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Unlucky Thirteen.
Posted Wednesday, May 19, 2004

by Bill Hogan


 
 

Thirteen is a notoriously unlucky number. Friday the 13th is a day that is dreaded by many. It's hard to find a hotel that has a 13th floor. And most athletes are too superstitious to wear the number 13 on their jersey.

Enough people are so overwhelmingly horrified by the number 13 that they actually came up with a name for the irrational fear: triskaidekaphobia. (My biggest fear is trying to correctly pronounce seven syllable words.)

 
 


There's one baseball player in the history of Major League Baseball that has a legitimate reason to consider himself a triskaidekaphobe. Harvey Haddix, an average pitcher, played for the Cardinals, Phillies, Reds, Pirates and Orioles during his 14-year career which spanned from 1952 to 1965.

Haddix won a total of 136 games against 113 losses and had one 20-win season in 1953; certainly not the stuff of which pitching legends are made. His finest moment as a baseball player came on May 26, 1959, pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves.

Haddix, a lefty whose nickname was Kitten, mowed down the Braves batters inning by inning with an effective combination of fastballs and sliders. After the Braves' turn at bat in the bottom of the ninth, Haddix had sent down all 27 batters he faced. A perfect game. There was only one problem. The Pirates had failed to score a run.

When Haddix retired all three hitters he faced in the 10th inning, he became the first major league pitcher to take a perfect game past nine innings. Two innings later, Haddix ended the 12th having pitched the equivalent of one-and-a-third games of perfection. Still, his team could not muster a single run.

A perfect game: no runs, no hits, no errors and no base on balls. Harvey Haddix had sent 36 consecutive Braves hitters back to the dugout before he went to the mound for the bottom of the 13th inning. The triskaidekaphobes at Milwaukee County Stadium could probably have guessed what would happen next.

The Braves' leadoff hitter, Felix Mantilla, reached base on a throwing error. Good bye perfect game, hello triskaidekaphobia. Mantilla went to second on a sacrifice and Haddix was forced to intentionally walk the dangerous Henry Aaron. Then Haddix lost his bid for a no-hitter – and the game - when Joe Adcock launched a home run over the right-center field wall.

Because Aaron failed to round the bases after Mantilla scored, Adcock was credited with a game-winning double and the official final score was Braves 1, Pirates 0. Apparently, 13 turned out to be a lucky number for the Braves' Lew Burdette, who pitched a complete game, 12-hit shutout for the win.

Tuesday night, Randy Johnson became the 17th pitcher in major league history to toss a perfect game as the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Atlanta Braves 2-0. Johnson, 40, also became the oldest pitcher to accomplish the rare feat.

Johnson disposed of all 27 Braves hitters with relative ease. And when the Diamondbacks posted a run in the top of the second inning, they eliminated any possibility that the aging pitching star would have to go into extra innings to achieve perfection.

Johnson is a 5-time Cy Young Award winner and a shoo-in to make it to Cooperstown when his playing days are over. His perfect game is the icing on the cake to a long list of pitching achievements and milestones.

Harvey Haddix is not a member of the Hall of Fame and never will be. His pitching resume pales in comparison to that of Johnson. Still, many baseball experts consider his 12 perfect innings back in 1959 to be the greatest pitching performance in the history of the game.

I guess that's some consolation considering the fact that Haddix is regarded as the unluckiest ball player of all time. Through 12 unbelievable innings, Haddix was king of the hill. He was better than Cy Young, better than Randy Johnson. Thirty-six up, 36 down. It doesn't get any better than that – unless 12 innings isn't enough to win the game.

It's too bad that baseball games aren't played the way hotels are built. Go from the 12th inning right to the 14th inning. Don't mess around with unlucky 13. Maybe Haddix would be on the list of pitchers who have thrown perfect games, not at the top of the list of near misses.

Then again, triskaidekaphobia is supposed to be an "irrational fear," right?

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