Is it Shutout or Complete Game Shutout ?


While the ability to watch every single baseball game being played is a genuine privilege of this era in technology, it is not without its faults.  Like watching the same commercial over and over, not just once per inning but, on occasion, several times in the same break.  Two years ago it was the Sharp commercial with Gerard Fasel.  This year it is the “do you have an invention” commercial.

One other drawback is that a broadcaster’s pet phrase can begin to get under your skin, to a point of yelling things at the TV, or worse, starting an epic rant on Twitter.  Ernie Johnson’s “fisted” call has gone from trademark to genuine irritant.  Al Hrabosky’s “the key to success is for <pitcher X> to keep the ball down” will cause eyes to roll from Indiana to Colorado.

In the May  22 game between the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, Fox Sports Midwest broadcaster Dan McLaughlin’s described Adam Wainwright’s brilliant performance as “complete game shutout”.   That prompted several comments on Twitter, including this one.

To clarify for folks, it's not a complete game shutout. 
It's just a shutout. If you throw a shutout, it has to be a 
complete game. #PetPeeve

Ah, but not so fast. It turns out that McLaughlin was correct in his call.   Complete game shutout is not a redundancy as many think.   They are two separate things.

Let’s take a look at the Official Rules of Major League Baseball.  In particular, lets jump down to section 10, which governs the official scorer.

10.18 Shutouts
A shutout is a statistic credited to a pitcher who allows no runs in a game. No pitcher shall be credited with pitching a shutout unless he pitches the complete game, or unless he enters the game with none out before the opposing team has scored in the first inning, puts out the side without a run scoring and pitches the rest of the game without allowing a run.

Ahh, so there’s an OR in there, isn’t there ?   Like that’s ever happened, right ?

Well, since you asked, yes it did.   If you take a look at Neil Allen’s career record over at baseball-reference.com, you will see a curious entry in the 1988 line.   It looks something like this.

Year Team W L ERA G GS CG SHO
1988 NYY 5 3 3.84 41 2 0 1

No, that is not a typo, it really happened.

May 31, 1988 – New York Yankees at Oakland Athletics

After going down in order to start the first inning, the Yankees took the field in Oakland, just as they did in every other game.  They had no idea that something unusual was about to happen.  Neither did their starter, Al Leiter.

The first batter Leiter would face was Carney Lansford.  Lansford wasted no time and lined Leiter’s first pitch off his left arm and the ball fell harmlessly to the ground for a single.  Leiter followed suit shortly after, but not before his errant throw allowed Lansford to end up at second base.   Leiter could not continue and had to be removed from the game.  His replacement was former Cardinal pitcher, Neil Allen.

Allen was brilliant in relief of the injured Leiter.  He retired the next three batters (Stan Javier, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire) to strand Lansford at second base.   He would then pitch the next 8 innings, allowing just three hits.  More importantly, he did not allow a run to score.

When it came time for the official scorer to enter the statistics for the game, Allen was credited for a shutout as he recorded all 27 outs without allowing a run.   But he was not given credit for a complete game since he did not pitch to every batter.

But wait, there’s more.

June 23, 1917 – Washington Senators at Boston Red Sox – Game 1

Babe Ruth took the mound in the first game of this double header.   He quickly got into trouble with home plate umpire Brick Owens as each of his first three pitches were called balls.   When his fourth pitch was also called a ball, he charged the umpire and a bit of a brawl broke out.  Ruth was ejected for calling balls and strikes (although the real reason was a punch to the jaw of Owens).

Ernie Shore

Ernie Shore came in to replace Ruth.   On the first pitch, Ray Morgan tried to steal second base but was thrown out.  Shore then retired the next 26 batters.    At the time, he was credited with a perfect game, but that was taken away some time later as the guidelines for no hitters and perfect game were narrowed.  Since Shore did not throw a complete game, he was not eligible for a perfect game.  He was credited with a shutout and a no-hitter, since he recorded all 27 outs without allowing a hit or a run.

And like the Allen game in 1988, we have another shutout that was not a complete game.

The next time you hear a baseball broadcaster say complete game shutout, know that they are actually making the correct call.   It doesn’t happen very often, but the two are very different.   And if you should run into somebody complaining that the broadcaster is being redundant, you can share a pair of fascinating stories from baseball’s past.  This is one of reasons we love this game.

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