No-Hitter Etiquette

No More Ninth Inning For No-No’s Now The New Normal

Remember when pulling a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter was a big deal? Like, it was so unusual that there was a whole passage in The Baseball Codes about Padres manager Preston Gomez doing it to Clay Kirby in 1970, and I’ve blogged about the topic again … and again and again. And again, and then another five times.

Boy have things changed. Welcome to Baseball 2021, where starting pitchers average 5.1 innings and complete games are a near-impossibility. Take Saturday, for example, when Corbin Burns no-hit Cleveland through eight innings, and was pulled prior to the ninth owing to having thrown a career-high 115 pitches. In his second full years as a starter, Burnes is one of the NL’s best pitchers. He’s averaging six innings per start. With Milwaukee on the cusp of the playoffs, management figured that his long-term health was not worth the risk.

Think about that for moment. Burnes was at 115 pitches, not a huge number for a stress-free game, generally speaking. With three outs to go he was virtually there. Burnes was, in fact, the first pitcher EVER to have been pulled while allowing no hits and only one baserunner across the first eight innings of a start. (That stat courtesy of The Athletic, which offered a nine-point list explaining why Burnes was yanked. One detail not mentioned in the Athletic: Major League pitchers have reached the 120-pitch threshold all of five times this season.)

When Burns’ manager told him that he would not be going out for the ninth he didn’t even seem to view it as unusual. Maybe it was such new territory for him that Burns didn’t have an instinctive frame of reference. Maybe the Brewers just really respect manager Craig Counsell’s decision-making. Or maybe this is the way baseball is now.

This is interesting mainly because of how little interest it actually holds. This kind of thing is the new normal.

Oh well.

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.

No-Hitter Etiquette

Ten Years Ago Today: Armando Galarraga’s Would-Be Perfect Game

Ten years ago today gave us perhaps the most egregiously blown call in baseball history. With one out to go in a would-be perfect game, Tigers righty Armando Galarraga induced a soft tapper to the right side of the infield. First baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded it cleanly and fed the covering pitcher in time to beat the runner by a step.

Umpire Jim Joyce called him safe.

There were two primary reactions in the immediate aftermath. One was to blister Joyce over a terrible call. The other was to begin discussing, in depth and at length, the idea of universal instant replay.

Regarding the former, Joyce acquitted himself as well as anybody in his position might have. Upon watching a replay after the game, he tearfully proclaimed that “It was the biggest call of my career and I blew it,” and that “I cost that kid a perfect game.” Joyce apologized publicly, and Galarraga accepted. The class shown on both sides of the issue served as a beacon for those hopeful that grace and civility might be making a comeback to our society.

Oh well.

As for the latter reaction, instant replay was in use at that time, just not in a way that could have helped Galarraga. It had been implemented in 2008 with three express purposes: determining whether a ball was fair or foul; determining if a ball had left the playing field; and confirming possible fan interference on a home run. In 2014 the challenge system was implemented, and replay began to have significantly more effect. (I weighed in on the topic for The New York Times amid some pretty select company shortly after the game.)

My point at the time, which I reinforce now, is that there’s an unwritten-rules aspect to the call—this one covering umpires, not players—that could have prevented all of the ensuing trauma. Namely, that the first hit of a game must be clean.

It’s an easy one. Nobody—not the pitcher, not the opposition and especially not the umpire—wants a game to go into the books with the only hit allowed having been controversial … or, even worse, an incorrect call. This is especially pertinent late in the game, never mind with two outs in the ninth inning. Joyce himself said in the Detroit News that “This was a history call, nd I kicked the shit out of it.”

Had the runner that day, Jason Donald, actually beaten the throw by a half-step and been called out by Joyce, nobody would be talking about the call today.

At least it gives us some brief distraction while our country burns.

No-Hitter Etiquette, Pandemic Baseball

Pete Rose Knows All About Your No-Hitter

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Talking during a no-hitter.

Oscar Gamble: “When Rick Wise threw that no-hitter, in about the sixth or seventh inning, Pete Rose realized what was happening. He was saying that he was going to break it up. ‘I’m coming back up. It’s gonna be broke up. I know you have a no-hitter going!’ He’d talk real loud and let him know. ‘I’m gonna break it up! I’m gonna break it up!’

“When he was playing third base he’d yell into their dugout: ‘I know he’s got a no-hitter—I’m coming up again and I’m going to break it up.’

“He did come up again, and ended up hitting a line drive … right to Mike Schmidt. He was a great player, and it felt like he was going to get a hit all the time, anyway.”

[Not only did Wise complete the no-no, but he hit two homers on the day in a 4-0 victory over Cincinnati.]

No-Hitter Etiquette, Pandemic Baseball

The Catcher Is Always Smarter

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Talking during a no-hitter.

Brooklyn’s Rex Barney had just finished his seventh no-hit inning against the Cubs in 1949 when he bragged on the bench to Ralph Branca that he was going to complete the task.

Branca was incredulous that he’d even mention the event, at which point Barney explained that the only stout hitter he’d have to face over the final two frames was Phil Cavarretta. “If I get him out, they’re dead,” he said.

Cavarretta led off the eighth. Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella signaled for a first-pitch curveball, but Barney, figuring that Cavarretta would be taking, shook the catcher off and threw a fastball. Cavarretta rifled it through the right side for a clean single.

Barney finished the inning (and the game) without further incident, but as he was walking off the mound after the eighth, Campanella approached him. “Don’t ever shake me off again,” he said, “You know I’m smarter than you are.”

No-Hitter Etiquette, Pandemic Baseball

Don’t Applaud, Lad, Don’t Applaud

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Talking during a no-hitter.

During Sandy Koufax’s no-hitter in 1963, San Francisco’s Felipe Alou hit a long fly ball that Tommy Davis had to catch on the run. Dodgers rookie Dick Calmus jumped up to applaud, which was entirely too much for coach Leo Durocher, who ordered him to sit back down.

No-Hitter Etiquette, Pandemic Baseball

When People Get Too Passionate, Things Can Go Sideways

From Deadspin, Aug. 5, 2006: “A caller to Yankee announcer Michael Kay’s radio show took Kay to task for mentioning Chien-Ming Wang’s in-progress perfect game during a broadcast.

According to the caller, it’s against ‘baseball etiquette’ to do such a thing, but Kay vehemently disagrees. So vehemently, in fact, that the conversation then moves on to American slavery, putting ‘people in the ovens.’ And then he calls someone else stupid and infantile.”

No-Hitter Etiquette, Pandemic Baseball

Words Of Warning

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Talking during a no-hitter.

In the fifth inning of Shawn Estes’ would-be no-hitter with the Mets in 2002, the Shea Stadium scoreboard informed the crowd that Estes had pitched four career no-hitters in high school.

That was all it took. Shortly thereafter, Milwaukee’s Eric Young singled to center. “They’re not supposed to do that, are they?” asked Estes after the game.

No-Hitter Etiquette, Pandemic Baseball

Good Things Happen When Sizemore Plays Left Field

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Talking during a no-hitter.

During Bob Gibson’s no-hitter in 1971, nobody in the St. Louis dugout said a word about it. However, second baseman Ted Sizemore, with a rare start in left field that night, mentioned that he’d had a similarly rare start in left while playing with the Dodgers a season earlier.

As it happened, Bill Singer tossed a no-hitter in that one.

No-Hitter Etiquette, Pandemic Baseball

Bert Blyleven Made Jim Sundberg Very Nervous

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Talking during a no-hitter.

Bert Blyleven: “When I pitched my no-hitter in Anaheim, it was about the seventh inning and I hadn’t given up a hit yet. I was sitting there between the seventh and eighth inning, near my catcher, Jim Sundberg.

“I looked over at the scoreboard and said, ‘Jimmy, you know we got a no-hitter going?’ He just got up and walked away. Wouldn’t even talk to me. I don’t know why. I thought it was kind of funny. It kind of relaxed me a little bit, but it made Jimmy very nervous.

“I thought I had friends on a team until I got to a situation like that. I had numerous no-hitters that went into the sixth, seventh, eighth inning, and yeah—they leave you pretty much alone. But you know it. That’s just the way it is.”