For many young kids, their first introduction to the game of baseball came from their father. You’re in the backyard with dad – he’s tossing the ball underhanded to you – cheering with every catch you make and yelling encouragement with every dropped ball. Then the tee comes out. Your dad gets behind you, showing you how to hold the bat and puts his hands over yours to swing with you, and then cheers when the ball is hit. As you get older, the tee goes away and dad is now throwing batting practice at your local baseball field – all the while teaching the fundamentals of the game. Many local dads probably referenced the way Chase Utley ran the bases hard, even after a groundout back to the pitcher. For the children of baby boomers, Jim Bunning‘s perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964 provided many of those memories that echo still to this day.
The game was played on a June Sunday afternoon at Shea Stadium – the first game of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. The Mets were already planning autumn golf and hunting trips, as they sat 26 games under .500. So most NY dads that arrived with their kids for a special Father’s Day edition of baseball were most likely bracing themselves for another loss. On the other hand, the Philly dads watching at home anticipated a convincing W with their ace on the mound. Either way, no one expected the special performance Jim Bunning would deliver when on the mound at Shea…and even at the plate!
For the young sons and daughters that asked their dad what a perfect game was – this is how he would answer: Jim Bunning retired, in order, all 27 batters he faced. What made this perfect game special, was that it was the first ever perfect game in Phillies’ history and the first in the National League since 1880.
Bunning got all the offense he needed early in this one. Dick Allen hit an RBI single to left, opening the scoring at 1-0. The Phils next big inning would come in the sixth. Johnny Callison led off the frame with a home run and Gus Triandos singled home pinch-runner Bobby Wine to make it 4-0. Bunning helped his own cause by putting all doubt aside when he cracked a two-run double to finish the scoring at 6-0. The slugger (Bunning) provided another teaching moment for dads. For all pitchers who don’t think they have to worry about hitting, well, you do! Anyone can do damage at the plate with a stick in their hand. Just ask Bunning.
Now, of course, this game occurred in the infamous season of 1964, remembered for one of the most epic collapses in baseball history. The Phillies were up 6.5 games in the National League with 12 games to go but wound up losing 10 in a row, before winning the last two games of the season. But by that point, it was too late, the Cardinals had stolen the pennant.
When Father’s Day rolls around, we don’t think about the epic collapse the Phils encountered back in 1964. We think of the joy that Jim Bunning provided to the homes of Philadelphia with his perfect game. It’s one of those “where were you when” moments. For many sons and daughters of the Delaware Valley it was an ordinary Sunday doubleheader against an awful Mets team. But if they were lucky enough to watch the games in those times, hopefully they could say they were with their dad, soaking in baseball history. And if they didn’t see it through the magic of television, maybe they could say they were having a catch in the backyard with dad when the news came over the radio.
Father’s Day is a day of thanks. We thank our dads for all they do for us…and most dads respond with a “thanks for being born” quip. But on June 21, 1964, many people were thanking Jim Bunning for a moment families will never forget.