Bob Feller Pitches No-Hitter on Opening Day
Opening day for the Chicago White Sox on April 16, 1940, was a raw, cold and windy day that kept most fans away—little more than 14,000 bothered to show up. Those that did, however, witnessed baseball history that day. The opponent was the Cleveland Indians, and their young flame-throwing phenom, Bob Feller, did something no one else has ever done: he pitched a no-hitter on opening day.
Bob Feller grew up on a farm in Iowa, strengthening his arm with chores and pitching corn cobs behind his father’s barn. We’ll never know exactly how hard he could throw a baseball, but some historians of the game say he had the most overpowering fastball ever—anywhere from 104 to 107 miles per hour! As a 17-year-old in his first big league start in 1936, he struck out 15 batters. He would go on to have a Hall of Fame career, pitching 18 years for the Cleveland Indians and winning 266 games, piling up 2,581 strikeouts and throwing three no-hitters.
Feller was only 21 that raw spring day in Chicago in 1940. Because of the cold he could not grip the ball properly to throw his curveball—it was all over the place, resulting in four walks by early in the third inning. Frustrated, he decided to abandon the curve and throw nothing but fastballs for the rest of the game, hurling 100-mile-an-hour bullets at the White Sox and setting down 20 batters in a row, from the third into the ninth inning.
As the game progressed and Feller continued to hold the Sox without a hit, it began to dawn on everyone that they might be witnessing history. Baseball players are notoriously superstitious, and in the later stages of the game none of Feller’s teammates would talk to him for fear of jinxing him. The Chicago home crowd turned their allegiance against their own team, roaring for the young opposing pitcher to make history right in front of them.
The greatest drama came in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 1-0 game.
The first two Sox batters went down without hitting the ball out of the infield. Only one out stood between Feller and immortality, but what a final out: White Sox shortstop Luke Appling, who had a Hall of Fame career for the Sox and ended up with a lifetime .310 batting average. He was in his prime in 1940 (he would hit .348 that year), and he was determined not to be the final out of the game.
Feller reared back and threw fastball after fastball—ten in all. With two strikes, Appling ripped a shot down the right field line that was just barely foul. Then another. And another. And another. The players grew increasingly tense, the crowd more and more agitated. Finally, on the tenth pitch of the epic at-bat, Appling drew a walk and trotted down to first representing the tying run and ratcheting up the pressure on Feller.
Next up was Taft Wright, who had hit Feller well in the past. After a first-pitch ball, Feller’s second fastball was a strike that Wright smashed on the ground toward right field. It looked like a certain base hit, but the Indians’ rookie second baseman Ray Mack made a desperate lunge and managed to knock the ball down with his glove. It squirted into short right field, with Wright racing toward first and Mack scrambling to retrieve the ball. He got it, whirled and whipped a missile to first baseman Hal Trosky—just barely beating Wright and sealing the no-hitter. Feller’s teammates and coaches—and a wildly cheering crowd—went nuts. The youngster had done it!
The following four copyrighted articles about Feller’s amazing feat were all published by the Indians’ hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on April 17, 1940:
Feller Hurls No-Hitter to Win, 1 to 0
Ray Mack’s Lunging Play Ends Classic
Indians’ Star Uses Only Fast Ball after 2d to Trim Sox in Opener
By Gordon Cobbledick
Chicago, April 16—The thing that had to happen sometime happened here this chilly afternoon.
Bob Feller pitched a no-hit game—the first opening day no-hit contest in modern major league baseball history.
The incredible farm boy, starting his first baseball season since he became of age last November, fired his bullets past the Chicago White Sox for nine long innings as he led the Indians to a 1-0 victory in the inaugural of the 1940 campaign.
There were no doubtful plays—no plays which a benign official scorer gave Feller the benefit of his judgment. The only Chicago batter who reached first base by any medium other than a base on balls got there as a result of a fly ball which Roy Weatherly muffed.
But that was an out-and-out error and besides, it happened in the second inning—too early for the scorer to guess that the young pitcher was about to write another thrilling chapter into one of the most dramatic personal sagas in the game’s history.
Stands in Uproar
No one in the crowd of 14,000, apparently, had any doubt that Feller was on his way to no-hit fame as the game went into its late stages. The fans were standing, tense, as early as the eighth inning. In the ninth the stands were in an uproar.
The ninth was the big hazard for Bobby, and into that sizzling inning was packed much of the game’s drama.
The first man at bat as they went into the last inning was Mike Kreevich, most dangerous hitter in the Sox line-up. He took two balls, then a strike, then fouled off one before he hoisted a towering infield fly. It came to rest in Ray Mack’s hands for the first out and a tremendous roar went up from the crowd, which by this time left no doubt that it was rooting for Feller, not the Sox.
Julius Is Easy
Next was Julius Solters, former Indian, and Bob must have remembered as he faced the big Moose that on two previous occasions no-hit games had been spoiled for him by ex-teammates. But Solters gave no trouble. He hit the third pitch for an easy grounder to Lou Boudreau, and now there was only one to go.
But that one was Luke Appling, one of the league’s toughest hitters. Bob pitched 10 balls to him. Four of them he fouled off after he had two strikes on him. Then he walked, becoming the first man to reach first base since the third inning.
And that brought Taft Wright to bat. Wright has made a bit of a reputation as a nemesis to Feller. As a member of the Washington club for two years he swung a bat that, almost alone, inflicted three of Feller’s defeats.
Bob would rather have disposed of Appling, for Wright not only was a greater hazard on himself, but, with a runner on first base, he not only had the power to spoil the no-hit game, but also the chance to drive in the tying run.
The first pitch to Wright was a ball. The second was good, and he swung—hard. He met it squarely and drove it humming toward right field. It was a couple of steps to Mack’s left, but Ray reached it with a lunge, knocked it down with his gloved hand and then pursued the ball onto the outfield grass. He retrieved it, whirled and shot a perfect throw to Hal Trosky that nailed Wright by a half step and the ball game was over.
Feller’s teammates, gripping his hand, pounding his back, escorted him through a milling mob of fans to the runway leading to the club house, and there the Indians celebrated while the flashlight bulbs flared.
It was the first no-hit game in the major leagues since Monte Pearson pitched one against the Indians Aug. 27, 1938.
And it was the first achieved by a Cleveland pitcher since Wes Ferrell was credited with a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns on April 29, 1931.
It was pitched in the face of difficulties. Not only was the cold, windy day unfavorable for a pitcher, but Bob was unable to throw a curve because he couldn’t grip a slippery ball. After the second inning he attempted no curves at all, but had to be content with rifling his fast ball past the batters.
Smith Is Good, Too
And he had to be as good as he was to win, for Edgar Smith, the stocky blond southpaw whose duels with Feller in the last two seasons have come to be recognized as classics, was plenty good himself.
Smith allowed the Indians six hits, but only once permitted them to put two together in an inning. That once was fatal.
It was in the fourth. Hal Trosky, leading off, had slammed a terrific drive through a stiff wind—almost into the right field stands. But Wright had backed up against the wall and pulled down the wind-retarded smash for the first out.
Then Jeff Heath rolled a single through the infield and into left field. The Tribe’s hopes of turning that into something important waned as Ken Keltner sent a fly to Solters for the second out, but there remained Rollie Hemsley, and Rollie had what was needed.
He lined a triple over Wright’s head and into the far corner of the park, and Heath raced around the bases with the only run of the game.
From there on it was only a question of protecting that slim lead, and Feller took care of that with the help of some extraordinarily good support.
In the whole nine innings the Sox hit only three balls hard. In the third, Appling sent a hard, low liner to Ben Chapman and in the fourth Wright hit another to the same fielder. But from then until Wright shot that spine tingler at Mack with two gone in the ninth the Sox never met a ball solidly.
They did top a couple of slow infield rollers, however, of the kind that sometimes present a more difficult problem than hard hit balls. But Keltner took care of one of them and Mack made a fancy play on another. But the rest of the defense was all Feller.
He was wild at the outset of the game, while he was still trying to throw curves. Joe Kuhel, leading off in the third, drew Bob’s fourth base on balls. But then he abandoned the curve entirely and his fast one was good enough to subdue the next 20 batters in order.
This took him up to Appling with two out in the ninth. You know the story from there on.
Indians Refuse to Discuss No-Hitter
Sit in Silence to Avoid Jinxing Feller
Chicago, April 16—It was the seventh inning, and the Indians’ dugout was quiet as a tomb. Bob Feller swabbed his perspiring face with a towel, looked straight ahead and said nothing. The other members of the team fidgeted uneasily, and said nothing.
Finally Jeff Heath could stand it no longer. He cleared his throat and began to speak.
“Well, Robert,” he ventured—but got no farther.
“Another word,” snarled Harry Eisenstat, “and I’ll stick my hand down your throat to the elbow.”
Heath Takes Hint
The other Indians glared their support of Eisenstat’s ultimatum. Heath, looking slightly surprised and more than slightly abashed, subsided again into silence.
Thus did the Indians observe the age-old baseball tradition that to mention the possibility of a no-hit game is to put the whammy, or hex, on the pitcher who sees the door that leads into the Hall of Fame open before him.
Feller knew he had a no-hit game in sight. So did all his teammates. But they’d have cheerfully broken a leg before they would have given voice to their thoughts.
A newspaper photographer sidled up to the dugout steps and aimed his black box at Feller. Before he could snap the shutter Lefty Weisman leaped to his feet and placed his portly form between Rapid Robert and the astonished camera man.
“Amscray,” he growled, and the fire in his eye permitted no doubt that what it was he meant was neither more nor less than “amscray.”
Oscar Melillo was nursing a sinister secret as the game went into the eighth inning. His face grew redder by the minute and the veins in his neck swelled dangerously. Something very like murder was in his eyes, but his lips were sealed. It wasn’t until Ray Mack threw out Taft Wright for the last out of the ninth that Melillo exploded.
“You know what that McGowan did?” he demanded, referring to Bill McGowan, the first-base umpire. “You know what the blankety-blanket-blank so-and-so did? He said to me, ‘Hey, they haven’t got any hits off this kid yet, have they?’ Boy, if I’d had a bat in my hands then I’d have killed him—the dumb this-and-that.”
Feller Says He Wasn’t Sure of No-Hitter until Last Out
Wright’s Drive Hardest of Day
Bob Praises Mack’s Stop; Unworried by Jinx; Vitt Prayed Pitcher Would Get Past Appling
(Plain Dealer Special)
Chicago, April 16—For two hours and 24 minutes today, bullet Bob Feller, the baby of the Cleveland Indians, wrote baseball history with every sweep of his long right arm.
In all the years of baseball no man ever pitched a no-hitter on a major league opening day. But Feller, with the casualness of a Joe Louis moving in for the kill, mowed the Chicago White Sox down today with no hits.
As cool in the club house after the game as he was on the mound, Feller said: “I wasn’t sure I had it until Ray Mack threw out that last man. That (Taft Wright’s smashing grounder to Cleveland’s rookie second baseman) was the hardest ball hit at me all day. It really was hit.”
Fewer than 15,000 fans came out for the White Sox opener, but in that crowd were the three persons most important to the 21-year-old right hander.
They were his parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Feller, and his sister, Marguerite, for whom he is building a $25,000 home back on the farm in Iowa where he first pitched on a diamond improvised by his dad.
“So I Pitched”
“I knew I had a chance for a no-hitter in the ninth,” Bob said, “but I tried to put the thought out of my mind by reminding myself you never have a no-hitter until the last man is out.
“I got to thinking I’d just pitch my own ball game. A pitcher can’t be any better than he really is.
“So I just pitched—and that’s why I was tickled when Mack came up with that ball.
“Mack came up with two as sweet plays as I’ve ever seen. He was way off balance when he scooped up Rosenthal’s roller in the eighth, and how his throw ever beat Larry to the bag I don’t know. And I don’t know how he ever knocked down Wright’s smash in the ninth, to say nothing of retrieving the ball and throwing the guy out.”
The young Cleveland marvel, who won 24 and lost 9 last year, and who has been picked to win between 25 and 30 games this season [note: he won 27—ed.], doesn’t think the jinx that hangs over no-hit pitchers will affect him.
Johnny Vander Meer, Wes Ferrell, Bill Dietrich, Vernon Kennedy, Paul (Daffy) Dean and Bob Burke were all less effective in the seasons following their no-hit games.
Bob was unworried about it.
“Tomorrow’s another day and I’ll be out there every time I pitch—just trying to win for the Indians,” he asserted.
He said he didn’t hurt his arm in bearing down in the ninth inning.
In colorful contrast to the coolness of Feller, red-faced Oscar Vitt, the Indians’ manager, was far from calm and collected as he cheered noisily in the club house at the feat of his young mound star.
“Boy, I’ll never forget that ninth inning,” he declared.
“I sat there with Luke Sewell (Indians’ coach and once star Chicago catcher) and just prayed. I remember once saying to Luke: ‘Oh, God, just let him get by Appling.’”
For it was Appling, Sox shortstop, who gave Feller most of his anxious moments. With two out in the ninth, Appling fouled four terrific smashes to right before drawing a walk on the tenth pitch. Then Wright was thrown out by Mack to end the contest.
Feller’s father revealed that never once did his party express in words what they all silently were hoping—that Bob would get a no-hitter.
“It would be an understatement to say we were holding our breath in that ninth inning,” he laughed.
High Spots of Bob’s No-Hit Triumph
Here are the high spots of Bob Feller’s no-hitter yesterday:
• He set back 20 Sox in a row from the third to the ninth innings.
• He struck out eight, faced 33 men in all.
• He walked five.
• It was the first no-hit, no-run contest ever pitched on a major league opening day and the first in the majors since Monte Pearson of the Yankees held the Indians hitless on Aug. 27, 1938.
Feller Gives Credit to Mack, Keltner and Chapman; Says He Has Been in Better Form
By Gordon Cobbledick
Chicago, April 16—Bob Feller meant it when he said, above the din that shook the walls of the Indians’ dressing room, that he hadn’t achieved that no-hit game all alone.
“I had some pretty fancy support out there,” he said. “Ben Chapman saved my bacon twice and Kenny (Keltner) and Ray (Mack) each made a couple of swell plays. Sure, I had pretty good stuff, but I was lucky, too.”
He was lucky, however, only as every pitcher who has ever turned in a no-hit game has been lucky. In every game balls are hit which, had the direction of their flight been different by a few inches, would have been hits instead of outs. Feller had the benefit of some of that kind of luck today.
But to balance that he pitched a game in which he knew he could expect no sympathy from the opposition. For with the Indians leading by only one run the Sox went down swinging—to the last man. They weren’t interested in awakening Feller from his no-hit dream, but they wanted to win that ballgame.
This isn’t always so when a pitcher has a no-hit game in sight. Sometimes in hopelessly one-sided battles the offensive team doesn’t try too hard in the eighth and ninth innings, particularly if the pitcher is a well-liked youngster such as Bob Feller.
But the Indian fireballer had no such help today. He had to pitch for everything he got.
That it was the best game of his career was denied both by Bob himself and by Rollie Hemsley, his catcher. Hemsley felt that in each of his three one-hit games—two of them pitched last year, one in 1938—he was a better chucker than he was today.
“But he was good enough today that if he could pitch about 30 more of the same kind we’d chase the Yankees right out of the league,” Rollie said.
Feller’s father, mother and young sister, Marguerite, were in the stands as their son and brother made history. An interviewer asked lanky, work-worn Bill Feller if he had been excited as the game neared its end.
“Well,” he drawled, “I didn’t have any trouble keepin’ awake.”
“He would pick today to pitch a no-hit game,” Hemsley wailed as a mob of rooters surrounded Bob in the club house. “I was all set to be the hero of that game on account of driving in the only run. Now nobody’ll even know I was in the contest.”
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