Episode #005 – Joe Cox, author of ‘Almost Perfect’

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Joe Cox writes about 16 pitchers who lost a perfect game with one out to go in Almost Perfect: The Heartbreaking Pursuit of Pitching’s Holy Grail. We talk with him about the three Tigers and one former Tiger who suffered this fate.

0:58 – focusing on pitchers who fell short of perfection
1:53 – including the perspective of Jim Bunning, who finished a perfect game
3:14 – on Tommy Bridges’ profile as a pitcher
5:02 – on the controversial decision to send out a pinch hitter against Bridges in the 9th
7:18 – what it took for Milt Wilcox to revive his career after injury
11:20 – how unlikely a candidate Armando Galarraga was to pitch a perfect game
14:23 – understanding Galarraga’s reaction in the moment after the bad call
15:46 – how Galarraga and others gathered themselves to get the next batter out
17:05 – how the Galarraga game led to instant replay
19:21 – how the Galarraga made his peace with his place in history
21:58 – on Max Scherzer coming one out away after this book was written
25:08 – on whether the right ruling was made on Scherzer’s 27th batter
30:27 – on drawing larger themes and lessons from these stories

Highlights

On writing about pitchers who fell short of perfection:

“I always enjoy those stories [about perfect games] but over my own life as a fan my thoughts always went back to the guys who I’d seen come really close but ended up just missing it, and those stories didn’t get told a whole lot. So I thought I’d dig into those. The more I learned, the more there was to learn, and soon I had some pretty good stories to share.”

On Tommy Bridges:

“Bridges was not a particularly big guy. [He was] a small puny-looking guy who just went out there and pitched on a lot of guts. As his career went on he developed a really impressive curveball. [He was] probably one of the more unlikely guys to approach a perfect game … because he was a pitcher who threw such a sharp curveball that the odds of him going through 9 innings without walking somebody probably weren’t very good. But on this particular day … he gets down to the last batter.”

On Milt Wilcox:

Wilcox is definitely a guy who has a second wind in his career. … He had a good year in ’83, with the near-perfect game, and then of course in ’84 he’s a big part of the World Series championship team in Detroit. But it’s a brief run for Wilcox, he had a lot of arm problems. … He probably knows in ’83 and ’84 that the harder he works his arm, the shorter his career is going to be.

On the legacy of the Armando Galarraga game: 

“Milt Pappas was a guy who said [to me], ‘You know, maybe I’m more famous because I got screwed out of a perfect game than if I’d finished it.’ And I thought that was pretty profound, but I thought, this is kind of true. Who remembers Philip Humber? I don’t remember him. I know he’s a name on the list of guys who pitched a perfect game.I don’t remember his game, I don’t remember his career. I remember Galarraga. … Harvey Haddix [once] shrugged and said, ‘I know what I did.’ And you get that from Galarraga. He knows what he did. He knew what he did then, he knows what he did now. It would be nice for him if he was on that list of guys who pitched a perfect game,
but he’s handled it with incredible class, and it a lot of ways it does make it a better story.”

On larger lessons from pitchers who fell short:

“I think whatever you do in life–as a spouse, as a parent, as a professional, as a baseball player–you want to do your best, and you recognize that … your best is never ultimately perfect. If you can have a really good day, a really good week, a really good year, those are things we strive for. But we do it knowing that ultimately the other shoe drops sooner or later somehow, and how do we deal with it? What I found out is that being a pitcher is really not that different … from being anything else. You take your knocks and you either let it discourage you, you let it take you out of what you do, or you recognize that failure is part of ultimate success. You’ve got to set it aside, like these pitchers do, make your peace with it, get back on the mound, and do what you [need to] do next.”

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