In joining a VERY select list of pitchers who threw a perfect game, Dallas Braden may be – on the surface – one of the more improbable pitchers to have joined this list. The list of nineteen hurlers includes some of the greatest pitchers of all time – Sandy Koufax, Cy Young, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Randy Johnson, Addie Joss, and Jim Bunning. It includes some very fine pitchers, like Tom Browning, Mike Witt, Kenny Rogers, Len Barker, David Wells, Mark Buehrle, David Cone, and Dennis Martinez, and John Montgomery Ward.
And then you have Dallas Braden – a lefty pitcher with a losing record in his career, a fastball that hits 86, and – according to Alex Rodriguez – already had his fifteen minutes of fame. Braden is a poor man’s Jamie Moyer clone, wouldn’t you think?
And yet, Dallas Braden isn’t the least likely guy to have thrown a perfect game. Looking up and down the list, a decent baseball fan would recognize most of the names on this list except two. The first pitcher to throw one was Lee Richmond, who did this under a different set of rules than those in force today. It doesn’t make it a less impressive accomplishment, but since it happened about 120 years ago, we’d be hard pressed to connect with him.
Having looked over the list, the guy who would seem to be the least likely to have tossed a no-hitter is White Sox rookie Charley Robertson – who threw his gem against the Detroit Tigers on April 30, 1922.
Robertson was a Longhorn native, born in Dexter, Texas on January 31, 1886. His family moved to Nocona, where he went to high school, and later played college ball at Austin College. He was pitching for a small minor league team in Sherman, Texas when the White Sox bought him for a $200 down payment and $1750 later if the Sox chose to keep him. The White Sox gave him a trial game that season – in two innings he gave up five hits and two runs – but liked what they saw. Instead of sending Robertson back to Sherman, the Sox loaned him to the Minneapolis Millers in the American Assocication where Robertson mastered a slow curve ball to go with his fastball. In three seasons, Robertson won 46 games, losing 44, with a 3.13 ERA. He pitched a lot – 322 innings in 1920 and 300 innings in 1921.
However the owners of the Sherman squad wanted their $1750 and filed a grievance with the National Commission. The White Sox, fearing that they would lose the rights to Robertson, paid the $1750 and kept him on the roster for the 1922 season.
Robertson’s first outing was in relief on April 15th. Pressed into a starting role, he faced the St. Louis Browns a week later and pitched six decent innings but didn’t earn a decision. On the 26th, Robertson earned his first major league victory by topping the Cleveland Indians, going the distance while allowing twelve hits, four walks, and three runs. It was this resume – one win, four outings, two starts and just nineteen major league innings – that Charley Robertson took with him to Detroit.
The 1922 Detroit Tigers were a decent enough team, loaded with hitters (Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann, Lu Blue, Bobby Veach, and Johnny Bassler) but not noted for the strength of the pitching staff. Off to a slow start, perhaps the lone bright spot on the staff that April, rookie Herman Pillette, took the hill and easily dusted off the White Sox in the first. A full house required that fans be allowed to stand on the grounds, and many paying customers stood in a roped off area in the outfield – which turned fly balls that landed there into doubles.
After an easy first inning that included Robertson fanning Blue and getting Cobb to weakly bounce to third baseman Harvey McClellan, the White Sox got the offense moving. Harry Hooper led off with a single. Hooper had been in the outfield in 1917 when Ernie Shore relieved Babe Ruth, who had walked the leadoff man and was thrown out of the game for arguing with the umpire, and then proceeded to record 27 straight outs for what had long been considered the “asterisk” version of a perfect game. Johnny Mostil followed with his own single, and Amos Strunk bunted, sacrificing himself but moving the baserunners up to second and third. Earl Sheely’s hit drove home the pair and gave Robertson and the Sox an early lead. They were the only two runs of the game.
The Tigers Bobby Veach led off the second with a long drive to deep left, but Johnny Mostil ran back and dove just in front of the roped off crowd to rob Veach of what would have been a double. It was the closest any Tiger would come to getting a hit. From that point forward, most batters were popping up curveballs and high fastballs. Oddly, not a single ball was hit to the shortstop or centerfielder – but Eddie Collins recorded putouts on four popups and fielded three other grounders. Sheely, the first baseman, recorded seven putouts on grounders, but caught four other popups. Even McClellen caught a soft liner.
Six players struck out, including Cobb, who was too busy arguing with the umpire that Robertson had been putting oil or other lubricants on the ball to notice a fastball cross the plate for the final strike. By the end of the game, both Cobb and Heilmann were protesting the game (in part to get under the skin of the rookie pitcher) and even sent baseballs to the league office who, a few days later, declined any protest.
The Sporting News had a picture of Robertson on their May 4th issue, but failed to give the game any coverage other than the box score notes. It did, however, proclaim his game as worthy of “[The] First Row of Fame’s Hall.”
Robertson finished the season with a 14 – 15 record – the best season he would have in his short career in the majors. Arm troubles and a lack of support by a less than stellar White Sox franchise led to his being waived in 1925. The St. Louis Browns grabbed him for the 1926 season and gave him seven starts before releasing him in mid-season. After some success with the Milwaukee in the American Association (12 – 5, 3.39 ERA), the Boston Braves signed Robertson and gave him a year and a half before selling his rights to Dallas in the Texas League in June, 1928. He played two more years with Milwaukee in the AA before returning home to Texas to start his post-baseball life.
Robertson finished his major league career with just 45 wins and 80 losses in 166 games – not the most distinguished of careers among the nineteen pitchers who achieved fame for the greatest of pitching accomplishments.
However, for one day Charley Robertson was perfect.