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Today in Cubs history: Milt Pappas’ perfect game is ruined in the ninth, but he throws a no-hitter

He came thisclose.


I have noted this here previously, but for this article I think it’s appropriate to mention again.

From May 12, 1955 through September 1, 1972, Cubs pitchers threw five no-hitters (Sam Jones, Don Cardwell, Ken Holtzman — twice — and Burt Hooton). In addition, the Cubs had two no-hitters thrown against them in that time frame (Jim Maloney and Sandy Koufax, both in 1965).

That’s seven involving the Cubs in about a 17-year span. They seemed almost commonplace.

That leads us into the start made by Milt Pappas against the Padres at Wrigley Field September 2, 1972. The Cubs had gotten off to a terrible start that year (3-10), but slowly got back over .500, though not really close to contention. They defeated the Padres 14-3 at Wrigley Friday, September 1, but were still far out of first place, 11 games behind.

Pappas took the mound for the Saturday afternoon contest. The Padres, headed by future Cubs manager Don Zimmer, were 46-79, safely ensconced in last place in the NL West.

The Cubs scored a pair of runs in the first and two more in the third. Meanwhile, Pappas was mowing down Padres. He retired every Padre through eight, six by strikeout, five on fly balls, nine on ground balls and three via line drive. The Cubs plated four more in the bottom of the eighth to take an 8-0 lead.

Three outs to go for a perfect game. At the time just seven perfect games had been thrown since the pitching mound had been moved to 60 feet, six inches from the plate in 1893.

John Jeter (no relation to Derek) hit a line drive at Billy Williams in left. One out.

Fred Kendall grounded to short. Two out. One more out for immortality.

As was the case for any perfect game this far in progress back then, the pitcher’s spot came to the plate with two out in the ninth. Zimmer sent Larry Stahl up to pinch hit. Stahl ran the count full.

Then this happened [VIDEO].

Bruce Froemming was the plate umpire. He was in his second MLB season. It was just the 72nd time he was behind the plate in the big leagues.

Because WGN was on the high-home shot at the time of that 3-2 pitch, whether it was actually a strike or not isn’t completely clear.

Froemming called it ball four.

Pappas, to the day he passed away in 2016, insisted that was strike three and he should have had a perfect game (and would tell you so, often vehemently, if you met him in person). 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 result was in question — the Cubs led 8-0 at the time with two out and no one on base in the ninth and neither team was in playoff contention. Maybe Froemming didn’t feel confident enough to do that as a 33-year-old second-year umpire. 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. I feel certain that Landes or Donatelli would have given Pappas the call.

Irony: Froemming, who umpired 37 MLB seasons, holds the record for most no-hitters called as a plate umpire, 11.

The video above shows that ball four call and how upset Pappas was with it, and also shows the following batter, Garry Jestadt (a former Cub!), who popped to Carmen Fanzone to give Pappas his no-hitter, which is obviously a fine accomplishment. But, like Armando Galarraga in 2010, Pappas should have had a perfect game.

It took 36 years for a Cub to throw a no-hitter again, Carlos Zambrano’s against the Astros in Milwaukee in 2008. Since then there have been four more Cubs no-nos: Jake Arrieta’s pair in 2015 and 2016, Alec Mills in 2020 and the combined no-hitter against the Dodgers in June 2021 at Dodger Stadium.

I’m going to end this tale with a personal story. That week in 1972, my family was hosting some cousins visiting from England. We were going to take them to this game to show them what American baseball was like. But it rained all morning that day, and back then teams were much faster to postpone games. We didn’t think they’d play, so we didn’t go. I saw a no-hitter in 1984, Jack Morris’ against the White Sox, but it took me until Big Z’s in Milwaukee to see a Cub throw one.

No Cub has thrown a no-hitter at Wrigley Field since Pappas’ gem, which happened 50 years ago today, Saturday, September 2, 1972, witnessed by 11,144.