The St. Louis Browns were getting ready to farm out a pitcher named Bobo Holloman early in the 1953 season. So as a kind of going-away present, manager Marty Marion let him start a game against the Philadelphia Athletics, the worst team in the league (after the Brownies, that is). Actually, Bobo hounded him into it.
"You haven't given Big Bobo any chance," the talkative Georgian would plead. "Big Bobo isn't a relief pitcher, he's a starter. Big Bobo can pitch better than half the guys you've got starting."
Holloman was in the bullpen for a very good reason. In spring training, he had been hit harder than the batting practice pitchers. (This, after owner Bill Veeck had spent the hefty sum of $10,000 to acquire him.) But Veeck he of the exploding scoreboard and Disco Demolition Night was always willing to try anything, so on May 9 Bobo was sent out to face the A's.
"Everything he threw was belted," Veeck wrote in his autobiography, "Veeck As In Wreck." "And everywhere the ball went, there was a Brownie there to catch it. It was such a hot and humid and heavy night that long fly balls which seemed to be heading out of the park would die and be caught against the fence. Just when Bobo looked as if he was tiring, a shower would sweep across the field, delaying the game long enough for him to get a rest. Allie Clark hit one into the left-field stands that curved foul at the last second. A bunt rolled just foul on the last spin. Our fielding was superb. . . . With two out in the ninth, a ground ball was rifled down the first base line right at our first baseman, Vic Wertz. Big Bobo had pitched the quaintest no-hitter in the history of the game."
On Saturday night, another big right-hander from the South 24-year-old A.J. Burnett of Little Rock, Ark., and the Florida Marlins pitched a no-hitter that was almost as unlikely. A week after burning his pitching hand while ironing his blue jeans, Burnett shut down San Diego despite walking nine batters, hitting one and letting loose with a wild pitch. Nearly half of the pitches he threw (63 of 128) missed the strike zone, and all but seven were fastballs, but he managed to make history, anyway.
"Effectively wild," manager John Boles called him.
The no-hitter is a capricious creature, smiling on the A.J. Burnetts and the Nolan Ryans alike. Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, the two greatest pitchers of their generation, have never thrown one but Kent Mercker has. Big Bobo Holloman threw one in the first start of his major-league career. And just last month, Hideo Nomo threw his second against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Trying to predict who will pitch a no-hitter is like trying to predict where lightning will strike.
The Padres have never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter, and there may be a reason for that. In 1970, the second year of their existence, their manager, Preston Gomez, pulled his starter after he had pitched eight hitless innings against the Mets. The reason for this sacrilege? Well, San Diego was trailing, 1-0.
"I would rather take a chance on winning than to lose on a no-hitter," he explained. "I did [the same thing] in Spokane six or seven years ago. Phil Ortega had a no-hitter going, and I pinch hit for him in the eighth inning. The pinch hitter [Tony Roig, a Washington Senator in the '50s] hit a double, and we won the game."
The pitcher Gomez took out was Clay Kirby pride of Arlington, Va. Years later, Kirby recalled the incident without bitterness. "Preston was a baseball man," he told me, "and that was what his belief was. And he proved it by doing it again four years later. I was playing for the Reds then, and he was managing Houston. Don Wilson had a no-hitter after eight innings against us, but he was losing 2-1, so Preston pinch-hit for him.
"I was sitting in the dugout, and my teammates were saying, 'What do you think [Gomez is] going to do?' And I said, 'He's going to take him out for a pinch hitter. That's what he told me he'd do four years ago, if it ever came up again.' Wilson just walked off the field and into the dugout and down the runway and into the locker room and out the door and home. He never changed his clothes."
John Boles thought about taking out A.J. Burnett, too several times, in fact. The kid was, after all, throwing the ball all over the lot. (In three innings, including the eighth, he walked back-to-back batters.) But Boles, not one to fool with fate, left him in there.
"I've never seen anything like that," he said of Burnett's "gem."
That's the beauty of no-hitters. They come in all shapes and sizes. Even colors if you believe Dock Ellis' story about pitching one while on LSD in the '70s.