The Greatest Game Ever Lost

The Greatest Game Ever Lost

May 26, 1959

On a chilly May evening in 1959, thirty-three-year-old lefthander Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivered arguably the greatest pitching performance in baseball history against the Milwaukee Braves. Even though Braves manager Fred Haney had loaded his powerful lineup with seven right-handed bats, Haddix pitched twelve innings of perfect ball — shutting down such luminaries as Hank AaronEddie Mathews, and Joe Adcock to repeated ovations from the 19,194-strong Milwaukee crowd.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Haddix’s feat — if Milwaukee’s Bob Buhl is to be believed — is that the Braves knew exactly what he was going to throw before each pitch. “His catcher, Smoky Burgess, was tipping them off,” Buhl told historian Danny Peary years later. “Burgess was chubby and couldn’t squat all the way down … We’d yell from the bench what he was calling. But Harvey was doing such a good job of putting on and taking off speed that the hitters couldn’t time him.”

Milwaukee pitcher Lew Burdette had scattered twelve hits through thirteen innings, but Pittsburgh grounded into three double plays and none of the Pirates managed to score against the Braves’ ace. Their best chance for a run was snuffed out when Roman Mejias was gunned down trying to advance from first to third on an infield single in the third. In the middle of the tenth, Haney asked Burdette if he’d had enough. “What for?” Burdette replied. “I’m not tired.”

Haddix relied on his fastball, his slider, and two sparkling defensive plays from shortstop Dick Schofield to preserve the perfect game. Schofield twice robbed Braves shortstop Johnny Logan of base hits. But the Bucs’ fielding would let Haddix down when Milwaukee second baseman Felix Mantilla — a .215 hitter — led off the thirteenth with a roller to third baseman Don Hoak.

It looked like Haddix’s perfection would continue.

It didn’t.

Hoak fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw to first sailed low and Haddix’s streak of thirty-six up, thirty-six down came to an end. “Hoak had all night after picking up the ball,” remembered Haddix wistfully. “He looked at the seams … then threw it away.” But Burdette disagreed. “They gave Hoak the error,” he later recalled, “but [first baseman] Rocky [Nelson] could have stretched and caught the ball.”

In any case, the error was charged to Hoak, Mantilla was standing on first and the perfect game was over.

Haddix’s no-hitter was still alive, however, and remained so when Eddie Mathews bunted Mantilla along to second. Then Hank Aaron was intentionally walked to set up a double-play opportunity with Joe Adcock at the plate.

What would have been the longest no-hitter in baseball history ended on Haddix’s second pitch, a slider that stayed up long enough for Adock to drill it over the center-field fence. As Mantilla scored, Hank Aaron — who thought the ball was still in play and that the game had officially ended — passed second and turned towards the dugout. Adcock arrived at third to find Aaron behind him and was promptly called out, turning his game-winning homer into a game-winning double.

But the damage was done. The Braves had won and one of baseball’s most extraordinary single-game pitching feats ended as a loss.

“Harvey didn’t even go to bed that night,” remembered teammate ElRoy Face. “He just walked the streets until sometime in the morning.” As Marcia Haddix, Harvey’s widow, explained recently, “He felt that game was a loss for his team and he didn’t play to lose.”