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Jim Bunning’s perfect game on June 21, 1964, as covered by Newsday

Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches a

Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches a perfect game against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium on June 21, 1964. Credit: UPI/Newsday files

By George Vecsey

Flushing — Mary Bunning and her daughter, Barbara, were going to see the World’s Fair yesterday. They never got to the Fair but they did see something the Fair doesn’t have; they saw husband and father Jim Bunning pitch a perfect game at Shea Stadium.

The 32-year-old right-handed pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a perfect game against the New York Mets. It was only the eighth perfect game in major-league history.

Twenty-seven Mets batted against Bunning and all 27 made out. The Phillies won the game, 6-0, and Mary and Barbara, who had planned to leave for the Fair, stayed around while the Phillies won the second game, 8-2. They had to stay around because Jim was receiving all sorts of phone calls and offers. When the man from the Ed Sullivan Show offered something like $3,000, the World’s Fair was switched to the agenda for the next Phillie trip to New York.

The fuss over Bunning’s game is understandable. The previous perfect game in the National League was in 1880.

Bunning worked in 98-degree weather. He threw only 87 pitches but he ran out a double once and ran hard to first three other times. “I could see his uniform was all wet,” said Met manager Casey Stengel. “But he didn’t give himself any excuses. He didn’t have to say he pooped out in the heat because he didn’t poop out.”

Only one ball came close to being a hit. Jesse Gonder hit a line drive toward right field in the fifth inning. Second baseman Tony Taylor ran hard to his left, dove parallel to the ground and knocked the ball down. Then he threw out Gonder by two steps.

Defying baseball superstition, which frowns on mentioning a no-hitter, Bunning broadcast his progress to his teammates.

Bunning said he didn’t care about tradition: “It was a hot day and you’ve got to do something to stay loose.” He said he felt “loose all day. I was talking it up before the game and during the game.”

[Phillies manager Gene] Mauch said he could tell before the game that “something special was going to happen. You could just see it the way he warmed up. He only took seven or eight minutes, he was so sharp. I’m no clairvoyant and I’m not about to say I knew he was going to pitch a game like that. But I know we needed only one or two runs. That’s why I bunted in the first inning.”

The Phils scored once in the first and once in the second. Three more runs in the sixth opened up the game and permitted Bunning to work on perfection without much worry about winning.

Soon after Gonder’s hard drive, the 32,026 fans seemed to sense that Mauch’s “something special” was indeed happening. Mets became villains and the red-headed pitcher from Southgate, Ky., became the hero.

Difference in Emotion

The crowd was delighted when New York’s Hawk Taylor was called out on strikes to end the eighth inning. Taylor was not so thrilled. “You know the umpires give it to them in that situation,” Taylor said.

“It was perfect pitch, a beautiful curve on the outside corner,” said plate umpire Ed Sudol. “Taylor never said anything to me.”

When Bunning batted in the ninth, the crowd cheered wildly. It was still chanting when Charley Smith fouled to third baseman Richie Allen for the 25th out. Boos came from the stands when George Altman came out to hit for Amado Samuel. Altman is a reasonably popular and potentially able Met. But the fans didn’t want to see him make a hit at this particular moment.

“I understand that,” Altman said, “The players were telling me it was the same way in Philadelphia when Sandy Koufax pitched his no-hitter last month. The fans want to see that no-hitter.”

The fans cheered when Altman struck out on a low pitch. “It doesn’t help to feel that you’re part of history,” Altman said. “You just feel like a goat. You want to make a hit. Let him pitch his no-hitter against some other team.”

That left it up to rookie John Stephenson, 23, which seems a little unfair. Stephenson carried an .047 average up to the plate.

“You don’t like to see any hitter coming up,” Bunning said. “But I figured I could get him out if I could get three curves over.”

Stephenson missed one and watched another one curve in for strikes. Then he took two balls. Then he took a chopping swing at a low, outside curve and missed. Bunning jumped off the mound, waved his fist in front of him and was inundated by his teammates. An historic effort deserved that kind of reception.

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