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It hit me on Sunday June 20 Father’s Day that 46 years ago on June 21 1964 Jim Bunning pitched a Perfect Game against the Mets in their first year at Shea Stadium.
I WAS THERE! with my father and remember that Bunning struck out the last two batters, pinch-hitters George Altman and John Stephenson. Now let’s see if google or some other research engine proves my memory correct. Would not be surprised if I am wrong but hope springs (and summers) eternal!

How about that? I WAS RIGHT!! Both pinch-hitters did indeed strike out, giving Bunning 10 for a game that was played in just 2 hours and 19 minutes with the final score being 6-0. So the future Hall of Famer did not endure the kind of pressure that Roy Halladay faced earlier this year when he threw a 1-0 perfect game against the Marlins. Still, Bunning’s perfecto was a major accomplishment esp. at a time when there had been so few in baseball history.

Afterwards Bunning appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the variety show that was beginning to fade as the counter-culture of the 1960s began to influence the mainstream. Nonetheless, to be invited by the former entertainment reporter Ed Sullivan to appear on his variety show was a big event at the time and Bunning was all about enhancing his fame.

In less than two years Bunning and another future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts would be instrumental in bringing Marvin Miller into baseball to modernize the MLB Players Association. Bunning, of course, went on to become a Congressman and United States Senator from Kentucky, finally retiring at the end of his term this year. As a pitcher he knew how to work both sides of the strike zone but as a politician he will be remembered as a spokesman for the Extreme Right.

Back to baseball talk: A question often asked these days is why have there already been two perfect games in 2010 – the Phillies’ Halladay and Oakland’s Dallas Braden - with a third missed by Tigers hurler Armando Gallaraga only because of a blown call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce. (Ironically, Joyce subsequently won a players’ poll as the best MLB umpire and his abject admission of error and Gallaraga’s gracious acceptance of the ump’s mistake has provided baseball a genuine feel-good moment. Kudos to Orel Hershiser for noting on a ESPN broadcast that Joyce was his teammate at Ohio’s Bowling Green University and already was determined to become an MLB umpire.)

I think the best explanation for why there are so many dominant pitching performances this year – don’t forget the Rockies’ amazing Ubaldo Jimenez’ no-hitter and his 13-1 season so far – is that batters swing for the fences much more than decades ago. It is no longer embarrassing to strike out over 100 or even 200 times a year and good pitchers on a roll will take advantage of hitters’ over-aggressiveness. And I firmly disagree with those self-styled statistical experts who say that strikeouts are inconsequential for batters and wins for starting pitchers are overrated. The name of the game remains moving runners towards home plate and except for a double play a strikeout never achieves that end. And pitchers who win games still show spunk and stamina, attributes that never should fall out of favor.

However, there is evidence that a perfect game can be almost a jinx for the pitcher. Witness Mark Buehrle’s struggles for the White Sox after he threw a perfecto at the Tampa Rays last August. And neither Braden nor surprisingly Halladay has had a good streak of wins since their great achievements. Ah baseball, and all its imponderables. What does anyone really know? But it sure is a lot to fun to speculate and fan about it. The late great New York sportscaster Stan Lomax, who got into radio from newspaper work at the same time as his friend Ford Frick (who went on later to become baseball commissioner), taught me the term “fanning,” as in shooting the breeze.

Am off on Wednesday June 23 to my first visit ever to the Cape Cod Baseball League. Have always wanted to spend my birthday up there and come June 27 that is where you’ll find me probably around Harwich, Orleans or Chatham. Will get back to you early next month with tales from the sun and surf and highly competitive wooden bat college competition circuit. Until then, ciao for now and remember: Take it easy but take it!

PS The Yankees now have two catchers, Jorge Posada and the underrated Francisco Cervelli, the Venezuelan of Italian descent, who both refuse to wear batting gloves. That has to be a first since batting gloves became seemingly mandatory for so many
style-conscious major leaguers. But do correct me if I am wrong!
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