The Art Of The Perfect Game

by Bob Schwartz

It looks like nothing. A string of zeros. But when you show this picture of a line score to a baseball fan, the pulse races.

Yesterday Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners pitched a perfect game. None of the batters who came to the plate reached first base. It was only the 23rd perfect game in major league history, and the very first for the Seattle Mariners.

Baseball fans, who are notoriously but justifiably obsessed with statistics, have variously calculated the odds of this happening. Variously, because over 113 years, the game and the rules have changed. This calculation also depends on whether you base it on the number of games ever played (something on the order of 200,000) or on the number of opportunities to pitch a perfect game (twice that, since every game includes two starting pitchers). For those who aren’t already lost for lack of interest, and for very rough and illustrative purposes, let’s say the odds are 1 in 20,000.

You have a much better chance of pitching a perfect game than winning the lottery or beating the house at any Las Vegas casino—if you happen to be one of the most skilled and clever athletes on the planet. Standing at a convenience store counter and handing over two bucks doesn’t take much of anything; standing on the mound, and calculating and executing every pitch without fail, takes everything.

Besides expanding the realm of statistics, baseball has also done wonders for language. This includes both great literature and the invention of words and phrases. One of those phrases is “painting the strike zone,” which means the ability to pitch the baseball 60 feet and have it move precisely how you want and place it precisely where you want. Yesterday Felix Hernandez painted the strike zone like one of the old masters.

Museums and art afficianados are sometimes mocked for making a big deal about paintings that for all appearances are mere canvases of a single solid color, big rectangles of all black or all white.

“I could do that,” people say. No you couldn’t. To the unsophisticated eye it may look like nothing. To those who know, it looks like perfection.