The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


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


The game

Richmond was matched against Big Jim McCormick, a just happened to be Cleveland’s manager as well, and they combined in a classic matchup at Worcester Agricultural Fair Grounds.

Richmond himself got the first hit in the game in the home half of the fourth, but he was erased on a double play. While Richmond continued to shut down Cleveland, Worcester would manage only other hits off McCormack, both by shortstop Art Irwin.

The only run of the contest came courtesy of a double-error by Cleveland second baseman Fred “Sure-Shot” Dunlap. Irwin singled and eventually scored, thanks mostly to Dunlap. First, the rookie second baseman dropped a double-play ball that would have erased Irwin at second. However, he fumbled the ball and Irwin headed for third and then, daringly, home.

The stunned Dunlap, caught off-guard by Irwin’s daring dash, then threw the baseball over catcher Doc Kennedy’s head, allowing Irwin to score.

Years after his perfect game, Richmond said, “I used to think Dunlap was the greatest second baseman in the world.”

Like almost every game that is put in the “classic” category by baseball historians, Richmond’s historic game featured a game-saving play.

In the top of the fifth, Cleveland’s cleanup hitter, Bill Phillips, hit a ball between the first and second baseman for an apparent base hit. However, Worcester right fielder Alonzo Knight, the team captain and “old man” of the squad at age 26, charged in, scooped the baseball with his bare hand (fielding gloves were not in use, yet) and fired a strike to first baseman J.F. Sullivan. Umpire Foghorn Bradley called Phillips out on a bang-bang play to preserve the perfect game.

If Richmond had been rough on the Cleveland hitters to that point, they hadn’t seen anything yet. After Knight’s play, Richmond was virtually untouchable, recording all five of his strikeouts over the final four innings. He also dominated Cleveland to the point only three balls were hit out of the infield all day.

As it turned out, Richmond’s most difficult opponent that day may not have been the Forest Citys, but Mother Nature. In the eighth inning, the skies opened and a downpour delayed the game for several minutes.

Richmond refused to allow the cloudburst to break his concentration, though. After a pile of sawdust was placed behind the pitching position to help the pitchers dry the ball. Richmond completed his masterpiece in only 86 minutes, including the rain delay, and forever earned himself a place in baseball history.

The game was witnessed by only 700 fans, or “cranks,” as spectators were referred in those days.

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