Though they've increased in frequency of late, no-hitters remain one of the rarest occurrences in baseball. And what's even rarer is when a pitcher in the twilight of his career twirls a no-no. We marvel when we watch a pitcher nearing the end of his playing days do the incredible because we know we're witnessing something that doesn't happen often.
There have been seven pitchers in AL/NL history who have thrown a no-hitter at age 37 or older. Here's a look at the 10 no-hitters that resulted, in descending order by the pitcher's age at the time it was thrown:
1) Nolan Ryan, Rangers -- 44 years, 90 days on May 1, 1991 vs. Blue Jays
Fittingly, the man with the most no-hitters in AL/NL history also holds the record for oldest pitcher to throw a no-no. The Ryan Express was at full throttle on this day in Arlington against the Blue Jays, who had arguably the best lineup in baseball at the time. Ryan didn't just throw his seventh and final no-hitter -- he pitched one of the finest games on record, walking two and striking out 16 on 122 pitches for a Game Score of 101.
It marked the seventh no-hitter of Ryan's illustrious career, as well as his second no-no in as many seasons -- he broke his own record for oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter after doing so at 43 years and 131 days old the previous June. As it just so happened, Ryan threw this no-hitter on the same day as Rickey Henderson eclipsed Lou Brock for the all-time stolen base crown by swiping his 939th bag.
2) Nolan Ryan, Rangers -- 43 years, 131 days on June 11, 1990 vs. Athletics
Ryan was making his second start since missing nearly three weeks with a sore back, and it was coming against an Oakland lineup that had hit Ryan hard in Arlington during his prior start. But this time, he would be unhittable despite experiencing back pain during the contest.
Ryan struck out 14 and walked two, throwing 130 pitches -- 83 for strikes. The final out was a pop-out in foul ground down the right-field line by Willie Randolph. As right fielder Ruben Sierra squeezed the final out of Ryan's sixth no-hitter, Ryan broke Cy Young's 82-year-old record for oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter. It was also Ryan's first no-hitter in nearly nine years. He threw a no-no for the Astros against the Dodgers on Sept. 26, 1981, and his four prior no-hitters came with the Angels.
3) Cy Young, Red Sox -- 41 years, 93 days on June 30, 1908 vs. New York Highlanders
Young threw three no-hitters in his legendary career, and the third came on this day at Hilltop Park, where the Highlanders played before moving into the Polo Grounds and becoming the Yankees a few years later. Young led his Red Sox to an 8-0 victory while walking one, striking out two and facing the minimum 27 batters. It was the 468th of his record 511 victories, and second no-no with Boston after throwing the first of his career in 1897 while pitching for the Cleveland Spiders.
4) Randy Johnson, D-backs -- 40 years, 251 days on May 18, 2004 vs. Braves
The Big Unit may not be the oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter, but he is the oldest in AL/NL history to throw a perfect game. Johnson already had one no-hitter on his resume, from way back in 1990 with the Mariners. But 14 years later, he would utterly overpower the Braves at Turner Field for one of the greatest single-game pitching performances of all time.
Johnson was a hard-throwing but wild left-hander when he threw his first no-no. But by the time of his perfect game, he was a five-time Cy Young Award winner who brought a nearly unhittable triple-digit fastball and devastating slider to the mound every five days for the D-backs. In his 2004 masterpiece against Atlanta, he struck out 13 on 117 pitches for the 17th perfect game in AL/NL history.
5) Warren Spahn, Braves -- 40 years, five days on April 28, 1961 vs. Giants
The Braves (then in Milwaukee) scored one run in the first on a Hank Aaron RBI single, and that would be enough to beat the Giants on this day, because to Spahn, age was just a number. The legendary lefty walked two and struck out five, including Willie Mays twice, for his second career no-hitter and second in as many seasons. In fact, it was his second no-no in six starts -- the previous one came on Sept. 16, 1960, against the Phillies at Milwaukee's County Stadium. The second no-hitter also lowered his season ERA to 0.96 in three starts.
"This is ridiculous. A fellow my age shouldn’t be pitching no-hitters," Spahn said after the game. "… Here I pitch 15 years in the National League and don’t get a no-hitter. Then, bingo, I’ve got two. How do you figure it?"
6) Sal Maglie, Dodgers -- 39 years, 152 days on Sept. 25, 1956 vs. Phillies
Seeing Maglie in a Dodgers uniform had to be a strange sight after he spent the first six and a half seasons of his career on the other side of the historic Dodgers-Giants rivalry in New York. But Cleveland dealt an aging Maglie to Brooklyn in May of 1956, and here he was wearing Dodger blue. While the Dodgers weren't initially going to have Maglie in the starting rotation, his three-hit shutout of the Braves in Milwaukee during a spot start the next month changed that.
Though he'd only make 47 appearances for Brooklyn before finishing out his career with the Yankees and Cardinals, Maglie was brilliant in his short time as a Dodger. There was no better example of that than his no-hitter against the Phillies at Ebbets Field on Sept. 25, 1956 -- he walked two and struck out three. On the radio, the legendary Vin Scully said that with the performance, Maglie had "repaid all the grief and all the sorrow he has brought to the Brooklyn borough." Maglie played a big role in helping the Dodgers win the pennant before making two starts with a 2.65 ERA in that fall's World Series against the Yankees.
7) Warren Spahn, Braves -- 39 years, 146 days on Sept. 16, 1960 vs. Phillies
Spahn's first no-hitter came just six starts before his second. And it was a dominant performance -- the left-hander walked two and struck out 15 in a masterpiece against Philadelphia at Milwaukee's County Stadium. He had more hits than the Phillies on the evening, singling to lead off the fifth inning and scoring the Braves' first run in the 4-0 victory. Spahn also made such quick work of the Phillies that the game only lasted two hours and two minutes.
The victory was Spahn's 20th of the season, giving him the 11th 20-win season of his illustrious career (he finished with 12, winning 21 in 1961).
8) Dennis Martinez, Expos -- 37 years, 75 days on July 28, 1991 vs. Dodgers
"El Presidente, el perfecto!" was the famous call from longtime Expos play-by-play broadcaster Dave Van Horne after Martinez secured the final out of the 13th perfect game in AL/NL history. In doing so, Martinez became the first pitcher born outside the United States to toss a perfect game.
It was a long and tough road for Martinez to reach that glorious moment -- he battled alcohol addiction and shoulder problems for years before finding his form in Montreal. That 1991 season was the finest of his 23-year MLB career -- he posted an MLB-best 2.39 ERA over 31 starts and finished fifth in NL Cy Young Award voting.
The perfect game came on the road against the Dodgers on a sun-splashed day in Los Angeles. Martinez was ultra-efficient, requiring just 96 pitches to retire the 27 Dodgers he faced, striking out five.
9) Cy Young, Boston Americans -- 37 years, 37 days on May 5, 1904 vs. Athletics
It's hard to believe Young, the gold standard of pitchers -- he literally has his name on the trophy for best pitcher in each league each year -- didn't have a no-hitter until age 37. But such is the nature of no-no's -- even some of the greatest of all-time never threw one.
On this day, Young threw not just a no-hitter, but a perfect game against the Philadelphia A's at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, site of the first modern World Series the prior fall. He struck out eight and lowered his season ERA to 1.54. He would go on to lead the Majors in shutouts (10), WHIP (0.94) and walks per nine innings (0.7) that year, also recording 26 of his record 511 career wins.
10) Bob Keegan, White Sox -- 37 years, 16 days on Aug. 20, 1957 vs. Senators
Keegan only pitched in the Majors for six seasons, but his name is in the record books for what he did in the second game of a doubleheader between the White Sox and Senators at Comiskey Park on Aug. 20, 1957. The right-hander walked two batters as the only blemish on his line for the day, and struck out one.
Keegan credited a new pitching delivery for his success that day, on which he also drove in a run with a sixth-inning single. The 22,815 in attendance on the South Side of Chicago saw Keegan carve up Washington's lineup with efficiency, resulting in a 1-hour, 55-minute contest despite six runs being scored by Chicago.