Silver anniversary: Joe Cowley’s unlikely no-hitter

Twenty-five years ago today, baseball experienced one of its most noteworthy type of games, the no-hitter. But the one that happened exactly a quarter century ago wasn’t any old no-hitter. No, this one was special. It was one of the most poorly thrown no-hitters of all-time.

In a White Sox-Angels game on Sept. 19, 1986, Chicago starter Joe Cowley managed to retire 27 batters without allowing a single hit. How he did it is a mystery, because he certainly didn’t have the best stuff. After the game, Angels first baseman Wally Joyner flatly stated, “I’m not even frustrated. It wasn’t impressive, it wasn’t. Not to put Joe Cowley down, but it wasn’t impressive.”

And he certainly didn’t have the best control. Far from it. At one point it looked like he’d get yanked from the game, no-hitter be damned. In the sixth inning, he walked leadoff hitter Bob Boone. Then Cowley issued a free pass to Gary Pettis. Finally, Wally Joyner received the third consecutive base on balls. The bases were loaded with no outs, but somehow Cowley got out of it, allowing only one run on a sacrifice hit. In all, Cowley walked seven batters on the day.

And his iffy pitching wasn’t just a fluke that day, either. In fact, Cowley’s no-hitter proved to be his last win in the major leagues. He is the only person in history that can make that claim. It’s rather fitting that one of the worst-thrown no-hitters of all time came from the only man never to win another game.

Cowley went 0-2 in his final three starts in 1986 (to be fair, he wasn’t that bad, but then again, he was just mediocre in them). The Sox traded him to the Phillies, where he completely crated. In five games in 1987, Cowley pitched 11.2 innings, allowing 21 hits and walking 17. Yes, you read that right—21 hits and 17 walks in fewer than 12 innings.

The no-hitter was also an odd one because it came against a really good team. Just the day before, California obliterated the Royals, 18-3. The Angels would clinch the AL West shortly after this embarrassment and come one game away from claiming the team’s first pennant. That said, while they had a decent offense, it was better at power and walks than getting hits. They ranked 12th out of the 14 teams in the league in hits on the year.

In a way, maybe this game was karmic payback for an earlier-season contest in which the Angels should have been no-hit. On June 16, Texas Ranger stalwart Charlie Hough took a no-hitter against the Angels into the ninth, only to lose the no-hitter, the shutout and the game, 2-1, thanks largely to a pair of errors made in the bottom of the ninth.

Regardless, 25 years ago today, Cowley pulled off one of the unlikeliest no-hitters in history . Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim.


6,000 days since the Expos trade Marquis Grissom to the Braves for Roberto Kelly and two others.

7,000 days since Shane Reynolds made his big league debut.

10,000 days since Mark Brouhard has the best one-game WPA performance by any hitter in Brewer history. He goes 3-for-4 with two runs, a homer, three RBIs, and a walk for a 1.027 WPA as the Brewers top the Royals, 6-5.

15,000 days since a Red Sox-Twins game is delayed for 43 minutes by a bomb scare.


1882 Guy Hecker tosses a no-hitter, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-1.

1883 Long John Reilly, who hit a cycle exactly one week ago, does it again today. They are the third and fourth cycles in big league history.

1890 Stuffy McInnis, first baseman, is born.

1892 300-game winner Kid Nichols hits his only career grand slam.

1900 St. Louis forfeits to Brooklyn when the team refuses to replace ejected catcher Wilbert Robinson on the field.

1901 All baseball games are cancelled for the funeral of President William McKinley.

1911 The Cardinals top the Braves 13-12 in one of the most exciting slugfests of the year. Boston led 8-2 in the fifth inning, only to see St. Louis take a 9-8 lead by the end of the seventh. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, Boston led again, 12-9, but St. Louis scored four in the bottom of the ninth for the win.

1914 In the Federal League, Ed Lafitte leads the Brooklyn Tip Tops to a win by no-hitting Kansas City. He walks seven en route to a 6-2 victory.

1916 Three White Sox pinch runners score in the ninth inning of a 5-4 win over the A’s.

1917 Connie Mack becomes the third manager to win his 1,500th game. Previously, Fred Clarke and John McGraw had done so.

1919 Black Sox first baseman Chick Gandil begins recruiting players for his fix. He gets Swede Risberg involved, and backup infielder Fred McMullin overhears it. Eddie Cicotte demands $10,000 in advance, and Lefty Williams is initially not interested.

1920 In the 854th game of his career, Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush finally hits a ball over the fence. His previous 20 home runs were all either inside-the-park ones or bounced shots.

1920 Legendary baseball writer Roger Angell is born.

1921 When the Yankees lose 10-6 to the Tigers in the midst of a pennant race, manager Miller Huggins submits his letter of resignation to team management, who refuse to accept it. The Yanks will win their first pennant this year, and Huggins will manage them until his death in 1929.

1922 The all-time cumulative franchise record for the New York Yankees reaches .500 (1,621-1,621). It’s been over it ever since.

1922 Rogers Hornsby’s longest hitting streak maxes at 33 games. He’s 68-for-146 with 11 doubles, a half-dozen triples, and nine homers for a .466/.494/.808 line.

1925 Burleigh Grimes posts a Game Score of 3, which is the worst known mark of his career. His line: 4.2 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 0 K.

1925 Ted Lyons almost tosses a no-hitter in a 17-0 win over Washington. The Senators use several pinch hitters, and with two outs in the ninth, Bobby Veach finally gets a hit against him. In all, 18 different Senators came to the plate in this game (not all as pinch-hitters; I assume some were mid-game replacements in the blowout).

1925 In a 15-3 win over the Dodgers, two Cardinals steal home in the seventh inning. It’s the last time any NL team has two steals of home in one inning. (In the AL, I know the Twins did it twice during one at-bat in 1969; a Harmon Killebrew at-bat at that).

1926 Babe Ruth legs out the eighth of his 10 career inside-the-park home runs.

1926 Duke Snider is born.

1926 Hooks Dauss plays in his last game.

1927 Burleigh Grimes wins his 13th consecutive game. His line in that span: 18 G, 15 GS, 9 CG, 121 IP, 117 H, 40 R, 34 ER, 34 BB, 46 K, and a 2.53 ERA.

1929 Hall of Famer Joe Sewell sets a major league record that still stands with his 115th game played without fanning.

1929 Miller Huggins, dying, manages his last game.

1930 Bob Turley, pitcher, is born.

1930 For the second day in a row, Chuck Klein homers twice in a game.

1930 St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Flint Rhem, who claims he was kidnapped from Sept. 14-17, starts in Philadelphia.

1931 Lefty Grove wins his 30th game, the first time any major league pitcher has done that since Jim Bagby, Sr. in 1920. A’s 2, White Sox 1.

1933 Thornton Lee, pitcher who received one first-place MVP vote in 1941, makes his big league debut.

1934 Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey decides to end advertisements on the left field fence in Fenway Park. The Green Monster will be born.

1936 Bill Dickey hits the first of three walk-off home runs. All three come within 12 months of each other.

1937 Chris Short, major league pitcher, is born.

1937 Hank Greenberg becomes the first man to hit a homer into the center field bleachers in Yankee Stadium.

1938 Pink Hawley, a very good pitcher from the 1890s, dies.

1943 Joe Morgan, an all-time great second baseman, is born.

1945 Bob Feller tosses his sixth one-hitter. He’ll retire with a record number of one-hitters.

1947 The Cubs release two longtime franchise stalwarts, Bill Lee and Billy Jurges.

1950 The Braves win, pushing the career record of manager Billy Southworth 350 games over .500 (1,012-662), his all-time peak. He’ll match this mark several times but never better it.

1953 Bill Nicholson plays in his last game.

1953 Red Sox ace Mel Parnell shuts out the Yankees for the fourth time this season, something no pitcher has done since Walter Johnson in 1908.

1955 Ernie Banks hits his fifth grand slam of the year (which is also the fifth of his career).

1955 In Milwaukee, flagpole sitter Bill Sherwood descends after 89 days atop his pole. He had pledged to stay until the Braves won seven in a row. They won six in a row three times but never made it to seven.

1956 Jim Konstanty, 1950 MVP, appears in his last game.

1959 Frank Robinson has the worst day on the bases of his career. He’s caught stealing three times in three attempts, the only time he had this many caught stealings in a game (only once did he even have two otherwise).

1959 In the first inning against the Giants, Dodger ace Don Drysdale walks the first three batters he faces but then mows down the next three—they all struck out, and no runs score.

1959 Bill Mazeroski enjoys his best WPA game. He goes 2-for-5 with a triple and homer, a run, and three RBIs in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 win over the Reds for a 0.797 WPA.

1959 Yankee Stadium hosts Yogi Berra Day.

1961 The Giants trump the Braves 11-10, as Warren Spahn suffers the lowest Game Score of his career: 13. His line: 3 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, and 4 K.

1962 Reliever Randy Myers is born.

1963 At Dodger Stadium, only 463 see the Angels beat the Orioles, 7-2.

1963 Vic Wertz plays in his final game.

1963 Slim Harriss, former A’s pitcher in the 1920s, dies.

1964 Cardinals ace hurler Bob Gibson clubs three doubles in one game. But it’s all for naught as he surrenders a walk-off home run to Frank Robinson with two outs in the ninth. The Reds win, 7-5.

1964 The Astros fire their original manager, Harry Craft, and hire Lum Harris to replace him.

1964 The Dodgers beat the Phillies 4-3 in 16 innings thanks to some impressive late dramatics by Willie Davis. With two out and none on in the bottom of the 16th, he singles, steals second and moves to third on a wild pitch. When the Phillies bring in a new pitcher (Morrie Steevens, who hadn’t pitched in the majors in over two years), Davis promptly steals home against him for the win. The Phillies will win tomorrow but then begin their historic flop.

1964 Willie Mays scores five runs in one game for the third and final time in his career.

1966 Dan Topping sells his remaining 10 percent ownership in the Yankees for $1.4 million.

1966 In the bottom of the 17th inning, Roberto Clemente clubs a walk-off home run.

1968 Mickey Mantle homers in his final at-bat at Tiger Stadium, his next-to-last blast. Pitcher Denny McLain supposedly intentionally served up a fat pitch.

1969 John McNamara manages his first game. He’ll last until the 1990s.

1970 Willie Stargell gets his 1,000th career hit.

1970 Gaylord Perry tosses his fourth consecutive shutout for the Giants. In this one, he retired the first 19 batters he faces in a 3-0 win over the Padres. He’s the only post-1920 300-game winner to have four consecutive complete-game shutouts. His line in that span: 36 IP, 15 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 20 K.

1970 Jose Cruz, Astros great, makes his big league debut.

1971 Fergie Jenkins fans 14 batters in one game, a personal best he does two other times.

1972 Cesar Tovar of the Twins hits for the cycle.

1972 The A’s and White Sox combine to use 51 players in a game, including 14 pinch hitters. The A’s completely exhaust their 30-man roster. Among other things, manager Dick Williams uses Catfish Hunter as a pinch hitter and Vida Blue as a pinch runner. The White Sox win, 8-7, in 15 innings. One random comment: Sal Bando receives an intentional walk in this game. It’s the second time he’s gotten one in three days and his third of the month. Bando has only five in his entire 2,000-plus game career.

1972 Moe Drabowsky plays in his final game.

1972 Bob Gibson pitches 10 innings, the 25th and final time he gets at least 28 outs in a game. He still has 75 more GS to go in his career, though.

1973 Houston signs amateur free agent Terry Puhl, who will become one of only six Canadians to record over 1,300 hits.

1974 Reggie Jackson smacks his 1,000th hit.

1974 Orlando Cepeda plays in his final game.

1976 Catfish Hunter wins his 200th decision, giving him a career record of 200-141. At 30 years, five months, and 11 days, Hunter is the youngest man to win 200 games since Pete Alexander.

1976 Scott McGregor makes his big league debut.

1977 For the second time in his career, Nolan Ryan issues his 200th walk of the season.

1977 Paddy Livingston, the last surviving player from the 1901 inaugural American League campaign, dies. He was a catcher.

1977 Boston Red Sox Ted Cox sets a new record with five consecutive hits to begin a career. He had three before today. He’ll end his career with 189 hits.

1978 The oft-injured Nick Johnson is born.

1978 Willie Stargell has the most humiliating moment of his career. The aging slugger tries to steal second base at Wrigley Field, but his slide comes to a dead stop 10 feet short of the bag. In desperation he tries to call time—but, c’mon. He’s out. The Pirates go on to win, 12-11.

1979 Bobby Tolan plays in his final big league game.

1979 Ken Holtzman, one of only 16 men in the liveball era to win 150 games before turning 30 years old, plays his final game.

1980 Dennis Martinez has his longest relief outing: 7.2 IP, pitching from the fourth to 11th frames.

1980 Jerry Reuss allows the ninth grand slam of his career. He’s pitched 2,181.1 innings so far, and despite the fact he’ll throw another 1,500 more, he’ll never surrender another slam. Johnny Bench hit this one, his 11th and final one.

1980 Tony Perez has his worst day ever according to WPA, going 0-for-4 with a K and GIDP for a –0.478 WPA.

1982 Orlando Merced has a memorable first big league hit: A grand slam. No one else will do that for another 17 years.

1983 Joe Morgan has a fantastic 40th birthday, going 4-for-5 with two homers. It’s his 13th and final multi-home run game. He leads the Phillies to a 7-6 win over the Cubs.

1984 For the second straight day, Dwight Evans belts two homers in a game.

1985 Pete Rose reaches base via catcher’s interference for the 29th time in his career. Holy crud—29 times! Folks, Pete Rose is to getting on base by catcher’s interference what Babe Ruth is to belting homers in the 1920 AL. There is absolutely no one even close to his career total. It’s utterly unreal.

1986 Tom Seaver last pitches in a big league game.

1986 Barry Bonds has maybe his worst day ever at the plate. He goes 0-for-5 with four Ks. He had two other hitless four-K games, but those were in only four at-bats.

1988 Orel Hershiser tosses his fourth consecutive shutout, giving him 40 straight scoreless innings. The Dodgers top the Astros, 1-0, for his second straight 1-0 win.

1992 The Tigers beat the Red Sox, 3-2, on a walk-off error that lets the tying and winning runs score. That’s rare.

1992 Houston signs amateur free agent Carlos Guillen.

1993 Steve Trachsel makes his major league debut.

1993 Pedro Martinez allows three triples in one appearance, which is especially impressive because he lasts fewer than two innings.

1995 Albert Belle launches three home runs in a game for the second time.

1996 Vladimir Guerrero makes his big league debut.

1996 Ryne Sandberg, near the end of his career, has his worst game ever according to WPA. He goes 1-for-5 with a walk and caught steal for a –0.454 WPA as the Cardinals beat the Cubs, 5-4.

1997 Matt Williams successfully pulls off the hidden-ball trick on a runner for the third time in his career.

1999 Jamie Moyer loses his 100th decision. He’s 118-100 for his career at this point. It’s his eighth straight Quality Start, tying his high. His line in this stretch: 4-1 W-L, 65 IP, 50 H, 15 R, 11 ER, 10 BB, 36 K, and a 1.52 ERA.

1999 Kenny Lofton experiences maybe his worst game at the plate, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. It’s his only time fanning four times in a game. He does draw a walk and score a run, though.

2000 Some Dodger fans are banned from home games for 18 months by a court after they throw coffee in the face of a Mets fan cheering a Todd Pratt grand slam.

2001 Major League Baseball and the players’ union announce the joint creation of a disaster relief fund. Each group will donate $10 million to 9/11 victims.

2001 Roger Clemens wins, becoming the first pitcher ever to post a 20-1 record. It’s largely caused by his run support, and he’ll lose his last two decisions to finish the year 20-3, but he’ll get the Cy Young Award.

2002 Todd Jones of the Rockies becomes only the fifth pitcher to allow three homers without recording a single out. (Officially, it’s only the fifth time since 1920, but it’s probably the fifth ever).

2002 Shirtless moron William Ligue, Jr. and his equally moronic shirtless son attack Royals first base coach Tony Gamboa at a game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Gamboa suffers some permanent hearing loss in the unprovoked attack.

2003 Rickey Henderson plays in his final game. Well, final big league game. He’ll spend some time in the independent minors after this.

2003 Randy Johnson belts the only home run of his career.

2004 Todd Zeile gets his 2,000th career hit.

2004 Dave Burba appears in his last game.

2006 Eric Young last plays in the big leagues.

2007 Andy Pettitte wins his 200th game. His record is 200-112.

2008 Marlins rookie Cameron Maybin makes it on base for a tenth straight time without making an out, then makes an out on attempt number 11.

2008 Greg Maddux becomes the 13th member of the 5,000-inning club.

2009 Pedro Martinez loses his 100th game. His career record is 219-100, and he’s one of only four pitchers since 1920 to win 200 before losing 100. (The others are Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, and Juan Marichal.)

2010 Creepy: Tyler Colvin of the Cubs has his chest pierced and lung punctured by a shard from a teammate’s broken bat.

2010 The Diamondbacks tie a franchise record low point by having their all-time cumulative record fall 36 games under .500 (1,029-1,065). They were also 36 games below in 1999. As it happens, Arizona starts winning immediately after this game, and over the last year has played about 20 games over .500.

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11 years ago

<In a 15-3 win over the Dodgers, two Cardinals steal home in the seventh inning.>

Wow, which Dodger peed in their Postum?

11 years ago

I imagine after this someone wrote the “unwritten rules of baseball” giving their pitchers license to kill.

Joe Cowley
8 years ago

Thanks Chris Jaffe for the nice post! Its still nice to be remembered in some fashion, as you did mention I did still have to get 27 outs which I did and walked 7. The one thing that you didn’t mention was that I struck out eight. Which anytime if you strike out more that you walk is good. The way I like to tell the story was that I walked the right 7 batters! Thanks for the article it was fun!

Joe Cowley
8 years ago

One more thing that I will add to this story about going to the Phillies. You will say that that was my last win in the big leagues and that’s true, but there was a reason. I found out after I left the Phillies and was home, went to doctor to have a total rotator cuff surgery which I was receiving cortisone shots from the White Sox in spring training. The White Sox traded me full well knowing that I was damaged goods.
That was the reason I couldn’t get the ball over the plate. The Phillies didn’t even send me to a ortho to be checked out.

Craven Moorehead
7 years ago

Great read and reply from Joe Cowley, the Phillies messed up not getting him checked out.

Greg Hyer
7 years ago

I have often used Joe as the subject of one of the greatest trivia questions in baseball history. No one has answered it yet.
Joe…Just remember the “Jolly Roger”!! Great times on the 1986 Cruise with the Yankees….great memories!