Ten most impressive no-hitters of all time

Last week, Jon Lester joined an exclusive club by throwing only the 235th officially sanctioned no-hitter in big-league history.

In order to accomplish this rare feat, a pitcher needs to have several things going for him. Most importantly, he has to be on top of his game. That’s obvious. Other factors come into play as well. If the umpire is calling a wide strike zone, that ain’t going to hurt. It comes in handy if his fielders do a good job as well. A little bit of luck comes in handy also.

And yes, it certainly is handy if the opposing lineup isn’t very impressive. If you look it up, a wildly disproportionate number of no-hitters have come against terrible hitting teams. Well, duh. That stands to reason. Great hitting teams are the most difficult to shut down.

In fact, in baseball history only 10 no-hitters have come against teams that led the league in hits. And one of those was the Rockies playing on the road. Another was the 1971 Pirates—a great hitting club, but half the regulars rested on that particular day.

So, what are the best lineups ever no-hit? To answer that question the key stat is batting average. Normally at a place like THT, you’d expect us to use OPS+ instead of batting average, but when looking at how tricky it is to no-hit a team, batting average makes the most sense. OPS+ interest in power and walks is irrelevant.

For example, in 1967 Joe Horlen no-hit the Tigers. They had a team OPS+ of 113. On that particular day they actually sat their three worst hitting regulars (including Ray Oyler) for better hitting replacements. Despite that, five men in their lineup hit .242 or lower. They hit .243 as a team. They were a power-and-walk team in an era of low average. Great lineup, but not an especially difficult one to no-hit.

This won’t be purely a list of the highest batting averages ever no-hit, as at some point actual talent comes into play as well. Good ol’ fashioned batting average will be the main focus. It’s not the only focus, as I do look at overall talent as tertiary factors here, but average is the best way to tell how hard it would be to no-hit a team.

So, what were the most unstoppable of the stopped?

Most impressive lineups ever no-hit


10) Bill Dietrich vs. the St. Louis Browns, June 1, 1937. The Browns were a terrible team who lost 108 games. They couldn’t pitch, field, draw walks or slug.

They could do one thing: hit for average. With 1,573 hits, the squad hit .285, second-most in the league. Aside from this game, they hit .287. Here’s their lineup that day:

Hitters               AVG
Davis, 1B           0.276
West, CF            0.328
Vosmik, LF          0.325
Bell, RF            0.340
Clift, 3B           0.306
Knickbocker, SS     0.261
Hemsley, C          0.222
Carey 2B            0.275
Hogsett, P          0.210

It’s very rare for any lineup to have no easy outs, especially in the pre-DH era. This is one of the few lineups here that actually had their entire regular eight starting position players all appear.

Going purely by batting average, they should be higher, but they were actually a lousy offense, finishing next-to-last in runs, and I couldn’t bring myself to give that many accolades this bunch.

9) Don Wilson vs. the Cincinnati Reds, May 1, 1969. Cincy led the league in hits with 1,558 and AVG at .277.

This is remembered for another reason. The day before, in the same series, Reds pitcher Jim Maloney no-hit Don Wilson’s Astros. Here’s the squad against which Wilson got Houston’s revenge:

Rose, CF        0.348
Tolan, RF       0.305
A. Johnson, LF  0.315
Perez, 3B       0.294
Bench, C        0.293
Whitefield, 1B  0.149
Helms, 2B       0.269
Chaney, SS      0.191
Carroll, P      0.143

Bet you weren’t expecting to see a trio of sub-.200 hitters on a list like this? Well, one is the pitcher. Fred Whitfield was a bad hitter, but there’s a sample size issue screwing up his numbers. This was one of only six starts he’d have all year. His start let normal first baseman Lee May have a breather. When the best offenses are no-hit, there’s usually someone resting.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

This is one of the 10 teams that led the league in hits while getting no-hit. Pete Rose led the league in batting average. Bobby Tolan and Alex Johnson were in the top 10. Tony Perez and Johnny Bench were in the top 15.

The top half puts them on the list, but the bottom half ensures a low placement.

8) Noodles Hahn vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, July 12, 1900. It’s the first no-hitter of the 20th century. Well, if you want to be accurate it’s actually the last no-hitter of the 19th century. There were only eight teams in baseball that year, and here’s what Hahn had to contend with:

Thomas, CF     0.316
Slagle, LF     0.287
Delahanty, 1B  0.323
Flick, RF      0.367
McFarland, C   0.305
Wolverton, 3B  0.282
Dolan, 2B      0.198
Cross, SS      0.202
Bernhardt, P   0.154

This is very similar to the Reds. Philly had a tremendous lineup ruined by a ghastly bottom of the order. Also like Cincy, a starting infielder sat out the day. This time it was a much better player than Lee May. Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie couldn’t play, allowing the far inferior Joe Dolan to start at second.

The Phillies led the league in hits despite what happened in this game. A full half-century would pass before another pitcher no-hit a team that led the league in hits.

7) TIE: Virgil Trucks vs. the New York Yankees, August 25, 1952, and Hoyt Wilhelm vs. the New York Yankees, September 20, 1958. These squads both led the league in hits and average. As an added bonus, the 1958 Yanks have the distinction of having the highest team OPS+ among all no-hit teams, at 119.

Here are the two lineups that got no-hit.

1952            Avg   1958               Avg
Mantle, CF     0.311  Bauer, RF         0.268
Collins, 1B    0.280  Lumpe, SS         0.254
Bauer, RF      0.293  Mantle, CF        0.304
Berra, C       0.273  Skowron, 3B       0.273
Woodling, LF   0.309  Siebern, LF       0.300
Babe, 3B       0.095  Howard, C         0.314
B. Martin, 2B  0.267  Thornberry, 1B    0.227
Rizzuto, SS    0.254  Richardson, 2B    0.247
Miller, P      0.214  Larsen, P         0.306

Loren Babe wasn’t a good hitter, but he only had 21 at-bats that year.

Both these squads had a Hall of Famer come off the bench to pinch hit. Johnny Mize pinch-hit for Rizzuto in the eighth inning in 1952. His foul-out helped seal Trucks’s second no-hitter of 1952, en route to an unlikely 5-19 record for himself.

Six years later, Yogi Berra took the plate for future Met Marv Throneberry. Normally Berra started, but Elston Howard relieved him that day. Actually, Howard had a better batting average that year.

6) TIE Jay Hughes vs. the Boston Beaneaters, April 22, 1898, and Red Donahue vs. the Boston Beaneaters, July 8, 1898.

This is certainly the best offense to ever be no-hit twice in one year. At a time when baseball averages five runs a game, Boston hit .290 as a team, second-best in the league. They were a far cry from the 1937 Browns, though. They won the pennant, their fifth in eight years.

It’s amazing that they were no-hit once let alone twice. They would rank higher except I can’t find the box score for this game. My reference source for lineups in no-hitters only goes back to 1900.

I do know that two players played in every game—both Hall of Famers, Jimmy Collins and Hugh Duffy. Their starting pitcher in the first game was Ted Lewis (who hit .282), and Vic Willis (.145).

Aside from that, the best I can do is provide you with their starting eight, and how many of the team’s 152 games they played in.

Name             AVG       G
Bergen, C       0.280     120
Tenney, 1B      0.328     117
Lowe, 2B        0.272     147
Collins, 3B     0.328     152
Long, SS        0.265     144
Duffy, LF       0.298     152
Hamilton, CF    0.369     110
Stahl, RF       0.308     125

I can’t say exactly who rested that day, but odds are some of their biggest hitters did. That still left them with a great offense, and it’s incredible they were stopped twice like this.

5) Vern Bickford vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers, August 11, 1950. On this day Vern Bickford became the first man in 601 months to no-hit a team that led the league in hits. Brooklyn also led the league in batting average, homers, OBP, SLG, OPS+, and was in the top three in every category except triples.

As an added bonus, both teams were trying desperately to stay alive in that year’s pennant race against the surprising Phillies.

Here were the Boys of Summer for that day:

Reese, SS         0.260
Hermanski, LF     0.298
Snider, CF        0.321
Robinson, 2B      0.328
Furillo, RF       0.305
Hodges, 1B        0.283
Campanella, C     0.281
Cox, 3B           0.257
Erskine, P        0.243

That’s six really good hitters and no easy outs at all. Everyone hit over .240. That’s the only no-hit lineup about which I can say that. Brooklyn used their entire regular starting eight but still couldn’t get a hit off of Bickford.

4) Dwight Gooden vs. the Seattle Mariners, May 14, 1996. At the time, it was a feel good story about the former Dr. K’s comeback. In retrospect, it’s an awesome offense getting shut down in spectacular fashion.

Seattle didn’t lead the league in hits or average, but they did hit .287 as a squad. Though it may not bear directly on no-hitting, they also hit 245 homers and were third in the league in walks for an OPS+ of 113. Simply put, you didn’t want to mess with them.

Here was their lineup:

Bragg, LF        0.272
Rodriquez, SS    0.358
Griffey, CF      0.303
Martinez, DH     0.327
Buhner, RF       0.271
Sorrento, 1B     0.289
Wilson, C        0.285
Cora, 2B         0.291
Davis, 3B        0.234

As a general rule of thumb, when eight of your nine starters hit .271 or better, you’ve got a pretty good line-up, especially if six of those guys have power. Goddamn Russ Davis had to louse up an otherwise awesome lineup. If only Dave Hollins and his .351 average started at third that day . . .

Yet incredibly, it wasn’t the most impressive no-hitter of 1996. Stay tuned for that one.

3) Carl Hubbell vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, May 8, 1929. Coming at the heart of the century’s best era for batting average, this was MLB’s first no-hitter in three years. There wouldn’t be another for two more years. In would be the only NL one from 1925 to 1934.

Most no-hitters then came against the era’s worst offense. The Pirates were far from that, hitting .303 as a team. Their 1,663 hits are the most ever for a team victimized in one of these games. Their lineup:

Adams, 2B        0.260
L. Waner, CF     0.353
P. Waner, RF     0.336
Traynor, 3B      0.356
Grantham, LF     0.307
Sheely, 1B       0.293
Bartell, SS      0.302
Hargreaves, C    0.267
Petty, P         0.102

George Granthad only had one at-bat before being pulled for the normal left fielder, Adam Comorosky, who hit .321 on the year. Thus all their regulars saw action this game.

Every position player hit at least .260, the only known time that’s ever happened.

2) Hideo Nomo vs. the Colorado Rookies, September 17, 1996. This wasn’t the only no-hitter against the Rockies. It wasn’t even the only no-hitter that year against the Rockies. But it was the only one in Coors Field. And in the days before the humidor.

Here’s what the Colorado batting order was that day:

Young, 2B        0.324
McCracken, CF    0.290
Burks, LF        0.344
Bichette, RF     0.313
Galaragga, 1B    0.304
Castilla, 3B     0.304
Decker, C        0.321
Perez, SS        0.156
Swift, P         0.333

Coors-inflated stats? You betcha—but this game was in Coors.

September call-up Neifi Perez played in his eighth MLB game that day, spelling normal shortstop Walt Weiss and his .282 average. That said, Perez’s .156 is deceptively small. The next year he hit .291 in 83 games, a better sign of his abilities in that environment. Balancing him out, pitcher Bill Swift hit .210 for his career.

As amazing as it is to no-hit a team in that ballpark, someone one-upped that achievement.

1) Charlie Robertson vs. the Detroit Tigers, April 30, 1922. Two features really set this one apart from all the other contenders. First, the Tigers had a team batting average of .306, the highest ever in the history of no-hitter-dom.

Second, and more importantly, this wasn’t just a no-hitter. It was a perfect game. Baseball wouldn’t have another for 34 more years. Nearly a half-century would pass before another AL lineup went 27 up, 27 down. That’s worth a little extra. And this Tigers team was also second in walks, for the best OBP in the AL that year.

That day’s starting lineup:

Blue, 1B       0.300
Cutshaw, 2B    0.267
Cobb, CF       0.401
Veach, LF      0.327
Heilmann, RF   0.356
Jones, 3B      0.257
Rigney, SS     0.300
Manoin, C      0.275
Pillette, P    0.172

Ty Cobb was there. Perfect. And he hit .400 that year. Perfecter.

In was only Robertson’s fourth start ever, but it was not a harbinger of things to come. A lackluster career followed this day. But at least he had this day.

The Other Side: The Worst Lineup Ever

Before I go, let’s leave with the other side of the coin, the worst lineup ever to be no-hit. No, it’s not the 1999 Angels team Eric Milton faced. This team was far worse. It’s the 1910 White Sox hitless non-wonders. Here’s the lineup Addie Joss faced on April 20 that year:

Hahn, RF          0.113
Zeider, 2B        0.217
Gandil, 1B        0.193
Barrows, LF       0.200
Parent, CF        0.178
Purtell, 3B       0.223
Blackburne, SS    0.174
Payne, C          0.222
White, P          0.198

Next time you look at Ed Walsh’s stats for 1910 and see that he went 18-20 despite a 1.27 ERA, you’ll know better than to ask how he could lose that many games. Now you’ll wonder how in blazes he won 18 with that team.

References & Resources
The main source for this, and what allowed me to view the lineups for many of these games was the following book: Coberly, Rich. The No-Hit Hall of Fame: No-Hitters of the Twentieth Century. Newport Beach, Calif: Triple Play Productions, 1985.

The Play Index at baseball-reference.com gave me a list of no-hitters since 1956 as well as access to their box scores.

B-ref’s bullpen has a list of all no-hitters in baseball history.

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