27 Men Out: Baseball's Perfect Games

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9780743446075: 27 Men Out: Baseball's Perfect Games
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Now in paperback, Michael Coffey's wonderful book about baseball's holy grail, the perfect game: “The best baseball book of the...season” (Booklist).

There have been only fifteen perfect games pitched in the modern era of baseball: The great Cy Young fittingly hurled the first one, in 1904, and Randy Johnson pitched the last one, in May 2004. In between, some great and famous pitchers—Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, and Don Larsen—performed the feat, as did those lesser-known, like Charlie Robertson and Len Barker. Fifteen in 160,000 games: The odds are staggering.

In 27 Men Out, popular historian Michael Coffey offers an expansive look at these unsurpassable pitching performances. Here you'll find play-by-play accounts of each of the fifteen perfect games and expert assessments of those who pitched them. Along the way, Coffey goes beyond the box scores to provide fascinating details about how these games unfolded, as well as compelling anecdotes about all of the key players—from Koufax's controversial holdout with Don Drysdale to Mike Witt's victimization by the baseball commissioner to Dennis Martinez's struggle up from an impoverished Nicaraguan childhood.

A must-have for baseball fans, historians, and statisticians alike, 27 Men Out is an exciting new benchmark in sports literature.

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About the Author:

Bill James made his mark in the 1970s and 1980s with his Baseball Abstracts. He has been tearing down preconceived notions about America’s national pastime ever since. He is currently the Senior Advisor on Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox, as well as the author of The Man from the Train. James lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, Susan McCarthy, and three children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE: The Cyclone

Denton True "Cy" Young

May 5, 1904

Cy Young didn't know what to tell his young wife. After all, Ohio had always been their home. They had grown up together in the neighboring townships of Peoli and Gilmore, in the central part of the state. For nine years Young had thrived as the best pitcher on the Cleveland Spiders team, perhaps the best pitcher in all of baseball. Now, on the eve of a new season, after a winter of uncertainty, Young and his entire cast of teammates were being shipped to St. Louis.

Cy and Robba Miller had been married going on seven years that spring of 1899. By all accounts they were extremely close, with the big, quiet Cy dependent on the tomboyish and outgoing little pepperpot he called "Bobby." Robba would accompany her husband to his spring training sessions down in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and she would, on occasion, go with him on the road to see American cities at a time when Americans were moving in droves from the farms. In the post-Civil War decades, the country was bursting with change; assembly-line motor cars and the birth of American aviation were just a few years away; the movie industry was born; the century's last war -- the Spanish-American War -- ran its course in a year's time, and the country added to its territorial possessions, finishing the great work of dominion that would make the next century an American one.

The pace was both exciting and exhausting, as the many lurid entertainments and crack cures of the day would attest. For relaxation, Cy and Robba Young liked nothing better than the diversions provided by the novels of Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, and the homegrown Mark Twain. To while away the time on the long trips, Robba would read aloud to her husband, whose sixth-grade education had left him a little shy in literacy skills. Second cousins (Cy's mother was Robba's aunt), the two had played together often as children, and as adults they had a natural and contented ease.

The Youngs were comfortable enough on Cy's baseball salary, which was tops in the league at about $2,400 a year -- they lived about three times better than the average steelworker. Young's success on the field, however, was anything but run-of-the-mill. A dozen years later, he would retire with more wins, 511, than any other pitcher is likely to get (as well as more losses). In 1898 he was already an established star and a hugely popular figure not only in "The Forest City," as Cleveland was rather incongruously known, but around the country. People were even beginning to refer to him fondly as "the G.O.M." -- the Grand Old Man. And he was only 31.

Cy had spent nine seasons with the Cleveland Spiders, playing for owners Frank Robinson and his brother Stanley. He had won 25 games in '98, his eighth straight season with more than 20 wins; his career victory total already stood at 241. The Spiders managed to finish in what used to be called "the first division," taking fifth place, in the upper half of the 12-team league. The team had in fact been more than respectable for years, playing in the Temple Cup (which passed for a World Series before there was such a thing), and posting competitive second- and third-place finishes as well. The Spiders had one of the league's best hitters in Jesse Burkett, a future Hall of Famer who would finish with a lifetime .338 batting average, and Bobby Wallace, another Cooperstown-bound player, who would play for 25 years in the bigs. But all of a sudden, during spring training for the 1899 season, Young and Burkett and Wallace, virtually the entire team -- including the manager -- were traded to St. Louis. Not really traded to St. Louis, but traded for St. Louis, as an equal number from the Browns came to be Spiders in the same swift move.

It was a long way from Ohio to St. Louis, close to 600 miles. Cy tried to sell his wife on the splendors of the big river there. After all, Twain had made much of it, and was a fan of the game. "Baseball," Twain wrote, "is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century." So the Youngs moved west.

Baseball historian Bill James has called it "the greatest disgrace in the history of baseball," bigger than the notorious Black Sox scandal of 1919, when eight embittered players threw a World Series. In 1899, two owners gutted a whole team and threw an entire season away. The reason was money.

Home attendance in League Park, Cleveland, which had been in the 150,000 a year range, fell to 70,000 in 1898; the Robinson brothers were convinced that Sunday baseball was the answer to their problems, but that was a liberty not allowed in their rather patrician city. The Robinsons publicly mused that perhaps another city -- how about Buffalo? -- would be more roundly hospitable to the game of ball and the likes of Young and Burkett and Wallace. With attendance dropping in midsummer, the Robinsons started converting home games to road, and ended up playing in places like Weehawken, New Jersey, and Rochester, New York. As the club became demoralized ("We could have won it by playing all our games at home," Cy later lamented; the Spiders arguably weren't out of the pennant race till mid-August), the Robinsons set their sights on the franchise in St. Louis, where the lowly Browns plied their trade in front of surprisingly energetic fans. But their ballpark, poorly maintained, caught fire, sparking lawsuits; the team, poorly skilled, finished last. Over the winter, the rest of the league's owners, not to mention the city fathers of St. Louis, worked to separate the Browns' owner -- brewer Chris van der Ahe -- from his franchise. They did, buying him out for the sum of $33,000. They sold it in a day to the circling Robinson brothers for $40,000, and all this accomplished during spring training, 1899.

The Robinsons now owned two teams, one in a baseball-mad city that loved beer and Sunday ball, the other in a morally straitened Cleveland. So, just before opening day, they transferred the Cleveland players to St. Louis, and the losing St. Louisans from the banks of the Mississippi to the Cuyahoga. Such a situation -- where men own more than one club -- is known as syndicalism, and was common in the early days of baseball. In theory, it is impermissible today; in practice, as was evidenced in the recent convoluted purchase of the Boston Red Sox by John Henry, who financed his acquisition by selling his Marlins to the owner of the Expos, who financed his move by way of a buyout of his beleaguered club by all of Major League Baseball, it is still going on.

The St. Louis fans couldn't have cared less about syndicalism. In the spirit of both renewal and alliteration, the fans and press ditched the name "Browns" and began calling their team Pat's Perfectos, after Tebeau, the new manager, late of Cleveland.

It was a different story for the Spiders, who managed to win but 20 games of the 154 played, good for last place, 35 games out of next-to-last place and a mind-boggling 83.5 games out of first place. The team's .130 winning percentage remains the game's low-water mark. They drew 6,000 fans for the entire season. The Spiders folded the next year, as part of the first contraction in Major League Baseball.

Cy Young was now 32 years old; he posted 26 wins for his new club, or rather, new locale. But he wasn't happy. He and Robba didn't care one bit for being shuttled off to the west bank of the Mississippi, to a town known for its un-Methodist ways and stifling summer heat. Neither were they thrilled to have Cy's salary capped by league fiat at $2,400. Nonetheless, Young gave it his all, as did teammates Burkett, who hit .396, second in the league, and Wallace, the brilliant shortstop, who drove in 108 runs. The team finished fifth, just as the Spiders had the year before. Little wonder: It was the same team.

As it turns out, Cy Young was not the only unhappy player in baseball. On an off-day early in the 1900 season, when most of the Western teams were in the East, the players held a meeting at the Stuyvesant House in New York City. They emerged newly organized, as the Players Protective Association, denouncing the language of the standard player's contract as "unfair, illegal, and too one-sided." They objected in particular to the so-called reserve clause, in which a team reserved exclusive rights to a player's services in perpetuity, if it wished, and also the right to terminate the player's service on only 10 days' notice. The players also proposed the establishment of a grievance committee. Cy Young was one of three St. Louis delegates.

In the early days of baseball, wherever there were unhappy ballplayers, there were entrepreneurs ready to use that as a wedge to get into the baseball business. And the founding of the Players Protective Association prompted another run. Almost immediately, a man named Ban Johnson, president of the Western League, a professional league without major league status, with teams in cities such as Indianapolis, Grand Rapids, and Sioux City, rechristened his circuit the American League, and moved ball clubs into three National League towns -- Chicago, St. Louis, and Cleveland, the last city, as we know, now without a club. Plans for Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, also National League towns, followed. The National League owners knew a threat when they saw one. They had already absorbed a competing league or two, including one that was run by players. In the face of Johnson's announced intentions, they axed four teams and instituted a salary freeze. But that couldn't stop Ban Johnson, and hardly seemed designed to placate the ballplayers.

On January 28, 1901, Johnson walked out of Chicago's Grand Pacific Hotel and announced a 140-game schedule for his eight-team American League, consisting of the Baltimore Orioles (to be managed by John McGraw), the Boston Somersets (nicknamed after their owner, Charles W. Somers, a coal magnate who was a leagu...

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