Seaver sympathizes with Galarraga
Tom Terrific had his own close call with perfection in 1969
NEW YORK -- Tom Seaver didn't come nearly as close to pitching a perfect game during his Hall of Fame career as Armando Galarraga did on Wednesday night. When Seaver chased perfection 41 years ago, he was denied after one out in the ninth inning. Galarraga came within one out and one call of pitching the 21st perfect game in history.
In the firestorm hours that have passed since Jim Joyce's inaccurate and unfortunate call created a hit for Indians shortstop Jason Donald and a high profile for the Tigers' pitcher, no one has identified Galarraga's performance by name. His one-hit shutout has been lamented as much as it has been discussed, but no label has been affixed to it, as was the case on July 9, 1969, when Seaver pitched "The Imperfect Game" at Shea Stadium.
The "Imperfect Game" still stands alone.
And what a wonderful title it is! Fits Seaver, well, perfectly. He always believed a flawless performance was possible, particularly on those rare days -- there were four or five each season, he said -- when he essentially could dictate where a batter would hit his pitch, if he hit it at all.
Seaver likes to recall one such game when, with runners on first and third and one out, he needed a ground ball hit to the left side of his shortstop -- not Buddy Harrelson, but imperfect Teddy Martinez. Seaver understood a ground ball between Martinez and second base would make a double play more likely than one hit to Martinez's right. He threw the pitch precisely where he wanted, and the result was a ground ball just to Martinez's left. But Harrelson's understudy backed up on the ball, and the time lost eliminated the chance for a double play.
The run scored. The Mets lost, 2-1.
"That," Seaver says, "was the only time I had that precision control and didn't win."
It still eats at him.
"Nancy and I were supposed to go out with the Grotes and the Koosmans after the game," Seaver said. "I couldn't go."
The "Imperfect Game" was different. Seaver threw the pitch Cubs pinch-hitter Jimmy Qualls hit into left-center field for a single. No one else participated in the play. "I don't think about it much," Seaver said on Thursday, "until we almost get three perfectos in, what, a month?"
The title "Imperfect Game," linked, as it is, to perfectionist Seaver, provides a sense of his having come painfully close to a flawless performance. He had produced 25 outs at Shea that night before Qualls interfered.
The Mets get their Q
From the Imperfect Game
Seaver's lone blemish
Was Jimmy Qualls' fame
Seaver, who appreciates fine art and fine wine -- he makes some, ya know -- has had an appreciation of the thought behind and the subtlety of the "Imperfect Game" label. He playfully scoffed at it on Thursday night in a telephone conversation from his home/vineyard in Calistoga, Calif.
"Ugh, the New York press," Seaver said. "They created it. All I did was give up the hit."
But he knows better. After 41 years, that performance against the Cubs still holds distinction. Pitchers have thrown 20 perfect games, but only one has earned uppercase treatment and a two-letter prefix. Seaver's game was set apart.
"I guess you want me to thank Jimmy Qualls?" Seaver said a few years back, during a Hall of Fame weekend visit to Cooperstown. "Well, I'm not going there. But it's kind of cool to have that one, to be recognized. 'Seaver, imperfect' -- that's my legacy, right?"
And he laughed because he could; he knew his renown exceeded one remarkable performance against the Cubs.
That game has a higher profile than any other in his career, higher even than the no-hitter he pitched with the Reds, June 16, 1978, a year and a day after the Midnight Massacre ended his first tenure with the Mets.
Now, though, because of Galarraga, Joyce, Donald and, to some degree, Tigers' first baseman Miguel Cabrera, another performance warrants a title of distinction. Galarraga's was flawed in a different way. Jim Joyce was his Jimmy Qualls.
"It's a shame," Seaver said. "But the two of them -- and everyone involved -- have handled it so well."
"Imperfection Revisited" was suggested. And Seaver embraced it, even though the flaw had come from a source outside the pitcher-hitter dynamic.
"I may have to go out and meet the Galarraga kid," Seaver said. "We can commiserate. It'd be great to have someone to commiserate with. We have a bond, right? Something in common."
There haven't been many performances good enough to be called imperfect.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.