Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who was Harvey Haddix?

Today I realized that I had dropped the ball regarding my obligation as a father to pass along enough baseball lore to my sons. I mentioned to William that this week marked the 50th anniversary of Harvey Haddix's near-perfect game, and was shocked to hear that Will had no idea who Harvey Haddix was. Well, gather 'round kids, and I'll tell you the story.

It was 50 years ago this week, May 26, 1959, when Harvey Haddix took the mound for the PIttsburgh Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves. (You did know the Braves once played in Milwaukee, right? And it wasn't in a stadium with a retractable roof.)

Haddix was a small left-hander, just 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds, but he had a solid major league career, winning 136 games against 113 losses and over 1,500 career strikeouts. His best season was 1953, when he posted a 20-9 mark pitching for the Cardinals.

But no one was prepared for what he did that night in Milwaukee. Haddix retired the first 27 men he faced, which normally would be a victory and a perfect game. Except that Lew Burdette pitched well for Milwaukee, and Haddix's Pittsburgh teammates didn't score either. The game went into extra innings at 0-0.

In the 10th inning, Haddix retired three more in a row. And three more in the 11th, and three more in the 12th. That's right, 36 men up, 36 men down, a pitching string unprecedented in baseball history.

Haddix trudged out for the bottom of the 13th, and got the leadoff hitter to hit a ground ball to 3rd baseman Don Hoak. Hoak fielded the ball, but his throwing error allowed Felix Mantilla to reach first and ended the perfect game. The Braves then sacrificed the runner over to second, and Haddix intentionally walked Hank Aaron. Joe Adcock then hit a game-ending homer, the only hit allowed by Haddix all evening.

(In the excitement, Aaron stopped running from 1st base and was passed by Adcock, so only the 1st run counted. The game shows in the books as a 1-0 win by the Braves.)

Haddix's line for the night: 12 2/3 innings pitched, one run (unearned), one hit (by the 40th batter he faced) one walk (the intentional pass to Aaron) and eight strikeouts. Perhaps the greatest pitching performance ever.

The near-perfection made him an instant celebrity, and he received calls and telegrams - both congratulatory and sympathetic - from around the country. My favorite part of the story, however, involves one telegram he received from a fratnerity at a midwest college. It simply read: "Dear Harvey: Tough shit."

"It made me mad," Haddix said, "Until I realized they were right. That's exactly what it was."

A little over a year later, Haddix had another great moment in the spotlight. Pitching in relief during Game 7 of the World Series, Haddix earned the win when Bill Mazeroski's famous homerun won the Series for the Pirates.

Haddix died in 1994, at the age of 68, and his widow said "There wasn't a day that went by without someone mentioning that game to him." It even got a mention on his tombstone. (Click on the picture for a sharper image.)

1 comment:

  1. I grew up in Wis and was a Milwaukee Braves fan. I remember that game. I was 12 years old at the time. I remember sitting around the kitchen table with my dad and brother, listining to the game. About the 9th or 10th inning, I went to bed. The next morning when I got up, I asked my dad "who won"? He said "the Braves won, but Harvey Haddix pitched a perfect game going into the 13th inning". I couldn't believe it. Over the years that game has always stuck with me.