Baseball is an exciting game, not just for players but also the fans. The thrill when you throw a no-hitter in baseball does give you that adrenaline rush, but even rarer than that – and a lot more thrilling – is the perfect game.
What is a Perfect Game?
In baseball, a perfect game is where the pitchers (whether that’s one or all!) are able to pitch a perfect game without allowing anyone on the base or any hits.
This means that there are no hits, no walks, no errors that give players the opportunity on base, interference, third strikes – nothing! A perfect game is literally perfect – but as you’ve probably guessed, it’s very rare!
A perfect game would be considered a pitcher’s accomplishment before anything else, but it’s also due to the defense managing to get every hit.
In a perfect game, even if a game heads into extra innings, if the base runners are not able to get onto first base, it stays a perfect game.
Where Does the Perfect Game Come From?
Now that you know what a perfect game is, let’s look into the history of it. The earliest use of the term goes back to 1908, from a description of the first perfect game. This was thrown by pitcher Addie Joss.
The term was also used in the Ernest J. Lanigan’s Baseball Encyclopedia to refer to the perfect game played by pitcher Charlie Robertson a few years later in 1922.
While the ‘first’ perfect game was played in 1908, the history actually goes a lot further back. The actual first perfect game record belongs to pitcher Lee Richmond, when he played in Major League Baseball in 1880. He played against the Worcester Rugby Legs, and retired all their 27 batters. Truly a perfect game!
How Is a Perfect Match Different From a No-Hitter?
No-hitters are very similar to perfect games, but still not quite the same. After all, a perfect game is perfect, while a no-hitter is a slight bit off.
In a no-hitter, as defined by the MLB since 1991, the pitcher (or pitchers) does not give up any hits while they pitch at least nine innings.
On the other hand, a perfect game, as described above, goes much further beyond that. The primary difference there would be the part about not letting people run base.
For example, in a no-hitter, a pitcher can still walk a few batters during the designated nine innings. In a perfect game, though, the pitcher would retire all the 27 batters of the opposing team without any of them managing to reach base.
By definition, though, a perfect game would have to be a no-hitter, and also a shutout at the same time. Pitchers obviously cannot control any errors caused by their teammates, so they should have solid fielding to back them up if they want to pitch a perfect game.
Are Perfect Games Rare?
It’s obvious just by reading the definition, but perfect games are very rare in baseball. No-hitters are rare enough, but perfect games go a step further.
In fact, looking at Major League Baseball history, there have only been 23 recorded perfect games ever played. In fact, since the current era started in 1901, all the way until 2021, there have only been about 21 perfect games. That’s more than a century’s worth of baseball!
Due to how rare they are, perfect games are also spaced out quite a bit. The last perfect game that happened in Major League Baseball was a decade ago, back in 2012.
It’s also interesting to note that while perfect games can be due to a combination of several pitchers’ efforts, all the perfect games played in the MLB so far have been because of a single pitcher’s play. That sure is a perfect game.
Besides just MLB, there are also World Series baseball games, but even here, perfect games are rare! In the World Series, there has been only one recorded perfect game, and this was back in 1956, pitched by Don Larsen.
That said, there are plenty of pitching performances in recent years that are considered to be perfect games by fans, but do not quite manage to meet the official definition. This includes games that did not have baserunners for one of the teams, and some games where the team reached base in extra innings only.
The official definition of a perfect game is a lot stricter though, so officially recognized perfect games remain rare.
To compare: there have been more people who have orbited the moon, than there have been perfect games in the past 130 years. Rare, indeed!
Notable Perfect Games
Because there are such few perfect games recorded in baseball history, it’s easy to point out the ones that really stand out. For example, in 1964, Jim Bunning, who was father of seven children, threw a perfect game on Father’s Day. Tom Browning pitched the first perfect game that took place on artificial turf in 1988.
The perfect match pitched by Dennis Martinez in 1991 was the first to be pitched by someone who had been born outside the USA. Meanwhile, in 1998, David Wells pitched a perfect match despite being hungover throughout.
The perfect games in the 21st century were pitched in 2004, 2010 and 2012. The game in 2004 was pitched by Randy Johnson, aged 40, who became the oldest pitcher to ever pitch a perfect game.
Good games are exciting to watch, so naturally it becomes even more exciting to watch a perfect game – not just because it’s perfect, but also because it happens so rarely. Though it’s been ten years since the last perfect game was pitched, fans and players alike are always holding the hope that it’ll happen again soon.