40th anniversary: Burt Hooten’s no-hitter

Forty years ago, it looked like the baseball world had it’s latest and greatest phenom on its hands. A new young pitcher was ready for his close-up almost as soon as he arrived in the majors, and based on the early results, he just might have a Hall of Fame career in front of him. The pitcher was young Cubs hurler Burt Hooten, and 40 years ago today, on April 16, 1972, he threw a no-hitter. It was only his fourth career start.

That’s a mighty nice way to start a career, to be sure. But what made it even more impressive was that Hooten’s no-hitter fit in well with his three previous starts. As April 16, 1972, came to an end, Hooten had pitched 30.2 IP in his career and only allowed eight hits. Yes, only eight.

It’s actually a bit more extreme than even that implies. In June of 1971, Hooten came up for a cup-of-coffee start and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning. He allowed three runs in 3.2 innings on five walks and three hits. In his next three starts, Hooten tossed three complete games, allowing a total of five hits. Yeah, that’ll get people’s attention.

The second and third starts came in September of 1971. In his second start, Hooten allowed only three hits while striking out 15 batters. That tied the Cubs all-time franchise record for punchouts in a game. Oh, and those three hits allowed? They all came late in the game. Hooten went 6.2 innings with a no-hitter intact.

In his next turn, Hooten pitched a two-hitter for his first career shutout. There was no flirting with a no-hitter, as Bud Harrelson led off the game with a single, but it’s still five hits allowed over two games. Many fine pitchers never did that in their careers.

But the main event was April 16, 1972. In his first start of the new season, Hooten no-hit the Phillies in a 7-0 win. Rarely has a young talent pitched three consecutive games like the ones Hooten had just unleashed. I’m sure many left the game thinking he was headed to Cooperstown. Instead, he became Burt Hooten, a pitcher with a nice career but only a 151-136 record with a 3.38 ERA.

What went wrong? Well, first, Hooten’s success came in part because he threw a pitch hitters weren’t very familiar with, the knuckle curve, but they got familiar with it and adjusted.

Second, the Cubs didn’t take care of him. There’s a reason why they didn’t win anything for decades. Among other things, they put a terrible defense behind him. In fact, two years later, the 1974 Cubs would have what Wins Above Replacement calculates as the worst defense by any baseball team in at least 90 year: -16.6 defensive WAR. Yeah, that can suck a pitcher’s confidence.

Hooten got worse every year he was with the Cubs but did rebound some after they traded him to LA. By that time, the league had adjusted, and Hooten had lost several valuable years of development. He became a great also-ran in baseball history, but 40 years ago today he was still in the running for greatness.

Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim the list.


2,000 days since the Cubs sign amateur free agent Starlin Castro. Yeah, they got him young.

4,000 days since Craig Biggio joins the 2,000 hit club.

5,000 days since Paul Molitor steals his 500th base.

8,000 days since Barry Bonds belts the first of his 11 career grand slams.

8,000 days since Andre Dawson draws five walks in one game, all of which are intentional. It’s the only time he ever draws more than three base on balls in one game. The contest goes extra innings, and Cub starter Mike Bielecki pitches 10 frames, making him the last Cub hurler to go that long in one game.

9,000 days since Paul Molitor’s hitting streak comes to an end at 39 games during a nice pitchers’ duel. The Brewers beat the Indians 1-0 in 10 innings as the two starting pitchers combine for 180 Game Score points. Milwaukee pitcher Teddy Higuera gets 94 from a line of: 10 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 0 R, 0 ER, 10 K, and Cleveland’s John Farrell gets 86 off a line of: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, and 7 K. Only the bullpen surrenders any runs in this one.

9,000 days since the Reds trade Bill Gullickson to the Yankees for Dennis Rasmussen.

20,000 days since Willie Mays belts the first of his six career walk-off home runs.

20,000 days since Moose Skowron hits the first of six career walk-off home runs.


1887 Until today, no major leaguer ever homered in his first at-bat. Today, two guys do it: Mike Griffin and George Tebeau.

1887 Tommy Tucker, the game’s first great switch hitter (he’ll lead the league in batting average in 1889), makes his big league debut.

1892 Dutch Leonard, Red Sox pitcher who posted a 0.96 ERA in 1914, is born.

1895 It’s the first known instance of a Detroit baseball team being called the Tigers. The Detroit Free Press uses that term to refer to the town’s minor league squad.

1898 About 100 are injured in a crowd of 4,000 when a fire breaks out in the second inning of a St. Louis-Chicago game.

1898 Hall of Fame umpire Tom Connolly works his first game.

1902 Paul Waner, Hall of Fame outfielder, is born.

1905 Orval Overall, pitcher on the Tinker-Evers-Chance Cubs, makes his big league debut.

1906 Star Cub infielders Johnny Evers and Frank Chance are ejected from a game in Cincinnati. Shortstop Joe Tinker isn’t thumbed, but after the game he gets in a fight with a fan outside the park.

1908 Slim Sallee, pitcher who rather famously and definitely bizarrely won 21 games for the 1919 Reds with only 20 walks and 24 strikeout on the entire season (!), makes his big league debut.

1909 Hall of Famer Harry Hooper makes his big league debut.

1914 Max Flack, outfielder, makes his big league debut.

1915 Dazzy Vance, Hall of Fame pitcher, makes his big league debut. He won’t catch on for several more years, though.

1921 Bing Miller, outfielder, makes his big league debut.

1922 Tris Speaker bops his 500th career double.

1926 Sam Rice hits his 100th career triple.

1928 Pepper Martin, outfielder on the 1934 Gashouse Gang, makes his big league debut.

1929 Hall of Fame skipper Billy Southworth manages his first game.

1929 Hall of Famer Earl Averill makes his big league debut in style, becoming the first batter in AL history to homer in his first at-bat.

1929 Dale Alexander, who later wins a batting title, makes his big league debut.

1929 The New York Yankees debut uniform numbers on their back. They’re the first team to do it permanently.

1931 Paul Derringer, 200-game winner, makes his big league debut.

1935 Babe Ruth makes his NL debut with the Braves. He singles and homers off Carl Hubbell.

1935 The Red Sox sign catcher/spy/genius Moe Berg.

1935 Mel Harder and Bobo Newsom engage in an impressive extended pitchers’ duel, with Harder leading Cleveland to victory in 14 innings over Newsom’s Senators. Harder’s line: 14 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, and 6 K for a career-best Game Score of 95. Newsom’s line: 14 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, and 6 K for a Game Score of 83. It’s Harder’s longest outing and tied for Newsom’s longest outing.

1936 Freddie Lindstrom crashes into a teammate who just caught a pop fly, causing the ball to roll away for an inside-the-park home run.

1936 Johnny Mize, Hall of Fame slugger, makes his big league debut.

1938 The Cardinals say goodbye to Dizzy Dean, trading him to the Cubs for pitcher Curt Davis, two other players, and $185,000.

1938 Hall of Fame outfielder Enos Slaughter makes his big league debut.

1940 Bob Feller throws the only no-hitter in the history of Opening Day as the Indians top the White Sox. Chicago’s Luke Appling supposedly fouls off 15 straight pitches at one point, but it doesn’t do him any good.

1940 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt has maybe the worst Opening Day ceremonial first pitch any president ever had. He hits a Washington Post photographer right in the camera.

1940 Marty Marion, star infielder, makes hi big league debut.

1940 Reds starting pitcher Paul Derringer posts his 11th consecutive win, his personal best. In this span, he has an ERA of 1.89 over 11 starts, all of which Derringer completes.

1942 Jim Lonborg, ace of the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox, is born.

1945 Jackie Robinson and fellow Negro Leaguers Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams try out at Fenway Park for the Red Sox. Boston takes a pass on them all.

1946 Baseball commissioner Happy Chandler announces that all players who jump to the Mexican League will be suspended.

1946 Two notable outfielders make their debut: Hall of Fame Pirate slugger Ralph Kiner, and rifle-armed rightfielder Carl Furillo.

1948 WGN begins televising baseball games for the folks in Chicago. The first game features Jack Brickhouse announcing the White Sox-Cubs Windy City Classic. The South Siders win, 6-3.

1953 In a pitchers’ duel, Harry Breechen of the Browns and Billy Pierce of the White Sox combine to allow three hits. Breechen allows two of them and loses 1-0 on an unearned run.

1953 Connie Ryan of the Phillies gets six hits in the game. He’s the first Phillie of the 20th century to do that. The Pirates win, though, 14-12. Almost all of the scoring comes in the fourth and fifth innings, as each team gets all but one of their run in that pair of frames. Future star reliever Roy Face makes his debut for Pittsburgh in the fifth and allows three runs while recording just one out.

1957 Dick Drott, one of those wunder-kid pitchers who is great for a brief while before ruining his arm, makes his big league debut.

1957 Roger Maris, the 61-homer guy, makes his big league debut.

1959 Dave Philley gets his ninth consecutive pinch hit, a new record.

1961 Dodger coach Leo Durocher gets in a shin-kicking contest with umpire Jocko Conlan. Conlan has protective equipment on his legs and wins this one easily.

1961 Roger Maris gets his first of his 61 homers on the season.

1962 Frank Robinson, underrated great, gets his 1,000th career hit.

1962 Manny Mota, the greatest pinch hitter of his generation, makes his big league debut.

1962 Bob Veale, until rather recently the only Pirate pitcher to fan 200 batters in a season, makes his big league debut.

1963 Duke Snider gets his 2,000th career hit.

1963 Eddie Mathews belts his 400th career home run.

1963 Billy Pierce, who has 10 career balks in 3,306.2 frames, balks twice in this game. He still pitches a complete game shutout for the win, though.

1964 Tony Conigliaro, young slugger, makes his big league debut.

1964 Shea Stadium is christened, literally, as Dodger Holy Water from Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal and Giants Holy Water from Harlem River are applied to it.

1966 Indians pitchers, who fanned 17 batters yesterday, whiff 16 today, for a new two-day record of 33.

1967 Knuckleballer Joe Niekro makes his big league debut.

1967 For the only time in his career, Carl Yastrzemski gets two triples in one game. In all, he’s 5-for-8 with a double and a walk as the Red Sox fall in 18 innings to the Yankees, 7-6.

1969 The White Sox install an Astroturf infield at Comiskey Park. Huh, never heard of that before.

1969 Fernando Vina is born.

1969 Big Red Machine outfielder Cesar Geronimo makes his big league debut.

1970 Reds pitcher Jim Maloney tears his Achilles tendon while running the bases. He’ll never win another game.

1970 Al Kaline suffers through maybe his worst game ever at the plate. He’s 0-for-4 with a GIDP and a career-tying three Ks.

1971 Atlanta signs free agent Luis Tiant.

1972 Dave Kingman hits for the cycle.

1972 Hall of Fame reliever Rich Gossage makes his big league debut.

1975 Hall of Fame staring pitcher Juan Marichal appears in his last game.

1976 Veteran manager Ralph Houk endures his 1,000th loss. His record as skipper: 1,074-1,000.

1977 Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley makes his big league debut.

1977 A’s starting pitcher Vida Blue is forced to discard his old lucky cap because it no longer matches the color, trim, and style, of the Oakland hats. He’ll lead the league with 19 losses. Take that, rational thought processes.

1978 The A’s are 0-for-5 in stolen base attempts versus California and lose, 2-1, in 11 innings.

1978 Bob Forsch does what his brother Ken Forsch had done before him, toss a no-hitter.

1981 Effa Manley, Negro League owner who is the only woman inducted in Cooperstown, dies.

1983 Sparky Anderson manages his 2,000th game. His record: 1,151-847.

1983 Steve Garvey sets a new NL record by playing in his 1,118th consecutive game. Billy Williams held the record until now.

1987 Hall of Fame umpire Jocko Conlan dies at age 89.

1988 Graig Nettles belts his final home run, which is a pinch-hit shot.

1989 Kelly Gruber becomes the first Blue Jay to hit for the cycle.

1992 Due to an error in the lineup card, the Mariners can’t use a DH. Two first basemen are listed instead of one first sacker and one DH.

1993 Jack Morris endures his worst career start: 4 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 8 ER, 1 BB, and 0 K for a Game Score of 3.

1993 Jeff Bagwell belts the only bases-loaded triple of his career. Veteran knuckler Charlie Hough surrenders it.

1995 Montreal trades Marquis Grissom to the Braves for three players.

1996 Tiger slugger Cecil Fielder hits three homers in one game for the third time in his career.

1997 The Cubs set an NL record by starting the year 0-12. Appropriately, they commit three errors in a 4-0 loss to the Rockies.

1997 Detroit releases former star speedster Vince Coleman.

1999 Kevin Brown loses his 100th decision. His record at this point is 140-100.

1999 Curt Schilling has a memorable day at the plate, hitting his only triple and drawing two walks in a game for the only time. The triple is his best-ever blast, as he never homers.

2000 Chuck Finley fans four batters in one inning. Improbably, it’s the third time he’s done that. No one else has ever done it twice, let alone thrice.

2000 Alex Rodriguez hits three homers in one game for the only time in his career. He scores five runs and drives in seven while going 4-for-5 with a walk. The Mariners win, 19-7, over Toronto. Teammate John Olerud sets a personal best by getting on base six times.

2001 Philadelphia retires Jim Bunning’s number.

2002 Lance Berkman of Houston hits three homers in one game.

2004 Matt Holliday makes his big league debut.

2005 Pedro Martinez tosses three wild pitches, his most ever.

2005 Toronto’s Reed Johnson gets hit three times in one game, tying a record.

2005 The A’s top the Dodgers, 1-0 in 10 innings, with the only run coming on a walk-off error. Ouch.

2006 Albert Pujols has one of the greatest games of his career, blasting three homers, the last of which is his sixth career walk-off shot. St. Louis tops Cincinnati, 8-7. To date, it’s Pujols’ best WPA game: 0.987 WPA.

2008 Tampa’s all-time franchise record bottoms out a 330 games under .500 (651-981). They’ll tie that mark twice more later in the month but never go lower.

2009 It’s the first game at the New Yankee Stadium. The home team loses, 12-3. Jorge Posada hits the first home run there.

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Chris Jaffe
10 years ago

Big error made & repeated throughout this article: It’s H-O-O-T-O-N.  Not Hooten, but Hooton.  It’s too late to fix, in part because that would mess up the url, but the guy’s name is Hooton, not Hooten.

Sorry about that.

10 years ago

I’m sure Hooten isn’t happy!  (Sorry about that!  I just couldn’t resist.)

Labor strife caused a late start in 1972, with each team ending up playing about 156 games.  Wasn’t there less spring training than usual? Leading to an advantage to pitchers as batters had seen little live pitching.  So, at some level, maybe we should be less impressed by Hooton’s no-no than we usually would be.  Also, the game was played at Wrigley.  In April the wind often blows in and knocks down fly balls.  We normally assume, “all other things are equal”.  That may apply less here than usual.