Harvey Haddix-Almost Perfect was Not Good Enough

More than any other sport, baseball lends itself to having some of its lesser known performers achieve great things. Some of these feats make their doers immortal, so that the mere mention of their names is enough to bring quickly to focus their shining moment. So it is with a pitcher named Harvey Haddix, who, despite winning two games in the 1960 World Series and going 20-9 as a rookie in 1953, will always be associated with a game that he lost. Harvey Haddix pitched for fourteen seasons and finished with a 136-113 lifetime mark, but it was what he did on a spring night in the Midwest that he will forever be remembered for. On May 26th, 1959, Harvey Haddix took a perfect game into the 13th inning, only to lose the contest, but gain lasting fame.

Harvey Haddix was 26 when he pitched in seven games for the Cardinals in 1952. His teammate, Harry Brecheen, was nicknamed the “Cat” for his unbelievable reflexes on balls hit back through the box. Harvey Haddix was just as quick on comebackers, but since Harry “the Cat” had seniority, Harvey Haddix was given the nickname of “the Kitten”, one that stayed with him throughout his days in the game. In 1953, as a rookie, Harvey Haddix had what would be his best season, sporting a 20-9 mark with an ERA of 3.06. He would win more than 13 games only once more in a single campaign, as Harvey Haddix went 18-13 the next year. He was traded from St. Louis to the Phillies, then to Cincinnati and from there to Pittsburgh. Harvey Haddix ended his career in baseball as a reliever with the Orioles in 1965 at age 39, but it is with the Pirates that the three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner became one of the most sympathetic figures in all of sports.

On that fateful evening, Harvey Haddix did not feel well; he had been fighting the effects of a cold and sore throat, but still took the ball in Milwaukee’s County Stadium to face the Braves. Milwaukee had been to the previous two World Series, and boasted such hitting stalwarts as Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Joe Adcock, and Wes Covington. Nonetheless, Harvey Haddix managed to take a no-hitter, and perfect game, into the ninth inning. Once before in his career, Harvey Haddix had been on the verge of a no-hitter, against the Phillies in 1953, only to have future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn break it up with a single leading off the ninth. But despite the threat of storms, Harvey Haddix got through the ninth without allowing a single runner to reach base. Twenty seven men up and twenty seven men down.

The only problem for Harvey Haddix was that the Pirates were unable to provide him with even one run against Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette. Pittsburgh ranked near the bottom of the National League in runs scored in 1959, and the great Roberto Clemente did not play in this particular tilt as he was out with an injury. In the seventh, the Buc’s Bob Skinner hit a deep fly ball to right that would have gone out for a home run, but the brewing storms had an accompanying wind that kept the ball playable for Hank Aaron, who caught it with his back to the fence. Pittsburgh also collected three hits in the third inning, but had a runner thrown out trying to get to third on one of them, a blunder that would eventually haunt Harvey Haddix to his dying day. Altogether, Pittsburgh accumulated a dozen hits off of Burdette, who pitched all thirteen innings as well, but they failed to score.

While Harvey Haddix was at his best, this was not to say that the Braves did not have some chances at hits. Their shortstop, Johnny Logan, hit a line drive that his counterpart on the Pirates, Dick Schofield, snagged at the zenith of his leap in the third. Logan also hit a ball in the hole that took a bad hop, but Schofield was able to field it barehanded and throw Logan out as Harvey Haddix looked on. If he could have possibly known what was happening to him, Harvey Haddix may well have wished that one of those balls had made it through for a hit, rather than suffer the fate he was about to.

The game went to extra innings, with Harvey Haddix needing only 78 pitches to get his twenty seven. The Pirates did not score in the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, or thirteenth frames, and the Braves were still held hitless by the mastery of Harvey Haddix. Mixing mostly a fastball and a slider, Harvey Haddix went to the thirteenth inning having faced the minimum thirty six batters and retiring them all. Harvey Haddix recalled, “I threw only a few curves and a few changeups, but my fastball was jumping and my slider was great. So when I was getting them out on the two good pitches, I just kept going.” Decades later, Bob Buhl, who was a pitcher on the Braves at the time of Harvey Haddix’s near perfect game, admitted that the Braves’ pitchers had been stealing signs from Pirates’ catcher Smokey Burgess and relaying them to the Milwaukee batters, who still couldn’t get a hit!

The perfect game of Harvey Haddix ended when Felix Mantilla reached second on an error by third baseman Don Hoak leading off the thirteenth. Hank Aaron was intentionally walked by Harvey Haddix, who would now face slugging Joe Adcock. Joe would smash 25 home runs in 1959 and 336 for his career, and he sent a 1-0 pitch from Harvey Haddix just over the 375 foot marker in right center field for an apparent game winning home run. But Hank Aaron, running with his head down, did not see Adcock’s drive leave the park and when he reached second turned and went to the dugout, thinking it was simply a base hit. Adcock continued around the bases, but the umpires ruled that he had passed Aaron, making the final score 2-0. The next day, National League President Warren Giles ruled that Adcock’s “home run” would only be a double, as he had passed Aaron, who had failed to score. The final of 1-0 did little to make Harvey Haddix feel any better about his poor luck.

Harvey Haddix had pitched twelve perfect innings and lost. He wound up with eight strikeouts, surrendering only the one intentional walk to Aaron. Harvey Haddix died in 1994 at the age of 68 in Ohio. Before his death, Harvey Haddix had to suffer one more bit of hard luck. His incredible performance had been considered a no-hitter by baseball, but on September 4th, 1991, an eight man committee assembled for Statistical Accuracy got around to removing the asterisk from Roger Maris’ 1961 home run record. They also changed the definition of a no-hitter to read as a game which ends after nine or more innings with one team failing to get a hit. This ruling took fifty games that were previously recorded as no-hitters off of the books, including the gem thrown by Harvey Haddix 32 years prior. As Harvey Haddix learned that night, some days your best just isn’t good enough, even if it’s almost perfect.

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