Thursday, June 12, 2014

The '64 Phillies' Perfect Father's Day

The Phillies' trade acquisition of Jim Bunning in December was expected to bolster their starting pitching and contribute to building towards a contending team--although competing for the pennant in 1964 was considered by most experts to be a bit premature. After a 118-87 record with the Detroit Tigers, and having been one of the American League's best pitchers the previous seven seasons, Bunning was certainly not disappointing expectations. His Father's Day start in 1964 was his 14th in a Phillies uniform. Bunning, of course, made history that day by twirling a perfect game--not only the first since Don Larsen's in the 1956 World Series, but only the seventh perfect game in major league history. This is the fourth in a series of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies. Links to the first three are at the end of this post.

The '64 Phillies' Perfect Father's Day

When Jim Bunning completed his warm-up pitches to face the Mets in the bottom of the first inning in the first game of the Father's Day doubleheader on Sunday June 21st 1964, he was pitching in only the 31st game ever played at Shea Stadium, the Mets' brand-spanking-new home. That made him the 62nd starting pitcher to take the mound at the new stadium. Three of the previous 30 games in Shea's short history had been shutouts. Bunning pitched the fourth shutout, but his was PERFECT. He was now 7-2 on the season with 10 "quality starts," including three shutouts, and an excellent 2.07 ERA--a worthy addition (having come from the American League) to the ranks of outstanding National League pitchers at the time and future fellow Hall of Fame guys Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson.

Bunning's was only the third perfect game in National League history, and the first since the so-called "modern era" began in 1901 when the American League declared itself a major league and had the credibility to do so by virtue of so many NL stars having abandoned the league for better pay in the new league--including Cy Young, who in 1904 pitched the first perfect game of the 20th century. Bunning's perfect game was the first in the National League in 84 years; Monte Ward had been the last to be perfect way back on June 17, 1880, only five days after Lee Richmond pitched the first-ever recorded perfecto on June 12. That was so long ago that the four teams involved in those two perfect games were Worcester (for whom Richmond pitched), Cleveland, Providence (for whom Ward pitched) and Buffalo, none of which survived into the modern era. (Cleveland was downsized out of the National League after going 20-134 in 1899, before being invited to become a charter member of the American League in 1901.)

At the end of Bunning's perfect day, which included 18-year old Rick Wise earning his first-ever major league victory pitching six innings without surrendering an earned run in the second game of the twinbill, the Phillies held a 2-game lead over the second-place Giants. The Reds were third, 4-1/2 back, and the Cardinals were struggling in sixth place, having already endured two five-game losing streaks, and were 8 games behind with a losing 32-33 record with 40 percent of the 1964 season gone by.

The Cardinals' situation had become sufficiently troubling (if "desperate" is too strong a word) that just six days before they had traded with the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Lou Brock, whose career was so far a disappointment but who the Cardinals thought could shore up their struggling offense, which had been held to two runs or less in 15 of their previous 20 games before they cut the deal. To get Brock, St. Louis parted with one of their top starting pitchers--Ernie Broglio, whose 18-8 record in 1963 was the best on the team and a major reason why the Cardinals had finished second and seemed primed to make a move to displace the Dodgers in 1964. They also sent veteran left-handed reliever Bobby Shantz to Chicago, who two months later, after being hardly used and pitching poorly when he was, found himself in Philadelphia--where he would figure prominently in the Phillies' September fortunes.

It can perhaps be argued that the Phillies' 2-game advantage in the standings was somewhat deceptive since their 12 previous games were with the Mets--the worst team in baseball--against whom they went 7-2, and the Cubs--also a bad team--against whom they were 2-1 in that stretch. In fact, by this point in the season the Phillies had played 44 percent of their games against the three teams that ended the 1964 season at the bottom of the National League standings, going a combined 21-6 against them through Father's Day (9-2 vs. New York; 6-1 vs. Houston; and 6-3 vs. Chicago). Philadelphia was no better than .500 against the rest of the league at 17-17. Of the three other teams that would matter come September, the Phillies were 4-1 against Cincinnati, but only 1-5 against San Francisco and 1-4 against St. Louis.

The Giants, meanwhile, had played only 29 percent of their games as of June 21 against the Cubs, Colts and Mets; the Cardinals 32 percent; and the Reds 33 percent. As we shall see come the final weeks of the season, the Phillies having faced off against the league's bottom-dwellers so often at the beginning of the season would not be helpful to them at the end.

Personal Notes on Father's Day: The memories I will always cherish about my dad--and there were many centered around baseball (and many around other things)--was his coming home from work and, after an hour commute from The Big Apple on the Long Island Railroad, taking me out to the diamond and hitting me 100 ground balls at shortstop and second base every evening. Thank heavens for daylight savings time. He expected accurate return throws. If there was still daylight, then maybe some outfield fly balls and even a bit of batting practice. Helped me stay sharp, at least defensively, for afternoon pickup games with friends--usually five to a side. Anyway, if there is any one thing from my youth that I would really like to do again, because everything was so right with the world, it would be fielding those ground balls and listening to him talk about Phil Rizzuto, Joe Gordon and Jerry Coleman.

And among my fondest memories as a dad with my daughter--and throughout her childhood I kept thinking, it could never get any better than this, and it did--was one summer a game we played called 27 outs. Using a tennis ball and her without a glove, I'd throw her an assortment of ground balls and pop ups that she had to catch cleanly and throw back accurately or be charged with an error. We'd play maybe three or four of these every evening, usually on a lighted tennis court. Happily, she had a nice amount of perfect games: 27 chances, 27 clean fields, 27 accurate throws. Not exactly Jim Bunning's achievement of 50 years ago, but more meaningful--at least to me.

Earlier, on the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies:

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