The most unlikely no-hitter in baseball history

The perks of begging your boss for a promotion

May 6th, 2023
Tom Forget /

A version of this story originally ran in June 2020.

Lots of players have thrown unexpected no-hitters. Bud Smith came out of nowhere to throw one in his rookie season. Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter while he was, um, impaired. Philip Humber and his 5.31 career ERA threw a perfect game!

But in each of those games, the manager wanted that pitcher on the mound.

That’s not the case for the St. Louis Browns' Bobo Holloman.

After the Cubs traded Holloman to the Browns before the 1953 season, the 30-year-old right-hander got his first chance to play in the big leagues. It didn’t look like he was going to last long.

He started the year in the bullpen, and it wasn’t pretty. Through his first four appearances, he had thrown 5 1/3 IP, giving up 10 hits, three walks and five runs. At that time, rosters had to be cut down to 25 in the middle of May, and Holloman’s name was most likely among those destined to be jettisoned to the farm.

But Holloman had another idea: He should start.

That’s not how things are usually done. A pitcher struggling in the bullpen gets sent to the Minors -- he doesn’t get a promotion to starting ballgames. But you know that saying about how you have to be your own best advocate? Well, Holloman lived that ideal: He was after a starting job from the very second that the Browns acquired him.

"The guy's a real character," Browns owner Bill Veeck said. "Every night since the season's opened, he's come pounding on [manager] Marty Marion's door. 'When you gonna start me?' he'd ask."

He kept that up even after his shellings, believing he could only be effective in a starting role. So, the right-hander kept begging Marion for a start. Since that seemed like the only way to shut him up, Marion acquiesced.

“He’s come into my office every day asking ‘When am I gonna start?’” Marion said.

So, on May 6 (69 years ago Friday), with the lowly Philadelphia A's coming to town, Veeck agreed this was the time to give Holloman his opportunity. Otherwise, “he’ll be on our ears all the way to the train station," Veeck said.

It was a rainy night, and only 2,473 fans came to see the usually luckless Browns (Veeck offered rainchecks to everyone who bothered to show up), but Holloman made sure to give the few fans that did make it out a night to remember. As he stepped to the mound, Holloman scratched an "N" and a "G" -- the initials for his wife, Nancy, and son, Garry, who were in attendance -- into the dirt by the third-base line with his foot before he started every inning. Maybe that helped him out.

Every great start requires some defensive wizardry -- from Steven Souza’s leaping catch to DeWayne Wise's home run robbery -- but Holloman seemingly called in all his favors from the baseball gods in one game. That included foul poles and the scorekeeper, too.

It started in the second inning. The A’s Gus Zernial hit a deep live drive and Jim Dyck made a leaping one-handed grab at the wall for the out.

In the fifth, Allie Clark hit a deep drive that looked to be a home run … until it went foul by just a few feet.

After Clark grounded out, Zernial again nearly broke up the no-no with a ground ball up the middle that Holloman snagged and the ball got stuck in his glove. That was called an error.

Joe Astroth hit a soft ground ball down the third-base line that eventually rolled foul, and then had a hit stolen by shortstop Billy Hunter, who dropped to his knees to make the play.

"I wouldn't have [the no-hitter] if it wasn't for Hunter and that play he made in the eighth inning," Holloman said. "That was the greatest play I've ever seen."

Because this is one of the strangest no-hitters, naturally it got hairy at the end, too.

Holloman walked the first two batters, then got Dave Philley to ground into a double play, sending the runner to third. Holloman then walked the next hitter to put runners at the corners.

That brought up Eddie Robinson, who got all of a hanging curve and smashed a line drive down the line … only to watch it hook foul by mere inches. On the next pitch, Holloman threw another a curve and Robinson hit a soft liner to Vic Wertz.

Holloman did it: He was the first pitcher since 1892 to throw a no-hitter in his first start.

After the game, Holloman gave it all up to the guys playing behind him. (I'd have to think there would have been some choice words in the clubhouse if he didn't.)

“Without those eight guys behind me last night, my name would have been mud. I’m thinking of cutting all of them in for equal shares of my no-hitter," Holloman said. "And if it wasn't for Marty's faith in me, I never would have gotten to start at all. My record in relief wasn't too hot, you know."

While that brief moment of self-awareness crept in, this was still Bobo Holloman -- the man with the most self-esteem in the world -- we are talking about. So, he spent some time talking about his skills at the dish after his two singles and three RBIs. "I'm quite the hitter you know," Holloman said, making it shocking that he didn't start requesting starts in the outfield, too.

The outing was enough to make a believer of his manager. “He proved to me that he’s just about as good as he thinks he is,” Marion said. "We're happy he's eccentric enough to pester the manager."

Unfortunately, Holloman seemed to use up all his luck in that one game. He failed to get out of the third inning in three of his next four starts, and after being sent back to the bullpen, was soon sold back to the Minor Leagues. He would never pitch in the big leagues again.

Still, it's better to throw one no-hitter and disappear than never do it at all.