Repeat after me: Madison Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter Sunday afternoon. Madison Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter Sunday afternoon. See? Simple, and appropriate.
The carpers carp that MadBum won’t and shouldn’t get credit for a no-hitter because of the seven-inning rule applied to doubleheader games. That’s almost as bad as saying Bumgarner himself decided to help make the rule so let it be on his head and to his discredit. They’re both false, too.
Bumgarner worked his seven innings, struck out seven, and might have had a perfect game if not for Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed’s throwing error on Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies’s grounder leading off the bottom of the second. MadBum’s mates gave him a cozy five-run lead before he even had to throw a pitch, then tacked on single runs in the third and the sixth.
The lefthander with the 747 wingspan spread as he’s about to deliver is being cheated out of his propers because of a strange contradiction. A 1991 rules change declared no-hitters to be nothing less than nine innings with the pitcher finishing on the winning side. That was prodded by Yankee pitcher Andy Hawkins’s no-hit loss to the White Sox in Chicago, where he didn’t have to pitch the ninth.
The rule changers then didn’t ponder what didn’t occur to them, the wherefores of un-hit pitchers in official games made less than nine innings by future rule changes. Such as the pan-damn-ic safety protocols prompting makeup games required for any reason being parts of doubleheaders and going only seven innings each.
That doubleheader rule was held over for this season, of course. When last I looked, those between the commissioner’s office and the Major League Baseball Players Association who agreed to keep such doubleheaders this year didn’t include Madison Bumgarner.
So playing within both the 1991 no-hitter rule adjustment and the pan-damn-ic doubleheader innings limit does him no favours. He gets credit for a complete game but not a no-hitter. Bumgarner wuz robbed.
Let me go back on record right now to say again that I approve of doubleheaders with seven-inning games—because they make just plain common sense. Old Fart Contingency members who denounce them as just more kowtowing to candy-ass contemporary players are invited hereby to stuff those denunciations, then learn or re-learn a little baseball history.
In Game of Inches, Peter Morris—a baseball historian whose specialty is the earliest baseball generations and the debunking of longtime myths about them—recorded that the doubleheader actually predated the professional game, until it died awhile because when the game went professional team ownerships felt a little (ho ho) funny about two for the price of one keeping money out of their kitties.
“When the National Association began in 1871, there were no doubleheaders. Nor were there any the next year,” noted The Hardball Times‘s Chris Jaffe in 2010. “Professional baseball had its first one in 1873, and it would prove to be the only one in the five-year history of the NA. It took place on the Fourth of July, which was fitting because this would quickly become one of the great days for doubleheaders in baseball.”
Fast forward. The ancient American Association challenged the National League as a major baseball league. By 1891, the upstarts finally so inspired the National League that, in that season, the NL played more doubleheaders than the AA.
Mostly a holiday occurrence at first (Jaffe notes Memorial Day 1883 as the first time all Show teams played doubleheaders on the same day), the full decade of the 1890s showed the National League—having it all to itself with the AA’s collapse—playing doubleheaders a quarter of the time all decade long.
Oh, yes. There was one distinctive trend within the NL’s growing doubleheader friendliness: the bottom-feeding teams played the most doubleheaders. “This was an especially important development, because it remained true for decades,” Jaffe observed.
That makes sense if you think about it. Poor teams need an added inducement to convince the fans to come out and see them. Perhaps more importantly, when they traveled on the road their opponents needed an extra bit of persuasion to convince rooters to see what promised to be some lackluster on-field performances.
After the American League formed and joined in the Show fun, times came when teams often played 25 doubleheaders a season and sometimes more. The doubleheader had far less to do with the good of the game than with making money for the owners—especially those owning the also-ran teams who needed whatever they could get to draw fans at home, and those owning the more powerful teams who needed to draw fans when the also-rans came to town.
The Great Depression really exposed that one. From 1930-34, the National League teams averaged 36 percent a year’s schedule in doubleheaders and the American League teams, 30 percent. During World War II, the NL’s teams averaged 46 percent of their schedule in doubleheaders and the American League’s teams, 45 percent—including AL teams playing practically half their schedule in doubleheaders in 1943 and the NL teams doing likewise in 1945.
If a National League team had played just one more doubleheader, it would have meant over half the league’s games being played in twin bills.
Naturally enough, nobody gave much thought to what it might take out of players to play so many doubleheaders in a season. Especially the 1943 White Sox. For whatever reasons, those White Sox alone played an unconscionable 44 doubleheaders. Those included eleven in July, eleven between September’s beginning and the 1 October regular-season finish, and 27 pairs of doubleheaders played either on back-to-back days or with an off-day between them.
Never mind Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’s fabled watchword, “It’s a beautiful day—let’s play two!” You try thinking about playing 36 innings of baseball in two or three days by design rather than by extra innings happenstance. You might be at least as exhausted thinking about it as the men who played those innings in that stretch must have been playing them.
Doubleheaders began fading away little by little by the end of the 1950s. But it’s to wonder why baseball’s overlords of the era previously discussed didn’t even think about considering seven-inning games for doubleheader days. The ’43 White Sox played 774 innings worth of doubleheaders before extra-inning games are considered (eight times a White Sox doubleheader game went to extras that year); if they’d been seven-inning games, they would have played 602 doubleheader innings.
Discussing in February the pan-damn-ically inspired rule changes that should be kept or dumped, CBS Sports writer Mike Axisa applauded keeping doubleheaders of seven-inning games:
Games are going to be postponed, potentially a lot of games, and they will have to be made up at some point later in the season. We saw teams play three doubleheaders in a single week at times last year. MLB has to assume something like that will happen again, in which case seven-inning doubleheaders are a necessity. You can’t ask players to run themselves into the ground like that.
. . . [O]f all the 2020 rule changes MLB and the MLBPA should consider for 2021, this is the one that most has to happen . . . It’s less wear and tear on the players, and less time at the park equals less exposure to the pandemic for players, coaches, stadium workers, and fans. Seven-inning doubleheaders are a must.
They should be a must even beyond the eventual end of the pan-damn-ic. Especially for the reason Axisa said primarily. Baseball players aren’t automatons who can play endlessly, no matter what the Old Fart Contingent thinks or maybe even wishes. They’re human beings, with human limitations, no matter how much baseball talent and skill they bring while it’s there for them to bring. (“By the time you finally learn how to play,” mammoth bombardier Frank Howard once said, “you can’t play anymore.”)
Forget how much money they’re earning. Forget Hall of Famer Willie Stargell’s memorable observation, during a long and arduously-traveled road trip, “The umpire doesn’t say, ‘Work ball’.” Professional baseball requires hard work to play. It’s not a question of just suiting up, going out to play seven or nine innings, then changing clothes with a shower and heading home.
Madison Bumgarner went to the mound Sunday in a lawfully-scheduled seven-inning game under rules he didn’t make . . . and didn’t surrender a single hit. He earned credit for the win. The 1991 no-hitter rule change didn’t account for arbitrarily but necessarily changed structures of doubleheaders, and Bumgarner didn’t ask for a seven-inning game to start half a twin bill.
Officially, MadBum gets credited with a complete game. Also officially, he gets no credit for a no-hitter. If you can tell me how much sense that makes without tripping over both of us, you’re a better manperson than I. Far as I’m concerned, the seven-inning doubleheader needs to stay beyond the pan-damn-ic . . . and Madison Bumgarner damn well did pitch a no-hitter.