50 Years of Perfection
“In his quest for a baseball dream – a perfect game, . . . This crowd is absolutely holding its breath.”
Former Phillies infielder Bobby Wine, a Long Island native, entered in the fifth at shortstop and remembers the vibe around the 32-year-old pitcher.
“‘Oh my God, don’t say anything,’” Wine remembers his teammates said to each other. “And Bunning was like ‘Let’s go.’”
As Frank Dolson pointed out in his 1998 book Jim Bunning: Baseball and Beyond, Bunning flirted with a perfect game a few weeks prior to the June 21 game. Bunning was perfect through six and two-thirds on May 29 against Houston before he lost the opportunity. He vowed if he was ever in a similar situation again, he would discuss it with his teammates.
“The other guys thought I was crazy, but I didn’t want anyone tightening up,” Bunning told Dolson about June 21. “Most of all, I didn’t want to tighten up myself.”
The closest call on Father’s Day came in the fifth when catcher Jesse Gonder hit a ball between first and second. Phillies second baseman Tony Taylor made a diving stop and was able to get Gonder in time.
“He calls me on the 21st of June almost every year,” Bunning said.
Bunning, who eventually became the father of nine, has fond memories of the game, which took two hours and 19 minutes and saw the Phillies win 6-0.
“The thing I remember when I went out for the ninth inning was the whole crowd was standing,” Bunning said.
Bob Murphy, the 1994 winner of the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters, described the scene on WOR-TV at the start of the bottom of the ninth inning.
“In his quest for a baseball dream – a perfect game,” Murphy said during the Mets home telecast. “This crowd is absolutely holding its breath.”
Wine says he is still reminded of the pop fly he caught in foul territory on the third base side in the ninth off Charley Smith for the first out.
Bunning joked with Phillies catcher Gus Triandos after that first out when the two spoke on the mound.
“I said to Gus when there two outs to go, ‘Get your butt behind home plate,’” Bunning said.
Bunning struck out the last two hitters – both pinch hitters – on curve balls. He retired George Altman for the second out and got John Stephenson on three strikes to complete his perfect game.
When Stephenson swung and missed for strike three, Bunning threw his fist into his glove in celebration as he walked off the mound and was immediately greeted by his teammates.
“Oh what a happy scene for the Phils and Jim Bunning,” Murphy exclaimed.
The New York Times reported Bunning received a standing ovation for several minutes and the crowd chanted “We want Bunning! We want Bunning!”
Bunning said curtain calls were rare at the time and he doesn’t remember doing them anytime before or after in his career.