Last week, Jon Lester joined an exclusive club by throwing only the 235th officially sanctioned no-hitter in big-league history.
In order to accomplish this rare feat, a pitcher needs to have several things going for him. Most importantly, he has to be on top of his game. That’s obvious. Other factors come into play as well. If the umpire is calling a wide strike zone, that ain’t going to hurt. It comes in handy if his fielders do a good job as well. A little bit of luck comes in handy also.
And yes, it certainly is handy if the opposing lineup isn’t very impressive. If you look it up, a wildly disproportionate number of no-hitters have come against terrible hitting teams. Well, duh. That stands to reason. Great hitting teams are the most difficult to shut down.
In fact, in baseball history only 10 no-hitters have come against teams that led the league in hits. And one of those was the Rockies playing on the road. Another was the 1971 Pirates—a great hitting club, but half the regulars rested on that particular day.
So, what are the best lineups ever no-hit? To answer that question the key stat is batting average. Normally at a place like THT, you’d expect us to use OPS+ instead of batting average, but when looking at how tricky it is to no-hit a team, batting average makes the most sense. OPS+ interest in power and walks is irrelevant.
For example, in 1967 Joe Horlen no-hit the Tigers. They had a team OPS+ of 113. On that particular day they actually sat their three worst hitting regulars (including Ray Oyler) for better hitting replacements. Despite that, five men in their lineup hit .242 or lower. They hit .243 as a team. They were a power-and-walk team in an era of low average. Great lineup, but not an especially difficult one to no-hit.
This won’t be purely a list of the highest batting averages ever no-hit, as at some point actual talent comes into play as well. Good ol’ fashioned batting average will be the main focus. It’s not the only focus, as I do look at overall talent as tertiary factors here, but average is the best way to tell how hard it would be to no-hit a team.
So, what were the most unstoppable of the stopped?
Most impressive lineups ever no-hit
They could do one thing: hit for average. With 1,573 hits, the squad hit .285, second-most in the league. Aside from this game, they hit .287. Here’s their lineup that day:
Hitters AVG Davis, 1B 0.276 West, CF 0.328 Vosmik, LF 0.325 Bell, RF 0.340 Clift, 3B 0.306 Knickbocker, SS 0.261 Hemsley, C 0.222 Carey 2B 0.275 Hogsett, P 0.210
It’s very rare for any lineup to have no easy outs, especially in the pre-DH era. This is one of the few lineups here that actually had their entire regular eight starting position players all appear.
Going purely by batting average, they should be higher, but they were actually a lousy offense, finishing next-to-last in runs, and I couldn’t bring myself to give that many accolades this bunch.
This is remembered for another reason. The day before, in the same series, Reds pitcher Jim Maloney no-hit Don Wilson’s Astros. Here’s the squad against which Wilson got Houston’s revenge:
Rose, CF 0.348 Tolan, RF 0.305 A. Johnson, LF 0.315 Perez, 3B 0.294 Bench, C 0.293 Whitefield, 1B 0.149 Helms, 2B 0.269 Chaney, SS 0.191 Carroll, P 0.143
Bet you weren’t expecting to see a trio of sub-.200 hitters on a list like this? Well, one is the pitcher. Fred Whitfield was a bad hitter, but there’s a sample size issue screwing up his numbers. This was one of only six starts he’d have all year. His start let normal first baseman Lee May have a breather. When the best offenses are no-hit, there’s usually someone resting.
This is one of the 10 teams that led the league in hits while getting no-hit. Pete Rose led the league in batting average. Bobby Tolan and Alex Johnson were in the top 10. Tony Perez and Johnny Bench were in the top 15.
The top half puts them on the list, but the bottom half ensures a low placement.
8) Noodles Hahn vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, July 12, 1900. It’s the first no-hitter of the 20th century. Well, if you want to be accurate it’s actually the last no-hitter of the 19th century. There were only eight teams in baseball that year, and here’s what Hahn had to contend with:
Thomas, CF 0.316 Slagle, LF 0.287 Delahanty, 1B 0.323 Flick, RF 0.367 McFarland, C 0.305 Wolverton, 3B 0.282 Dolan, 2B 0.198 Cross, SS 0.202 Bernhardt, P 0.154
This is very similar to the Reds. Philly had a tremendous lineup ruined by a ghastly bottom of the order. Also like Cincy, a starting infielder sat out the day. This time it was a much better player than Lee May. Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie couldn’t play, allowing the far inferior Joe Dolan to start at second.
The Phillies led the league in hits despite what happened in this game. A full half-century would pass before another pitcher no-hit a team that led the league in hits.
7) TIE: Virgil Trucks vs. the New York Yankees, August 25, 1952, and Hoyt Wilhelm vs. the New York Yankees, September 20, 1958. These squads both led the league in hits and average. As an added bonus, the 1958 Yanks have the distinction of having the highest team OPS+ among all no-hit teams, at 119.
Here are the two lineups that got no-hit.
1952 Avg 1958 Avg Mantle, CF 0.311 Bauer, RF 0.268 Collins, 1B 0.280 Lumpe, SS 0.254 Bauer, RF 0.293 Mantle, CF 0.304 Berra, C 0.273 Skowron, 3B 0.273 Woodling, LF 0.309 Siebern, LF 0.300 Babe, 3B 0.095 Howard, C 0.314 B. Martin, 2B 0.267 Thornberry, 1B 0.227 Rizzuto, SS 0.254 Richardson, 2B 0.247 Miller, P 0.214 Larsen, P 0.306
Loren Babe wasn’t a good hitter, but he only had 21 at-bats that year.
Both these squads had a Hall of Famer come off the bench to pinch hit. Johnny Mize pinch-hit for Rizzuto in the eighth inning in 1952. His foul-out helped seal Trucks’s second no-hitter of 1952, en route to an unlikely 5-19 record for himself.
This is certainly the best offense to ever be no-hit twice in one year. At a time when baseball averages five runs a game, Boston hit .290 as a team, second-best in the league. They were a far cry from the 1937 Browns, though. They won the pennant, their fifth in eight years.
It’s amazing that they were no-hit once let alone twice. They would rank higher except I can’t find the box score for this game. My reference source for lineups in no-hitters only goes back to 1900.
Aside from that, the best I can do is provide you with their starting eight, and how many of the team’s 152 games they played in.
Name AVG G Bergen, C 0.280 120 Tenney, 1B 0.328 117 Lowe, 2B 0.272 147 Collins, 3B 0.328 152 Long, SS 0.265 144 Duffy, LF 0.298 152 Hamilton, CF 0.369 110 Stahl, RF 0.308 125
I can’t say exactly who rested that day, but odds are some of their biggest hitters did. That still left them with a great offense, and it’s incredible they were stopped twice like this.
5) Vern Bickford vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers, August 11, 1950. On this day Vern Bickford became the first man in 601 months to no-hit a team that led the league in hits. Brooklyn also led the league in batting average, homers, OBP, SLG, OPS+, and was in the top three in every category except triples.
As an added bonus, both teams were trying desperately to stay alive in that year’s pennant race against the surprising Phillies.
Here were the Boys of Summer for that day:
Reese, SS 0.260 Hermanski, LF 0.298 Snider, CF 0.321 Robinson, 2B 0.328 Furillo, RF 0.305 Hodges, 1B 0.283 Campanella, C 0.281 Cox, 3B 0.257 Erskine, P 0.243
That’s six really good hitters and no easy outs at all. Everyone hit over .240. That’s the only no-hit lineup about which I can say that. Brooklyn used their entire regular starting eight but still couldn’t get a hit off of Bickford.
4) Dwight Gooden vs. the Seattle Mariners, May 14, 1996. At the time, it was a feel good story about the former Dr. K’s comeback. In retrospect, it’s an awesome offense getting shut down in spectacular fashion.
Seattle didn’t lead the league in hits or average, but they did hit .287 as a squad. Though it may not bear directly on no-hitting, they also hit 245 homers and were third in the league in walks for an OPS+ of 113. Simply put, you didn’t want to mess with them.
Here was their lineup:
Bragg, LF 0.272 Rodriquez, SS 0.358 Griffey, CF 0.303 Martinez, DH 0.327 Buhner, RF 0.271 Sorrento, 1B 0.289 Wilson, C 0.285 Cora, 2B 0.291 Davis, 3B 0.234
As a general rule of thumb, when eight of your nine starters hit .271 or better, you’ve got a pretty good line-up, especially if six of those guys have power. Goddamn Russ Davis had to louse up an otherwise awesome lineup. If only Dave Hollins and his .351 average started at third that day . . .
Yet incredibly, it wasn’t the most impressive no-hitter of 1996. Stay tuned for that one.
3) Carl Hubbell vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, May 8, 1929. Coming at the heart of the century’s best era for batting average, this was MLB’s first no-hitter in three years. There wouldn’t be another for two more years. In would be the only NL one from 1925 to 1934.
Most no-hitters then came against the era’s worst offense. The Pirates were far from that, hitting .303 as a team. Their 1,663 hits are the most ever for a team victimized in one of these games. Their lineup:
Adams, 2B 0.260 L. Waner, CF 0.353 P. Waner, RF 0.336 Traynor, 3B 0.356 Grantham, LF 0.307 Sheely, 1B 0.293 Bartell, SS 0.302 Hargreaves, C 0.267 Petty, P 0.102
Every position player hit at least .260, the only known time that’s ever happened.
2) Hideo Nomo vs. the Colorado Rookies, September 17, 1996. This wasn’t the only no-hitter against the Rockies. It wasn’t even the only no-hitter that year against the Rockies. But it was the only one in Coors Field. And in the days before the humidor.
Here’s what the Colorado batting order was that day:
Young, 2B 0.324 McCracken, CF 0.290 Burks, LF 0.344 Bichette, RF 0.313 Galaragga, 1B 0.304 Castilla, 3B 0.304 Decker, C 0.321 Perez, SS 0.156 Swift, P 0.333
Coors-inflated stats? You betcha—but this game was in Coors.
September call-up Neifi Perez played in his eighth MLB game that day, spelling normal shortstop Walt Weiss and his .282 average. That said, Perez’s .156 is deceptively small. The next year he hit .291 in 83 games, a better sign of his abilities in that environment. Balancing him out, pitcher Bill Swift hit .210 for his career.
As amazing as it is to no-hit a team in that ballpark, someone one-upped that achievement.
1) Charlie Robertson vs. the Detroit Tigers, April 30, 1922. Two features really set this one apart from all the other contenders. First, the Tigers had a team batting average of .306, the highest ever in the history of no-hitter-dom.
Second, and more importantly, this wasn’t just a no-hitter. It was a perfect game. Baseball wouldn’t have another for 34 more years. Nearly a half-century would pass before another AL lineup went 27 up, 27 down. That’s worth a little extra. And this Tigers team was also second in walks, for the best OBP in the AL that year.
That day’s starting lineup:
Blue, 1B 0.300 Cutshaw, 2B 0.267 Cobb, CF 0.401 Veach, LF 0.327 Heilmann, RF 0.356 Jones, 3B 0.257 Rigney, SS 0.300 Manoin, C 0.275 Pillette, P 0.172
Ty Cobb was there. Perfect. And he hit .400 that year. Perfecter.
In was only Robertson’s fourth start ever, but it was not a harbinger of things to come. A lackluster career followed this day. But at least he had this day.
The Other Side: The Worst Lineup Ever
Before I go, let’s leave with the other side of the coin, the worst lineup ever to be no-hit. No, it’s not the 1999 Angels team Eric Milton faced. This team was far worse. It’s the 1910 White Sox hitless non-wonders. Here’s the lineup Addie Joss faced on April 20 that year:
Hahn, RF 0.113 Zeider, 2B 0.217 Gandil, 1B 0.193 Barrows, LF 0.200 Parent, CF 0.178 Purtell, 3B 0.223 Blackburne, SS 0.174 Payne, C 0.222 White, P 0.198
Next time you look at Ed Walsh‘s stats for 1910 and see that he went 18-20 despite a 1.27 ERA, you’ll know better than to ask how he could lose that many games. Now you’ll wonder how in blazes he won 18 with that team.
References & Resources
The main source for this, and what allowed me to view the lineups for many of these games was the following book: Coberly, Rich. The No-Hit Hall of Fame: No-Hitters of the Twentieth Century. Newport Beach, Calif: Triple Play Productions, 1985.
The Play Index at baseball-reference.com gave me a list of no-hitters since 1956 as well as access to their box scores.
B-ref’s bullpen has a list of all no-hitters in baseball history.