No-Hitter Etiquette

Is It Possible To Jinx A No-Hitter That Won’t Be Official Anyway? Let’s Discuss

So the literature around no-hitter etiquette is expansive and unequivocal: Do not jinx it in any way by mentioning its existence until after the game is finished. There is rock-solid evidence that every late-game no-hitter in the history of baseball has been ruined by somebody, somewhere, talking about the dang thing. (And don’t bring your “but what about all the actual no-hitters that were discussed extensively in progress” nonsense up in here. We don’t have time for heresy in this space.)

What the literature hasn’t covered is the gray area of no-hitterdom in which we find ourselves in 2021—specifically the validity of scheduled seven-inning games, and how it might affect brushes with historical greatness.

As Jayson Stark reminds us in The Athletic, this all started, more or less, when baseball commissioner Fay Vincent responded to a pair of would-be no-hitters by brothers Pascual and Melido Perez that had each been shortened by rain. In 1988, Pascual’s no-hit outing against the Phillies was called after the fifth inning, and in 1990, Melido held the Yankees hitless for six before weather intervened.

The very next year, Vincent established a commission to once and for all delineate the parameters of an officially recognized no-hitter. Its primary conclusion: The thing had to go at least nine innings. Under these auspices, both Perez gems, along with 33 other rain-shortened no-nos, were retroactively wiped off of the books. At the time, this decision did not appear to affect the superstitious among us in one way or another.

Flash forward to last weekend’s doubleheader in Atlanta. In the opener, Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen went into the sixth inning having held Atlanta hitless. On the broadcast, Arizona radio man Mike Ferrin dispensed with caution entirely, saying: “This may pop up with no-hitter alerts on your phone, so if you’re just tuning in because you got one, well, the good news is, Gallen hasn’t allowed a hit. But I have some bad news for you if he does get the next six outs without allowing a hit. Listen, nobody’s gonna like this, are they?”

Moments later, Gallen gave up a hit.

There’s an entire chapter devoted to this unwritten rule in The Baseball Codes, including one of the earliest instances of its invocation during a broadcast:

During the first televised World Series, in 1947, Yankees right-hander Bill Bevens pitched hitless ball into the ninth inning of Game 4 against the Dodgers; with virtually no precedent on which to rely, broadcaster Mel Allen refused to reference the feat. “Obviously, what I said or didn’t say in the booth wasn’t going to influence anything that happened on the field,” he said. “But I’ve always known that players on the bench don’t mention a no-hitter; they respect the dugout tradition. And I’ve always done the same. It’s part of the romance of the game. It’s one of the great things that separates it from the other sports, like the seventh-inning stretch or ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ ”

For the purists in the audience this was just fine, save for one fact: Allen worked only the first half of the game. The later innings were given to Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber, who wasted no time in altering the tone. Among the first things out of his mouth when he entered midway through the fourth was the line score: “Dodgers: one run, two errors, no hits.” Allen, said Barber, “nearly fell out of the booth.” Barber continued to report the feat throughout the game, his comfort level possibly buoyed by the run Brooklyn scored in the fifth without benefit of a hit, courtesy of two walks, a sacrifice, and a fielder’s choice. In the ninth, long after Barber gave up the goods on the air, Bevens issued two more walks (one inten­tional) and a two-out double by Cookie Lavagetto to score both runners, the difference in an improbable 3–2 Brooklyn victory.

As the winning run scored, Barber’s on-air comment was, “Well, I’ll be a suck-egg mule.” His audience certainly thought so. “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.”

Nine years later, as Don Larsen unspooled a perfect game in the World Series, Allen’s new partner, Vin Scully, took careful note of precedent.

As Scully watched the game unfold, the public reaction to Barber’s handling of Bevens’s failed no-hitter was at the forefront of his mind. “In those days people did not mention ‘no-hitter,’ ” Scully said. “And Mel, he did the first five innings, said, ‘He’s retired 10 in a row, 12 in a row,’ so I picked up the thread and in the second half, I was doing the same thing: ‘Twenty-two in a row, 24 in a row.’ . . .

Which brings us back to last weekend’s doubleheader. Having discussed a possible no-no in the opener gave Ferrin some clarity for the nightcap.

“I jokingly said to [broadcast partner Tom] Candiotti, `You know, I think we can talk about this because it’s not going to be an official no-hitter,’ ” Ferrin told Stark. “I’m sure that once or twice I did call it a no-hitter, but it isn’t in the history books as a no-hitter. So do you not call it that because of that? I mean, I think it’s important to have some devotion to accuracy at a time like that, don’t you think?”

As with many unwritten rules, the modern interpretation is a pale reflection of how things used to be. “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 longtime broadcaster Steve Lyons, speaking for the majority.

Hell, even Vin Scully—who’d refused to mention Larsen’s perfect game on the air—came around. “Today,” he said, years later, “I would have come on in the fifth inning and said, ‘Hey, call your friends, he’s pitching a no-hitter.’ ”

So, to the superstitious among us, it’s official: If baseball does not consider giving up no hits during a scheduled seven-inning game to be a no-hitter, then such a game is impossible to jinx.

Ferrin, you’re off the hook.

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