Don't Say A Word

Photo Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

by: Rich Daniels

A perfect game in the making.

On Saturday, August 25, Rockies prospect Jeff Hoffman was weaving a potentially legendary game for the Albuquerque Isotopes. The right-hander retired the first eighteen Reno Aces he faced without a hit or walk surrendered. Coincidentally there was an occurrence almost as rare as a perfecto as Isotopes play-by-play announcer Josh Suchon was not on the air that night, the first time in the past four years.

Subbing for Suchon was local sports talk show host Jeff Siembieda who had the happenstance of a lifetime on his hands. The first time in four years anyone gets a chance to call a Triple-A level game in his town and he's calling a perfect game. Siembieda came out of the commercial break leading into the seventh inning and promptly informed the listening audience that Hoffman had a perfect game going. Groans and sighs of frustration echoed through the press box and even a few heads bearing earbuds turned skyward in the crowd below. The jinx was on.

Aces leadoff man Ildemaro Vargas slapped Hoffman's second pitch down the left field line for a double. Second baseman Chris Owings then hit the second pitch he saw for an RBI single followed by left fielder Socrates Brito smacking the third pitch he saw for another single. 

The Aces tied the game in the seventh then took the lead for good in the eighth after Hoffman's departure. More than a few people in the ballpark focused their blame on Siembieda's violation of one of baseball's unwritten superstitious rules. Never mention a perfect game or no-hitter in progress.

Now there's no scientific link to mentioning a perfect game or no-hitter and its likely demise. But ask any die-hard baseball fan about it and you're likely to get a "Don't Do It!," response.
A completely superstitious belief that the mere mention of the fragile feat is enough to destroy it like a hardball souffle' crashing inward upon itself. A powerful superstition like this must have quite an origin story.

Seventy-one years ago in the 1947 World Series, more than just a new world champion was set to make baseball history. Yankees starter Bill Bevens found himself just one out away from completing the first ever no-hitter in World Series history and against the arch-rival Dodgers to boot. Iconic  Yankees broadcaster Red Barber made his first mention of the possible no-no and the last Dodger batter got a hit. And to make matters worse, the Dodgers went on to win the game. One of the most epic rivalries in baseball, in the World Series and one of the rarest occurrences in sports. That's a fire that will burn for a long, long time.

The jinx, however, doesn't seem to be limited to the airwaves. 

In June of 2012, A's pitcher Jarrod Parker had a no-hitter going through five innings. Major League Baseball itself tweeted an update about the possible zip-hitter at that point and the Rangers' Michael Young broke it up later in the game. The no-no stigma has proven pervasive enough to change the way baseball people speak and even think. Rays play-by-play man Dwayne Staats has been heard several times saying, "We've got something special going on here," in reference to the feat without directly addressing it. 

Astute fans, too, are keenly aware of the "perfecto jinx". Perhaps due to one of the most famous of the many speeches Kevin Costner made in the role of Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham. To paraphrase by necessity, "You don't mess with a winning streak, because they don't come around very often."

Streaks can encompass weeks, days or, like no-hitters and perfect games, just innings. And whether the jinx is real or not, the fun of building anticipation of a possible game of legend is enough to engage one's emotions to a point of feeling a personal connection to it. And being part of history carries with it the intense desire not to ruin it with even the slightest word. 

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