May 06, 2011
I was thrilled when I realized that Bobo Holloman’s May 6th, 1953 no-hitter came against the Philadelphia A’s, because it meant I’d have an excuse to write about it. I have always found it to be one of the quirkiest, strangest anomalies in baseball history: a 29 year old rookie becomes the only man to ever throw a no-hitter in his first major league start, then is out of the league less than three months later, never to return. Here’s how it happened.
Following World War II, young Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman decided to try his hand at baseball. After 7 years of bouncing around the minors, he finally got his call to the Show. He threw a few innings of relief for the St. Louis Browns, and after a few weeks nagged manager Marty Marion into letting him start a game. On May 6th, he got his wish, as the Browns were taking on the Philadelphia A’s in a remarkably forgettable match-up; the A’s would finish the season 41.5 games out of first, the Browns 46.5 games out of first. St. Louis would move to Baltimore at the end of the season. The A’s would move to Kansas City after the 1954 season. Furthermore, the weather was lousy that night. Therefore a mere 2,473 fans ventured out to old Sportsman’s Park. Browns’ owner Bill Veeck described Bobo’s no-no:
Everything he threw up was belted and everywhere the ball went, there was a Brownie there to catch it. It was such a hot and humid heavy night that long fly balls that seemed to be heading out of the park would die and be caught against the fence. Just as Bobo looked as if he was tiring, a shower would sweep across the field, delaying the game long enough for him to get a rest. Allie Clark hit one into the left field stands that curved foul at the last second. A bunt just rolled foul on the last spin. Our fielding was superb. The game went into the final innings and nobody had got a base hit off Big Bobo. On the final out of the eighth inning, Billy Hunter made an impossibe diving stop on a ground ball behind second base and an even more impossible throw. With two out in the ninth, a ground ball was rifled down the first base line — right at our first baseman, Vic Wertz. Big Bobo had pitched the quaintest no-hitter in the history of the game.
And Holloman wasn’t only the pitching star that night. He had also 2 hits and 3 RBIs. Remarkably, they would be the only hits and RBIs of his career. He would pitch erratically over the next two months, recording 2 more wins but 7 losses, and in late July he was sold to a minor league team named the Toronto Maple Leafs (pretty original, eh?). He failed to regain his form, played for 5 minor league teams, and by the end of 1954, he was through with baseball. He went to work driving a truck and later started an advertising firm.
His career numbers are as pedestrian as you can get: 3-7, with a 5.23 ERA. But his legacy endures. Why? Because he is still considered the only MLB pitcher to throw a no-hitter in his first start (a couple of pitchers did it in the 1890s before the mound was moved back to its current 60’6″). Only one pitcher has come close since. In 1967, Red Sox pitcher Billy Rohr of the Boston Red Sox had a no-hitter with two outs in the 9th, but Elston Howard singled to spoil his bid. And we’ll end with a trivia question: what current Major Leaguer threw a no-hitter in his 2nd start, in 2007?