Some guy in California did something last night. I dunno, ask Dustin. I could look into it, but I’m busy. People like to talk about “best this” and “great all-time that,” or even the “worst of something terrible.”
That is all well and good, but what about the worst, or “least good” of something that’s still pretty cool? With that in mind (and this may or may not be related to something that happened last night), let’s take a look at what might be the five lamest no-hitters ever.
To determine which no-hitters (all of which are actually pretty cool, I am writing in relative terms) were the “lamest,” I took the somewhat easy route of using Game Score, something that also seemed to come up late last night/this morning for some reason. Yes, it is a flawed measure, but it is a useful “summary” that does seem to be able to pick out the great (and not so great) games.
Baseball-Reference‘s Play Index only goes back to 1918, which is fine, since “early baseball” is cool historically, but is a very different can of worms, analytically. Anyway, that is why I call this “(almost) ever.” I suppose I could have done perfect games instead of no-hitters, but the only real difference among perfect games are numbers of strikeouts, and there is more interesting stuff to talk about by widening it to include all no-hitters. I also restricted myself to nine-inning games since in earlier years, starting pitchers often went more than nine.
I was going to save this for the end, but just to prevent any consternation: any no-hitter is pretty awesome for a pitcher, no matter how dependent on “luck” and teammate fielding. These are still wonderful accomplishments. So please, take the “lamest” label with a grain of salt. I think you’ll see what I mean if you read on.
We have a three-way tie for second, or fifth, or however it is done. I am going to call it second:
2a. George Culver, July 29, 1968.
Culver played for seven Major League teams and also played a season in Japan during his career. His later years were spent as a reliever, and looking at most of his early years as a starter, one can see why. The 1968 season was his best, and this probably was the crowning moment. Two mediocre teams faced off, but in the end there could only be one, uh, mediocre team that had a slightly better record at the end of the game. The Reds beat the Phillies 6-1 mostly due to Culver’s great start. I mean, it was as great as a five-walk, four-strikeout start can be. In the bottom of the second, the Phillies’ Dick Allen reached second on a double error by the Reds. Allen then was advanced on a ground out, then later scored on a Cookie Rojas sac fly. Runners on, runners over! Game Score: 84.
2b. Ken Holtzman, August 19, 1969.
Holtzmann probably had the best career out of any player on this list (so far). In 1969 and 1970 he was truly very good, and he had the second-most career strikeouts of any Jewish pitcher besides Sandy Koufax. He also was a manager in the inaugural season of the Israel Baseball League (ah, Wikipedia…). On this August day, he pitched the Cubs to a 3-0 victory despite striking out none and walking three. Oh, and giving up zero hits. The opposing pitcher was Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro. Incredibly, Holtzman got no help from double plays. Game Score: 84.
2c. Joe Cowley, September 19, 1986.
On this day, Joe Cowley got his last pitcher win (yes, “pitcher wins” is an awesome stat) as the White Sox beat the Angels 7-1. But if you are going to “go out,” go out on top, right? Cowley wasn’t exactly facing a murderer’s row, although the Angels did win the division. Cowley struck out 8, but walked 7, including three in the sixth inning, leading to a Reggie Jackson sacrifice fly for the Angels’ only run. Game Score: 84.
We have a two-way tie for Lamest No-Hitter Since 1918:
1a. Cliff Chambers, May 6, 1951.
Cliff Chambers actually died this January, having just turned 90. According to rWAR, Chambers was actually below replacement level overall for the Pirates in 1951, which is probably why he was traded to the Cardinals later that season. The Pirates managed to beat the (Boston) Braves 3-0 in this game, and Chambers managed a no-hitter despite only striking out four hitters and walking eight. That’s right, a .5 K/BB ratio. It was the second half of a double-header, so maybe the Braves were ready to hit the town after pasting the Pirates 6-0 earlier in the day. Still, another remarkable game by an otherwise relatively unremarkable pitcher. Game Score: 83.
1b. Francisco Liriano, May 3, 2011.
Remember when Liriano was going to be the heir to Johan Santana and/or the next Felix Hernandez? It seems crazy how, but in 2006, when he was just 22, he absolutely destroyed everything in his path for 121 innings (16 starts, he relieved in 12 other games — oh, those wacky Twins): 2.16 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 10.71 K/9, 2.38 BB/9. Then all those sliders caught up with him… I still remember the reaction in my fantasy league when he went down. He was decent when he came back in 2008, but it was not the same. he had a rough go of it in 2009. He was still striking out too many for the Twins’ taste, I guess. I think I remember talk of him maybe moving to the pen. Then in 2010, he was back, and while he was not the best pitcher in the league, he was in the discussion. Then in 2011 and continuing into this season his control failed again.
But for one day in what seems to be the “aftermath” portion of Liriano’s enigmatic career, he was perfect. And by “perfect,” I mean “magically imperfect.” The Twins (whose fate since 2010 has roughly mirrored Liriano’s) beat the White Sox 1-0 behind a Liriano no-hitter. The White Sox weren’t loaded in 2011, but Carlos Quentin was in the lineup and hitting, and Paul Konerko has at the beginning of his continuing run of mid-30s awesomeness (he would probably be accused of steroid use by some genius if anyone remembered that Paul Konerko existed). It is hard to say Liriano dominated. In fact, it is pretty easy to say that he did not dominate, not really. He had only two strikeouts to go with six walks. For my money, this is even “weaker” than Chamber’s no-no. Yet a no-hitter is a no-hitter, and it was a (final?) bright moment in the sun for Liriano with the Twins. Game Score: 83.