The book: “Perfect: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Twenty Perfect Games”
The author: James Buckley Jr.
The vital stats: Triumph Books, 310 pages, $18.95
The pitch: When the first version of this came out in 2002, there were 16 perfectos in the books. The cover highlighted Sandy Koufax in motion.
That four more perfect games (including one in the playoffs) happened over a 10-year period is testament to the fact of what we already know– it’s not that common an occurance.
Take that for what it’s worth. Between the time this updated version hit the shelves a month ago, and the time we got around to adding it to our reviewing process, another one happened Saturday in Seattle.
With our humble apologies to Phil Humber, we dive into this revived effort.
An excerpt: From Chapter 8, on Koufax’s 1-0 pefect game against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 9, 1965:
“Okay, all together now: ‘If there was ever a pitcher who might have thrown a perfect game every time out, it was Sandy Koufax.’ …
“More than 29,000 of those fans were in attendance on a slightly damp, coolish eveningin Chavez Ravine for an odd one-game ‘series’ with the Cubs … As the L.A. crowd filtered in, Cubs center fielder Don Young stepped to the plate to lead off. Koufax wound up and delivered the first pitch of what would be a historic night — and bounced a curveball three feet in front of the plate. Not exactly an auspicious beginning, but he wound up getting Young to pop up to second base. …
“The Dodger Stadium crowd, already screaming at top voice, reached a crescendo as Koufax went into his familiar kick with the right leg before flinging his arm and body plateward. With velocity that barely waivered from earlier innings, Koufax zinged a fastball that Kuenn hardly saw, let alone hit, and it was over. …
“(For further insight in Koufax’s perfect game, please read ‘Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy’ by Jane Leavy. In this writer’s humble opinion, Leavy crafted one of the finest baseball books ever written; her reporting skills are sublime).”
How it goes down in the scorebook: Very imperfect.
And not in the way that Jim Abbott came up with the title of his new autobiography, “Imperfect.” This is more of a reflection in how the Santa Barbara-based Buckley, the author of a couple dozen young-adult books, doesn’t really elevate the stories past a tweener’s reading level. If that was the intent, fine. But this isn’t.
His reference above in leading readers to another book to get “further insight” into a game where we’d hope to get as much insight as possible kind of sums this up. Even Buckley seems to know he’s overmatched by this project.
Gee-whiz prose and cliche-filled paragraphs get annoying after awhile, unfortunately. The research is drawn upon others who have written about these games, but Buckley seem to have much of note to add.
At least, there was time to fix a few mistakes from the first edition (where one reader review on Amazon.com noted that Buckley had the Dodgers’ Gil Hodges twice batting for the Yankees during Don Larson’s 1954 World Series perfecto).
The only salvation for the book, perhaps, is that the best-written chapter is in the back, where David Fischer chronicles the “Nearly Perfect” games, and starts off with one that’s deserving of its own book — Detroit’s Armando Galarraga’s 2010 bid what umpire Jim Joyce admits he blew with a bad call for out No. 27. And, yes, it came out as a book last year (linked here).
It would be selfish to hope that someday Michael Coffey update his 2004 book, “27 Men Out: Baseball’s Perfect Games” (linked here), which at the time covered the first 14 perfect games (the paperback followup included Randy Johnson’s No. 15, which happened in 2004). And Bill James wrote the forward.
But then, Coffey’s list didn’t include J. Lee Richmond’s or John Montgomery Ward’s games in 1880 (which game five days apart). Officially, there have been 21 now (linked here). What’s the math problem here?
Meanwhile: Chicago White Sox pitcher Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game Saturday in Seattle, will present the Top Ten List on “Late Show with David Letterman” tonight, via satellite from the Oakland Coliseum, where the White Sox will face the A’s tonight.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Chicago White Sox pitcher Phil Humber stops in view of the scoreboard after pitching a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday in Seattle.