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Joseph: Superstitions emerge in quest for perfection (April 23)

Allan Joseph | Monday, April 23, 2012


It’s a rare thing in sports, that’s for sure. No one shoots a round of 18 on the golf course, or even 18-under. When was the last time you saw a football team allow its opponent exactly zero yards of offense? Point me to the last time a basketball team shut out its opponent.

In baseball, though, perfection is real. It’s exceedingly rare, but it’s real – and Saturday, White Sox Philip Humber became the 21st player to achieve perfection when he retired 27 consecutive Mariners.

The best part of a perfect game, however, might be all of the superstition surrounding it – and that’s something unique to baseball, too.

Go back and pull up the highlights of the last inning of Humber’s perfect game. Notice the game was played in Seattle, not Chicago. Listen to the crowd’s reaction to each out. Sure, it’s not as loud as it would have been in U.S. Cellular Field. But after Humber retires the first two batters of the inning, the crowd is on its feet with the peculiar and unique sort of nervous energy that comes along with no-hitters and perfect games.

Even though they all knew what was happening and realized they were on the cusp of witnessing history, no one in that crowd of 22,472 dared mention the feat in progress, for fear of jinxing it. Observers on Twitter took pains to not mention the “p-word,” instead noting Humber had “not allowed a batter to reach base for seven innings” or that “something really special” was happening on Fox.

Once a perfect game became a real possibility, Humber’s teammates stopped talking to him for fear of throwing him off – there’s no messing with perfection. The whole park holds its breath with every pitch and nervously exhales at every out. All of a sudden, what was just another early-season contest became a pressure cooker to be remembered more than perhaps any of the other 161 games on each teams’ 2012 schedules.

You can watch it, you can read about it and you can imagine it. But it’s not really the same until you’ve experienced something like it.

A few years ago, I was at old Yankee Stadium to watch Chien-Ming Wang take the hill for the Yankees against a cellar-dwelling team from Tampa named the Devil Rays. (My, how times have changed.) Wang sat down the side in the first inning, and then did it again in the second. The group of guys in front of us was excited to watch a Yankee win, and ordered another round of beers.

Then the third inning started, and when Wang retired those three batters in short order, the mood nearly instantly changed. No longer were we watching a mid-July snoozer. Everyone sat up a little straighter. The guys in front of us stopped ogling girls and started watching where the rightfielder was positioned. All of a sudden, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez at-bats were just in the way of what we wanted to see.

Wang took the hill for the fourth inning and left it unscathed again, and the House that Ruth Built was abuzz. No one would ever admit why, but we all knew what was happening. Was there a chance, we wondered?

As it turns out, there wasn’t – Ty Wiggington led off the fifth with a single, and Wang finished with a two-hit complete game that would turn out to be one of the best of his career. But I still remember the nervous energy that pervaded the Bronx air that night. I can’t really imagine what it would have been like in the eighth or ninth inning if Wang had kept it up, though the word “incredible” comes to mind.

I know this for sure, though. It wouldn’t have just been perfection for Wang, and it wasn’t just perfection for Humber.

It was perfection for all of us.


Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.