The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

June 9, 2013

Pitcher perfect

133 years ago Wednesday, John Lee Richmond, born in Sheffield Twp. and raised in Geneva, threw the first perfect game in Major League Baseball history

First of a series...

On a gray, sultry day in June 1880, John Lee Richmond, a 5-foot-10, 142-pound pitcher did something no other player in Major League Baseball history had done — throw a perfect game.

Since Richmond hurled his gem — 133 years ago, Wednesday — almost half a million games have been pitched in 137 major-league seasons and only 22 others have duplicated Richmond’s feat of retiring 27 opposing batters in order.

And he was born right here in Ashtabula County, in Sheffield Township, on May 5, 1857, and he was the first player from this county to play in the majors, making his debut on Sept. 27, 1879, for the Boston Red Caps.

While Richmond was probably best known for making baseball history, what he did with his life after the curtain dropped on his playing days concluded without question contributed more to society.

But as is usually the case even today, it is for his performance in an athletic contest that he is most remembered.

This the first of my series, which will span 13 parts and run periodically through the summer, of the players to appear in a major-league game who were literally born here in Ashtabula County. It’s been in the works for more than 30 years, but it debuts today.

This is the story of John Lee Richmond — the “perfect pitcher” — and the man.

Crazy times

The days leading up to Richmond’s historic day on the mound were hectic. Details of those days, as well as of the game itself, were gleaned from several sources, including his great grandson, John Richmond Husman, writing for Toledo Magazine in May 1987.

On Thursday, June 10, 1880, Richmond, pitching for Worcester, Mass., had shut out the Cleveland Forest Citys, 5-0, at Worcester (pronounced WUSS-ter) in a National League contest. He was in the midst of a streak that would see him hurl 42 consecutive innings without surrendering an earned run.

His perfect game, which came two days later, marked his fourth shutout in a 12-day span.

As will be the case, the legend of Richmond’s perfect game grew to epic proportions over time. The story goes, Richmond returned to Brown University in Providence on Friday, June 11 to graduate an attend parties, missing Worcester’s exhibition game against Yale.

Graduation ceremonies were said to include a class baseball game played at 4:50 p.m. on Saturday. Richmond was reportedly up all night following a class supper at the music hall. The story was, Richmond took part in the game, then went to bed at 6:30 a.m. He supposedly awoke in time to catch an 11:30 a.m. train to Worcester to pitch against Cleveland in the afternoon for the second time in three days.

That train was delayed and Richmond was forced to hit the playing field without his dinner.

Word was, Worcester manager Frank Bancroft had hired a special train to stand by to speed Richmond from his graduation ceremonies at Brown to Worcester, where he would eventually go on to throw his perfect game against Cleveland.

As Husman’s story in Toledo Magazine pointed out, it made for a wonderful story... but it didn’t happen.

In fact, Richmond’s graduation was June 16, four days after his perfect-game performance. That day, however, Bancroft did have a special train waiting to rush Richmond from Brown to Worcester, where he was defeated by Chicago in 10 innings, 7-6.

Though the story of the train ride-to-perfect game was only a yarn, it doesn’t detract from Richmond’s gem.

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