Doctor Perfect

If you’re ever in Worcester, Massachusetts, and I was a long time ago, there’s a monument you have to see. It’s nothing much,  just a little marker kind of obscurely stationed on a small college campus. It marks the spot where the very first professional perfect game was pitched.

On Saturday, 12 June 1880, a National League game was played between the visiting Cleveland Blues and the home town Worcester Ruby Legs. Cleveland came into Worcester third in the league one-half game behind second place Worcester.  They sent Jim McCormick, a third year starter to the box against sophomore southpaw J(ohn) Lee Richmond.

Richmond was a little unique for his era. Not only was he left-handed, he was a college man. In 1879, as a college junior at Brown University in Rhode Island, Richmond had led his team to the college championship by besting Yale, then had pitched one game for the National League Boston club at the end of the NL season. He won the game giving up two earned runs and striking out eleven. The next season he continued his studies and pitched for Worcester on the side. He was a senior at Brown, four days from graduating, when he took the field against Cleveland.

Nine innings later he had done something no one else had ever done in the professional ranks. He faced 27 men and set all of them down without one reaching first base. He pitched the first perfect game in professional history. He struck out six and allowed only three outfield chances, one a ball that dropped in front of the right fielder (Lon Knight), who caught in on the first bounce and flipped it to the first baseman to record the out. Left fielder, and future Hall of Fame manager, Ned Hanlon made the final out. Richmond left Worcester later that evening and went back to Brown where he graduated four days later.

McCormick pitched well, just not well enough. He gave up three hits (one to Richmond) and only one unearned run, Worcester shortstop Art Irwin scoring from third on a bobble and an overthrow of the catcher. McCormick struck out seven.

Richmond finished the season 32-32 with a 2.15 ERA and 243 strikeouts. He remained in baseball until 1886, using his baseball salary to fund medical school at Columbia. He finished his career 75-100 with 552 strikeouts. Not a great career, but among the better numbers for 19th Century left-handers.

After he left baseball, Richmond practiced medicine for a while, then became a high school teacher in Toledo, Ohio. Upon retirement, he became Professor of Hygiene and Dean of Men at the University of  Toledo. He died in 1929.

His accompishment wasn’t unique. Within a week, Monty Ward had pitched the National League’s second perfect game. In one way though Richmond remained unique for 85 years. He was left-handed. The next left-hander to throw a perfect game did it in 1965. His name was Koufax.

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