It was called “The Year of the No-Hitter.” The 1990 season saw nine no-hitters thrown in MLB, eclipsing the previous high of seven in 1917 by one.
That last sentence doesn’t add up, does it? Keep reading. That’s not the only thing about no-hitters that doesn’t add up.
The convoluted conclusion of a committee 30 years ago reared its ugly head recently when the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Madison Bumgarner threw a complete-game shutout and allowed no hits in a 7-0 win over the Atlanta Braves.
The game was the second in a doubleheader and was scheduled for seven innings. Bumgarner was credited with a complete game and a shutout but not a no-hitter.
In September 1991, a committee led by Commissioner Fay Vincent charged with looking at statistical accuracy decided the only way a pitcher or pitchers would be credited with a no-hitter is if the game went at least nine innings and the game ended without a hit being recorded by the other team. In other words, if you gave up a hit in extra innings, it was no longer a no-hitter.
From nine no-hitters to seven
Fifty no-hitters were taken off the books, which included two from 1990 — both involving the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees — and one from 1917. So now there are seven no-hitters pitched in 1990 and six in 1917. The total of seven was equaled in 2012 and 2015.
It’s tough when a pitcher loses a no-hitter late in the game. It must be brutal to lose it months, years, or decades later.
“I don’t know why [they] did that, but I don’t care,” White Sox pitcher Melido Perez — who had worked six innings of hitless innings before the rain ended the game with an 8-0 win over the host Yankees on July 12, 1990 — told the Chicago Tribune. “Next time, I’ll go nine.”
Perez’s older brother, Pascual Perez, was another victim of the committee, He had pitched a rain-shortened no-hitter in 1988, going only five innings as the Montreal Expos beat the Philadelphia Phillies.
“It was a good thing and I’ll keep it in my book,’’ Pascual Perez said. “Now it’s too late to take it away from me. I have the tape and I have the ball and I’ll keep the no-hitter in my heart. ″
Melido Perez’s no-hitter came less than two weeks after the Yankees’ Andy Hawkins held the White Sox hitless for 8 innings in a 4-0 loss in Chicago. The White Sox, who were leading, didn’t bat in the ninth.
“How can you take away something a guy has already accomplished?’’ White Sox manager Jeff Torberg asked the Tribune.
Among the canceled no-hitters were two games that were part of the game’s lore: The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Harvey Haddix’s perfect game through 12 innings in 1959 and the Chicago Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn’s 1-0 loss in a double no-hitter through nine innings in 1917.
Haddix lost his perfect game in the 13th when an error allowed the Milwaukee Braves’ Felix Mantilla to reach base. He lost the no-hitter and the game when Joe Adcock hit one out of the park. Adcock’s apparent homer became a double because Hank Aaron, who had been intentionally walked, didn’t complete circling the bases.
“I’d probably say that it wasn’t a no-hitter because it wasn’t a complete game, ″ Haddix said when the committee’s ruling came out. ″When you think about it, that would be correct.
“It’s disappointing to find out it’s not a no-hitter, but it’s still the record,” Haddix said. ″Most consecutive perfect innings, most consecutive batters retired.″
On May 2, 1917, Vaughn and the Cincinnati Reds’ Fred Toney dueled for nine innings without either giving up a hit. In top of the 10th, Vaughn gave up a one-out single to Larry Kopf. Three batters later, Kopf scored the game’s only run on a single by Jim Thorpe.
Toney set down the Cubs in order in the bottom of the tenth to complete his no-hitter.
Righting a wrong
When the commission announced its findings, the no-hitter ruling was of secondary interest. The big news was that Roger Maris was now the undisputed record-holder for most home runs in a season with 61.
For thirty years, Maris held the record for a 162-game season. Babe Ruth’s 60 homers in 1927 was recognized as the record for a 154-game season.
The 154-game season had been the standard in MLB for decades. The American League played the first 162-game season in 1961 to keep a balanced schedule with its new 10 team format. The National League, which didn’t expand until the next season, played a 154-game schedule in 1961.
Ford Frick, the commissioner and a Ruth ghostwriter, decided midway through the 1961 season as it became apparent that Maris or teammate Mickey Mantle might break Ruth’s record that unless either did so in 154 games, Ruth’s record would stand.
If the record was broken after 154 it would be denoted with some sort of special mark. This became known as the asterisk, although no record books carried such a mark. They merely showed that Maris held the record for 162 games and Ruth for 154 games.
“If Maris had broken the record three or four seasons later, there wouldn’t have been a dispute,’’ Seymour Siwoff, the chief of Elias Bureau, which is the official statistician for MLB, said in a statement. Siwoff severed on the committee. “It was because it happened in the first year of the expanded 162-game schedule.”
Maris, who died in 1985, was bitter over what he saw as baseball’s official attempt to diminish his accomplishment. He pointed out that no other record was categorized that way.
“I didn’t make the schedule,’’ Maris said.
“A season is a season,’’ Vincent said when he announced the recognition of Maris as the sole record holder.
Decisions of its times
Decisions made in the heat of the moment often look bad later on.
Frick decided that home runs had gotten a bit cheap, and the offense needed to dial back a bit. He expanded the strike zone slightly. By 1968 the offense dropped to the point that MLB decided it needed to reduce the strike zone and lower the mound.
Which brings us to the committee’s unexpected ruling on no-hitters.
First of all, there was no clamoring for changing the rules of recognizing a no-hitter. This was not a topic of dispute that columnists were writing about, or announcers were going on about during a game.
Sports talk radio was not swamped with callers saying, “I don’t think Andy Hawkins’ no-hit loss to the White Sox ranks up there with Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series.”
After the 1990 season in which so many pitchers threw no-hitters, Hawkins’ and Melido Perez’s no-hitters looked pretty shabby. In 1987, 1988, and 1989 combined, there were a total of three no-hitters, including Pascual Perez’s five-inning gem. Would the committee have come to the same conclusion near the end of the 1989 season? Would they have even said this is a problem we need to ponder?
A game is a game sometimes
Chicago Tribune baseball writer Jerome Holtzman, who served on the committee, wrote that the committee applied Vincent’s “a season is a season” logic to the no-hitter, a game is a game.
Well, they did the opposite for games that went less than nine innings.
Just as Maris didn’t make the schedule, neither did Bumgarner schedule a game for seven innings.
And the Perez brothers didn’t make it rain.
If the game counts in the standings and the season stats, it should count in the record books.
As for the extra-inning games, isn’t taking a no-hitter through nine innings enough?
It’s time for MLB to revisit this issue.