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The Greatest Game Ever Pitched
ALBERT CHEN
June 01, 2009
Fifty years ago Harvey Haddix threw 12 perfect innings—more than any pitcher before or since—and then lost. How the unassuming lefty's brilliant effort turned bittersweet
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June 01, 2009

The Greatest Game Ever Pitched

Fifty years ago Harvey Haddix threw 12 perfect innings—more than any pitcher before or since—and then lost. How the unassuming lefty's brilliant effort turned bittersweet

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Pittsburgh stranded a runner at first against Burdette in the top of the 13th, and the game was approaching its third hour when the home half began. The first hitter was second baseman Felix Mantilla; on a 1-and-2 count he hit a high bouncing ball to third. Hoak, moving to his left, fielded it in plenty of time but rushed the throw, pulling first baseman Rocky Nelson off the bag. "He makes that play nine times out of 10," says Virdon. With the error, "there was a hush from the crowd instead of the usual cheer," according to an account in The Sporting News. The Braves had a base runner. The perfect game was over.

The next hitter, Mathews, bunted Mantilla to second, and after an intentional walk to Aaron, Adcock stepped up. It was 10:54 p.m. Winds had swirled all game, but Adcock looked up at the flagpole in centerfield and saw "that the flag was still as a mouse," he would later say. It had been five years since his liner nearly ended Haddix's career. Adcock was lanky, but he had surprising power—the first player to hit a ball into the centerfield bleachers at the Polo Grounds and the first to hit a ball over the leftfield stands in Ebbets Field. Haddix had attacked the righthanded hitter with sliders on the outside corner all night, so Adcock knew what was coming. The first pitch was a slider outside. The second was a slider that Haddix left high. "I wanted it low," he said. "I was just getting tired." Everyone in the park knew as soon as the ball jumped off Adcock's bat. It was gone.

Rightfielder Joe Christopher gave a leap as the shot went over his head in right center. The ball landed between the outfield fence and another fence behind it, in front of a line of pine trees. Aaron saw it hit the second fence but didn't realize it had carried over the first; instead of rounding the bases, he figured the game was over on a ground-rule double, so after touching second he cut across the pitcher's mound and jogged toward the dugout after Mantilla crossed the plate. Teammates, streaming out of the dugout, yelled for Aaron to turn back, but Adcock had already touched third. The umpires conferred and ruled that the final score was 2--0, which is what readers of America's newspapers saw the next morning. But National League officials the next day ruled that because Adcock had passed Aaron, Adcock was out and his home run was a double. The final score was changed to 1--0.

In the Braves clubhouse after the game, Burdette expressed sympathy for Haddix, repeating to reporters, "He deserved to win. He deserved to win." Adcock, sitting nearby, added, "You can say that again." Haney, the Milwaukee manager, was asked to compare the game he'd just seen with the perfect game thrown by the Chicago White Sox' Robertson against the Detroit Tigers 37 years earlier. "The game Haddix pitched was by far the better of the two," said Haney, who was a Detroit rookie that season. "It was the best-pitched game I ever saw."

The visitors' clubhouse was so quiet that reporters could hear the water splashing in the showers. At his locker Haddix seemed more dazed than despondent. As the newspapermen crowded around, Haddix interrupted a question by asking, "What inning did it end, finally?" Later he got a call in the clubhouse from Burdette. "You deserved to win," Burdette said, "but I scattered all my hits, and you bunched your one." Haddix hung up on him. The last two Pirates to leave the ballpark were Haddix and Hoak. During their cab ride back to the hotel Hoak mentioned his 13th-inning blunder just once. "I've made errors behind you before today," he said to Haddix, "and I'll make errors after today." There was no apology. As Marcia Haddix says now, "Harvey didn't want one."

What to make of Haddix's performance? On one hand, he had pitched more brilliantly than any man to take a major league mound. On the other, he had lost—by the harsh accounting of the box score, Haddix had failed. The quiet lefthander could have parlayed America's curiosity over this bittersweet paradox into celebrity and financial gain. "One unofficial source said [the performance] could boost his income this year by $10,000, maybe more," a story in a Pittsburgh paper days after the game read. "Television shows doubtless will be after him to tell his story. The razor blade sponsors will probably want him to shave before the cameras." But Haddix received no raise or bonus from the Pirates, only a sterling silver tea set. He didn't shill for any products. The Ed Sullivan Show called to ask him to appear, as did What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth, but he turned them all down. "It didn't make sense for him to leave the team to do all that," says Marcia. "He was overwhelmed by the attention. At heart he was just a farm boy who loved picking corn more than anything else."

Haddix received congratulatory telegrams and letters from all over the country, from senators, governors, baseball managers and announcers, but his favorite was the one from a Texas A&M fraternity, written on university stationery: Dear Harvey, Tough shit.

He had joined an exclusive club, but he was still Hard Luck Harvey. A year later Haddix would pitch brilliantly in the World Series against the Yankees. He was credited with wins in Game 5 and in the epic Game 7 (in which he appeared in relief), but his performance was overshadowed by Mazeroski's homer. For the rest of his career his record was just over .500, and soon enough he was being mistaken again for Harry Brecheen: After a start in 1962 against the New York Mets, the opposing manager, Casey Stengel, saw him in a hotel lobby and said, "Harry, nice game." In an odd twist, Haddix spent his last two seasons as a reliever with the Baltimore Orioles—for whom Brecheen was pitching coach. Haddix retired as a player in 1965 at age 39 and then spent 14 years as a pitching coach for the Reds, Mets, Red Sox, Indians and Pirates. In Boston the man at the gate at Fenway Park always called him "Harry." Harvey never bothered to correct him.

In 1991 the Haddixes were living in Springfield when Marcia took a call from a reporter. Major League Baseball had convened a committee on statistical accuracy and altered the definition of a no-hitter to "a game in which a pitcher or pitchers complete a game of nine innings or more without allowing a hit." Haddix had thrown more perfect innings than anyone—but hadn't completed the game perfectly. His performance was being wiped off the list of perfect games. "I got off, and I was so angry," says Marcia. "But when I told Harvey, all he said was, 'It's O.K. I know what I did.'"

"What Major League Baseball ruled wasn't right," says Mazeroski. "Twenty-seven up, 27 down is a perfect game—why not 36 up, 36 down? All I know is that I was there for the greatest game ever pitched, and the game deserves recognition."

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