If someone said to you, “real quick, what’s the ultimate achievement for a pitcher,” you’d probably answer that it’s a no-hitter. You’d be wrong, of course, because the ultimate achievement is a perfect game. But a no-hitter is the next best thing, and that’s not a terrible answer. After all, we usually think of no-hitters as these amazing achievements that every pitcher would love to have on his resume.
But here’s the thing: precisely because we make a distinction between regular no-hitters and perfect games, a large amount of grey area is created. Of course, a perfect game is 27 up, 27 down—no hits, no walks, no errors, nobody hit by a pitch. That’s why there have only been 22 of those. Ever. But a no-hitter is simply “no hits.” You can walk a guy, hit a guy, have a guy reach on an error, and even allow a run, and that still counts. Yeah, it’s hard to go a whole game without giving up a hit, so most of the time a no-hitter does indeed indicate greatness. But you know another way to go a whole game without giving up a hit? By walking 10 guys. Because if you’re constantly walking them, then you’re obviously not giving them pitches to his.
The point? Not all no-hitters are great games. Sometimes a no-hitter isn’t even a good game. And, in fact, sometimes a no-hitter is downright sad.
In any case, that’s what we’re taking a look at today: the worst baseball no-hitters of all time. Prepared to be amazed at how bad a “great” game can be.
The St. Louis Brown's Bobo Holloman threw an okay game against the putrid Philadelphia Athletics on May 6, 1953. I say it was just "okay" instead of good, because it's really hard to say a game in which a guy walks 5 while only striking out 3 is "good," even if the other team didn't get any hits. But hey, at least Holloman didn't hit anybody or throw any wild pitches—that's more than some can say. (Final score: Browns 6, Athletics 0.)
11. Bobo Holloman (May 6, 1953)
How does a 10-inning, 12-K no-hitter make this list? It makes the list when the pitcher, Jim Maloney of the Cincinnati Reds, walks 10 batter and hits another.
I wouldn't say this was a bad game, just because Maloney struck out 12 and went 10 inning for the 1-0 victory over Ron Santo and the Chicago Cubs. But any time a guy walks 10, that's not good, either.
10. Jim Maloney (August 19, 1965)
By no means was the Cubs' Ken Holtzman bad on August 19, 1969, when he no-hit the Atlanta Braves in a 3-0 Cubs victory. He only walked 3 that day and, besides, any time you no-hit a team featuring Mr. Hank Aaron, you've gotta be doing something right. It's just that Holtzman wasn't dominant. At all. As in, he didn't strike out a single batter.
Now, I know Crash Davis said strikeouts are fascist, and he's right. Trying to strike out every batter you face will waste a lot of energy and, unless you're one of the greats, it will make you a less effective pitcher over the long haul.
However, strikeouts are usually a key ingredient to a no-hitter. Why? Because they leave nothing to chance. On August 19, 1969, Holtzman left everything to chance, relying on his defense for every single out.
Thus, this is one of the luckiest no-hitters of all time.
9. Ken Holtzman (August 19, 1969)
On May 3 of last season, Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano three 123 pitches, and only 66 of them (53.7%) were strikes. Of those 66 strikes, 31 of them were foul balls.
In other words, Liriano wasn't exactly befuddling the opposing batters.
Here's another telling stat: that night, Liriano walked 6 batters and struck out just 2. And one of those walks came in the 9th inning, with the Twins sporting just a 1-0 lead.
So while Liriano was considerably better on May 3, 2011 than the 9.13 ERA he had coming into game, he wasn't the second coming of Cy Young by any means. Rather, he had a pretty decent night against a poor-hitting team and a good helping of luck.
8. Francisco Liriano (May 3, 2011)
You ask people what the most unbreakable record in baseball is, and they'll probably tell you DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak. However, I for one agree with hit-king Pete Rose, who said it was Johnny Vander Meer's consecutive no-hitters streak.
That's right, Vander Meer threw two no-hitters in a row on July 14 and July 15, 1938. The only way somebody will ever beat that is by throwing three no-hitters in a row, which will not happen in a thousand lifetimes.
But here's the thing—while the fact Vander Meer threw two straight no-hitters is insanely awesome, the actual games themselves were kind of iffy. The first no-hitter, a 3-0 win against the Reds on June 11, 1938, wasn't terrible. Vander Meer struck out 4 and let 4 on base—3 walks and 1 HBP. But the second no-hitter, a 6-0 win against the Dodgers on June 15, wasn't pretty. That day, Vander Meer walked 8 and struck out 7.
Knowing all this, it actually makes the "two consecutive no-hitters" thing even more impressive.
7. Johnny Vander Meer (June 15, 1938)
Joe Cowley's totals from September 19, 1986, don't seem any worse than some of the other bad no-hitters on this list. The White Sox pitcher struck out 8 California Angels and walked 7, but didn't hit anybody and didn't throw any wild pitches. So why do we find poor Joe higher up on the list? Because he gave up a run. An earned run.
Cowley gave up 3 of his 7 walks to lead off the bottom of the 6th inning. Then, with the bases juiced and nobody out, Cowley got three straight pop fly outs. Unfortunately, one of those ended up as a sacrifice fly—which went down as an earned run in Cowley's 7-1 no-hit victory.
6. Joe Cowley (September 19, 1986)
With a name like Lefty Chambers, you'd think this guy would be really great. But even when he threw his no-hitter for the Pirates against the Braves on May 6, 1951, he was just mediocre. Chambers only struck out 4 Braves while walking 8 and throwing a wild pitch. Moreover, he got a lot of help from the opposing manager, who decided to just give Chambers 2 of the 27 outs he needed by dropping sac bunts to move runners over.
Would you to guess how many times a team that got no-hit laid down not one but two sac bunts? Try two times. Ever. So yeah, the crappy no-hitter or not, the Braves deserved that 3-0 loss.
5. Lefty Chambers (May 6, 1951)
I feel compelled to start my dissing of this no-hitter by mentioning the aweful lineup of the 2001 San Diego Padres. They were the third-worst hitting team in the N.L. that year, and their only decent hitters were Ryan Klesko and a 72-year-old Ricky Henderson. (That's a joke. Henderson wasn't 72 that year. He was only 68.*)
But now lets put that aside and look at our buddy A.J. Burnett's performance in no-hitting these Padres: 9 walks, 1 HBP, 1 wild pitch, and three stolen bases against. But hey, no hits! Plus, a 3-0 win.
In the end, the only thing that prevents this game from ranking higher (or do I mean lower?) are Burnett's 7 strikeouts. And even that's just slightly better than okay, not great, and obviously not amazing. This performance was basically Liriano's no-hitter on steroids—similar ratios, but just a little more of everything.
*Ok fine, he was 42. Really.
4. A.J. Burnett (May 12, 2001)
It turns out that Pittsburgh's Doc Ellis was more than just a crazy guy known for wearing hair curlers around the clubhouse before a game. He's also the only pitcher in MLB history (that we know of) to throw a no-hitter while high on LSD.
That's right. LSD. In 1984, he admitted that he took some LSD on June 12, 1970, because he thought he didn't have to pitch that day. (What? A guy who regularly uses LSD can't keep track of what day it is? That's shocking). But later that day, even though he couldn't feel the ball in his hand or see the batter or catcher clearly, Ellis no-hit the Padres, walking 8, striking out 6, hitting one, and allowing steals.
Wow. It must be embarrassing to have been a member of the 1970 Padres.
3. Doc Ellis (June 12, 1970)
This one was a real serious contender for the worst no-hitter of all time.
Pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks in an interleague tilt against the Tampa Bay Rays, Edwin Jackson threw 149 pitches to get his no-hitter, and only 53% of them were strikes. With that many balls (70), there had to be some walks, right? Right. Eight walks. Three of them in the third inning, in fact. Oh, and Jackson also hit a batter, bringing the total number of baserunners up to 9.
Getting a no hitter with those stats that is actually kind of a miracle. Think about it: it's hard enough to get 27 outs without giving up a hit. But every time you walk or hit a batter, that just extends the game. And that night in Floriday, Jackson had to face 36 batters for a 1-0 victory.
2. Edwin Jackson (June 25, 2010)
I set out to do this list with no intention of including combined no-hitters—those rare but usually remarkable feats. However, the Barber-Miller no-hitter is too good (i.e., terrible) to pass up.
The Orioles' Barber took a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the top of the 9th inning against the Detroit Tigers. Up until that point, through 8 innings, Barber's no-hitter was miraculous. He'd already walked 7, hit 2, and given up a stolen base. But then Barber's 9th went like this: walk, walk, sacrifice bunt (1 out), foul fly ball (2 out), wild pitch (run scores), walk. At that point, Barber is pulled, with a no-hitter, for Stu Miller. Miller gave up a ground ball that should have been the third out, but a run scored on a fielder's choice and an error. Then he finally got the third out.
The line at the end of the game for Detroit: 0 hits, 2 runs, 1 win over the Baltimore Orioles.