Rookie no-nos don’t always mean long-term success

Reid Detmers

Detmers pumps a fist after finishing his 10 May no-hitter. Subsequenty struggles earned him a trip back to the minors this week.

Reid Detmers didn’t exactly throw the prettiest or the most efficient no-hitter in early May, not with two strikeouts, eleven ground outs, and fourteen fly outs, while his Angels blew the Rays out 12-0. But a no-hitter it was, while Detmers still had rookie status. The no-hitter won’t change, but Detmers’s status has.

The Angels optioned the lefthander to Salt Lake (AAA) Wednesday. Allowing eight home runs and issuing thirteen walks over 27 innings to follow the no-no does that for you. The second and youngest Angels rookie to pitch a no-hitter is now the youngest Angel to earn a trip back to the minors a month and a half after pitching his gem.

What sealed Detmers’s trip back to Salt Lake was three fives against the Royals Tuesday night: five hits, five earned runs, five innings, en route a game the Angels lost 12-11 in eleven innings.

It showed the Angels only that he needs more seasoning after all, while they return to their sadly usual path of trying to find reasonably competent starting pitching, after what they had that isn’t named Shohei Ohtani contributed their fair share to the team’s 7-22 collapse following a 27-17 start.

Detmers still has time to re-horse and return as a worthy major league pitcher. He’s also in the record books permanently as the 25th major league rookie to throw a no-hitter while still a rook. Not all of those rooks went on to deliver reasonable careers, unfortunately.

“Late success is quieter,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax. But too-early success can leave the noise of might-have-been behind for too long after it dissolves, too. These are Detmers’s 24 fellow no-hit rookies, and how they fared after delivering those goods:

Bumpus Jones (Reds; 22), 15 October 1892—The only game of Jones’s season was the final day of the season, and he kept the Pirates hitless while they scored one run without benefit of a hit. Jones only got to pitch in one more major league season, 1893 . . . posting a 10.19 ERA for the Reds and the New York Giants with a 6.80 fielding-independent pitching (FIP) rate. He pitched a few more seasons in the minors before calling it a career after the 1900 season.

Christy Mathewson (Giants; 20), 15 July 1901—He struck four out and walked four but kept the Cardinals hitless as his Giants beat them, 5-0, in St. Louis. It brought his ERA down to 1.64 with a 2.64 FIP. I think there’s a plaque with his name and likeness on it in Cooperstown somewhere.

Nick Maddox (Pirates; 20), 20 September 1907—Slightly younger than Mathewson when Mathewson delivered his jewel, Maddox kept the Brooklyn Superbas (the future Dodgers) hitless despite a run scoring in the fourth inning. This righthander posted two more fine seasons for the Pirates as a starter, a fourth season as a starter and reliever, but returned to the minors to stay until retiring after the 1914 season.

Jeff Tesreau (Giants; 24), 6 September 1912—Tesreau would finish his season leading the National League with a 1.96 ERA. (His FIP: 3.41.) His big game came at the expense of fellow rookie (and Hall of Famer) Eppa Rixey and the Phillies, with his Giants beating them 3-0 on ten hits and helping him big in the field while he walked two and struck two out.

He went on to pitch seven major league seasons (and in three World Series) before becoming Dartmouth College’s baseball coach and winning 346 games there before he died in 1946.

Charlie Robertson (White Sox; 26), 30 April 1922—The only one of the Rookie 25 whose no-hitter was a perfect game, Robertson did it in his fourth start of the season, beating the Tigers 2-0. He struck out six batters and got all the runs he’d need to work with when Earl Sheely whacked a two-run single to left in the second inning. Dogged by arm trouble afterward, Robertson pitched seven full seasons before retiring after 1928.

Robertson remains the only rookie ever to pitch a perfect game. But he’s also in the trivia books for another reason: his single pitching appearance in April 1919 left him as the last living member of that tainted White Sox team when he died in 1984.

Paul (Daffy) Dean (Cardinals; 21), 21 September 1934—Seeing and raising his Hall of Fame brother Dizzy in the second game of a doubleheader against the Dodgers in Ebbets Field, Dean topped the opening shutout with a six-strikeout, one-walk no-hitter as the Cardinals won, 3-0. Dean himself scored the first run on a Pepper Martin base hit in the sixth; Ripper Collins sent Hall of Famer Joe Medwick home twice with singles in the seventh and the ninth.

The opposite of his garrulous brother, Dean (whose nickname was coined by a reporter simply because he thought both brothers needed related nicknames) would be part of the Cardinals’ World Series triumph against the Tigers that year. But he was injured while having a slightly better 1935 and would never pitch effectively again after that.

Vern Kennedy (White Sox; 28), 31 August 1935—Kennedy was a somewhat late Show arrival when he no-hit the White Sox, 5-0 . . . helping his own cause by whacking a three-run triple in the bottom of the sixth. He should have credited his teammates for the no-no (including veteran Hall of Famer Al Simmons making a diving catch of Milt Galatzer’s line drive in the ninth): he struck nobody out.

Kennedy managed a twelve-season major league career, but he finished with a 4.57 FIP against his 4.61 ERA and actually pitched nine more minor league seasons before retiring to life as a Missouri driving instructor. He died at 85 in a terrible home accident–he was dismantling his smokehouse when the roof collapsed upon him and killed him at once.

Bill McCahan (Athletics; 26), 3 September 1947—McCahan, too, should have credited his mates for his rookie gem, considering he struck only two Senators out as his Philadelphia A’s won, 3-0. His career was ruined when, working off-season for an oil company, he suffered a shoulder injury lifting barrels. He got to pitch 24 more games for the A’s over 1948 and 1949, before being traded to the Dodgers in whose system he tried three more years before retiring.

While with the Dodgers’ Fort Worth farm team, he met a local woman, married her, and retired to a career at General Dynamics before cancer claimed him at 65 in 1986.

Bobo Holloman

Holloman (fourth from left) swarmed by Browns teammates after his 1953 rookie no-hitter.

Bobo Holloman (Browns; 30), 6 May 1953—It took seven years plus in the minors before the flaky Holloman saw major league action with the 1953 Browns. After four relief appearances to open the season, Holloman got the start against the A’s and prevailed in a  6-0 win. The bad news: Holloman struck only three out while walking five. It took the Browns thirteen hits to hang up single runs in the second, third, fifth, and sixth, plus two in the seventh when Holloman himself singled a pair home.

“It was,” Browns owner Bill Veeck would write in Veeck—as in Wreck, “the quaintest no-hitter in the history of the game.” (Veeck obviously forgot or was unaware of Kennedy’s rookie no-no.)

It was also the highlight of Holloman’s career. He proved so ineffective in his next 22 games (managing somehow to earn wins in three) that he was shipped back to the minors  that 19 July, where he stayed for the rest of that season and all 1954 before retiring to become a trucker, an ad agency leader, and even an Orioles scout.

Sam Jones (Cubs; 29), 12 May 1955—The first black pitcher to throw a Show no-hitter, he helped his Cubs flatten the Pirates, 4-0. He struck six out, walked seven, and could have said “This is so Cubs!” considering the Cubs’ fifteen-hit attack—including Ted Tappe’s RBI single in the first and solo home run in the seventh—delivered only four runs.

Jones—whose curve ball Hall of Famer Stan Musial admired—would lead the National League in strikeouts and walks in the same three seasons, 1955, 1956, and 1958. He was intimidating but often wild. In 1962 he was diagnosed with neck cancer, undergoing surgery and radiation to beat it, but his major league career skidded to a finish by 1964 (a leg fracture in one off-season auto accident didn’t help) and he, too, pitched three more minor league seasons before retiring.

He returned to his boyhood home Monongah, West Virginia, and opened the town’s first drive-through car wash before his neck cancer returned and killed him in 1971.

Bo Belinsky (Angels; 25), 5 May 1962—After bouncing around the Oriole system and being taken by the Angels in a minor league draft, the rakish Belinsky sent Hollywood wild when his fourth major league start and win was his no-hitter against his former parent club, 5-0. It was the high point of a career to be eroded by too much taste for the demimonde and the high life.

His name would become synonymous with a lifestyle that was cool and slick and dazzling, one that was to be a trademark of those athletes who appeared later in the ’60s—Joe Namath, Ken Harrelson, Derek Sanderson. But, in time, the name Belinsky would mean something else. It would become synonymous with dissipated talent.

Pat Jordan, Sports Illustrated, 1972.

Belinsky managed to pitch in all or parts of eight Show seasons, his best being 1964 (2.86 ERA; 3.25 FIP) before an overnight brawl with and provoked by a Los Angeles sportswriter got him suspended and later traded by the Angels. He sank further into alcoholism (and three failed marriages) after his pitching career ended before finally sobering up, moving to Las Vegas, becoming a born-again Christian, and working for a car dealership before his death at 64 in 2001.

Don Wilson

Wilson had a second no-hitter in him two years after his rookie no-no.

Don Wilson (Astros; 22), 18 June 1967—The first MLB no-hitter pitched in an indoor stadium. Behind Wilson’s fifteen-strikeout, three-walk pitching, his Astros beat the Braves, 2-0. The Astros got the runs in the fourth inning, when Jimmy (The Toy Cannon) Wynn doubled Sonny Jackson home and Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews—finishing his career in Houston after so many years shining for the Braves themselves—pushing Wynn home on a ground force out at second base.

Wilson became a mainstay of the Astros’ starting rotation for several seasons to come, including a second no-hitter and an All-Star selection in 1971, his arguable best season. But his career ended in tragedy: he parked his Thunderbird in his garage, passed out as the garage door closed by automatic closing mechanism, and died at 29 of carbon monoxide asphyxiation. (As did his son, Donald, age five, whose bedroom was directly above the garage.)

Vida Blue (Athletics; 20), 21 September 1970—In his second cup of coffee before knocking the American League and the country alike over (he was even a cover story—in Time) as its 1971 Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player winner, Blue struck nine Twins out, walked one, and his A’s beat them, 6-0. The final blow: Bert Campaneris’s three-run homer in a five-run eighth.

The promise of that no-no and his 1971 season (league-leading 1.82 ERA and 2.20 FIP) was broken bitterly after A’s owner Charlie Finley–fuming that Blue obtained an agent and asked for a $100,000 salary (this was pre-Messersmith)—insulted him during contract talks for 1972:

Well, I know you won twenty-four games. I know you led the league in earned-run average. I know you had three hundred strikeouts. [Actually, 301, but let’s not get technical.—JK.] I know you made the All-Star team. I know you were the youngest to win the Cy Young Award and the MVP. I know all that. And if I was you, I would ask for the same thing. And you deserve it. But I ain’t gonna give it to you.

Vida Blue

A year before he became a Time cover star, Blue joined the ranks of rookie no-hit pitchers.

The stunned Blue threatened retirement and needed the unlikely intercession of commissioner Bowie Kuhn come April 1972 to get a $63,000 salary for the season. But the Finley insult scarred him; he’d never truly be the same pitcher again (not even striking 200 out in any season to follow, never mind 300 or more) despite managing to post a seventeen-season career including being part of the A’s three straight World Series winners from 1972-74.

“He was bitter and withdrawn,” noted John Helyar in The Lords of the Realm, “eventually developing a drug problem that landed him in court.”

Indeed. Blue would be one of four Royals jailed on drug charges after the 1983 season. Aafter his pitching career finally ended, he cleaned up in due course and became a San Francisco Bay Area philanthropist, arranging numerous charitable events to benefit children including baseball promotion and specific charities.

Burt Hooton (Cubs; 22), 16 April 1972—The knuckle-curve specialist became only the second rookie (after Holloman) to pitch a no-hitter in his first career start. But like Jones before him, Hooton could only do his job on the mound–kind of: he struck seven out and walked seven—while his Cubs whacked twelve hits with only four runs to show for it while beating the Phillies in Wrigley Field.

Nicknamed Happy because his natural facial expression suggested the opposite, Hooton went on to a fine fifteen-season career (including a second-place finish in the 1978 Cy Young Award voting), especially after his 1975 trade to the Dodgers), before making a long career as a coach in both the minor leagues and his alma mater the University of Texas.

Steve Busby (Royals; 23), 27 April 1973—The tall righthander turned in his gem against the Tigers in Detroit. It wasn’t pretty—four strikeouts, six walks—but the Tigers couldn’t buy a base hit while solo homers from Ed Kirkpatrick and Amos Otis plus a run-scoring error made for the 3-0 Royals win.

Busby pitched a second no-hitter the following year (against the Brewers) while posting his best (and only All-Star) season, but fate moved its hand when he came up with a rotator cuff tear in 1976. He became the first pitcher to undergo repair surgery for the injury, but he could pitch only part of 1978, all of 1979, and part of 1980. (He missed being part of the Royals’ trip to the World Series.)

His pitching career lasted only eight seasons, but Busby went on to become a longtime Rangers broadcaster before that ended after the 2016 season.

Jim Bibby (Rangers; 28), 30 July 1973—Another late bloomer, after a spell in the Mets’ minor league system and a couple of cups of coffee with the Cardinals before a trade to the Rangers. (Rangers manager Whitey Herzog pushed the team to deal for him, remembering his talent when he was the Mets’ player development director.)

He threw the franchise’s first no-hitter at the A’s in Oakland. He struck thirteen out—including Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson (I didn’t see [his fastball], I just heard it)—but walked six. The game also made Bibby the first rookie no-hit pitcher to beat a pitcher who’d also thrown a rookie no-hitter: his opponent was Vida Blue. The final: 6-0.

Much like Busby, though, Bibby struggled with control issues much of his career to come. He’d move on to the Indians, the Pirates (where he pitched very well despite earning no decisions in their postseason run to the World Series championship), and—after missing 1982 with a shoulder injury—one more try each with the Rangers and the Cardinals before he retired following his July 1984 release. He enjoyed a post-pitching career as a longtime minor league pitching coach until his 2000 retirement, but bone cancer claimed him in 2010.

Mike Warren (Athletics; 22), 29 September 1983—Up and down with the A’s until injuries smashed into their rotation late season. Pitched his no-no in his final start of 1983, a 3-0 triumph over the White Sox. He, too, wasn’t pretty (five punchouts, three walks); the A’s got the runs courtesy of former Dodger mainstay Davey Lopes’s RBI double in the first and former Ranger and Brave Jeff Burroughs’s two-run homer in the third.

Warren’s 1984 began with poor run support and, when the bats began coming alive, control issues that returned him to relief pitching and, in short enough order, out of the Show after portions of three seasons. He tried pitching on in the minors three more seasons before retiring.

Wilson Álvarez

Álvarez started with a bang but ultimately became part of a surprise mid-season fire sale.

Wilson Álvarez (White Sox; 21), 11 August 1991—Traded to the White Sox mid-way through that season, Alvarez’s second major league pitching appearance rang the bell and then some: he no-hit the Orioles, 7-0, the Sox getting a little more bang for fourteen hits. The bad news: Alvarez walked five while striking seven out.

It was a sign of things to come, unfortunately. The Venezuelan lefthanded struggled all career long with inconsistency, abetted soon enough by injuries and his not-so-great conditoning. He had a fine fourteen-year career that might have been better, finishing with a flourish as a Dodger long reliever and spot starter: in his next-to-last season, Alvarez reeled off nine straight starts with a 1.06 ERA over the nine.

Alvarez may be remembered better as one of the key pieces in the infamous White Flag Trade of 1997, when White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf—trading Alvarez and fellow veterans Danny Darwin and Roberto Hernández to the Giants for a pack of prospects—elected to tank the season, despite the team being only 3.5 games out of first in the American League Central at the time, rather than deal with the threesome’s free agent payday possibilities.

José Jiménez (Cardinals; 25), 25 June 1999—The Cardinals’ rookie had it tougher than most when he pitched his no-hitter: his mound opponent was Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. Small wonder his Cardinals could only win 1-0: Johnson struck out fourteen batters to Jiménez’s eight, and it took two walks plus an RBI single to get that run home in the top of the ninth.

As a matter of fact, Jiménez faced Johnson again two starts later and shut the Diamondbacks out again. They were the only two shutouts of Jiménez’s seven season career. He was moved to the bullpen after his trade to the Rockies for1999 and became evidence for the dubiousness of the save rule even with Coors Field a factor: he became the Rockies’ all-time saves leader (102) . . . with a 4.13 ERA/3.98 FIP.

After joining the 2004 Indians’ bullpen, Jiménez flopped so profoundly (8.42 ERA; 5.53 FIP), he was given his release. He eventually went to the 2007 Pan-American Games but was banned from them when he tested positive for an unidentified anabolic steroid.

Bud Smith (Cardinals; 21); 3 September 2001—It took seven strikeouts and four walks when Smith no-hit the Padres, 4-0. He got immediate help from future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols’s first-inning two-run homer; he got another run when Placido Polanco stole second and came home on a throwing error in the fifth, before Polanco whacked an RBI double in the seventh.

Smith would make a further splash with a splendid National League division series start. But he collapsed so profoundly in 2002, his pitching mechanics completely disarrayed, that he was out of the Show to stay.

He was dealt to the Phillies and signed with the Twins in due course, but he spent the rest of his brief career in those organisations’ farm systems before pitching for the independent Long Beach (CA) Armada two years. He retired to a life of coaching high school baseball at 27.

Aníbal Sánchez (Marlins; 22), 6 September 2006—He’d finish ninth in that year’s National League Rookie of the Year voting. Sánchez struck six out and walked four while his Marlins mustered only a five-hit attack against the Diamondbacks—but Joe Borchard’s second-inning home run and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera’s leadoff bomb in the fourth took care of the 2-0 score.

Sánchez would post a fifteen-season career in which his best regular season was with the 2013 Tigers (2.57 ERA; 2.39 FIP) but—by then almost purely a junkballer—he’d pitch a gem in Game One of the 2019 National League Championship Series—taking a no-hitter into the eighth against the Cardinals. It put him into unique company with his teammate Max Scherzer, who took a no-no into the Game Two seventh: they’re the only pitchers to take no-hitters into the fifth or beyond back-to-back in a postseason, and they also did it with the Tigers in the 2013 ALCS.

After sitting 2021 out in search of an incentive-packed deal, he signed a minor-league deal with the Nats this past March.

Clay Buchholz

Buchholz’s rookie no-no became a broken promise when inconsistency and injuries began to hit harder than they should have.

Clay Buchholz (Red Sox; 22), 1 September 2007—Brought up that August, Buchholz’s second major league start was a no-hitter against the Orioles in Fenway Park. While he struck nine out and walked three, his Red Sox smothered the Orioles with a ten-run, fourteen-hit assault that included a three-run double by Hall of Famer David Ortiz in the fourth.

It made Buchholz both the first Red Sox rookie to pitch a no-hitter and the fourth pitcher in Show history (with Holloman, Hooton, and Álvarez) to do it in his first or second major league start. The bad news: Inconsistency abetted by numerous injuries and illnesses checkered what turned out a thirteen-year career, four-team career that included a World Series ring with the 2013 Red Sox.

Chris Heston (Giants; 27), 9 June 2015—Seasoned by six minor league seasons, Heston remained a rookie when he no-hit Noah Syndergaard and the Mets 5-0. He struck eleven out and walked nobody, but he spoiled his shot at perfection by plunking three batters along the way. Still, he struck three out in the ninth to finish—earning him a signed ball from Sandy Koufax, who did the same thing finishing his 1965 perfect game.

Heston even pitched in on the Giants’ scoring with a two-out, two-run single in the fourth.

But with the Giants signing free agent starters Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija after that season, Heston was moved to the bullpen, where he struggled with consistency and then suffered injuries. He pitched for the Mariners and the Twins subsequently (two gigs for the Mariners, one for the Twins), attempted a 2018 comeback with the Giants, but called it a career in 2020. He now works in real estate in Florida.

Tyler Gilbert (Diamondbacks; 27), 14 August 2021—He was seasoned by five years in the minors (missing 2020 with the minor-league shutdown during the COVID pan-damn-ic) before he made the Diamondbacks in August last year. After three relief gigs he got a start against the Padres . . . and no-hit them in the second, 7-0.

Gilbert struck five out, walked three, and benefited from a fifteen-hit Snake attack including  Drew Ellis’s three-run homer in a five-run first. Making him the fourth rookie to toss a no-hitter in his first major league start and the first since Holloman. He also pitched the record-tying eighth no-hitter of the 2021 season while he was at it.

He’s having an up-and-down season thus far this year. Perhaps the book on his career has a few more chapters yet to go.

There you have it. Out of those 25 no-hit rookies, six struck nine batters or more out; seven enjoyed careers of five seasons or more; ten enjoyed careers of ten or more seasons; one pitched a perfect game; and, only one made a career worthy of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

“Some no-hitters are simply games that go your way”

Tyler Gilbert

Tyler Gilbert gets the congratulatory Gatorade shower . . . that he should have given his teammates, instead.

Tyler Gilbert had a night to remember Saturday, all right. He became only the fourth pitcher in National/American League/American Association history to pitch a no-hitter in his first major league starting assignment.

The company Gilbert joins includes Theodore Breitenstein (1891 St. Louis Browns, AA; the league folded at season’s end), Bumpus Jones (1892 Reds; he surrendered one run in a game in which he walked four), and Bobo Holloman. (1951 Browns, AL, and not the same franchise as the 1891 Browns.)

It took 62 years between Jones and Holloman, then 68 years between Holloman and Gilbert. Pitching a no-hitter is tough enough as it is. Pitching one in your first big-league start seems somewhere between finding the pillar of salt known as Lot’s wife and swimming the full Pacific solo. Right?

“Some no-hitters are pure dominance,” writes ESPN’s David Schoenfield, “and some are simply games that go your way and you get your name in the record books alongside two guys named Bumpus and Bobo.”

Let’s be real. On Saturday night, Gilbert had a game that went his way to get his name in the record books next to a couple of guys named Bumpus and Bobo. I’m not going to say Gilbert did bupkis to leave the Padres with bupkis, but he had more than a little help from his friends.

(He also had a lot of un-premeditated help from the Padres: Fernando Tatis, Jr. was still a day from leaving the injured list where that shoulder dislocation landed him. Gilbert didn’t even have to think about the biggest stick in the Padres’ lumberyard.)

Considering he was responsible for 23 percent of the outs directly, Gilbert had a lot of help from his friends. He faced 28 batters, struck five batters out, but walked three of them, the direct opposite of Holloman’s direct game performance. “[The Padres] a couple hard-hit balls, but I was glad somebody was there to catch them,” Gilbert admitted post-game.

A couple? Gilbert’s fielders took care of 77 percent of the outs (nine ground outs including a pair of double plays; thirteen fly outs); Holloman walked five, struck out three, and his fielders were responsible for 85 percent of the outs. (Twelve ground outs, eleven fly outs.)

And, since this was a National League game, with no designated hitter in the Diamondbacks lineup, Gilbert had to make four plate appearances in the game. He grounded out to the hole at shortstop once, struck out once, and dropped a pair of sacrifice bunts.

The first bunt set up second and third to be followed by a walk and an inning-ending double play. The second pushed Nick Ahmed to third after Ahmed opened the inning with a double. Ahmed scored the seventh Arizona run in due course on a long single down the left field line. That’s one wasted out, one push of a man to third to come home on a long single, and thus direct responsibility for a quarter of a run.

The Snakes did the bulk of their scoring early enough and often enough with a five-run first: an RBI double (Ketel Marte); an RBI single (David Peralta); and, a three-run homer (Drew Ellis). They added the sixth run with a leadoff single (Pavin Smith) and an immediate RBI triple (Josh Rojas) in the fifth.

All on the dollar of Joe Musgrove, who became the twelfth pitcher in Show history to pitch a no-hitter and have a no-hitter against him in the same season. Musgrove’s in pretty intriguing company himself that way—three of those twelve pitchers (Pud Galvin, 1880; Bob Feller, 1951; Juan Marichal, 1963) are Hall of Famers.

But are you really going to call a pitcher who takes care of only 23 percent of the other guys’ outs and does nothing other than a sacrifice bunt that pushed a runner to third base the guy most responsible for the triumph?

“For all of the consternation about the deluge of no-hitters in 2021,” wrote ESPN’S Jeff Passan after Corey Kluber nailed the season’s sixth no-hitter in late May, “the act itself—recording 27 outs without allowing a single hit—remains a miracle.”

In Gilbert’s case, just as in Holloman’s case, it also remains a testament to the efficiency of his defense and the evening potency of the Diamondbacks lineup. Kluber, Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means, Wade Miley, and Spencer Turnbull did more to earn their no-hitters earlier this year than Gilbert did.

I recorded that after Kluber’s no-no, in May, but it’s worth seeing again, adding Gilbert for the full context. I include the fielding-independent pitching rates of each of those pitchers at the time they threw their no-hitters, indicating whom among them was the most likely to turn the trick. I also assign a Win Factor based on their strikeouts divided by the sum of the ground and fly outs in the game. Here they are:

Pitcher Game Score K GO FO WF FIP
Joe Musgrove 3-0 10 10 7 .588 2.88
Carlos Rodon 8-0 7 10 10 .350 1.91
John Means 6-0 12 3 12 .800 3.25
Wade Miley 3-0 8 15 5 .400 3.24
Spencer Turnbull 5-0 9 12 6 .500 2.77
Corey Kluber 2-0 9 9 9 .500 3.57
Tyler Gilbert 7-0 5 9 13 .227 2.79

Gilbert had the least direct responsibility for his no-hit performance among the seven, while Means had the most with Musgrove the second-most. Gilbert by FIP was more likely to pitch a no-hitter than four among the seven but less likely to do it than Rodon and Turnbull. On the other hand, Means lived almost as dangerously as Gilbert with those twelve fly outs in his game.

There are no game logs available to analyse Theodore Breitenstein’s and Bumpus Jones’s no-hitters, but we do have one to analyse Bobo Holloman’s. His yields a .125 win factor—three strikeouts, as noted earlier, but the Browns managed to divide the field labour evenly otherwise: twelve ground outs and twelve fly outs. Holloman’s 4.57 FIP also made him the least likely of any of the four rooks to throw a no-hitter in his first Show start. By far.

Gilbert on earth and Holloman in the Elysian Fields can still take heart that they did at least something on their own to produce no-hitters. They didn’t pitch no-nos in which they did nothing to earn them.

Ken Holtzman did, once, in 1969. Four years to the day after Cincinnati legend Jim Maloney’s oddity (a no-hitter with eleven strikeouts and ten walks), Holtzman’s Cubs beat the Braves, 3-0 . . . with Holtzman striking nobody out, walking three, and needing twelve ground outs and fifteen fly outs to get out alive, never mind with no hits against him.

Essentially, Holtzman did nothing direct to contribute to that win. (He didn’t even do anything at the plate to, ahem, pitch in, either: he went 0-for-3 with a pop fly out to the infield and a pair of ground outs.) But Holtzman took the headlines regardless, and his teammates congratulated him heartily when it should have been the other way around.

Congratulate Gilbert regardless. But once the ball left his hand and those bats, the job was out of his hands entirely. Gilbert should also thank God his fielders knew what they were doing out there to do the most at keeping the Padres off the bases.

There’s only one thing more weird than declaring a pitcher a “winner” in a game where he had little enough to do with his team’s scoring and the other guys’ lack of it. That’s declaring him a “loser” when a) he wasn’t responsible for his team’s lack of scoring; b) he didn’t throw the fat pitch that turned into a game-losing hit; c) he wasn’t in the game when the guy who reached base against him scored what proved the winning run; or, d) or his defense could have been tried by jury for criminal neglect in the field.

But there’s Gilbert with a no-hitter and a win on his record. A no-hitter and a win for which he did only 23 percent of the work needed to deliver without factoring his team’s batting on the night. A win toward which he contributed—without scoring or driving it in—to one fourth (it takes four bases to make a run, remember?) of fourteen percent of his team’s seven runs on the night when he showed up at the plate.

If that’s a “winner,” I’m the headless man in the topless bar.

About all those no-hitters . . .

Corey Kluber

Corey Kluber reaches for the sky after finishing his no-hitter last Thursday—the sixth no-no of the year.

Before the present season began, there were over 220,000 Show games played and 1.6 percent of those involved no-hitters. As of this morning, there have been 693 games played this year, and less than one full percent have been the season’s six no-hitters.

To listen to enough people, you’d think there must never again be a no-hitter this year, because it’ll mean that most difficult pitching feat will be de-valued, no longer special, adding further dilution to the Great and Glorious Game in this apparent New Year of the Pitcher, this apparent New Dead Ball Era.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan says, essentially, not so fast. “For all of the consternation about the deluge of no-hitters in 2021,” he wrote Monday morning, “the act itself—recording 27 outs without allowing a single hit—remains a miracle.”

Even when the league-wide batting average is .237, the worst in MLB’s 150 years of recorded history. Even as pitchers enter seemingly every game with an overwhelming advantage against hitters. Even with the ball deadened and the fielding slick and our senses now conditioned to expect something that, entering this season, had been accomplished only 305 times in more than 220,000 games played. Six no-hitters in 693 games means no-hitters in 2021 are happening about 6¼ times as often as they have in years past.

Even so, the binary among players remains true as it ever did: As much elation as finishing a no-hitter brings, being on the receiving end is awful. The frequency of no-hitters has done nothing to lessen the embarrassment of being on the wrong side of one.

“If you finish a game with one hit and you lose 3-0,” says Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, “it stings a whole lot less. You try to look at it like you’re playing to win the game and we lost. If you look at it from that perspective, you’re going to play 162 and lose some, then it’s more tolerable. That’s the line you want to use. But [a no-hitter’s] not just losing. You got dominated. Nobody wants that. And this year it’s happened a lot.”

Six in 693 games isn’t the epidemic you think it is when you crunch the percentage. Really and truly. So what do you think .001 percent of 220,000 games is? Even if there might be six more no-hitters to come before this season finishes, it would mean a measly .004 percent of this year’s regular-season games involved no-hitters. So everybody relax.

This year’s no-hit survey begins with Joe Musgrove, erstwhile Astro turned Pirate turned Padre. 9 April, his second start of the season: he no-hit the Rangers, 3-0. Five days later, White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon no-hit the Indians, 8-0. Twenty-one days following Rodon, John Means of the Orioles struck, no-hitting Seager’s Mariners, 6-0. Two days after that, Wade Miley in his second Cincinnati season kept the Indians hitless in a 3-0 win. Eleven days later came Spencer Turnbull of the Tigers (of all people), keeping the Mariners hitless in a 5-0 win. The following day, the Rangers learned they weren’t quite off the no-hit hook for the year, either, when Yankee pitcher (and erstwhile Ranger) Corey Kluber did it to them, 2-0.

The irrepressible Jayson Stark dedicated a considerable volume of his weekly “Weird and Wild” series in The Athletic last Friday to determine that the Rangers and the Mariners made 2021 the first year in which two particular teams were no-hit a) in their own playpens; and, b) in the same week. It could have been much worse: Stark also exhumed that the Shoeless Joe Jackson White Sox got no-hit in back-to-back 1917. By the St. Louis Browns, of all people.

You may also have noticed, as Stark did, that all six no-hit victims so far this year are American League teams, but two of the no-nos got thrown by National League pitchers. Stark noticed something else while he was at it: Turnbull now has on his resume both a no-hitter and a streak of eighteen starts without getting credit for a win.

That kind of resume item is even more rare than the no-hitter itself. Turnbull is one of only six pitchers in major league history to claim eighteen or more straight winless starts and a no-hitter. The others:

* Bob Groom—Nineteen straight starts without credit for a win for the 1909 Washington Senators . . . but pitched a no-hitter for the Cardinals against the Cubs in 1917.

* Don Larsen—The million-to-one-shot who pitched a perfect game in Game Five of the 1956 World Series went on to achieve a nineteen-start winless streak between his last days as a Yankee and his first days as a Kansas City Athletic, 1959-60.

* Vida Blue—Before his sensational 1971 and his eventual burnout from bitterness over a 1972 contract negotiation, overwork by age 28 (averaging 265 innings a year), and drug issues, Blue pitched a no-hitter at 20 in 1970. Over a decade later, as a Royal: eighteen-start winless streak, 1982-83.

* Fernando Valenzuela—1988-89, when he was considered all washed up from unconscionable overwork (262 innings a year, average, from ages 20-25) from the moment he first kicked off Fernandomania: nineteen-start winless streak. 1990: pitched a no-hitter in Dodger Stadium. On the same day his former Dodger teammate Dave Stewart pitched one in Toronto.

* Jonathan Sanchez—July 2009: no-hitter. 2012-13: eighteen-start winless streak.

Spencer Turnbull probably didn’t know it in the moment, but he helped make baseball’s arguable most controversial umpire make a little history of his own. Sixty-five umpires not named Angel Hernandez got to call the balls and strikes for no-hitters over Hernandez’s 31 seasons as a major league umpire—before the Angel of Doom finally got to be behind the plate for Turnbull’s no-no. In that circumstance, there may be six calling it karma to half a dozen suggesting Turnbull escaped with his life.

Now comes the fun part, at least for me: Among this year’s no-no men so far, who really did the most to earn the no-no? Who really depended on more than a little help from his friends to do it?

Just as I did over two months ago when examining perfect games in another context, I’m going to assign a Win Factor (WF) to this year’s no-no men, based on their strikeouts divided by the sum of the ground-ball and fly-ball outs they got in their games. I’m also going to list their fielding-independent pitching rates (FIP) for this season thus far, which may suggest to you whom among the sextet was the most and least likely to pitch a no-hitter in the first place.

Pitcher Score K GB FB WF FIP
Joe Musgrove 3-0 10 10 7 .588 2.88
Carlos Rodon 8-0 7 10 10 .350 1.91
John Means 6-0 12 3 12 .800 3.25
Wade Miley 3-0 8 15 5 .400 3.24
Spencer Turnbull 5-0 9 12 6 .500 2.77
Corey Kluber 2-0 9 9 9 .500 3.57
Jim Maloney

Jim Maloney—his 1965 no-no against the Cubs was a jam session.

Based on their FIPs, Rodon was the most likely to pitch a no-hitter among the six–even though his .350 WF equals two of the weakest WFs among history’s perfect game pitchers. (Larsen and, in 1988, Tom Browning.) Based on the same number, Kluber was the least likely among the six to pitch a no-no—and his .500 WF equals that of Philip Humber’s 2012 perfect game while sitting higher than the perfect-game WFs of Kenny Rogers (.421); Larsen and Browning; the trio of Charlie Robertson (1922), Mark Buehrle (2009), and Dallas Braden (2010), with .286; and, Dennis Martinez (1991), with .227.

Kluber and Miley walked one batter each in their games. Turnbull walked two. Means walked nobody, but he was kept from perfection by the wild-pitch third strike allowing Mariners left fielder Sam Haggerty to take first base on the house. Rodon walked nobody, either, but he was unfortunate enough to hit Indians catcher Roberto Perez with a pitch. Musgrove didn’t walk anyone but he, too, plunked one (Rangers bomber Joey Gallo) to spoil the day otherwise.

If you’re looking for the arguable sloppiest no-hitter in baseball history, it was thrown in ten innings in August 1965, by a pitcher who had a sterling WF for the game otherwise and—based on his season’s FIP—was more likely to pitch a no-hitter that year than five of this year’s so-far six no-hit pitchers:

Pitcher Score K GB FB WF FIP
Jim Maloney (1965) 1-0 12 9 8 .706 2.62

So how does a pitcher with a .706 WF for a no-hitter throw the sloppiest of them all? Easy: Maloney walked ten batters. (He also hit Hall of Famer Ron Santo with a pitch during the game, matching him to Rodon and Musgrove for a plunk apiece in their games.)

“I wasn’t real sharp today,” Maloney said in a post-game field interview. “I made some good pitches when I had to, but when I had to come in there, they popped it up or something. I had a lot of walks . . .It seemed like I was in a jam most of the day, but somehow I come out of it.”

That still may not be the absolute weirdest example of no-hit pitching you can find. Some of the history-minded may suggest it was a Browns rookie curio/flake in 1953:

Pitcher Score K GB FB WF FIP
Bobo Holloman (1953) 6-0 3 12 12 .125 4.57

Even Holloman didn’t get as weird as three pitchers who threw no-hit, no-run, no-strikeout games: Earl Hamilton (Browns) against the Tigers, 1912; Sad Sam Jones (Yankees), against the Philadelphia Athletics, 1923; and, Ken Holtzman (Cubs), against the Atlanta Braves, 1969. We should call them the no-no-no-hitters, no?

Hamilton’s 1912 FIP (2.98) made him the most likely of that trio to pitch a no-hitter, even a no-no-no. Holtzman’s 1969 FIP (3.18) made him the second most likely of the three, with Jones bringing up the most-likely rear among them. (3.89.) Needless to say, the WFs for all three are . . . zero.

Having Holtzman’s game log available, I could table his game—which happened exactly four years to the day after Jim Maloney’s jam session:

Pitcher Score K GB FB WF FIP
Ken Holtzman (1969) 3-0 0 12 15 .000 3.18

Holtzman, Hamilton, and Jones threw a lot of pitches whacked for grounders. They threw a lot of pitches hit for fly outs. It may be a particular skill for pitchers to “throw grounders,” of course. But once that ball dives off that bat, there’s no absolute guarantee it’s going to find a fielder’s glove uninterrupted until or unless the fielder finds and snatches it to throw for the out. There’s likewise no absolute guarantee that, when the fielder throws the ball, the ball’s going to reach its intended destination without rude interruption or change in course.

Holtzman pitched his no-no-no on an afternoon during which the notorious Wrigley Field winds blew in his favour—as in, blowing in from the outfield. Keeping a few of those fifteen fly outs he got in the game, including three by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, from disappearing into the bleachers.

In a baseball situation for which one man gets the big credit when he may not have done the majority of the work needed to get that credit in the first place, Earl Hamilton, Sad Sam Jones, and Ken Holtzman got credit for pitching no-hitters despite doing that little of the heaviest lifting to make them no-hitters in the first place.

As Stark likes to say, “Because . . . baseball!” As I like to say, because . . . in baseball, anything can happen. And, usually does.