT FIX IT, keep in mind that baseball statistics are full of things that are just as unrelated to the pitcher's performance as an umpire's mistake undoing a perfect game. One of them is a third-base error undoing a perfect game. "Justice" does not demand a different result. "Justice" really has very, very little to do with baseball statistics to begin with. Fairness — yes, there's fairness. But fairness doesn't demand that all opportunities for other people's mistakes to affect the outcome be removed, because they are everywhere.

If they go back and fix this so that the statistics will show what the kid really did, then what the kid did will not change. The record book would then show the perfect game, but it still wouldn't show what role fielding played, or whether there might have been a strike here or there that should have been a ball that might have cost him the perfect game if it had been called correctly. It will do a better job of preserving the illusion that the phrase "perfect game" is anything other than pretty poetry, but it won't change the fact that the guy was called safe, and under the rules of baseball, that makes the guy safe. Another guy batted. You can't make it so he didn't.

But if we're handing out "should've been a perfect game" perfect games, I'd nominate my guy Terry Mulholland.

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