John Montgomery Ward Was More Than a Name on a List of Perfect Games


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Any time a pitcher throws a perfect game, as Domingo Germán of the Yankees did on Wednesday, the list of previous pitchers who performed the feat is trotted out. The names are famous (Sandy Koufax! Cy Young!) and decidedly less famous (Dallas Braden?).

At the top of that list, and fairly easy to scroll past, are a pair of names separated from the others by nearly 25 years — and huge differences in game play.

1. Lee Richmond, Worcester, 6/12/1880
2. John Ward, Providence, 6/17/1880

Beyond the list of perfect games, their names aren’t familiar to modern audiences. Even their clubs are defunct. In some ways it can seem as if they exist solely to be credited for having pioneered a feat that remains decidedly rare to this day. And occasionally they do not even get that, as many news outlets limit their lists to baseball’s so-called modern era, which began in 1901.

Richmond at least gets the distinction of being first, and his perfect game against the Cleveland Blues was easily the highlight of his sporting career. But if you take the time to learn about Ward, who matched Richmond’s perfection in a game against the Buffalo Bisons five days later, you will find that retiring all 27 batters he faced on a Thursday afternoon at Messer Street Grounds in Providence, R.I., was just one line on a résumé that could make even Shohei Ohtani, the two-way superstar of the Los Angeles Angels, blush.

Ohtani’s ability to pitch and hit is awe-inspiring, but Ward, who was born in 1860 and was known by many as Monte for his middle name, Montgomery, did even more. He pitched a perfect game, won a National League E.R.A. title, collected 164 wins as a pitcher and 2,107 hits as a position player, had a 111-steal season, became a lawyer, organized a union, formed his own professional league and, just for fun, developed such a strong golf game that he finished second in a prestigious tournament.


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