Don't Bunt to Break Up a No-Hitter, Oakland A's, The First Hit of a Game Must be Clean

1972: A’s Unhappy Over Bunt that Broke up Vida’s No-No

Vida TimeResearch for my next book, about the Oakland A’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest is from Oakland Tribune beat writer Ron Bergman, on Aug. 1, 1972. Of note is that A’s players did not appear to be upset over a bunt as the game’s first hit so much as the official scorer’s unwillingness to call it an error:

Vida Blue retired the first 17 men he faced before opposing pitcher Rich Hand [of the Texas Rangers] laid down a bunt with two out in the sixth inning. The score was 1-0 at the time. Third baseman Sal Bando swooped in to pick up the ball, stumbled off balance when it landed in his glove and then couldn’t extract it. By the time he plucked it out for an errant throw to first base, it was too late.

Official scorer Joe Sargis of UPI called it a hit, which took some courage. A line drive single by pinch-hitter Toby Harrah on the first pitch of the ninth didn’t mitigate the anger in the A’s clubhouse.

Blue seem to be the least disturbed.

“A hit is a hit, “Vida said. “No hits or 55 hits, you’ve still got to get 27 outs.”

“It should have been an error,” Bando declared. “I couldn’t get the ball out of my glove. I threw it over there to give them a chance to call it an error. I’ve seen games in which something like that is called an error, and if there’s another hit they go back and change the first call. The first hit is supposed to be a clean hit. I think that if that was called an error, Vida would have pitched a no-hitter.”

“We all were sure it would be called an error,” A’s manager Dick Williams told Sargis.

Hand said he saw Bando back up after the first pitch, “so I decided to give the bunt a whirl. It was a hit all the way, as clear as it’s going to be. I don’t see what they’re yelling about over there. They won, didn’t they?”

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Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce, The First Hit of a Game Must be Clean

Blown Call Illustrates What to Do When Staring Down the Barrel of Perfection

Most of the chatter about last night’s blown call that cost Detroit’s Armando Galarraga a perfect game has to do with whether Major League Baseball might overturn it, and the chances of the league implementing a more comprehensive replay policy.

More immediate, however, is the unwritten rulebook, one section of which calls for official scorers to mandate that the first hit of any game must be unequivocally clean. It’s designed to prevent second-guessing, should that hit—or error, depending on one’s perspective—end up being the only one the pitcher gives up on the night.

Last night brought the rule to field level. As umpire Jim Joyce has no doubt learned, any hit over the final inning(s) of a no-hitter should be beyond reproach. The moment that Joyce called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe on a play that beat him by a full step, he was informed of this—first by Tigers manager Jim Leyland, then by a TV replay in his dressing room, and ever since by a legion of angry baseball bloggers. (Watch the play here.)

For the clearest perspective on the rule, turn to Donald himself.

“It was so bang-bang that I thought for sure I’d get called out because of everything at stake,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Donald is all of 15 games into his big-league career, and knows things that Joyce, a 21-year veteran, had yet to learn.

Perspective can do wonders for a person, however. After watching the replay, Joyce tearfully apologized to Gallaraga and the Tigers, both in person and through the press. One of his takeaways from the experience clarified the parameters under which the Code takes precedence.

“This wasn’t a call,” he said in the Detroit News. “This was a history call. And I kicked the shit out of it.”

It’s not the first time this has happened to would-be perfection. As pointed out by ESPN.com, Milt Pappas was 26 outs into his own perfect game in 1972, when plate umpire Bruce Froemming ruled that a full-count pitch—close enough to argue—was a ball.

The Code mandates that any pitcher on the cusp of greatness has earned the benefit of any doubt that may exist. That concept could be seen in action yesterday, but not in Detroit—in Newport News, VA, in a collegiate summer league game.

There, pitcher Jharel Cotton of the Peninsula Pilots didn’t give up a hit until two were out in the eighth inning. At that point, a batter broke it up by beating out a bunt, as the third baseman’s hurried throw was off the mark. (We’ll forgive the indiscretion of bunting to break up a no-hitter; it was a 10-0 game, but college kids can’t be expected to know all the rules of their big-league brethren.)

Afterward, the Pilots convinced the league office to overturn the call, ruling it an error and preserving the no-no.

If only it was that easy for Jim Joyce.

– Jason