by Kieran Healy on May 19, 2005

11-year-old Katie Brownell, the only girl on her Little League team in upstate New York, “pitched a perfect game”: last Saturday, annihilating the opposing team “in an 11-0 shutout before a stunned crowd of about 100 parents and friends in the bleachers of the Oakfield Town Park.” Now, I am indifferent to baseball, but it has the virtue of being one of those sports that allow for the possibility of a well-defined “perfect game” of some sort. There are fewer of these sports than you might think — they’re generally confined to games where the player has to do something similar over and over again and never make a mistake. Watching a performance like that is quite a different experience from seeing a well-played football game or watching a track race where the winner does everything right. The tension builds in a different way. In the best cases, it takes some time for the crowd even to realize that something special might be on the cards. And of course in this case there’s the whole “who’s laughing now” angle, which I imagine some screenwriter somewhere is already bashing out a treatment of:

bq. Ms. Bischoff said her daughter had been an avid baseball player since she was about 6, and learned the game from two older brothers. But she said Katie’s first year as the only girl in the Little League was trying, and her teammates sometimes told her she should play softball with the other girls.



ogged 05.20.05 at 12:09 am

She struck out everybody

Holy crow, that really is amazing, at any level.

her teammates sometimes told her she should play softball with the other girls

Insofar as they’re interested in personal glory, this is entirely sensible.


Barry Freed 05.20.05 at 12:34 am

BFD – the opposing team was obviously totally teh gay. Or Democrats, if there’s even any difference anymore.


MNPundit 05.20.05 at 12:40 am

Baseball is the closest thing our planet has to a perfect sport. The major ethnicities are reprsented – Asian, Hispanic, Black, White, and no one ethnicity is dominant such as in hockey or basketball.

In recent years baseball has made in roads into Central Asia and I think, will be the other sport that best competes with soccer for planetary recognition.

Also, cricket is overrated. I’ve now played it personally, and I still prefer baseball.


MNPundit 05.20.05 at 12:41 am

Ah, my point is that, the only remaining barrier for baseball to break though is gender. I’ve at least, always wanted to watch girls playing baseball as opposed to softball (for all that I am watching the collegiate softball season on ESPN these past weeks) and hopefully someday soon we’ll get that gifted young lady that can break into the bigs.


George 05.20.05 at 12:55 am

If this girl gets a decent coach who doesn’t blow out her arm, she’s a lock to be drafted in 6 years. Baseball doesn’t deserve such a shot in the arm.

PS: way to go Katie.


Ginger Yellow 05.20.05 at 1:27 am

“Baseball is the closest thing our planet has to a perfect sport. The major ethnicities are reprsented – Asian, Hispanic, Black, White, and no one ethnicity is dominant such as in hockey or basketball.”

Ever heard of football? You know, the sport played by billions of people around the world?


ajay 05.20.05 at 4:12 am

No, no, baseball is far more widely played than football. Why, it’s played in New York… and California… and Missouri… and lots of other places. Even in Japan! Football has still to break out from its ghettos in Europe, Africa and South America – really, it’s very geographically limited. Bit of a minority sport. Also, it is played by GURLS (oo gosh).

And when the major ethnicities are described as Asian, Hispanic, Black and White, I can hear Apu saying indignantly “I am Indian! You know, there are only eight hundred million of us!”


modus potus 05.20.05 at 4:21 am

Ajay, are you thinking of that peculiarly US sport where men line up and attempt to knock each other down whilst a lozenge-shaped “ball” gets tossed about and only occasionally meets an actual foot?
Or do you mean what is called “soccer” in the U.S., a game that is irrefutably more universal than baseball?


Slocum 05.20.05 at 6:09 am

Insofar as they’re interested in personal glory, this is entirely sensible.

Or even basic fairness. Fast-pitch softball pitching is a skill distinct from baseball pitching. Where does a 12-year-old boy go to play if it turns out he has a particular aptitude for it? Sorry, kid, you’re just plain SOL. Your sister on the other hand…

In soccer, middle school girls are still pretty competitive with boys, and when they feel like it, around here some top girls teams will join boys indoor leagues for tougher competition. Of course boys teams enjoy the luxury of no such extended opportunities.

One might be tempted to say that this is only fair given the greater sports opportunities that boys enjoyed over the generations. But that, of course, was not equitable either, and the 12-year-old boys of 2005 enjoyed no such advantages.


Cranky Observer 05.20.05 at 7:02 am

> first year as the only girl in the
> Little League was trying

Huh? I grew up in a _very_ culturally conservative neighborhood, nominally in the 1970s but socially more like the 1950s. Our Little League started admitting girls around 1975. Where has this town been?

BTW, the girls usually did fairly well until age 11-12, when the boys got so much larger that even the most athletic were no longer competitive. I wonder what the situation is today with girls that age being more athletic/better trained? My guess would be the same, but that they would stay in until 13 or so.



Jeremy Osner 05.20.05 at 7:11 am

modus potus, try reading ajay’s post a little more carefully before you react to it.


reuben 05.20.05 at 8:47 am

Struck out every batter? I’ve never even heard of that happening – it’s way beyond the traditional measure of a ‘perfect’ game. Truly off the charts. This is as if instead of scoring a hat trick in football, someone scored nine goals (off of only nine touches?)

Re this girl being drafted in six or so years, it’s unlikely. Even way back in the late 1970s, the best player on my little league team was also a girl – and like young Katie, she was the most physically mature kid on the team. It’s likely that the boys’ll catch up in a few years. But good luck and more power to her – she’s obviously got coordination of a ninja.

Football has still to break out from its ghettos in Europe, Africa and South America – really, it’s very geographically limited. Bit of a minority sport. Also, it is played by GURLS (oo gosh).

I’m all in favour of bigging up the footie and bashing US parochialism, but as far as I’ve been able to tell, the US is the only country in the world where it is socially very acceptable for females to play. The average American may be a bit limited in his or her knowledge of world sport, but you sure as hell can’t fault them on the gender front when it comes to ‘soccer’. Of course, I suppose that’s mostly down to the fact that football isn’t a big time cultural activity in the States the way it is in the rest of the world. Everywhere else, its importance results in men taking a very hard line, gender-specific view on who is allowed to be play it. Or so it would seem.


antirealist 05.20.05 at 9:16 am

Not to pour cold water on things, but isn’t this most likely to be just a quirk of chance? Rare events happen from time to time. IIRC John Allen Paulos – the mathematician and baseball buff – has a chapter in one of his books about this, but I don’t have it to hand at the moment. Anyone?


Slocum 05.20.05 at 9:27 am

Struck out every batter? I’ve never even heard of that happening – it’s way beyond the traditional measure of a ‘perfect’ game. Truly off the charts.

For older players, yes, but I don’t think that’s necessarily so 11-year-olds in Little League. These kids have really just started playing fast pitch, and at that age some kids are (temporarily) so far ahead of the others athletically and developmentally, it’s almost like they’re a different species.

What strikes me as unusual, though, is that she struck out every batter but didn’t walk or hit any along the way. My memory of Little League baseball is that some kids could already throw very hard and struck out a lot of batters, but their control was usually not very good (which added much to the fear of standing in against them).


Matt 05.20.05 at 9:32 am


I can’t say very much about the deeper social feeling, but I know that in Russia there is a women’s professional football league that has teams in most of the middle-to-large cities, and that people take pride in their teams. (Ryazan, the city I lived the most, liked to brag that it had the best women’s professional team, but people from other cities were skeptical.)
Kieran- you’re right about the way that the tension sneaks up on your in a baseball game- I saw a no-hitter here in Philly a few years ago, and until about the end of the 6th, we mostly just thought it was a boring game. I guess if the pitcher is striking ever batter out it’s exciting a bit sooner though!


Carlos 05.20.05 at 9:34 am

Socker in Latin America is a legacy of British commercial imperialism. In Europe, it was part of the mystification used to distract the working class from political aspirations (witness Berlusconi). In Africa, jeez Louise. I won’t even start with FIFA, an organization which makes Bud Selig look like Jimmy Stewart.

And as Reuben points out, it’s only in the US where socker has a pretense to gender equality. Other places, women’s socker seems to be a marketing device used by the local editions of Playboy.

Of course, the true wave of the future in the socker lands is basketball.


David Weman 05.20.05 at 9:49 am

Women’s soccer has become pretty big in Sweden in recent years.

I’d gueess it’s reasonbly big in China too, which in itself is a fifthe of the world.


Ray 05.20.05 at 10:14 am

Women’s soccer is reasonably big in the UK too, I think. What does ‘big’ mean for (women’s) sports though? Participation? Coverage? Attendance?


Alex R 05.20.05 at 10:32 am

So what are other games that allow for — and occasionally acheive — “perfection”?

Bowling is the most obvious example. But note that the competition in bowling is indirect — the action is human-against-bowling-pin. Still, this seems like the closest analogy in terms of tension-building as the game goes on, and in terms of it happening more often than never, but not too often.

Football (soccer) and hockey have perfect games (for a goalkeeper) similar to baseball: allow no goals for the entire game. But shutouts are sufficiently common that calling this “perfection” seems a little extreme. In golf, on the other hand, a single hole-in-one is rare enough, much stringing together a round of them! (This page proposes a perfect golf round as hitting a birdie on every par-3 or par-4 hole and an eagle on every par-5. But as far as I can tell, even birdie-ing every hole has never been done.)

Other than bowling, and the aforementioned, relatively common shutouts, what sports *do* have “perfect games”?


reuben 05.20.05 at 10:43 am

what sports do have “perfect games”?


And don’t go telling Andy “The Viking” Fordham that darts isn’t a sport. (

As the big man says, “My trainers [ie sneakers] aren’t for show. I’m an athlete.”


Kieran Healy 05.20.05 at 10:50 am

Also snooker — a perfect 147 break in a frame.


rvman 05.20.05 at 11:24 am

Perfect Games:

Putt-Putt – Ace on every hole. (Snicker)
Bowling – 300 game, of course.
9-ball billiards – sink the 9 on the break.
Baseball – 27 up, 27 down, in order.
Shooting sports(archery, pistol, rifle, darts, etc) – bulls-eye on all shots.

Arguably perfect games:

Volleyball – going game without a side-out.

American Football –
(offence) scoring on every possession.
(defence) 3-and-out or turnover on every possession.
(QB) no incomplete passes or turnovers.

Basketball –
individual – no turnovers, or missed FG or FT for a player.
Offense – Scoring on all possessions.
Defense – hutting out the opposition.

Gymnastics, Figure Skating – perfect scores from all judges in all events.

Boxing, Amateur – x-0 win. (ie, allowing no landed punches to the opponent)

Tennis – winning every serve on ace with no faults, and/or winning at love on all games.

I suppose a bowler could get a perfect game in cricket by wicketing everyone out without a run, but it would be difficult.

Horseshoes could have ringers on every toss, similar with Curling, I guess, though I don’t know the rules, there.

I can’t figure out a reasonable ‘perfect’ in Soccer, Hockey, etc., track or field events, auto or horse racing. I don’t know the scoring of wrestling or the Martial Arts to venture a guess. Golf would be too much of a judgement call – ace on every hole is unlikely, and any scoring used (say, the mentioned birdies and eagles) can be beaten. (Eagles and Double-Eagles, anyone?)


kharris 05.20.05 at 12:11 pm

“Perfect” is partly definitional. We have a definition for a perfect game for a pitcher that is pretty simple. In basketball, you can play a mediocre game, while hitting every shot you take, having no turn-overs and not fouling, if for instance, you played a rotten defensive game, had few assists, or cursed a ref and got thrown out. The differentiation made earlier between the few sports in which “perfect” is possible and the many in which it is is between those in which there is a simple, identifiable task (keep the puck out, strike out all the batters, hit the bullseye) and those which are more complex and fluid. Pitching a perfect game means winning the defensive side of the game single-handedly. The perfect basketball game suggested by another poster does not do that. That is not a bad thing. It just means trying to define a perfect game in basketball doesn’t get you much. Pitching is, or at least can be, very simple. Strike, strike, strike, strike…game over.


Matt 05.20.05 at 12:42 pm


While I mostly agree, note that it’s a bit of an exaduration to say that the pitcher wins the defensive side of the game “single-handedly”. I guess that happend in the little league game mentioned above, and I believe that it’s happend in a few other little league games, and probably in some low minnor-league or other amature games, but in all major-league perfect games there have been at least a few ball put into play (I think the record for strike-outs in a game at the major league level is 21 or 22) so some of the fielders had a hand in it. (A perfect game in baseball is a no hitter w/ no walks and no errors, not one w/ all strike-outs.)


saurabh 05.20.05 at 1:24 pm

It’s also worth noting that by the time Katie gets much older and boys start outstripping her in size, she’ll be in high school, where gender segregation of sports will be much more strongly enforced. It’s probably relatively rare for boys and girls older than 13 or 14 to play baseball together. But boy, would it be exciting if she were a trailblazer here (if the pressure from assholes like us squeaking in anticipation doesn’t crack her).


Jake 05.20.05 at 1:26 pm

With respect to Kharris and Matt’s comments, if you were talking about a major-league game where the pitcher struck out everybody, you still wouldn’t call it single-handed, because that also requires the catcher not making any mistakes along the lines of a dropped third strike.


Jeremy Osner 05.20.05 at 2:01 pm

Is a dropped strike counted as a ball or something then?


Vanya 05.20.05 at 2:05 pm

This really is impressive. Was her coach named Morris Buttermaker by any chance?


urizon 05.20.05 at 2:32 pm

The strikeouts are actually more imressive than the perfect game. There have been seventeen perfect games in the major leagues, and who know how many in the minors, college, little league, etc.

But to strike out the entire opposing team in a row three times? I only know of one instance, by a pitcher named Ron Necciai, in 1952.

If I remember correctly, they only play six innings in little league, so her strikeout total would have been 18, which puts her in Nolan Ryan/Roger Clemens territory.

Truly impressive feat for a member of either sex.


Matt 05.20.05 at 2:54 pm

If the catcher drops a 3rd strike, the batter can get to 1st base if he gets there before he’s tagged out or forced out. (If you watch the games closely, you’ll see that the catcher usually tags the batter after a 3rd strike anyway.) I’m not sure if the dropped 3rd strike (or a passed ball in general) counts as an error or not, but if not, I don’t really understand why. But, to put the point more fully- a perfect game in one where no one reaches base, whether by a hit, an error, or a dropped 3rd strike/passed ball.


Anarch 05.20.05 at 2:55 pm

Good on ya, Katie. Very cool.


terceiro 05.20.05 at 4:01 pm

This is cool, indeed. But at 5’8″ and only 11, she’s got to be a full head taller than every boy in the whole league. The sexual tension between 11 year old boys and girls is just barely past the cootie stage for most boys, and yet the girls are, in some cases, menstruating. Those boys aren’t just intimidated by her fastball, they’re scared to death that she’ll beat them up after the game, or, even worse, try to kiss them. It will be very interesting to see what happens in a few years.

That said, the athleticism of 11 year olds is nothing to scoff at. These are no t-ball toddlers. There’s a couple of kids on my son’s team (8 and 9 year olds) who are downright and uncontestable good athletes. They can run, throw, hit, slide, and catch with consistency and surprising power. They even swagger. The next age group up (10 and 11 year olds) can play real baseball. It’s exciting to watch — and not just for the parents of the players.


obeah 05.20.05 at 4:05 pm

In horse racing, there’s really no definition of a single perfect performance (if there were, it would probably be Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes victory in 1973), but it is exceedingly rare for a horse to retire undefeated after a full career. Personal Ensign was the last to do it in the U.S., in 1988, and before her you have to go back to Colin in 1908.


Nick 05.20.05 at 5:05 pm

Carlos, I’m amazed that you can describe soccer as a legacy of British imperialism & then say that basketball is set to move into the soccer-playinf countries: no commercial imperialist agenda there, of course.
Cricket has no concept of a ‘perfect game’ but has once achieved 10 dismissals in as many deliveries, I believe – by a native australian bowler in the 19th century. The nearest equivalent in Test cricket would be Jim Laker at Old Trafford in 1956 – against the Aussies, of course.


Bernard Yomtov 05.20.05 at 6:59 pm

If the catcher drops a 3rd strike, the batter can get to 1st base if he gets there before he’s tagged out or forced out.

Only if it’s a swinging strike. There has been at least one famous incident – in the 1941(?) World Series a dropped third strike gave the Yankees (of course) an extra chance to score, which they took advantage of.

The pitcher, by the way, still gets credit for a strikeout, as well he should.

Paulos discusses the chances of a perfect game, and shows that on reasonable, though perhaps a touch fudged, assumptions, it has happened about as often as the probabilities would suggest.

The chance of a 27-strikeout perfect game is absurdly low. It is very rare for a pitcher to strike out one third of the batters he faces in a season. (Randy Johnson has just managed it over his career). So it’s less than 1/(3^27).


Jeremy Osner 05.20.05 at 9:31 pm

fun to contemplate what would happen if two teams with perfect defenses played one another.


Mary 05.21.05 at 1:52 am

I think cricket has the idea of perfect games, but not the reality. For bowlers/defending teams it would be 10 wickets for 0 runs. For the batting side, it would be declaring with the opening pair not out (and some non-trivial score, presumably “enough to win”).


Nick 05.21.05 at 2:58 am

I’m not sure that ‘perfection’ can exist as a goal for batting sides in cricket – you could declare at 500-0 & still draw the game. I’d suggest batting perfection was only achieved once – Gary Sobers’ 6 sixes off a single over in 1968 (?year from memory). But then what do you call Basil d’Oliveira’s 49 off a single (imperfectly bowled) over around the same time? Seekers after further obscure feats can always try Wisden online though it looks as if we’ll have to wait till later in the year for the full backlist.


Bernard Yomtov 05.21.05 at 10:33 am


Johnson has struck out 30%, not 1/3, over his career. So the odds get even worse.


MNPundit 05.21.05 at 12:05 pm

Predictably I get the soccer lovers screaming at me. That’s fine. I believe baseball is the best and most perfect sport ever for the reasons listed above, and because I LIKE IT BETTER THAN SOCCER.

I also wondered if I’d get snark for the “major ethnicities.”

Perhaps you missed this paragraph?

“In recent years baseball has made in roads into Central Asia and I think, will be the other sport that best competes with soccer for planetary recognition.”

What’s central asia? The afghanistan, pakistan, indian region wouldn’t it be?

You would think I didn’t even acknowledge these things.


Matt Weiner 05.21.05 at 4:50 pm

Bernard and Jeremy–I think the ball has to hit the ground for the batter to have a chance to run. So the catcher will tag the batter when he swings at a third strike in the dirt.


Bernard Yomtov 05.21.05 at 5:43 pm

OK. From the Official rules

The batter becomes a runner when_ (a) He hits a fair ball; (b) The third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing (1) first base is unoccupied, or (2) first base is occupied with two out; When a batter becomes a base runner on a third strike not caught by the catcher and starts for the dugout, or his position, and then realizes his situation and attempts then to reach first base, he is not out unless he or first base is tagged before he reaches first base. If, however, he actually reaches the dugout or dugout steps, he may not then attempt to go to first base and shall be out.


Jake 05.22.05 at 3:07 pm

Having seen Afleet Alex’s amazing recovery and triumph in the Preakness yesterday, I thought some more about this question of perfection in sports. It’s clear that Alex’s performance wasn’t perfect (although his near-fall wasn’t his fault alone), but it reminded me of the most spectacular track performance I can remember, Michael Johnson’s 19.32 time in the 200 meters. He stumbled a bit at the beginning of the race, but, of course, recovered. This doesn’t really suggest anything important to me, but I wonder if in some of these sports, the idea of perfection is more or less orthogonal to anything that actually has value within the event. In such sports, perhaps there’s nothing with respect to perfection that generates the interesting tension to which Kieran refers.

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