I’m no fan of baseball. Even when Red Sox Nation cowboys up with the Idiots in the Fall (whatever that means), I just can’t get into it. That’s partly because I’ve got issues with relating the so-called “home team” (a corporation that contracts with individuals from all over the world to perform a job which involves significant travel, but is located about half of the time here) to my home town (a place where I’ve actually chosen to live). I find the concept of loving a player because he’s one of us and then despising him a year later because he signed a contract with another team completely ludicrous. He was one of us for the same reason he’s now one of them. If Boston’s teams were made up of Bostonians and New York’s teams were made up of New Yorkers, then maybe it would mean something to me when Boston’s team beat New York’s team.

Frankly, I’m not a sports fan in general, but baseball stands out for me as even more boring than the rest. About ten years ago, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated made the following semi-scientific observations during a playoff game between the Yankees and the A’s:

Time of this A’s-Yankees game: 3 hours, 15 minutes.

Time the baseball was actually in play, including pitches, batted balls, foul balls, pickoff attempts, relays, throws to bases and anything else even Bob Costas might consider actual sporting activity (and I was being generous with the stopwatch): 12 minutes, 22 seconds.

Percentage of time that the ball wasn’t in play: 94.

Percentage of time my cerebrum wasn’t in play: 94.

Number of baseball players crushed by unexpected fiery chunk of Planet Zorbig hurtling to earth: Not nearly enough.

Times I plan on watching baseball on TV ever again: 0.

Sounds about right to me. Even if I’m not rooting for a particular team, I can enjoy and appreciate basketball, hockey, or football (no, not the misnamed American kind), but baseball just bores me.

Armando Galarraga - AP imageSo consider all of that my admission that I’m no expert on America’s Pastime. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about this concept of a “perfect game” — and I mean that in the sense of Major League Baseball’s definition of a perfect game rather than my own, which I guess would be one that’s rained out before it starts. It’s been in the news for the past few days because of this guy having his perfect game taken away by a bad call.

Here’s how Major League Baseball officially defines a perfect game:

An official perfect game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) retires each batter on the opposing team during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings. In a perfect game, no batter reaches any base during the course of the game.

So a perfect game is a step beyond a no-hitter, because none of the players get on base. 27 players come up to bat, and 27 batters fail to make it to first base. A pitcher can still get a no-hitter even if there are errors or walks. A no-hitter is a rare thing. A perfect game is far more rare. But is it perfect?

“Perfect” is an absolute. It’s one of those words that get misused when people try to apply some level to it. You can’t be somewhat unique, a little bit pregnant, or kind of perfect. You either are, or you aren’t.

We’ll give the great and powerful Founders a break and assume that when they wrote about the goal of “a more perfect union” they meant a union that was closer to perfect than it might have otherwise been, but a union is either perfect or it isn’t, and the same is true for a baseball game.

If a game is perfect, it’s as good as it’s possible for that game to be. How many pitches did Armando Galarraga throw that night? Would the game have been somehow better if he’d thrown less pitches? If a perfect game is defined by the performance of the pitcher, then wouldn’t a perfect game be one in which every player is thrown only one pitch: 27 batters, 27 pitches, 27 outs? I suppose one could argue that in a perfect game, the infielders and outfielders don’t have to do a thing, so how about one pitch to each batter, each batter swings on that one pitch, pops it up, and it’s caught by the pitcher? No, that’s not perfect either, because every batter made contact with the ball, even if that contact led to a measly pop fly that failed to get past the pitcher’s mound.

How about a game in which each batter is struck out in three pitches? That’s three times the number of pitches in the previous suggestion, and the ball is now getting touched by both the pitcher and the catcher, but if we stipulate that the batter never makes contact with the ball — not even to hit a foul ball — that’s certainly a better performance than any pitcher has ever delivered.

And if that’s better, whether it’s perfect or not, then what we call perfect clearly isn’t.

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