Had their father been in the same position that the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw was Wednesday night, Bill and Mark Bunning can tell you with certainty what he would have done. A perfect game after seven innings? Thirteen strikeouts? Just 80 pitches? Oh, yes, Jim Bunning would have had a word or two for any manager who dared to yank him for the sake of saving his health … or for any other reason.

Mark: “There would have been an argument.”

Bill: “He’d have told him to go pound sand.”

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It’s coming up on 58 years since Jim Bunning became the first Phillie to pitch a perfect game — on Father’s Day 1964 against the Mets — and a couple of phone calls Friday to two of his sons reaffirmed the difference between baseball then and baseball now. There have been just 23 perfect games in major-league history, and Bunning would have been damned to do what Kershaw and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts did. The two collaborated to pass up a shot at immortality in the Dodgers’ 7-0 victory in Minnesota, and the Twins weren’t the only losers that night. Everyone who cares or claims to care about baseball — about a sport that doesn’t seem to want to stop itself from dying — lost, too.

“It is disappointing,” Mark Bunning said. “As a fan at that game, you have to be disappointed when he doesn’t come out to pitch. I said to my wife, ‘My dad wouldn’t have come out of that game. He would have had a fight with a manager on the mound.’”

Kershaw didn’t. He and Roberts went hand in hand in ceding to the safe move. This is a big problem for Major League Baseball, maybe the game’s overriding problem. Put aside the lockouts and labor strife and slow-as-cold-molasses pace of each game. Turn a deaf ear to the laments of Baby Boomer and Gen X fans who complain that today’s pitchers and players just aren’t as tough as those of earlier generations. Watching a pitcher try to finish a perfect game is something that baseball too often isn’t anymore. It’s entertaining. And it’s entertaining because there’s risk involved.

There’s the risk that the pitcher might give up a hit or issue a walk or plunk a batter with a wayward curveball. There’s the risk that one of his teammates might make an error. There’s the risk that, because he is exerting himself in a high-pressure situation, he will tire. And yes, there’s the risk that something worse than tiring out might happen to him.

That last factor was the determinative one in this situation. Kershaw received an injection last October to treat an elbow/forearm injury, and the Dodgers want him healthy and available to pitch this October, and they are paying him $17 million this season, and to him and Roberts, sending him out for the eighth inning just didn’t seem worth the … well, there’s that four-letter word again.

“It felt like that was the right call for my personal health, the best interests of the team, and me being ready in October,” Kershaw said, according to the Associated Press. “It all seemed like the right call at the time.”

“When you do my job,” Roberts told reporters, “you have to answer to consequences.”

You sure do, and one of the consequences of playing it safe all the time is that ballpark seats go unfilled, TV ratings decline, and a sport that was once dynamic for its diversity of styles of play and styles of player keeps giving people cause to stop paying attention to it. When I heard that Kershaw had retired the first 21 hitters he’d faced Wednesday, I hustled to get home to catch the top of the eighth inning. The only stake I had in the game was the chance to witness history. But when I learned that Roberts had removed Kershaw, I didn’t bother to turn on the game. I can’t be the only person who reacted that way.

Look, Kershaw might be the best pitcher of the last quarter century. No one wants to see him get hurt. But there’s a difference between removing a player from a game after he or she has suffered an injury and removing a player from a game — especially in the midst of a remarkable performance — because he or she might suffer an injury. The former is always prudent. The latter can be a needless display of excessive caution, one that drains any chance of joy and emotional transcendence from a pastime that is supposed to provide them every once in a while.

Risk is a reason to watch sports. It is a primary reason to watch sports. Risk makes sports great. Risk creates drama. Is the runner on first base going to steal second? Is the quarterback who just took a big hit staying in the game, and can he still lead the winning touchdown drive? Can the runner who set a fast pace hold off the rival with the great finishing kick? Can the starting pitcher complete the shutout or the no-hitter or the perfect game? We want to see that kind of individual achievement amid adversity. We want to see men and women pushing themselves to the brink in pursuit of excellence.

Too often, the people who make decisions in Major League Baseball — general managers, managers, the athletes themselves — are taking away those moments and opportunities from the sport. They’re removing the most compelling reasons to watch. In modern baseball, the percentages always get played and the players and pitchers are always protected, and the sport is lesser for being so risk-averse. It is slouching toward irrelevance, one pitching change at a time.