Odds Of Pitching Perfect Game Rising

Pitcher Armando Galarraga's nearly perfect game this week would have been the third in a month. Michele Norris talks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about whether this is just a coincidence or if there is a reason behind the rash of perfect pitching. They also discuss hockey and basketball finals.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Two days after Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga's imperfect-perfect game, the sports world is still buzzing about what, if anything, Major League Baseball should do to make sure umpires get it right.

Lost in the chatter has been the apparent rise in the number of perfect games in recent years. And joining me to talk about perfection and other sports news is our perfect sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.

STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter): Ha, very imperfect.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Good to talk to you, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Hey, Michele.

NORRIS: Give us the numbers here. How rare is the perfect game?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, it is one of the rarest phenomena in baseball. There have been just 18 of them since 1900, though it's not as rare as the unassisted triple play or an individual player hitting four homeruns in one game.

NORRIS: Hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FATSIS: Those have happened just 15 times apiece. But still, pretty amazing. And what seems interesting is that three of the perfect games have occurred in less than a year. Galarraga's would have been a fourth and it would have been three in less than a month.

There's a post on the excellent website Hardball Times that puts the odds of that happening - three in a month - at two million to one.

NORRIS: Imagine if you happened to bet on that statistic, how lucky you would be.

Is there anything that might explain this recent cluster of perfect games?

Mr. FATSIS: There are some baseball reasons for this: more perfect-game-capable pitchers, better fields and better fielders because fielders play a role in a pitcher getting a perfect game, an increase in strikeouts by batters, and oddly, as that Hardball Times post notes, fewer runners getting on base in recent years. The percent has gone down, actually, slightly. And fewer base runners means more outs, which increases the chances of a perfecto.

You saw a similar drop in the mid-1960s, when another cluster of perfection occurred, but the main reason here is pure probability. Since 1960, Major League Baseball has expanded from 16 teams to 30 teams. That means the number of games played every season has nearly doubled. Consequently, the odds of a perfect game happening in any season have gone from less than five percent in 1960 to more than nine percent today.

NORRIS: But still, three in a month?

FATSIS: Well, two in the record books, but you have to think that so much has to happen for a pitcher to be perfect that a perfect game is really still something of a random event. We've had this small cluster. Probabilistically, though, that is not so shocking. We may not get another one like it for another 50 years. And if we get two or three more this year, well, I don't know, the Earth will implode or something.

NORRIS: Well, Stefan, we should move on. The National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association finals are both underway, a lot of television viewing in a lot of households right now. What have you been watching?

FATSIS: I've been watching more hockey than basketball, at least more carefully. Game four of the finals, between the Blackhawks from Chicago and the Philadelphia Flyers, is tonight in Philly. The Blackhawks lead two games to one. I am loving this series.

The Blackhawk franchise was an utter embarrassment to the NHL for years. They were led by this cheapskate owner, Bill Wirtz, who died in 2007. His son took over. He finally put games on local TV - really, they weren't on local television - and he let the front office spend on players. It's been a total revival.

On the other side, you've got the gritty Flyers. They were the seventh seed out of eight in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and you've got the passionate Philadelphia fans. The games have been fast, hard-hitting and contentious on and off the ice, and if you watch on TV, you get to listen to the brilliant play-by-play man Doc Emrick, and that is worth it just to tune in to hear him.

NORRIS: That is worth it, but I have to say in my household, we've been watching a lot more basketball, where the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics, historic rivals, are meeting for the 12th time in the championship finals. And it never gets old.

FATSIS: No, it doesn't. L.A. won game one last night, pretty much a blowout. The Celtics didn't look aggressive or strong. What I've enjoyed most, though, has been Kobe Bryant's comments and his countenance, all business. I've lost count of how many times Kobe has said that the media and the hype don't matter. He is just not playing along with the media game, and he's playing on the court extremely well.

More important, he seems to be forcefully pushing his teammates to play well, too. This is a superb and driven athlete nearing the end of his career. He's still in his prime but nearing the end of his career, and I think you're seeing some of that drive come forth.

NORRIS: And some other stars playing very well, Artest for instance.

FATSIS: Artest and Pau Gasol last night was terrific.

NORRIS: Thanks Stefan. Have a good weekend, and we should note that next time we talk to you, you will be in South Africa at the World Cup.

FATSIS: I will, blowing the vuvuzela.

NORRIS: That's Stefan Fatsis. He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

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