June 1, 2010
A Six Pack of No-Hitters
Sometimes, the wheel of fortune just seems to keep stopping on your number. Or not. For example, think of Marty Noble, the fine veteran baseball writer who covers the New York Mets these days for MLB.com and who spent years as that team’s beat writer at Newsday. The man has been covering baseball games since he weighed 180 pounds, and one look will tell you that was a long, long time ago. He's covered it all—except a no-hitter. It’s probably safe to say there are lot of veteran baseball writers who have not covered a no-hitter. That’s their loss, for there really is nothing quite like a no-hitter to cover. That was a lesson learned early in a baseball writing career. Real early.
In 1969, I took over the baseball beat at the Cincinnati Enquirer, not knowing what lay ahead, which was, of course, the birth of the Big Red Machine. But that was a year away and there was no way to know that I would cover six no-hitters or that they would come at me before I was ready for them.
On April 30, in my 20th game on the beat, Jim Maloney took the field at Crosley Field and threw a no-hitter at the Houston Astros, 10-0, before all of 3,898 very cold fans. It was total dominance for Maloney, who had pitched a no-hitter four years earlier, as he struck out 13, ending it with a strikeout of third baseman Doug Rader. It was a wonderful story, a no-hitter in a laugher, but as it is with baseball, the next day it was all but forgotten… except by the man who pitched for Houston that night, a growling, angry Don Wilson.
Wilson was 24 and, like Maloney, owned a previous no-hitter, but had fallen on some tough times. Houston had won but four of its first 24 games and he had been roughed up in his two previous starts. Add to that a 10-0 no-hit loss the previous night in which the Reds had been laughing at the Astros, and you had one teed off pitcher on the mound.
And what a night he had. Only one ball was hit in the air, a fly ball by Alex Johnson. There were 13 strikeouts to match Maloney. And when Tommy Helms popped to Rader, who had made the final out the night before, Wilson had produced the major leagues' second back-to-back no-hitters. Only during the previous year, which was known as the Year of the Pitcher, had consecutive no-hitters been pitched by the same two teams, this being by the San Francisco Giants’ Gaylord Perry and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Ray Washburn.
While Maloney celebrated after his no-hitter, Wilson defiantly walked from the mound toward the Cincinnati dugout, screaming at the Reds, bubbling over with emotion and anger. His teammates kept it from becoming a truly ugly incident. Something had long been building in Wilson, even since a week earlier, when the Reds beat the Astros 14-0 in the Astrodome.
"They were ahead 14-0, and Johnny Bench was calling for breaking pitches on 3-1 counts," Wilson said after the game. "Pete Rose was still running for extra bases. They weren't satisfied to win; they wanted to make us look ridiculous. In the dugout they were laughing at us. They were even sticking out their tongues and turning their caps around backward -- making fun of us. You just don't do that in my book. Nobody is going to do that to our club and get away with it."
Wilson, however, did not talk. He went out and did something about it, putting a no-hitter on top of a no-hitter. For a young baseball writer, it was quite an introduction and one that would soon almost repeat itself, if you can imagine that.
On June 3, 1971, with the Reds struggling terribly, Chicago Cubs left-hander Ken Holtzman threw a no-hitter against them. It was not surprising, as it was the Reds’ fourth straight loss and dropped them 16 ½ games behind in the National League less than halfway through the season.
It would not be the final humiliation, however, for Rick Wise of the Philadelphia Phillies had a trick up his right sleeve, 20 days later as he not only threw a no-hitter at the hapless Reds, but also became the only pitcher in baseball history to hit two home runs in a game while authoring his no-no. It is difficult to imagine that any team with Pete Rose, George Foster, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Lee May, Hal McRae, and Dave Concepcion could be no-hit twice in three weeks, yet there it was.
Wise was just getting over the flu and admitted to being weak while warming up, but his control was perfect and, besides, there’s not much pressure when you get that kind of offensive support—from yourself. Wise’s first home run was off Ross Grimsley. The second came against Clay Carroll in the eighth inning, leading 1-0 with a man on.
Wise would remember the setting later, saying, "He fell behind me 2-0. I looked to third base coach George Myatt for a sign. All he did was turn his back on me. So I knew that the green light was on."
One fastball later it was 3-0, Wise hitting it over the left-field wall. The rest he did with his arm.
It was one week shy of seven years later when I covered the fifth no-hitter of my first decade as a full-time baseball writer. This was the no-hitter Noble has trouble with, for it was the only one authored by Tom Seaver in his Hall of Fame career. That’s right, although Seaver's stay in Cincinnati was brief, he made it memorable with his only no-hitter, and there is one very interesting piece of trivia about it. Bench did not catch it. Instead, it was a little-used backup named Don Werner who struck down all the right fingers that day.
The next 15 years were filled with baseball thrills, for sure, but there were no more no-hitters until Sept. 4, 1993, when the New York Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians, 4-0. Six days earlier, the Indians had beaten Jim Abbott around badly, seven earned runs and 10 hits in just 2/3 of an inning. On this day, though, Abbott had the magic touch. A left-hander who had overcome being born with a deformed right hand, Abbott finally allowed America to hear the sound of one-hand clapping with his classic.