The Cincinnati Reds threw a combined no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates and still lost Sunday, the equivalent of winning the lottery and losing your ticket in the wash.
It will go down as a quirk of history, one of only six games in which a team lost while throwing eight or more no-hit innings. The 10,559 fans who witnessed the feat at PNC Park will never forget watching the lowly Pirates win a game without a single hit.
Unfortunately, it won’t go down as an official no-hitter thanks to former Commissioner Fay Vincent and the eight-man committee he chaired in 1991 that changed the definition.
“The committee was there, really, to clean up any ambiguities that would come up under the rules of the definitions that existed,” Vincent later told the Sporting News.
The term was pretty clear. A pitcher or team that allows no hits should be credited with throwing a no-hitter, right?
But this was 1991, when baseball was still operating under the presumption it was the national pastime with sacred record books. And it was before the owners dumped Vincent and installed Bud Selig as their de facto CEO, eliminating the need for an “impartial” overseer of the game they preferred to run themselves.
In a unanimous vote, Vincent’s panel in September 1991 defined no-hitters as games of nine innings or more that ended with no hits.
Two of the 50 games that were no longer deemed no-hitters involved the Chicago White Sox. Sox pitcher Mélido Pérez threw six hitless innings during a rain-shortened win over the New York Yankees on July 12, 1990, in Yankee Stadium, two years after his brother, Pascual, threw a five-inning, rain-shortened no-hitter for the Montreal Expos.
Both of the Pérezs’ no-hitters were erased, a decision Sox catcher Carlton Fisk called “ridiculous.”
″He earned it,” Fisk said of Mélido. “Doesn’t it go down in the book as a six-inning no-hitter? I don’t know why they have to delete those. It’s just something I can’t comprehend. They were official games, weren’t they?″
Mélido Perez’s no-hitter occurred 11 days after a windy afternoon at old Comiskey Park where Yankees pitcher Andy Hawkins threw eight hitless innings against the White Sox, but lost 4-0 on outfield errors in the eighth inning by Jesse Barfield and Jim Leyritz. It was the Yankees’ last game at Comiskey — and the last season of the 80-year-old ballpark.
“If Comiskey II, currently under construction across 35th Street, lasts another 80 years, it will not house a stranger game than the one the Sox won 4-0 over the Yankees on their final game in Comiskey,” Tribune writer Bill Jauss wrote.
Hawkins didn’t pitch in the bottom of the ninth, of course, because the Yankees lost. But he was credited with a no-hitter for over a year until Vincent decided otherwise.
“We felt the ninth inning was significant,″ Vincent said of the change. “So many games lose no-hit status in the ninth inning.″
A record nine no-hitters were recorded in 1990, including two on the same day by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela and Dave Stewart of the Oakland A’s. Some purists felt the strange increase in no-hitters somehow made them less special.
No-hitters nowadays are often combined, like the recent five-pitcher no-hitter by the New York Mets over the Philadelphia Phillies. Even Dodgers great Clayton Kershaw was removed last month from a perfect game after seven innings in Minnesota instead of risking injury. It’s hard to argue a no-hitter is as big of a deal today as it was to fans in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Among those who questioned the definition of a no-hitter in 1991 was friend and former colleague Jerome Holtzman, the Hall of Fame baseball writer and author of “No Cheering In The Press Box.” Holtzman believed Harvey Haddix and Hippo Vaughn were wrongly credited with no-hitters after both allowed hits in extra innings.
The Pirates’ Haddix threw 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves on May 29, 1959, before Joe Adcock doubled in the winning run in the 13th inning. Vaughn dueled with the Reds’ Fred Toney in a famous “double no-hitter” in 1917, but Vaughn gave up two hits in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs lost 2-0.
During the “Year of the No-Hitter” in 1990, Holtzman called statistician Seymour Siwoff of the Elias Sports Bureau to plead his case. Swihoff then put those two games and others into a separate no-hitter category: “no hits, 9 innings, allowed hit in extra inning.” It was like a no-hitter with an asterisk.
Holtzman wrote about the call in a Tribune column on Aug. 6, 1991, shortly after Expos starter Mark Gardner tossed no-hit innings against the Dodgers before giving up a hit in the 10th inning of a 1-0 loss.
Under the headline “9 Innings Doesn’t Make a No-Hitter,” Holtzman wrote: “Modesty does not prevent me from revealing that in a conversation with Siwoff last year I challenged the Haddix and Vaughn no-hitters, arguing that a no-hit game is a no-hit game, not a no-hitter through ‘X’ number of innings. Siwoff readily agreed, and after consulting with his associates, made a common-sense adjustment.”
That was all it took. Holtzman had clout, and after one conversation with the Elias Sports Bureau, a change was made. One month later, on Sept. 5, 1991, Vincent’s committee announced MLB’s official change in the definition of a no-hitter, eliminating the ones thrown by Haddix, Vaughn, Perez, Hawkins and others in the record books.
Holtzman, a member of Vincent’s committee, helped lobby for the change. Coincidentally, I was in the center-field bleachers at Comiskey Park with former Tribune columnist Terry Armour when Hawkins threw his no-hitter — and still lost. It was the first no-hitter I’d ever witnessed in person and still one of the more memorable games I’ve seen.
Holtzman loved a good baseball argument. The next time I saw him in the press box after the rule change, I argued Hawkins had met the conditions and therefore deserved to be recognized for his no-hitter. It wasn’t his fault the Sox didn’t bat in the ninth.
But Holtzman was not swayed. He pointed out that many pitchers lose no-hitters after eight innings, adding: “Who’s to say (Hawkins) would’ve thrown a hitless ninth?”
The court had ruled. Case closed. That’s why Hawkins was robbed of his no-no, just as Reds pitchers Hunter Greene and Art Warren were robbed of their combined no-hitter Sunday.
Baseball has corrected its errors in the past. Just last year MLB made a bold decision to add Negro League stats to the official record books.
Now would be a good time to credit the Reds pitchers and restore the no-hitters of Hawkins, the Perez brothers and more who met the criteria of not allowing a base hit in a regulation game.
It’s never too late to do the right thing.