Harvey Haddix was a pretty good pitcher. He was second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1953, was a three-time All-Star, and won three Gold Glove awards. He won 136 games over the course of 14 seasons spent with the Cardinals, Phillies, Reds, Pirates and Orioles. As we mentioned last week in the Biggest World Series Home Runs post, he was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 1960 Fall Classic as the pitcher of record when Bill Mazeroski hit that walkoff bomb to give the Pirates the title.
But what Harvey Haddix is most remembered for was a game he pitched on this date in 1959 in which he was perfect for 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves. And then he lost the dang game in the 13th.
Haddix woke up in Pittsburgh that Tuesday morning in 1959 with a cold or, possibly, the flu. He was coughing like crazy, was mainlining throat lozenges, and said he “felt terrible.” The Pirates were coming off a day off at home on Monday and flew to Milwaukee for that evening’s game that afternoon. If it had been a day game he likely would’ve been scratched, but after a cheeseburger and milkshake he said he felt a bit better.
The Braves were the two-time defending National League champs. But in addition to them being a tough team, they were stealing signs. From a Sports Illustrated article from 2009:
In 1989, when a number of players from both teams were present at a banquet in Pittsburgh commemorating the game’s 30th anniversary, former Milwaukee pitcher Bob Buhl pulled Haddix aside. “You know we were stealing signs during the game?” he asked. Buhl told him that pitchers in the Braves’ bullpen peered through binoculars to pick up the signs [catcher Smokey] Burgess flashed to Haddix. One reliever then signaled the batter: towel on the shoulder meant fastball, no towel meant breaking ball. All but one Milwaukee hitter, Aaron, took the signals. “There were rumors that they might be stealing signs that series,” says Smith, “but none of us knew they were doing it that night.”
It ended up not mattering for 12 innings.
Relying on only two pitches — a fastball and a slider — Haddix set the Braves down in order inning after inning. He didn’t even get into anything close to real trouble either. One batter managed to get to ball three in the first inning but no others did until the 13th, and that was not by accident, as we’ll explain in a minute.
There likewise weren’t any close calls on balls in play either. Mazeroski, considered by some to be the best defensive second baseman of all time, said of the game “usually you have one or two great or spectacular defensive plays in these no-hitters. Not that night. It was the easiest game I ever played in.” And there were a lot of balls in play given that Haddix only struck out eight men in the entire 13-inning game.
The problem: his counterpart, Braves starter Lew Burdette, was almost as effective. Relying on what is now widely accepted to be a spitball, Burdette scattered 12 hits and only struck out two batters but didn’t walk anyone and got a number of double plays. Burdette was helped by the fact that the Pirates lineup was light that evening. Shortstop Dick Groat, who would be the NL MVP in 1960, was benched due to a slump. Right fielder Roberto Clemente was out with a sore shoulder. First baseman Dick Stuart, who would lead the Pirates in average and home runs in 1959, was given the day off.
Haddix’s 27th straight out — what would have normally been the final out in a perfect game — came via a strikeout of Burdette in the bottom of the ninth, but the score remained tied at 0-0 and the game went on into extras. Haddix remained perfect in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth. Burdette would surrender singles in each of those three innings and in the thirteenth, but returned to the dugout unscathed each time.
Haddix began the bottom of the 13th having already pitched three more perfect innings than any starter ever had. Then it ended when third baseman Don Hoak committed a throwing error on a ground ball from leadoff batter Felix Mantilla allowing him to reach first. So much for the perfect game.
Then, after Eddie Matthews bunted Mantilla over to second, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh decided to fill the now-open first base via an intentional walk of Hank Aaron. The third pitch of that free pass was only the second three-ball count Haddix had allowed all night.
That brought up Joe Adcock who launched a slider Haddix left up in the zone to right center for an apparent walkoff three-run homer. Except it wasn’t a three-run homer.
There were actually two fences in County Stadium back then, the actual outfield fence and one not far behind it. Aaron saw the ball bounce over the second fence but thought it was bouncing over the first fence, so he thought it was a ground rule double. As such, he turned left and cut across the pitchers mound back to the dugout after passing second base thinking the game ended with Mantilla’s run. Adcock, however, knew he hit a homer and kept trotting, effectively passing Aaron on the base paths. The umpires conferred and ruled that Aaron was out and that Adcock had scored on his home run, making the final score 2-0. The next day National League officials ruled that because Adcock had passed Aaron, Adcock was out and his home run was a double. The final score was changed to 1-0.
It didn’t matter much for Haddix. His perfect game was gone with the error and his no-hitter, shutout and win were gone with that hung slider to Adcock no matter how it was scored. After the game he seemed dazed, at one point saying that he had only lost a no-hitter, mistakenly thinking he had walked someone early in the game. Burdette would say that Haddix deserved to win the game and called Haddix in the Pirates clubhouse to tell him just that. Almost everyone involved, even players and coaches who had witnessed perfect games in the past, said that night that and for years to come that it was the best pitching performance they had ever seen.
While some today give a nod to Kerry Wood or some of the other big, dominant strikeout performances, a whole heck of a lot of people continue to say that Haddix’s 12 innings of perfection have never been topped.