To date, there have been just 23 perfect games thrown in over 210,000 Major League Baseball games played. The feat is equally as rare as it is incredible. But has there ever been such a thing as a perfect perfect game? Cleveland’s Addie Joss may have given us the answer 108 years ago.
Some historians consider the 1908 season one of, if not the greatest in the history of baseball for it’s two tightly contested, down-to-the-wire pennant races in both leagues, the famous Merkle Game becoming the most controversial in baseball history, and on a sad note, even a couple riots and deaths. Packed in the midst of all that stretch run craziness was a key October game between the Cleveland Naps (Indians) and the Chicago White Sox, who were both neck and neck with the Detroit Tigers for the American League pennant. It was a must-win contest for both teams and the fans at League Park in Cleveland expected to see a good game between Hall of Fame hurlers Addie Joss and Ed Walsh. What they got however, was maybe the greatest pitching duel of all time.
“So grandly contested were both pennant races, so great the excitement, so tense the interest, that in the last month of the season the entire nation became absorbed in the thrilling and nerve-racking struggle, and even the Presidential campaign was almost completely overshadowed”
– Sporting Life, October 17, 1908.
“Big Ed” Walsh was on that day for the Sox. In fact he was utterly brilliant, going the distance and allowing just one unearned run on only four hits while striking out 15. And he lost.
Addie Joss, an extremely likable fellow by all accounts was just a tick better than Walsh that day. His unique corkscrew-style windup and blazing fastball cut down the pale-hosed hitters, and it wasn’t until after the sixth inning that fans began to realize that no Sox player had reached base. Joss’ teammates on the Naps (as they were nicknamed then in honor of their star player-manager Napoleon Lajoie), began to avoid him in the dugout between innings, a tradition that carries on to this day during any no-hitter in progress. The throng at League Park followed suit, and the final innings were viewed in silence, a scene that must have been quite eerie to behold.
Down 1-0 in the top of the ninth and desperate to score a run, the White Sox turned to their bench. The first two batters went down quickly. With two outs, veteran “Honest John” Anderson, a strong lifetime .290 hitter stepped to the plate and if League Park could have been quieter than silence at that moment, it was. “A mouse working his way along the grandstand floor would have sounded like a shovel scraping over concrete,” wrote one reporter. With the count 0-2, Anderson rapped a grounder to third, where Bill Bradley, almost too casually, tossed to George Stovall at first. Stovall dug the low throw from the dirt in a nice play, but the ball popped out of his mitt. Fortunately, he was able to grab the ball in time for the 27th and final out of the game. It was then that League Park, lips sealed in a reverent, church-like fashion for the past couple innings, finally erupted. On a huge day where a win kept the Naps in the pennant race and virtually eliminated the Sox, one of the best pitching contests of all time ensued. Joss rose to a new height that day, throwing the second perfect game in big league history and maybe the most perfect game of all time. Not only was the stage huge, but Joss’ efficiency has never been matched.
He only threw 74 pitches.
With the AL pennant in sight, the Naps would race the Tigers to the very end, with Detroit squeaking past by just a half game. The Tigers would face the mighty Cubs in the World Series, losing four games to one.
Joss would finish the 1908 season with a strong 24-11 mark and a blistering ERA of 1.16. He would win 14 more games the following season and only make a handful of starts in 1910 while battling injuries. One of those starts was another no-hitter against the White Sox, also by a score of 1-0. The following year, Joss fell ill during spring training. By the time he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the disease had set on too rapidly and reached his brain. Joss died April 14, 1911 at the age of 31. For his all-too-short nine year career, young Addie racked up 160 wins, 234 complete games, 45 shutouts, two no-hitters including a perfect game, and a lifetime ERA of just 1.89 which is second only to, ironically, Ed Walsh. His career WHIP of 0.96 is the lowest in MLB history.
In a short, but stellar career, Addie Joss earned much respect from teammates, fans and competitors alike. On this one day in October 1908, he not only delivered at a time his team needed it most, but in doing so he turned in perhaps the most perfectly efficient perfect game that baseball will ever see.
Sources: “Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year In Baseball History”, Cait Murphy, HarperCollins.