By Mike London
Wednesday marks the 43rd anniversary of a history-making pitching performance.
On Aug. 8, 1964, 22-year-old right-hander John Purdin threw a perfect game at Newman Park for the Salisbury Dodgers.
He beat the Lexington Giants 1-0.
It was only a seven-inning game, the nightcap of a Western Carolinas League doubleheader, but Purdin was Pur-fect.
It was 21 up, 21 down for manager Max Lanier’s Giants, and Salisbury’s defense didn’t have to make any plays that weren’t routine.
Throwing almost all fastballs, Purdin fanned 11, including seven in a row. He thrilled 1,156 soggy, hardy fans by finishing off his gem with a strikeout.
Two things made Purdin’s perfect game one for the ages.
First, he weathered two rain delays.
Second, he put his own catcher out of commission while warming up. Butch Johnson, who was supposed to be behind the plate, was struck by a Purdin pitch in the bullpen. It glanced off the top of his mitt and gave him a black eye.
So third baseman Jim Connor replaced Johnson and caught the perfect game. Ed Knipple, who would have been on the pine, played third. Needless to say, Knipple knocked in the only run.
Perfect games are exceedingly rare.
The Western Carolinas League was formed in 1960 and changed its name to the South Atlantic League prior to the 1980 season. Purdin’s perfect game was the first in league history, and in all the WCL and SAL seasons that have followed, no one has duplicated his feat.
Historians started leafing through record books when several pitchers flirted with perfect South Atlantic League games in 2006. In one of them, Greensboro pitcher Danny Barone mowed down the first 19 Kannapolis Intimidators he faced, but then he issued a walk.Purdin’s background was unusual. He was a schoolboy star in Ohio, pitching one no-hitter, but he was serving in the military in Germany when a friend of Dodgers manager Walter Alston saw him throw and recommended the Dodgers sign him. The Dodgers did and shipped him to Salisbury.
Salisbury had some of its strongest minor league teams in 1963-64 when it was affiliated with the Dodgers. Salisbury won the WCL regular-season pennant and the playoffs in 1964, even though Purdin was long gone by the end of the season.
He was helpful before he was promoted. In his 18 starts for Salisbury, Purdin was 14-3 with a 1.91 ERA and piled up 182 strikeouts in 137 innings.
The Dodgers moved Purdin up to Triple-A Spokane for a couple of starts. He did well there and was pitching for Los Angeles before the season ended.
Purdin’s first start in the majors was a two-hit shutout of the Chicago Cubs, and he also won against Houston on the final day of the 1964 season.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder was a terror in the Texas League in 1966, posted a 15-win season at Spokane in 1967 and made 34 mostly effective relief appearances for Los Angeles in 1968. But he was done in the big leagues after 1969, and his career record was a modest 6-4.
In an interesting twist of fate, Bobby Bonds, Barry’s father, played for Lexington in the WCL in 1965, a year after Purdin pitched his perfect game against that franchise.
On June 25, 1968, Purdin relieved Los Angeles lefty Claude Osteen with the bases full in the sixth inning in a game against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.
Purdin walked a batter and struck out a batter. The third man he faced was Bonds, and he threw him the most memorable pitch of his big-league career.
Bonds clouted it over the left-field fence for a grand slam and the first of his 332 big-league homers.
Contact Mike London at email@example.com.