By TODD BRITTON
Ask any collector how many specific signed pieces are required for the perfect sports collection and you’ll get as many answers as there are collectors.
There does, however, seem to be one number that is difficult to dispute—17.
In baseball history, there have been 17 individuals who have successfully pitched a perfect game. It would only stand to reason that the autographs of these 17 individuals would constitute a perfect collection.
A perfect game is defined in The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary as, “a no-hitter in which no opposing player reaches first base, either by a base hit, base on balls, hit batter, or fielding error; i.e., the pitcher or pitchers retire all 27 opposing batters in order.”
Now that is an accomplishment that is difficult to imagine. Think of the thousands of games that have been played by thousands of pitchers who have taken the mound. It boggles the mind to think that on 17 days in baseball history the planets aligned and all of baseball’s superstitious behaviors combined to allow these men to do the unthinkable.
An even more amazing thought is the pitchers who never accomplished a perfect game. Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters but was never perfect. Neither were Hall of Fame pitchers Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Bob Feller or countless others.
Of the 17, 10 were pitched in the American League and the remaining occurred in the National League. The first was on June 12, 1880, and the last was on May 18, 2004. That’s about one perfect game every 11 years. Will you be watching in 2015 when the next scheduled perfect game happens?
Let’s take a look at the pitchers who have achieved perfection so far.
Born in 1857, Lee Richmond pitched for six years for four different teams. His perfect game was the first ever on June 12, 1880 when his Worcester Ruby Legs defeated the Cleveland Blues 1-0.
Hi preparation for the game was somewhat atypical. The night before his achievement, he stayed up all night at a party at Brown University. The next morning he played in a baseball game between Brown University, his alma mater, and Yale University. He then hurriedly skipped lunch to arrive just in time to pitch his perfect game.
Just five days after Richmond’s accomplishment, John Montgomery Ward, hurled a perfect game for the Providence Giants as they defeated the Buffalo Bisons 5-0. Ward was born in 1860, and played baseball professionally for 17 years. In 1879-1880, he racked up an amazing 87 wins.
Cy Young, the pitcher by whom all others are measured, pitched a perfect game on May 5, 1904, as the Boston Americans defeated the Philadelphia A’s 3-0.
Young, in his 22-year career, pitched 7,354 innings and 749 complete games. In 16 seasons, Young had more than 20 victories, and surpassed the 30-win mark five times in his career, all while maintaining a 2.63 ERA.
In addition to his perfect game, Young had two other no-hitters in his 511-win career. For his efforts, he is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Joss, also a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, threw his perfect game late in the season on October 2, 1908. He led the Cleveland Naps to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Joss also pitched a no-hitter against those same Chicago White Sox two years later.
In his nine-year career, Joss had an ERA of just 1.89. He died two days after his 30th birthday and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Charlie Robertson retired 27 in a row on April 30, 1922. His Chicago White Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers 2-0.
Amazingly, Robertson’s perfect game came in only his third big league start and became his third big league victory. During the game, Detroit manager Ty Cobb argued on three separate occasions that Robertson was doctoring the ball. The arguments came to no avail, and Robertson’s performance stands for all time.
Larsen has the distinction of being the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series. On October 8, 1956, Larsen and his Yankees mowed down the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-0.
Larsen played 14 seasons for nine different teams, and had a mediocre career, winning 81 games and losing 91.
Bunning played 17 years in the Major Leagues from 1955-1971. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the United States Senate, Bunning pitched his gem on June 21, 1964, as his Philadelphia Phillies routed the New York Mets 6-0.
Bunning is one of a handful of players to win more than 100 games in both the American League (118) and National League (106). He was an eight-time All Star and retired second in strikeouts only to “The Big Train,” Walter Johnson.
Sandy Koufax got into the act on September 9, 1965. His Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 1-0.
Koufax, played for the Dodgers from 1955-1966. He had three other no-hitters in addition to his perfect game. He was a six-time All Star, won the National League and World Series MVP awards in 1963, and received three Cy Young awards. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, his first year of eligibility.
Hunter got his immaculate victory on May 8, 1968, with the Oakland Athletics, as they beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0.
Catfish’s nickname was given to him by Athletics owner Charlie Finley, who had decided Hunter needed a nickname, and concocted a story about Hunter catching a mammoth catfish.
He played from 1965-1979, winning five World Series rings, eight All Star selections and the 1974 Cy Young Award. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.
Barker, who played 11 Major League seasons, got his big game on May 15, 1981 as the Cleveland Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0.
Barker played for the Rangers, Indians, Braves and Brewers, and ended his career with 74 victories.
Mike Witt’s heavenly performance came on the mound for the California Angels on September 30, 1984, as he led the victory over the Texas Rangers 1-0.
Witt played for a dozen seasons with the Angels and the Yankees. Over his career, he earned 117 victories.
Browning, one of the great characters in the history of baseball, threw a perfect game on September 16, 1988, as the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0.
In June 1988, Browning was two outs away from a perfect game, and again in 1989, was three outs away from a perfect game.
Browning is remembered for his unpredictable antics. In one Chicago game, he left to watch the game with fans on the rooftop of a building beyond the outfield at Wrigley Field. In another, he left to be with his wife as she had a child. The television announcers appealed to Browning to return if he was watching because they needed him to play.
Martinez achieved the feat on July 28, 1991 as the Montreal Expos defeated the Dodgers 2-0.
Martinez is the winningest Latin-American pitcher, achieving 245 wins, with nearly 30 of them coming after age 40. He played for 23 seasons and was selected to four All-Star teams.
Kenny Rogers joined the elite group on July 28, 1994, as the Texas Rangers beat the California Angels 4-0.
Rogers has played with the Rangers, Yankees, A’s, Mets and Twins, and has 176 victories to his credit.
David Wells became the second New York Yankee to pitch a perfect game on May 17, 1998, when his pitching earned a 4-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Wells has 18 Major League seasons under his belt with seven different teams. He has won 212 games.
Interestingly, Wells attended the same high school as fellow perfect game pitcher Don Larsen.
David Cone, the third Yankee to reach perfection, waited just over a year after Wells, on July 18, 1999, to pitch a perfect game in a 6-0 victory over the Montreal Expos.
Cone played 17 years with five teams, and won 194 games. He retired in 2003.
Johnson is the newest member of the perfect game club. On May 18, 2004, Johnson led the Arizona Diamondbacks to beat the Atlanta Braves 2-0.
“The Big Unit” is in his 18th Major League season and is now playing with the New York Yankees. He has won 246 games and five Cy Young awards. He is destined for the Hall of Fame.
Building A Perfect Game Collection
Putting together a perfect autograph collection is possible, but it certainly won’t be easy or inexpensive.
While balls signed by Richmond, Ward, Young, Joss, and Robertson exist in the hands of private collectors, they are few and far between. With the exception of balls signed by Cy Young, balls signed by the other four rarely come on the market. Balls signed by Young sell for amounts well over $1,000.
Because of the difficulty of getting the first five perfect game pitchers, most collectors begin with the 12 pitchers from the more modern era. Some 34 years separate the games pitched by Robertson and Larsen. Larsen’s World Series gem is usually considered the starting point.
Most collectors who attempt to have a ball signed by multiple perfect game pitchers, usually have Larsen sign first and on the sweet spot since his performance is the only one to occur in a World Series.
Single-signed balls by Larsen, Bunning, Barker, Witt, Browning and Rogers can usually be obtained in the $50-$75 range. Wells, Cone and Martinez range from $75-150. Randy Johnson averages $150-$250. Balls signed by Koufax and Hunter are at the upper end of the price scale at $200-$300.
If you start with the 12 easiest to obtain of the perfect game pitchers, you can get single signed balls by all 12 for $1,075-$1,750. Not a bad price at all. Getting the remaining five is a fun challenge, but when complete your collection will be nothing short of perfect.