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

(Continued)

A demonstration

Upon arrival at Brown, Richmond joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity and was voted freshman class president.

In was his sophomore year at Brown, 1878, when the young left-hander became embroiled in a debate with professor Walter Greene, he of Brown’s physics department, about his “curved delivery.”

Professor Greene told Richmond that there was no such thing as a curve ball, that it was merely an optical illusion. The young Richmond proposed a demonstration, once which has since outranked Galileo’s in the eyes of youth around the world.

Richmond invited the entire university faculty to join him in front of University Hall. He proceeded to pitch several balls that clearly curved. The legend goes that after Richmond completed his demonstration, all in attendance, including Professor Greene, were convinced the curve ball did in fact exist.

It was another first for Richmond. Baseball historians generally credited Richmond with throw the first curve ball, or at least being the first player to have any great amount of success with the pitch.

In truth, the curve had already been invented by Candy Cummings. What made Richmond’s curve unique, however, was its trajectory. Pitches thrown by Cummings and other so-called curve-ball specialists came to the plate in a sweeping motion, breaking either toward or away from the batter.

However, Richmond could make his deliveries rise or drop just before reaching the batter, pitches he perfected while working inside at Brown during the winter of 1878-79.

Short-lived career

In the late 1800s, most professional teams carried only one pitcher. Richmond was a rubber-armed hurler for Worcester. In 1880, the team played 83 games and Richmond started a staggering 66 of them.

He led the National League in appearances with 74, winning 32 games and losing 32, and also led the loop with three saves. All totaled, Richmond either won or saved 35 of Worcester’s 40 victories and pitched an amazing 590 2/3 innings, still the 17th-highest total in the history of the game.

When he was not on the mound, Richmond did not rest — he played outfield. By the time he finished three seasons with Worcester, Richmond’s arm was worn out. In his final season there, he appeared in “only” 48 games, winning 14 of the club’s 19 victories in the season.

Richmond finished his professional career with a record of 75-100, an earned run average of 3.06 and a batting average of .257.

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