July 9, 2009

JIMMY FREAKIN' QUALLS (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Forty years ago, little-known Qualls spoiled Seaver's bid at perfection (Michael Bamberger, 7/08/09, SI)

If you happened to be thumbing through the Newsday sports section on Thursday, you may have noticed an unusual box score: Mets 4, Cubs 0, in New York. Time of game: 2 hours, 2 minutes. Then you read the not-so-fine print: the game -- a Tom Seaver one-hitter -- was played 40 years ago, when the Mets were becoming the Miracle Mets, winners of the '69 World Series. Newsday is paying tribute to the team.

That game was more than a one-hitter. Shea Stadium was packed and the Cubs were in first place, but the Mets were coming on strong. I was a nine-year-old kid that summer, listening to the game on a transistor radio in a backyard tent at my parents' house in Patchogue, L.I., in the heart of Mets country. Seaver retired the side -- and you need all this to understand the rising tide of tension -- in the first inning, the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh and the eighth. He retired the first batter in the ninth. Seaver was two outs away from perfection.

In sports, as in life, there's not much that's perfect. The 300-game in bowling, hard to improve on that. The '72 Miami Dolphins, who won 14 games and never lost, people call that "The Perfect Season," although it wasn't like every game was shutout. There's Nadia Comaneci and all those 10s she piled up at the '76 Olympics. I happen to be sympathetic to the argument about whether human beings (the judges) can put the stamp of perfection on what another person does, but if you want to call that performance perfection, enjoy. That's all a long time ago now.

As you get older, you stop holding up perfection as some sort of ideal, or I have, anyway. The legendary golfer Ben Hogan once had a dream, or a nightmare, in which he recorded 17 consecutive holes-in-one then lipped out on the last. Maybe he did himself a favor. What are you going to do for an encore after shooting 18? But at age nine, I had one and only one dreamy notion of perfection: a pitcher recording 27 consecutive outs. I grew up on the World Book encyclopedia, and right in it, under Baseball, was a picture from Don Larsen's perfect game in the '56 World Series, Yogi Berra leaping in his arms, when it was over. That picture has legs.

And here was Seaver on a summer night in '69, one out in the ninth, the Mets leading, 4-zip. And up comes Jimmy Qualls. You know Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams. Jimmy Qualls? Jimmy Qualls. He lines a clean one-out single to the left-center. Jimmy Qualls. I probably hated the guy. Forty years later, I was on the phone with the man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 9, 2009 9:17 PM
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