60th anniversary: Whitey Ford’s near no-hitterby Chris Jaffe
May 12, 2013
Sixty years ago, one of the most famous and successful pitchers of his generation threw the game of his life. On May 12, 1953, Whitey Ford dang near hurled a no-hitter. He didn’t quite pull it off, falling short the most frustrating way possible. The sole hit tallied against him came from the bat of the opposing pitcher. Oh, and it wasn’t just any hit; it was an infield single.
Sixty years ago, Ford was still a young arm looking to establish himself. He’d broken in with the 1950 Yankees, posting an impressive 9-1 record, but he then lost the next two years. The government called Ford into military service during the Korean War, and Ford didn’t pitch at all in 1951 or '52. Now it was 1953, time for Ford to prove he was more than a flash in the pan.
May 12 would be Ford’s fourth start of the year and so far, so good. He had a record of 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA. But today would be a much bigger test. Facing off against Ford was New York’s top rival, the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe had finished in second place each of the last two years and would do so again this year, coming in as runner-up to the Yankees each time. While the Indians had a notable pitching staff featuring Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Bob Feller, they also had a solid core of hitters.
Only the Yankees would score more runs in the 1953 AL than the Indians. And all of Cleveland’s top bats—Larry Doby, Al Rosen, and Dale Mitchell—were in the lineup that game, so this would be a true challenge for Ford.
Ford started off on the wrong foot with a leadoff walk to Ray Boone, but then Boone was out trying to steal, and Ford retired the next two batters without a problem.
Ford walked Doby in the second frame but then nearly picked him off. But thanks to an error, Doby ended up on second base with one out. However, Ford forced a couple ground outs to strand Doby.
Ford walked another batter in the fourth and still another in the fifth, but since he was only letting one baserunner on an inning, nothing came of it. Meanwhile, the Yankee hitters had given Ford a commanding 5-0 lead. Heading into the sixth, the drama wasn’t if the Indians would come back, but if they would get a hit. They still hadn’t done so as the sixth began.
Leading off the sixth was Wynn, the veteran Indians pitcher. Sure he’d allowed five runs so far, but it was the 1950s. You let pitchers bat late in the game when down 5-0. Besides, he was one of the best-hitting pitchers in baseball. He would hit .275 on the year.
Sure, Wynn was a terrific hitter for a pitcher, but note that qualifier—for a pitcher. Yes, he’d hit. 275 in 91 at-bats in 1953, but that came in between seasons hitting .222 and .183. For his career, Wynn hit .214. That .275 number was a big of a fluke caused by the relatively small number of at-bats.
Regardless, Wynn hit one to the third baseman and managed to churn his 33-year-old legs fast enough to make it to first before the throw. Ford’s no-hitter was no more.
Ford didn’t surrender another hit, though. He retired 12 of the last 13, giving up just another base on balls. Most notably, in the eighth inning Ford faced three different pinch-hitters and fanned all three of them, recording the complete game for a 7-0 win.
But there was no no-hitter. And, though he’d star on the Yankees for another 14 seasons, Ford would never get to the promised land of a no-hitter. He’d throw two more one-hitters, which interestingly enough came in back-to-back starts in 1955, but this was as close as Ford would come to a no-hitter. You’d figure that if all that stood between a man and a no-hitter was preventing the opposing pitcher from getting an infield single, he’d get it 99 times out of 100. Well, this was time No. 100. And it was 60 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since Bobby Thomson, hitter of the most famous home run in history, dies at age 86.
2,000 days since the White Sox release Scott Podsednik.
3,000 days since the Rangers signs free agent pitcher Pedro Astacio.
5,000 days since Angels manager Terry Collins resigns.
5,000 days since the federal courts uphold the resignations of 22 umpires in July, 1999.
9,000 days since Darrell Evans hits his 400th career home run.
9,000 days since Wade Boggs becomes the first 20th-century player to get 200 hits in a half-dozen seasons.
15,000 days since the Phillies host the first of three Kiteman promotions. It’s a bike with kites on it, and it crashes into the center field bleachers immediately after taking off the ramp.
1862 Chicken Wolf, quality hitter for the 1880s Louisville Colonels, is born.
1866 Lave Cross, great-fielding third baseman who played forever, is born.
1890 Back in the day, there are two major league ballparks adjacent to each other in New York. Today, the New York Giants’ Mike Tiernan hit a homer out of the National League park and into the Players League park. Fans in both places cheer the shot.
1894 Nixey Callahan makes his big league debut. At different points in time, he’ll be a starting first baseman and a starting pitcher.
1897 Joe Dugan, starting infielder for the 1927 Yankees, is born.
1910 A’s star pitcher Albert Bender throws a no-hitter. (He's more famous as Chief Bender, but he preferred to be called his given name.) He walks just one in a 4-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
1915 Young White Sox pitcher Red Faber needs just 67 pitches in a complete-game win.
1916 Hank Borowy, pitcher, is born. He’ll be one of the few men to defeat all 16 teams in the pre-expansion era.
1919 For the second straight day, the Yankees and Senators have a marathon game. It ends in a tie, 4-4 after 15 innings.
1923 Babe Ruth hits his 200th home run, something no one else has ever done previously .
1925 Yogi Berra is born.
1926 Walter Johnson picks up a win, giving him a career record of 403-258, which is his most games ever over .500 (145).
1929 Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt endures his 100th loss. His record is 155-100.
1930 The Boston Braves pick up veteran pitcher Tom Zachary off waivers from the Yankees.
1930 Cleveland pitcher Milt Shoffner balks three times in the third inning against the A’s.
1932 Carey Selph of the White Sox fans for the ninth time on the year. There won’t be a No. 10. He’ll play 89 more games without striking out.
1933 The Red Sox pick up George Pipgras from the Yankees for the princely sum of $100,000.
1934 Joe Judge, veteran first baseman, plays in his last game.
1935 Felipe Alou is born.
1940 Gus Suhr, a fine player for the Pirates in the 1930s, plays in his last game.
1941 After five years being called the Bees, the Boston NL team decides to switch back to Braves.
1941 Lefty Grove, in the last year of his career, loses a game at Fenway. This ends his 20-game winning streak in the park.
1944 Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr connects for his 1,000th hit.
1948 Doc Cramer, outfielder, plays in his last game.
1951 Scratched from the lineup due to a bout of the flu, Stan Musial comes up as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and promptly belts a three-run homer for an 8-6 Cardinals win.
1953 Ed Summers, Tigers pitcher, dies at age 68. As a rookie in 1908, he went 24-12 and a 1.64 ERA.
1955 It’s one of the most memorable ninth innings of any no-hitter. Toothpick Sam Jones of the Cubs hasn’t allowed a single hit through eight innings against the Pirates, but he then walks the bases loaded to begin the ninth. However, he immediately recovers by striking out Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, and Frank Thomas to stop the rally and finish off the no-hitter. It’s the first no-hitter by a black big league pitcher and the first one in Wrigley Field since the 1917 double no-hitter. Only 2,918 are on hand to see it.
1956 Carl Erskine throws his second career no-hitter, walking two and fanning three in a 3-0 Dodgers win over the Giants.
1957 Lou Whitaker, fantastic second baseman, is born.
1958 Who hits the first ever grand slam for the San Francisco Giants? Willie Mays, of course.
1959 Mickey Mantle legs out the third of his four career inside-the-park home runs.
1959 One-time Astros All-Star outfielder Kevin Bass is born.
1959 With two out in the ninth, Earl Averill Jr. smacks a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam against Lew Burdette for a 7-3 Cubs win over the Braves.
1961 It’s one of the best pitchers' duels of the decade. Boston beats Washington, 2-1, despite getting only two hits. Boston’s Bill Monbouquette gets the win by fanning 17 in a complete-game shutout.
1961 Rocky Colavito sees his dad in an altercation in the stands and jumps in to defend him. He’s ejected but defiant, telling reporters, “What would you do if you saw someone belting your 60-year-old father?” He has a point.
1962 The Mets will win just 40 games this year, but they claim both ends of a doubleheader. Even stranger, pitcher Craig Anderson picks up the win in both games—and never wins another. He’ll end the year with a 2-16 record and his career with a 2-19 mark.
1963 Tigers star Mickey Lolich makes his big league debut.
1964 Juan Marichal posts his 12th consecutive win, his longest ever streak. His line in that time: 14 G, 14 GS, 10 CG, 118 IP, 99 H, 35 R, 25 ER, 21 BB, 97 K, and a 1.91 ERA.
1964 Third baseman Don Hoak plays in his last game.
1964 The Braves release veteran Gus Bell.
1965 Houston signs free agent second baseman Nellie Fox.
1966 It’s a new day in St. Louis, as Busch Stadium debuts. It’s a great game, as they top the Braves, 4-3 in 12 innings. They use the same home plate from old Sportsman’s Park. In the bottom of the 12th, Orlando Cepeda lays down the first sacrifice hit in his career—in career plate apperance No. 4,539. At the time, it’s the record for most plate appearances with just one sacrifice hit.
1967 Jim Palmer throws the first of his five career one-hitters. Horace Clarke gets a seventh-inning single, but otherwise it’s a perfect game for Palmer. And Palmer faces just 27 batters because a double play wipes out Clarke.
1967 When aging Tiger Al Kaline tries to steal second, catcher Bob Tillman throws—but hits relief pitcher John Wyatt in the back of the head.
1968 Luis Tiant throws his fourth consecutive complete-game shutout. He’s allowed just 14 hits and seven walks while fanning 35 in 36 innings.
1969 Leo Durocher manages his 3,000th game. His record is 1,626-1,354.
1969 Bob Gibson strikes out the side on just nine pitches in the seventh inning against the Dodgers.
1969 It’s bullpen wars. The Royals and Orioles bullpens will duel all year long, and today Baltimore pitchers Pete Richert and Eddie Watt throw a firecracker at the KC bullpen.
1969 In today’s Yankee-Pilots game, New York announcers Phil Rizzuto and Jerry Coleman kill time trying to figure out the all-time Yankees team. They agree that Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle both belong in the outfield. For the third slot they disagree. Coleman prefers Maris while Rizzuto goes with Ruth. Yes, initially, they both forgot about Babe Ruth.
1970 Ernie Banks bashes his 500th career home run.
1971 Bert Blyleven throws the first of 15 career 1-0 complete-game shutout wins. That’s the most by any pitcher since Walter Johnson.
1971 Hall of Fame outfielder Heinie Manush dies.
1972 Today’s Twins-Brewers game just won’t end. After 21 innings, it’s all tied up at 3-3 when the contest hits the AL curfew. The Brewers will win in the 22nd inning when the game resumes on May 13. The losing pitcher is Bert Blyleven in one of his few relief appearances. Twins star Rod Carew reaches bases eight times but never scores. He walks three times and hits three singles and a pair of doubles.
1974 It’s one of the ugliest moments of fan misbehavior of the era. Bob Watson crashes into the wall at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and hits it so hard that his sunglasses shatter and he gets glass in his eye. Staring down on him, Reds fans pour beer and debris on him.
1976 Someone actually thought this was a good idea. The Red Sox hire a witch to cast a spell for them prior to the day’s Indians game. It must be desperation, as Boston has lost 10 straight. Maybe it was a good idea, as Boston wins, 6-4, thanks in part due to some terrible fielding by John Lowenstein.
1976 Cubs pitcher Rick Reuschel enjoys the best Game Score of his career: 91. His line: 10 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, and 6 K, but he gets a no-decision as the Cubs don’t win until the 11th, 1-0 over the Giants.
1978 It’s a rare inside-the-park, walk-off home run hit by Famous Amos Otis off Yankees relief ace Rich Gossage. It’s actually a routine fly ball, but New York outfielders Reggie Jackson and Mickey Rivers collide trying to catch it.
1979 For the only time in his career, Keith Hernandez gets two triples in one game.
1979 Relief pitcher Bill Caudill is born.
1982 The Angels make a bad trade, sending young slugger Tom Brunansky and a second player and $400,000 to the Twins for pitcher Doug Corbett and infielder Rob Wilfong.
1982 The Twins are in a trading mood on May 12, 1982. Aside from the Brunansky trade, they also send catcher Butch Wynegar to the Yankees for Larry Milbourne, two others, and cash.
1982 Paul Molitor has the game of his life, going 4-for-5 with three home runs and four RBIs.
1984 One out from a no-hitter, Reds ace Mario Soto surrenders a game-tying home run to George Hendrick. The Reds win it in the bottom of the ninth, 2-1.
1984 Pirates skipper Chuck Tanner endures his 1,000th managerial defeat. He is 1,077-1,000 in his career so far.
1984 Jim Palmer appears in his final big league contest.
1986 Tony LaRussa manages his 1,000th game. His record is 506-491.
1989 Rick Reuschel wins his 200th game, giving him a record of 200-177.
1990 Davey Johnson manages his 1,000th game. His record is 591-409.
1990 Kirby Puckett hits his 100th career home run.
1993 Dave Winfield plays first base for the first time in 15 years.
1994 Milwaukee loses, leaving Phil Garner with a record of 178-179 for his career. It’ll stay under .500 from here on out.
1994 Former pitcher Si Johnson dies at age 87. He led the league in losses twice and ended his career with a 101-165 record.
1995 Kenny Lofton endures possibly his worst game. He’s 0-for-4 with a whiff and two GIDP. It’s one of just two career two-GIDP games.
1996 Rafael Palmeiro gets his 200th career home run.
1996 Alex Rodriguez enjoys his first career multi-home run game.
1997 The Royals release veteran reliever Mitch Williams.
1997 Chris Carpenter makes his major league debut.
1998 Tony LaRussa wins his 1,500th game. He’s the 15th man to get there.
1998 Jim Thome draws three intentional walks in one game.
1998 Mark McGwire crushes a 527-foot home run, his longest ever—until he hits one even further four days later.
1999 Angels pitcher Chuck Finley fans four Yankees in one inning in a 1-0 win.
1999 Pedro Martinez fans 15 Mariners in one game. It’s his second straight 15-K game.
2000 For the second year in a row, Pedro Martinez fans 15 on May 12. It’s a complete-game two-hitter against Baltimore for a Game Score of 98, which ties his high.
2000 Curt Schilling uncorks three wild pitches in one game, his worst showing.
2000 It’s one of the most famous home runs in Wrigley Field history. Glenallen Hill hits a ball onto the rooftop across Waveland Avenue in left. It’s estimated to travel around 500 feet.
2000 Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez legs out two triples in one game. It’s his only time doing that.
2001 Alex Rodriguez hits his 200th home run.
2001 A.J. Burnett throws a no-hitter, walking nine in a 3-0 Marlins win over the Padres.
2001 An arbitrator orders major league baseball to reinstate nine of the 22 umpires who resigned two years earlier. Also, baseball has to give them back pay.
2001 Carlos Delgado belts his 204th home run with Toronto, passing up Joe Carter as the all-time franchise leader in longballs.
2002 Joe Torre becomes the 17th manager in history with 1,500 wins.
2004 Edgar Martinez bashes his 300th home run.
2004 Alex Cora fouls off an incredible 14 consecutive pitches and then homers off Matt Clement to end an 18-pitch battle.
2005 For the fifth straight game, Bobby Abreu homers.
2006 Cole Hamels makes his big league debut.
2008 Asdrubal Cabrera pulls off the game’s rarest play: an unassisted triple play. At the game is Phillies scout Ron Hansen, who himself pulled off an unassisted triple play back in 1968.
2009 Carlos Beltran gets a walk-off walk from Jeff Bennett of the Braves for a 4-3 Mets win in 10 frames.
2011 Carlos Beltran belts three home runs in one game.
2012 Boston purchases what’s left of Scott Podsednik from the Phillies.
2012 Arizona has a new type of promotion: tattoo arms. They give slip-on sleeves to fans that will make their arms look like those of Diamondbacks third baseman Ryan Roberts.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.