Monday, April 14, 2014

Almost Perfect

         “Perfect”is the story of one of baseball’s rarities, the perfect game.  Only 23 pitchers have retired 27 consecutive batters, with no hits, walks or errors.
         In January 2013, producer Martin Khodabakhshian set out to interview the 17 living pitchers who threw perfect games:  Don Larsen, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Len Barker, Mike Witt, Tom Browning, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Cone, David Wells, Randy Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay, Philip Humber, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez.
         “Going in, I thought I would get half the living guys,” said Khodabakhshian.
         Thirteen consented.  Initially, four did not:  Koufax, Rogers, Buehrle, and Wells. When Buehrle heard that 13 were on board, he changed his mind. 
         That left Koufax, Rogers and Wells. Khodabakhshian queried Koufax and Rogers at least six times over a three-month period.
         Koufax’s representative stipulated a contribution to a charity of Koufax’s choice.
          “My response was E:60 doesn’t pay anybody for an interview,” Khodabakhshian recalled.
         “Rogers never gave me a reason.”
         That left Wells.  He was not favorably disposed to ESPN for a past incident that did not involve Khodabakhshian or E:60.  Khodabakhshian contacted the sports marketing agent, Andrew Levy, who contacted Wells’ wife, Nina.  She passed on Khodabakhshian’s number to her husband.  Wells’ call came in to Khodabakhshian as he pulled into a Magic Kingdom parking lot with his son.
         “I Know you’re upset with ESPN for whatever reason,” Khodabakhshian told Wells. “But that shouldn’t keep you out of this.  There are people in my family who hurt me – people I’ve done a lot for – who don’t call on my kids’ birthdays.  But I’m not going to stay away from a family reunion because of one aunt or one cousin.
         “Don’t look at this as an ESPN or E:60 thing.  Look at it as a perfect game film.  You are probably the most favorite of those pitchers, because of who you were and what you did.  If you aren’t in this, millions of fans will say ‘Where was Wells?’
         “You will regret not being in this. You will disappoint yourself.”
         Wells finally agreed.  He sat for an interview at his home in San Diego the week prior to the airing of the 16-minute version of “Perfect” in April 2013.  Khodabakhshian conducted the interview by telephone from an edit room in Connecticut.
         Wells brought the tally to 15 of 17 living perfect game pitchers.  Before each was interviewed, Khodabakhshian and producer Toby Hershkowitz reviewed the films to identify key plays, moments and stats.
         E:60 also interviewed one of four pitchers – Mike Mussina – who lost a perfect game in the ninth inning or later.  (It happened to Mussina twice).  Two others -- Armando Galarraga, Pedro Martinez – declined to participate.  Another, Dave Stieb, could not be reached. Jim Joyce, the umpire who blew the call at first base that cost Galarraga his perfect game, declined.
         But none mattered to Khodabakhshian as much as Koufax and Rogers – especially Koufax, because of his iconic legend.
         “If anything about ‘Perfect’ wasn’t perfect it was that we didn’t get all of them,” said Khodabakhshian.  “The good thing is that it’s timeless.  There will be another perfect game.  You can always add people.”

(posted by Steve Marantz on April 14, 2014)

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