By Shane Nicholson
“To those who knew him John Paciorek was a natural… He certainly wasn’t the greatest player over an extended period, but he is and likely will remain the greatest one-game–and only one game–position player in baseball history.”
So begins the opening chapter of longtime freelancer Steven K. Wagner’s Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One-Game Wonder. It’s an apt description of not only the man but the volume Wagner has produced about his life as well.
Paciorek has long been a favorite footnote in the annals of baseball history: for one day–the final day of the 1963 season–he was the best baseball player in the world. When you consider that day coincided with Stan Musial’s final game in a Cardinals uniform it only underlines what an exceptional performance Paciorek turned in for the Houston Colt .45s, Sept. 29, 1963.
Wagner’s Perfect paints a gorgeous picture of that final day of the season, weaving between first-person narrative, broadcast transcripts and scenes from Paciorek’s life in the years since. The unassuming man from the suburbs of Detroit, who retired with a 1.000 batting average, has refused to be defined by that single day even though it will be the lasting image of a ballplayer who moved on to tutor hundreds of high school athletes after he hung up his spikes for last time in 1968.
Paciorek’s tale is more than a simple box-score line – 3-for-3, 2 BB, 4 runs scored, 3 RBI, flawless in the field – but the perfection he achieved on that day gives us a reason to revisit the life of a man who lost his dream of baseball at the age of 24 only to find there was so much more he had to give to the sport.
Wagner may not have produced the greatest baseball book of all-time (that honor still belongs to Mike Sowell’s brilliant The Pitch that Killed) but he has certainly given us one that, taken on its own merits, is one of the finest examples of literature in the sport.
Follow Shane on Twitter: @ofvoid