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Perfection is in the eye of beholder
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01/30/2003 10:00 am ET 
Perfection is in the eye of beholder

 Jerome Holtzman

Rick Reuschel's goal was to throw a "14-hit shutout" before he retired. (Otto Greule Jr./Allsport)
It’s been almost two years since it was reported that John Curtis of Long Beach, Calif., the former Major League pitcher, was writing a book on the 16 Perfect Games. Curtis knows whereof he speaks: he once carried a perfecto into the eighth, and plunged into the subject after Roger Craig, one of his managers, told him "John, there is no such thing as a perfect game."

Instinctively, Curtis agreed. He'd had a 15-year big league career with the Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants, Padres and Angels, and understood the numerous variables that come into play. And so with the help of San Diego announcer Mark Grant, also a former big league pitcher, Curtis has been interviewing prominent pitchers for their views.

Some of their findings:

Tom Glavine: "You can give up five or six hits and can throw a perfect game. Absolutely. If you throw 100 pitches and all of them are where you wanted to throw them, with the proper movement, regardless of how many hits you give up, whether or not you walked somebody, to me, that would be a perfect game. I'm not sure that's possible. And it’s certainly not 27 up, 27 down."

Denny Neagle: "It would be a game where you feel like everything is on, every time you wanted a pitch to hit a certain spot, and that happens. Back door 'em with the breaking ball, the slider on the black, throwing a two-seam fastball around the corner. I did that one time in Game 4 of the 1997 NLCS game against the Marlins. I threw a four-hit shutout and the four hits they got were two infield hits and two bloopers. Everything was on that day. I could not have thrown any better than that."

Mike Krukow: "When I first came up, Rick Reuschel was sitting in the clubhouse with me and he said, 'One game I want to throw before I quit, is a 14-hit shutout where I get lit up, and I just figure a way to get out of it. And here’s the rest of the scenario. You have nothing that day. Nothing. Not only that but the umpire’s strike zone is miniscule.'

"That’s the way it was in 1987 in the fourth game of the playoffs against the Cardinals. We were down two games to one and we had to absolutely win this game. Every inning was a puzzle. My only mistake was an 0-2 pitch to pitcher Danny Cox. We won 4-2. And because of the pressure in that game, what it meant to our organization, what it meant to me as a player, and how I got through nine innings with nothing, that was my idea of a perfect game. It wasn’t a 14-hit shutout but it was getting it done with nothing."

Greg Maddux: "My definition of a perfect game would be throwing every pitch where you want to throw it. And, you know what? So what if you give up a hit or a run or two."

John Smoltz: "The perfect game would be pitching the seventh game of a World Series and finishing it, regardless of the score. It would be setting the tempo from the beginning and maintaining it the rest of the way. I was not very far from that in ’91."

Woody Williams: "The baseball standard is 27 up, 27 outs. Whenever I win, for me, it is definitely a perfect game."

Randy Johnson: "You’re going to see some fantastic plays in no-hitters, some fantastic defense. Chris Bosio threw a no-hitter in Seattle, and there was a ball that ricocheted off Tino Martinez’ glove to Bret Boone and they still made the play. During no-hitters you’re going to see a lot of good defense. That’s the main thing that’s going to keep you throwing the no-hitter."

And finally from Roger Craig, former big league pitcher, pitching coach and manager:

"I’ve gone into a game with the bases loaded, thrown a bad pitch, and the batter hits into a double play. And you come into the dugout and everybody pats you and says 'Nice going! Great pitching!' But it was a bad pitch. I knew it. The catcher knew it and the umpire knew it."

According to James Buckley, Jr. of Santa Barbara, Calif., perfect games occur once every seven to eight seasons. Buckley’s “PERFECT,” published by Triumph Books last year, is an analysis of the 16 perfectos and also includes perfect games broken up with two outs in the ninth.

Buckley estimates that since the birth of the National League in 1876 there have been about 180,000 games. A perfecto surfaces once in approximately 22,000 games, or .00005 percent. Don Larsen of the 1956 Yankees authored the only perfect World Series game.

A perfect game escaped such Hall of Famers as Christy Mathewson, Bob Feller, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Warren Spahn. Also Nolan Ryan, who pitched a record seven no-hitters.

In any roundup of perfect games mention should be made of Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates. On May 26, 1959, in Milwaukee, Haddix went 12 innings without allowing a base runner -- 36 up, 36 down -- but lost 1-0 in the 13th on an error, sacrifice bunt, walk and a double.

The Haddix achievement was included among the perfect games for 32 years but was dropped on Sept. 4, 1991 when a Committee for Statistical Accuracy, appointed by Commissioner Fay Vincent, decided it was neither a perfect game nor a no-hitter.

The Committee unanimously defined a no-hit game as one in which a pitcher or pitchers complete nine innings or more without allowing a hit. Along with 11 other similar extra-inning games (though none was as long) Haddix is bracketed in a "notable achievement" section: most innings perfect, 12, allowed hit in 13th, lost).

Jerome Holtzman is the official historian of Major League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.