Immaculate: A History of Perfect Innings in Baseball

Immaculate: A History of Perfect Innings in Baseball

by John Cairney


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


Getting 3 batters out in order on nine pitches is one of the most remarkable feats in baseball. Since the late 1800s, only 71 pitchers have been able to do it. Yet, unlike other rare achievements in baseball, such as pitching a perfect game, the “immaculate inning” does not capture the same attention or consideration. In a game that is as unpredictable as baseball, perfection, when it occurs, should be cause for both reflection and celebration. In Immaculate, Cairney provides a short history of perfect innings through the stories of the pitchers who pitched them. Beginning with an brief overview of the numbers, the remaining chapters, one for each immaculate inning on record in major baseball, provides insight into the men, their careers and details of the inning itself, from the first recorded perfect inning in 1889 to the most recent string of innings last MLB season in 2014. The names include pitching greats such as Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, but also many lesser known, if not colorful, pitchers like “Sloppy” Thurston and Bill Wilson. The teams include famous franchises like the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees, but also clubs now defunct like the Boston Beaneaters and the Montreal Expos. Using immaculate innings as benchmarks, the book provides an engaging and entertaining journey through the history of professional baseball that will delight both the serious student of the game, as well as the fan who enjoys reading about the game.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781771611152
Publisher: Mosaic Press NY
Publication date: 05/12/2015
Pages: 190
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

John Cairney is a Professor in the Departments of Family Medicine, Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, and Kinesiology at the McMaster University. An accomplished scientist, he holds an endowed chair in child health, is currently the Director of the Infant and Child Health (INCH) Research Lab at McMaster, and President of the Canadian Academy of Psychiatric Epidemiology (CAPE). Professor Cairney has written two books, over 150 journal articles and book chapters, and is the Editor-and-Chief of Current Developmental Disorders Review. A longtime baseball fan and season-ticket holder with the Buffalo Bisons, John is also a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.

Read an Excerpt


John Clarkson

June 4, 1889

Today, if you want to know the details of a perfect inning, you can go to YouTube and watch the highlights on video or get a pitch-by-pitch breakdown on Pitchf/x. While we do not have such records for the early accounts of immaculate innings, we do know this — the first recorded immaculate inning occurred on June 4th, 1889 and the first pitcher was John Clarkson. Clarkson was a pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters. The team may be long forgotten by fans of the game today, but Clarkson, at least among baseball historians, is certainly remembered. The Beaneaters were a National League team, so the first recorded instance of an immaculate inning is credited to this league. But who was John Clarkson and what happened that day?

Born on July 1st, 1861, Clarkson came from a middle class family — his father the owner of a jewelry business. He attended Business school in Boston and subsequently worked for a time in the family shop. His prowess in baseball, already evident in high school where he played as a catcher, meant it would not be long before Clarkson sought a different path than his father. Interestingly, there must have been a collective passion for the game in his family, as he had two brothers who both played baseball for Harvard University. He entered professional baseball, first with the Worcester Ruby Legs in 1882, then played several seasons with the Chicago White Stockings (1884-1887), Boston Beaneaters (1888-1892) and Cleveland Spiders (1892-1894). He is widely regarded as one of the premiere pitchers of the 19th century, posting several notable achievements. In twelve seasons, his record of 328 wins and 178 loses is truly impressive. In six of these seasons, Clarkson had 30 or more wins, including two seasons where he won more than 40 games: this achievement puts him in two of the top four all-time spots for most wins in a season (53 in 1885 and 49 in 1889). He won the National League pitching Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, strikes and ERA) in 1889. In 1885 and 1889 he pitched over 600 innings, and in back to back seasons (1885 and 1886), he recorded over 300 strikeouts each year. All in all, Clarkson had an impressive career. At least one source ranks Clarkson as the number four pitcher of all time, behind Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Lefty Grove. More conservatively, we can at least say he is in the top 100, if not top 50 list of all time pitching greats. He retired from baseball at the age of 33 and was posthumoously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963.

With regard to his pitching style, Clarkson's strongest weapon seems to have been his curve ball. His ability to read batters, find weaknesses and adjust accordingly is also noted. He may have also been quite savvy with equipment, exploiting all possible advantages against his opponents. Shiny belt buckles were a particular favorite of his, and on sunny days, when the sun was behind the batter, he took full advantage of the glare.

Clarkson's immaculate inning came in a game against the Philadelphia Quakers in June of 1889. As already noted, 1889 was a good year for the Beantown pitcher. He led the National League that year in wins, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, and complete games. But on June 4th in the 3rd inning, Carlson added pitching an immaculate inning to those other accomplishments. The three batters he faced were Jim Fogarty, Sam Thompson, and Sid Farrar. By one account, he would get them all again in the 6th inning. Beyond this information, unfortunately, we have little else on record.

While 1889 was a personal best for Clarkson, in a career of many achievements on the field, it was a turbulent time in professional baseball. As Warren Goldstein has commented, the history of baseball is more than a record of achievements on the field, it can also be viewed through a political economy lens, where the struggle between labour (ball players) and capital (owners) becomes the dominant theme. By the end of the '89 season, that struggle would reach a boiling point. Since the replacement of the National Association with the National League a decade before, curtailing the rights of players had been the policy of ownership, first under William Hulbert, continuing under the leadership of his young protégé, Albert Spalding. Among the more nefarious policies enacted was the reserve clause, which prevented the inflation of players' salaries by binding them to a single team. Prior to this, player contracts were basically for a single season, renewed at the discretion of the owner each year. There was nothing to stop a player from jumping his contract to go to a rival club willing to pay more for his services — a true open market system for players. The reserve clause prevented this practice, giving owners control and making players little more than chattel to be bought and sold. But by the 1880s, players were beginning to fight back. It was during this time that the first professional union — the Brotherhood of Base Ball Players — was formed. Led by Monte (John) Ward, the union would eventually lead to the Players League Rebellion in 1890: In the year following Clarkson's perfect inning, he and his colleagues would make a bold move and start their own rival league. The league itself was short-lived and in the end, the owners and the reserve clause outlived the player revolt.

After leaving baseball, Clarkson had a second career as a cigar shop owner. Unfortunately, he struggled with mental health problems, suffering at least one nervous breakdown in 1906, which resulted in three years as a patient in various mental institutions. He died in 1909 at the age of 47. The official cause of death was listed as pneumonia.


Rube Waddell

July 1st, 1902

It would be thirteen years before the occurrence of the next immaculate inning. On July 1st, 1902, George Edward "Rube" Waddell, in his first home game for the Philadelphia Athletics, accomplished the feat becoming both the first American League pitcher and the first southpaw (lefty) to pitch a perfect inning.

It seems fitting that this most rare of events was accomplished by a truly unique figure in the history of baseball. By all accounts, Rube Waddell was one of a kind. As with many such interesting historical figures, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. For example, it was claimed that Rube so loved fires, he would drop everything, including a game he was pitching in, to chase fire engines to the scene of the blaze. There is little evidence to support that this ever happened though. His biography is equally shrouded in controversy. For example, he missed pitching in the 1905 World Series. It is unclear if this is due to an injury (one that ensued over an incident involving a team mate and a straw hat) or whether he had been paid off by gamblers not to show up. According to at many historians, neither account can be fully supported.

There are less contentious, but otherwise quite compelling story lines concerning his professional career. Adding to the mythology of Rube, for example, is the interesting timing of both his birth and death — born on a Friday the 13th in 1876, his life came to a tragic, if not heroic end, on April Fool's Day in 1914 at the very young age of 37. His personal demons are also well known. His drinking is certainly well documented. It also seems possible, as Bill James has suggested, that Rube may have been autistic or suffering from attention deficit disorder. With the disorder unknown at the time, diagnosis would have been impossible. There are certainly stories of his "distractibility": fans were able to hold his attention by flashing shiny objects. His impulsivity and aggressiveness were displayed through numerous stories of fights with teammates. A neurodevelopmental disorder (attention deficit disorder; autism spectrum disorder) would certainly explain some of these behaviours. He also had the reputation of being childlike: Rube once missed a game he was scheduled to pitch in to play a game of marbles with a group of children. I could not find any reference to the outcome of the game, or his prowess as a marble player, but I suspect he was formidable (and hopefully, not ill-tempered with his young fans).

Despite all this, Rube had a remarkable career as a ball player and there are numerous accolades and records to prove it. He was talented enough for Athletics manager and baseball great Connie Mack not only to put up with his strange antics (at least for a while), but also to say he had more "stuff" than anyone he had ever seen. He would many times lead either the American or National League in strikeouts, ERA and wins throughout his career. Notably, he led the American League in strikeouts from 1902 to 1907. In 1905, he won the Triple Crown for pitching (leading the league in wins, strikes and ERA). He holds three all time records: ranked 11th on the MLB all-time ERA list (2.16), 20th on all time WHIP list (1.102) and 19th for all time shutouts (50 career). His career win-loss record was 193-143, with 2,316 strikeouts to his credit in 407 games played. A result of all this and more, Rube was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. About his pitching, it was said he possessed both a great fastball and curve, and that his accuracy was laser-like. Together, this was enough to ensure his place in the record books, and in this collection.

On the matter of the inning itself, it was the 2nd of July in 1902 that Rube faced the Baltimore Orioles. Connie Mack's recent acquisition did not disappoint on that day. Although we have limited information about the specifics of the game, here is what we do know for sure. In the 3rd inning, he faced: Billy Gilbert, Harry Howell and Jack Cronin. In order, they went down, striking out the side on just nine pitches. In addition to an immaculate 3rd, Rube struck out a total of 13 Orioles that day, allowing only 2 hits. The following tribute to Rube and his performance in that game was published in the Philadelphia Inquiry a short time later:

Up to the bat the Orioles rose, his face was filled with glee There're various brands of glee you've never seen before.
An immaculate inning in any era is an impressive accomplishment, but we should not forget what the game was like in Rube's time. Today, foul balls can be called strikes when the batter has two strikes against him. In 1902 though, no such rule existed. In other words, there was no contact with any of Rube's nine pitches — perhaps the epitome of a perfect inning?

On April 1st, 1914, just a few months before the start of World War I, Rube died from tuberculosis while in a sanatorium. It is believed his tuberculosis was the result of successive bouts of pneumonia, the first of which resulted from prolonged exposure to icy water when Rube piled sandbags fighting to save the town of Hickman, Kentucky from a severe spring flood in 1912. The day after his death, the following poem by R.B. Pixley was published in the Milwaukee Sentinel:

They tell me Rube Waddell is dead —
Pat Ragan

October 5th, 1914

The third recorded immaculate inning occurred twelve years after Rube Waddell's on October 5th, 1914. The times had indeed changed, especially in the world outside the United States and professional baseball. World War I was well into its first year, and although it would be several more before America declared war on Germany and its allies (April of 1917), stories of the war were unquestionably big news across the country. Major League Baseball had yet to feel the effects of losing so many young men to wartime efforts.

Unlike the first two pitchers in this collection, we know much less about the hurler at the centre of this event. Don Carlos Patrick Ragan was born on the 15th of November in 1885 in Blanchard, Iowa. He died at the age of 70, while living in Los Angeles. We know that he was a starting pitcher, a righty, made his Major League debut with the Cincinnati Reds on April 21st, 1909, and that he played his last game, as a Philadelphia Philly, on July 5th, 1923 at the age of 37. In between, he played for five other teams: the Chicago Cubs (1909), the Brooklyn Robins (1911-15), the Boston Braves (1915-19), the New York Giants (1919) and the Chicago White Sox (1919). His record provides some insight into why we know so little else. Overall, he had a career record of 77-104. He posted 680 strikeouts, pitched 93 complete games, 12 shutouts and had an ERA of 2.99.25 A career that, unlike the first two pitchers in this collection, pretty much ensured he would not be admitted to the Hall in Cooperstown. Ring Lardner, the sports columnist and novelist, gave his opinion of Ragan through the fictitious letters of his popular character, bush league baseball player "Jack Keefe." I paraphrase here: the White Sox demonstrated just how desperate they have become by signing Pat Ragan, a player who had made his way through every other club in the National League. High praise this was not. Ragan's only claim to fame is that he was the third pitcher in professional baseball to pitch an immaculate inning; and the second pitcher from the National League to do so.

Interestingly, the inning itself does stand out as unique in the annals of immaculate innings. Not for Ragan's pitching but for his less than sportsmanlike conduct during the feat. The contest was between the Brooklyn Robins, Ragan's team, and the first place Boston Braves. The day before, the Braves had trounced the home team handily, taking the contest 15-2 (in a game that lasted just over one hour). In game two, the Robins had managed to keep it closer, but still trailed the Braves 4-1 when Ragan took the hill in the 8th inning. It appeared that Ragan sensed he had something special that day, and decided to make a true show for the fans in attendance right from the start. After the first pitch, a strike to Possum Whitted, he "tossed" his hat (I take this to mean he tipped or removed his hat in a gesture of thanks) to the fans seated behind the Braves dugout, reacting to an imagined applauding crowd. After pitching a second strike, he repeated the act, this time to the other side of the stand. By the third time, the applause was real.

The act continued for each of the three pitches to the second batter of the inning, Butch Schimdt. Apparently, now to the bemusement of fans and players alike, the latter group described as convulsing with laughter, both Whitted and Schmidt went down without swinging. Ragan's antics seemed to stop once Red Smith took his position in the batter's box, as perhaps he finally sensed he was on the verge of achieving something very special. Unlike his teammates, Red swung on every pitch, missing all three.

We may indeed judge Ragan's performance harshly due to his antics and shameless showmanship, but in 1909, basebal, this behaviour was not at all out of the ordinary. Regardless, Ragan's team ended up losing the game: the final contest in an otherwise mediocre season. On a personal level, Ragan accomplished something remarkable. Though most of his career was largely unremarkable, Ragan's stylish immaculate inning distinguishes him from the brotherhood of pitchers who achieved the same.


Excerpted from "Immaculate"
by .
Copyright © 2015 John Cairney.
Excerpted by permission of Mosaic Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


An Immaculate Feat of Pitching: 3 Batters, Nine Strikes, 3 Outs 3

Part I 1889-1928

John Clarkson: June 4th, 1889 25

Rube Waddell: July 1st, 1902 28

Pat Ragan: October 5th, 1914 33

Joe Oeschger: September 8th, 1921 36

Sloppy Thurston: August 22nd, 1923 39

Dazzy Vance: September 24th, 1924 41

Lefty Grove: August 23rd, 1928 & September 27th 1928 44

Part II 1953-1969

Billy Hoeft: September 7th, 1953 51

Robin Roberts: April 17th, 1956 53

Jim Bunning: August 2nd, 1959 56

Sandy Koufax: June 30th, 1962, April 19th, 1963 & April 18th, 1964 59

Tony Cloninger: June 15th, 1963 65

Bob Bruce: April 19th 1964 68

AI Downing: August 11th, 1967 70

Nolan Ryan: April 19th, 1968 & July 9th 1972 73

Bob Gibson: May 12th, 1969 77

Part III 1970-1989

Bill Wilson: July 6th, 1971 83

John Strohmayer: July 10th, 1971 87

Milt Pappas: September 24th, 1971 89

Bruce Sutter: September 8th, 1977 92

Pedro Borbon: June 23rd, 1979 95

Lynn Everett McGlothen: August 25th, 1979 98

Joey McLaughlin: September 11th 1979 100

Ron Guidry: August 7th, 1984 102

Danny Jackson: October 24th 1985 104

Jeff Robinson: September 7th 1987 106

Rob Dibble: June 4th, 1989 108

Part IV 1990-2000

Jeff Montgomery: April 29th, 1990 117

Andy Ashby: June 15th, 1991 119

David Cone: August 30th, 1991 121

Pete Harnisch: September 6th, 1991 124

Trevor Wilson: June 7th, 1992 127

Mel Rojas: May 11th, 1994 129

Stan Belinda: August 6th 1994 131

Todd Worrell: August 13th, 1995 133

Mike Magnante: August 22nd, 1997 135

Roger Clemens: September 18th, 1997 137

Doug Jones: September 23rd, 1997 140

Jimmy Key; April 14th, 1998 142

Mike Mussina: May 9th, 1998 145

Orel Hershiser: June 16th, 1998 148

Randy Johnson: September 2nd, 1998 & August 23rd, 2001 150

Jesus Sanchez: September 13th, 1998 153

Shane Reynolds: July 15th, 1999 155

A.J. Ryan: September 5th, 1999 157

Part V 2000-2014

Ugueth Urbina: April 4th, 2000 163

Jason Isringhausen : April 13th, 2002 166

Byung-Hyun Kim: May 11th, 2002 168

Pedro Martinez: May 18th, 2002 170

Brian Lawrence : June 12th, 2002 173

Brandon Backe: April 15th, 2004 175

Ben Sheers: June 13th, 2004 177

LaTroy Hawkins: Seprember 11th, 2004 179

Rick Helling: June 20th, 2006 181

Buddy Carlyle: July 6th, 2007 184

Rich Harden: June 8th, 2008 186

Félix Hernández: June 17th, 2008 188

A. J. Burnett: June 20th 2009 190

Ross Ohlendorf: September 5th, 2009 192

Rafael Soriano: August 23rd, 2010 195

Jordan Zimmermann: May 6th, 2011 197

Juan Peréz: July 8th, 2011 199

Clay Buchholz: August 16th, 2012 201

Wade Miley: October 15th 2012 204

Iván Nova: May 29th, 2013 207

Steve Delabar: July 30th, 2013 209

Brad Boxberger: May 8th, 2014 212

Cole Hamels: May 17th, 2014 215

Justin Masterson: June 2nd, 2014 218

Garrett Richards: June 4th, 2014 221

Rex Brothers: June 14th, 2014 223

Carlos Contreras: July 11th, 2014 226

Brandon McCarthy: September 17th, 2014 228

Epilogue 231

Index 239

Customer Reviews