- Twice Perfect:Jean Faut of the South Bend Blue Sox
In his book Perfect: The Inside Story of Sixteen Perfect Games, James Buckley Jr. describes the rarity of the "perfect game": since the founding of the National League in 1876 to 2002, opposing pitchers have had over 340,000 opportunities (170,000 games) to throw perfect games, but only sixteen had done so. That equates to approximately one in every 21,250 opportunities. No Major League pitcher has ever been perfect twice in his professional career, and many of the greatest have never done so even once. The feat is, indeed, one of the rarest of any athletic accomplishment.1
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) existed from 1943 through 1954. It was the highest level of professional baseball ever afforded women. In its twelve-year history, some six hundred of the greatest female athletes were paid to play a game once the exclusive domain of men. During that time, only five perfect games occurred out of 9,578 opportunities (or once in every 1,916 chances), three during the underhand pitching period (1943–47) and two during the period when overhand pitching was adopted throughout the League (1948–54). Incredibly, both of these latter games were pitched by one person, Jean Faut of the South Bend Blue Sox.2
This feisty righthander was one of the most dominant pitchers in the history of the AAGPBL. During her eight-year career with the Blue Sox (1946–53), she compiled a lifetime record of 140-64 with a mind-boggling 1.23 ERA. She never had a losing season or an ERA above 1.51. She was named the league's player-of-the-year twice (1951 and 1953), was a four-time all-star, was second in the league in career wins, held the league record for single-season winning percentage with a .909 (20-2) in 1952, and led the Blue Sox to consecutive league championships in 1951 and 1952. When compared with Major League pitchers, she ranks first in ERA and fourth in winning percentage (.686).3
Comparing the level of play in the AAGPBL to that found in the Major Leagues is a little like comparing apples to oranges. Men are stronger, hit with [End Page 107] more power, have better overall batting averages, and field better than their female counterparts. For these reasons, some would argue that it is more difficult to pitch a perfect game in the Major Leagues than it was in the AAGPBL. However, considering the conditions under which the women played, Faut's two perfect games are all the more remarkable.
While the dimensions of the field were smaller and the hitters less powerful and skilled with the bat, equipment and rules changed continually throughout the existence of the league, often from year to year, sometimes even in midseason. When the league started in 1943, it was basically fast-pitch softball played under some of the rules of baseball. Runners, for example, could take a lead off base and steal, but the ball was a soft twelve inches in circumference. Basepaths were much shorter (sixty-five feet) and the pitching distance much closer (forty feet). Distances and ball dimensions evolved drastically, so that by the final season of the league in 1954, it was almost exactly like regulation baseball.
Pitching itself changed over the years: it began as underhand, graduated to sidearm in 1946–47, and moved fully to overhand in 1948. Many of the pitchers in the earlier period were experienced submariners who could not make the transition to the overhand style. Consequently, many teams converted their position players—especially outfielders—to pitchers since they were used to throwing the ball overhand with power. Batters, too, had to make adjustments, since underhand throws tend to rise, overhand to drop.4
All of these changes were designed to make the game more exciting and more like men's baseball. Fast-pitch underhand softball is generally a very pitcher-dominated game with low scores and correspondingly low batting averages. As the women's game evolved more toward baseball, more runs were produced. Batting averages and ERAs both increased...