No-Hitter Etiquette

Don’t Talk During a No-Hitter—a Rule That Never Gets Old

In this, the Year of the No-Hitter, there’s been an awful lot of talk about appropriate etiquette during the course of one.

In this space alone, we’ve discussed pulling a pitcher (not once, but three times); changing things up, and in more than one way; sending a pinch-hitter to break one up, even when the game’s out of hand; bunting to break one up (twice); umpires’ roles—particularly as they pertain to robbing a pitcher of a perfect game; and what constitutes appropriate behavior, up to and including extra efforts. Mostly, however, we’ve discussed discussing them—in broadcasts, on message boards (in various permutations), on blogs and on Twitter.

This week, the concept came up again, twice. In the aftermath of Rich Harden being pulled from his own no-hitter, HardballTalk’s D.J. Short took serious grief on his own message boards for posting entries as the game unfolded, thus inexorably jinxing the efforts of the Rangers pitching staff.

Or so certain posters would have us believe. A small sampling:

So you’re a professional baseball writer, huh? And you use that hyphenated word while the event is still in progress?

Changing the title after the fact doesn’t undo the jinx you laid on the Rangers with your irresponsible use of the term “no-hitter” during the game. There are a thousand or so ways to dance around the term and still get the point across. Maybe someday, after you’ve been around a while, you’ll understand that the people who care enough about this game to read this blog know that, and respect and honor that tradition, and fear the consequences of violating it.

I would say that anyone that says jinxes don’t exist should probably be writing about somehing other than baseball.

Short took it in stride, publishing a good-natured screed about why, exactly, such things are essentially a bunch of hokum.

“My apologies if you hate it, but I just refuse to believe that if I mention the event in progress—as I did here on the blog on Tuesday night—it will have some cosmic effect on the actual game on the field,” he wrote. “That’s positively bananas.”

To back up his point, Short mentioned that similar HardballTalk coverage was offered for the five no-hitters already in the books this season, none of which were broken up. Add in MLB Network’s breakaway live coverage when no-hitters reach the late innings, and Twitter, and the panoply of message boards, and the possibilities for a jinx are manifold.

Short: “We live in a world where no-hitters in progress are mentioned more frequently than ever before, yet we have had more no-no’s this season than there have been since 1990.”

It’s a great point, and it’s clearly on the writer’s mind for personal reasons.

Not so for FanHouse’s Ed Price, who dropped nearly 1,000 words on no-hitter etiquette based on nothing more timely than the fact that it’s an interesting story.

On one hand, he wrote, John Flaherty of the YES Network, a former big league catcher, mentioned Javier Vazquez’s would-be no-hitter on the air (something Flaherty admits he would never have done from the dugout).

On the other hand, Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats refrained from using the phrase during the entirety of Matt Garza’s no-no on July 26.

“I framed it in every way possible without actually saying it,” he told the St. Petersburg Times. “Fans start to catch on that something is happening. At one point, I said, ‘Garza has faced the minimum and has allowed only one baserunner and that came on a walk.’ So I’m essentially saying it without saying it.”

The reasons for not mentioning it are clear: Listeners respond to the concept of jinxes, much like the readers of HardballTalk. This goes all the way back to Red Barber, who, broadcasting the first televised World Series in 1947, mentioned on the air that Yankees pitcher Bill Bevens was working on a no-hitter.

“There was a hue and cry that night,” said the broadcaster. “Yankee fans flooded the radio station with angry calls and claimed I had jinxed Bevens. Some of my fellow announcers on sports shows that evening said I had done the most unsportsmanlike broadcast in history.”

For those broadcasters who do mention it, however, the reasoning is even more simple.

“If you want people to stay tuned, you should probably mention, ‘Hey, hang in there, don’t go anywhere—guy’s throwing a no-hitter,’ ” said player-turned-broadcaster Steve Lyons.

Of course, points out FanHouse, that doesn’t always work. Two batters after Flaherty mentioned the phrase “no-hitter” on June 6, Vazquez allowed his first hit of the night—a home run.

“People get fired up—’Oh, you jinxed it . . .’ ” said Flaherty. “But I’m not that powerful.”

– Jason

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