The history of no-hitters on Opening Day

HOFer Day also achieved feat to open '46 Negro Leagues campaign

March 29th, 2021

Of the thousands of Opening Day games on the books through AL or NL history, only once has a pitcher held the opposition hitless from start to finish. That Opening Day no-hitter took place on April 16, 1940, when the Indians' 21-year old Bob Feller -- a name already well-known to hitters across the Junior Circuit -- climbed the hill against the White Sox.

But the game had an inglorious start for "Rapid Robert," who led the league in walks a handful of times to go along with all those strikeouts.

"The first couple of innings, I was pretty wild," Feller later recalled. "In the second inning, I loaded the bases. Someone in the bullpen was warming up and the manager [Ossie Vitt] was getting ready to walk out to the mound. But I managed to strike out the last hitter on a full count."

Once Feller settled in, Chicago's opening game turned into a long afternoon. The future Hall of Famer struck out eight White Sox that day, navigating around five walks to record the first Opening Day no-hitter.

Feller's no-no remains the only one recorded in an AL or NL season opener, but it could soon be joined by an equally impressive feat in the record books. On May 5, 1946 -- six years after Feller -- Newark Eagles star (and future Hall of Famer) Leon Day no-hit the Philadelphia Stars on Opening Day of that year's Negro National League season. MLB and the Elias Sports Bureau (MLB's official statistician) have now begun a process to add Negro League statistics and records to the official Major League record books, meaning Day's season-opening no-hitter could soon stand alongside Feller's long-celebrated no-no.

Many MLB pitchers have come close to matching Feller in the 80-plus years since he authored his feat. Here are some of the closest attempts:

Red Ames (Giants) -- 9 1/3 innings vs. Dodgers on April 15, 1909
Ames carried the nickname "Kalamity," and it wasn't without reason. A skilled yet notoriously unlucky pitcher in his day, Ames held the Brooklyn Dodgers without a hit until the 10th inning and without a run until the 13th and still lost, 3-0. Ames carried another Opening Day no-hitter into the eighth the following season, and he lost another no-no in the seventh the year after that. Incredibly, the New York Giants right-hander lost all three season openers.

Herb Pennock (Athletics) -- 8 2/3 innings vs. Red Sox on April 14, 1915
Pennock became the A's de facto ace in the wake of Connie Mack's first fire sale, and he sure pitched like one on Opening Day 1915. Pennock was one out away from history when Boston's Harry Hooper hit a dribbler to the left of the pitcher's mound. Pennock deferred to second baseman Nap Lajoie, but Lajoie was unable to make the play in time. All three players were later enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Robin Roberts (Phillies) -- 8 1/3 innings vs. Giants on April 13, 1955
Roberts still owns the Major League record for the most consecutive Opening Day starts with a single club, and he nearly made history in start No. 6 of that streak. "My knees would not stop shaking," Roberts later recalled, as the Phillies legend had one out in the ninth before Giants shortstop Alvin Dark played spoiler with a single to right.

Lon Warneke (Cubs) -- 8 1/3 innings vs. Reds on April 17, 1934
Trivia buffs might recognize Warneke as the man who hit the first triple and scored the first National League run in the inaugural 1933 All-Star Game. The Cubs righty was on the verge of something more in the next season's opener until Cincinnati's Adam Comorosky poked a single to center. It marked the first of back-to-back one-hitters by Warneke to open the '34 campaign, and he would later get his no-hitter as a Cardinals pitcher in 1941.

(Athletics) -- 7 innings vs. Rangers on April 6, 2015
The 2015 season marked Gray's coming-out party (14-7, 2.73 ERA and a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young Award vote) -- and it was evident right from Opening Day. The righty held Texas hitless through the first seven innings before Ryan Rua led off the eighth with a single, prompting a sellout crowd to chant "Sonny!" in appreciation. Gray's eight innings of one-hit ball helped Oakland snap a Major League-record 10-year losing streak in season openers.

Randy Johnson (Mariners) -- 7 innings vs. Indians on April 4, 1994
Four years after his first no-hitter, Johnson was rolling toward another one through seven frames on Opening Day 1994 as he aimed to spoil the inaugural regular-season game at Cleveland's Jacobs Field. Fittingly, Feller himself threw out the ceremonial first pitch that day. But Sandy Alomar ended Johnson's bid with an eighth-inning single. Manny Ramirez tied the game two batters later with a double, and the Tribe went on to win, 4-3, in 11 innings.

(Tigers) -- 6 2/3 innings vs. Blue Jays on March 28, 2019
Having already thrown a no-hitter on the final day of the 2014 season with the Nationals, Zimmermann made a run at a second no-hitter on the first day of the '19 campaign, holding the Blue Jays without a baserunner for the first six innings. Zimmermann then retired the first two batters he faced in the seventh to move within seven outs of a perfect game.

His bid for history came to an end when Teoscar Hernández beat out an infield single despite a diving stop by Tigers second baseman Josh Harrison. Zimmermann allowed just that one hit over seven scoreless innings, but settled for a no-decision in a game that remained scoreless until the 10th, when the Tigers finally broke through for a 2-0 win. The right-hander went on to go 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA in 23 starts that season.

Kevin Appier (Royals) -- 6 2/3 innings vs. Orioles on April 26, 1995
Appier's no-hit bid didn't end in the hands of a batter, but rather his manager. The end of the strike brought about an abbreviated Spring Training in 1995, and Royals skipper Bob Boone came to get Appier in the seventh inning because his arm wasn't fully stretched out. Appier would get plenty more reps in Boone's four-man rotation, starting 12 of Kansas City's first 43 games of the season while earning his only All-Star Game selection.

Shaun Marcum (Blue Jays) -- 6 1/3 innings vs. Rangers on April 5, 2010
Marcum missed the entire 2009 season with elbow troubles, so a no-no against a powerful Rangers club that went on to win the AL pennant would have made for quite the story. Marcum retired Michael Young on a flyout to open the seventh inning before he walked Josh Hamilton and allowed his first hit on a Vladimir Guerrero single. followed with a three-run homer, quickly ending Marcum's storybook afternoon.

Brian Moehler (Tigers) -- 6 1/3 innings vs. Rangers on April 5, 1999
Moehler's first career Opening Day start was shaping up to be a memorable one, as he held a Rangers lineup that included Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and Ivan Rodriguez hitless through six innings in Texas. But Gonzalez ended the party with a one-out single in the seventh, followed immediately by a run-scoring double from Palmeiro.

Jim Merritt (Reds) -- 6 1/3 innings vs. Expos on April 6, 1970
Montreal had enough to deal with against Cincinnati's budding "Big Red Machine" lineup before Merritt came out firing in the final opener at Crosley Field. Known as a pitcher who attacked the zone, Merritt worked quickly through the Expos lineup until the top of the seventh inning, when Rusty Staub laced a one-out triple to give his club a lift. Merritt went on to make his only All-Star appearance that summer at Cincinnati's brand-new Riverfront Stadium.

J.R. Richard (Astros) -- 6 1/3 innings vs. Dodgers on April 10, 1980
The sky seemed to be the limit for Richard at the start of 1980, beginning on Opening Day, when he mowed through the Dodgers for six frames before Rudy Law broke up his no-hit bid with a seventh-inning single to right. Richard won 10 of his first 16 starts and owned a 1.90 ERA before he suffered a stroke in late July, effectively ending his career and leaving many to wonder what could've been.