David Wells, No-Hitter Etiquette

Wells Was Perfect 15 Years Ago

David WellsIt’s the 15th anniversary of David Wells’ perfect game, and to celebrate, MLB has made the entire game video available on YouTube.

Seems only fitting to make some of my own copy available, as well. From The Baseball Codes, regarding that fateful day:

When David Wells was with the minor-league Syracuse Chiefs in 1987, he struck up a fifth-inning conver­sation with teammate Todd Stottlemyre, who was charting pitches on his off-day. That one of their teammates was in the process of throwing a no-hitter didn’t affect him a bit. “Hey, Stott,” he said, “how many walks does he have?” Stottlemyre replied that an opponent had yet to draw a base on balls. “Wow!” said Wells. “He’s throwing a perfect game!” Chiefs trainer Jon Woodworth recalled Stottlemyre looking “like he was going to kill” Wells. The left-hander’s defense: In his twenty-four years on the planet, five of them in professional baseball, he had somehow never before heard the rule prohibiting discussion of no-hitters. The very next inning, the Syracuse pitcher gave up a two-out bloop single.

It’s a lesson Wells didn’t need to learn twice. In fact, he went so far as to become an evangelist for the idea. In his book, Perfect I’m Not, the pitcher laid out in the starkest possible terms the rule of which he once claimed ignorance:

Rule number one in baseball is that you never, EVER mention that a guy’s throwing a perfect game or a no-hitter until it’s over. If you mention it during the game, it’s a major jinx, the ultimate whammy. The pitcher on the mound will give up a hit to the next batter, and it WILL be your fault—guaranteed.

Some people find religion; David Wells found superstition. Like Bert Blyleven before him, however, Wells held his view only in regard to other pitchers; he didn’t care a bit when it was him at the center of the mael­strom. During his perfect game in 1998, in fact, as Wells’s teammates on the Yankees edged farther away with each passing inning, he decided to take things into his own hands. Changing his undershirt in the clubhouse after the seventh inning, Wells saw David Cone, one of his best friends on the team. Highly in tune with the pressure of the moment, the left-hander approached his teammate, uncertain of what exactly he needed. “Can you believe what’s going on here?” he asked.

In retrospect, Cone feels that Wells simply wanted someone to talk to. In the moment, however, he was all too aware of the implications and at something of a loss for words—so he blurted out the first thing that came to mind, daring Wells to break out the knuckleball he liked to throw in practice but wouldn’t dare try in a game.

Wells laughed and returned to the dugout. After he finished his eighth perfect inning, Cone got on him again, this time in the dugout. “You showed me nothing,” he yelled as the nervous pitcher came off the field. “You didn’t use your knuckleball—you’ve got no guts!”

The tactic might have been taboo, but Cone knew his pal needed con­versation more than he needed tradition, and Wells went on to finish the fifteenth perfect game in big-league history. “To me, that kind of stuff is more important than some superstition that says you can’t get near the guy,” Cone said later.

(H/T Hardball Talk.)

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