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The 19 greatest starts in Cubs history, No. 13: Milt Pappas, September 2, 1972

It should have been a perfect game.


Here’s the first no-hitter to join this list. There will be a few others. A no-hitter doesn’t necessarily run up a high Game Score — you have to have strikeouts as well, since they count for more points for you.

Milt Pappas had six strikeouts in his no-hitter against the Padres September 2, 1972. It was good for a Game Score of 92. And almost everyone acknowledges that Game Score should probably have been 93, because Pappas lost a point for a two-out ninth-inning walk that ruined what should have been a perfect game.

Here’s the walk, the last out and a post-game interview [VIDEO].

To this day I don’t know why WGN-TV didn’t use the center-field camera for that pitch sequence, because then we’d have a nearly definitive view of what plate umpire Bruce Froemming called ball four. It might have been that the CF camera wasn’t working at that particular time — the worst possible time for a technical issue — but the high-home view doesn’t give us a good enough look.

Pappas, to the day he passed away in 2016, insisted that was strike three and he should have had a perfect game. Froemming, when he’d speak about it, always said he called it properly.

But you know what, it’s also true that most MLB umpires in a situation like that would have given the call to Pappas. It’s not like the game was in question — the Cubs led 8-0 at the time. Froemming was in just the second season of what would eventually become a 37-year umpiring career. Maybe he didn’t feel confident enough to do that. Two of the other three umpires on the crew, Stan Landes and Augie Donatelli, were among the senior umpires in the National League at the time. Donatelli was in his 23rd season as an umpire.

But Froemming didn’t make the call and Larry Stahl, the batter, reached base on a walk. Pappas had to retire the next hitter, Garry Jestadt (ironically, a former Cub) on a popup to Carmen Fanzone to preserve his no-hitter.

A no-hitter is a great accomplishment and no Cub has thrown one at Wrigley Field in the 47 seasons since. But Pappas will be remembered along with Armando Galarraga, who also lost a perfect game in 2010 on a bad umpiring call.

Milt Pappas threw very well for the Cubs after being purchased mid-season 1970 from the Braves. From that acquisition through 1972 he went 44-29 in 85 games (83 starts) with a 3.07 ERA and he finished ninth in N.L. Cy Young voting in 1972. But his performance declined in 1973, though he was just 34 years old, and he was released at the end of spring training in 1974. He finished his career with 209 wins, 110 in the American League with the Orioles and 99 in the National League with the Reds, Braves and Cubs.

At the time just three pitchers had won 100+ games in each league: Cy Young, a Deadball Era hurler named Al Orth, and Jim Bunning. Pappas wanted badly to join that list, but no one picked him up. Since then, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Dennis Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez have accomplished this feat.