MLB Power Rankings: The Greatest No-Hitter in Each Franchise's History
It is the greatest symbol of single-game dominance in organized sports. No other sport has an equivalent—a football team can’t hold an opponent to zero yards, and a basketball team can’t hold an opponent to zero field goals. Only in baseball can one athlete completely shut down the opposition.
The no-hitter is as memorable for its excellence as it is for its suddenness. It is the most unpredictable feat in baseball. Look no further than Bud Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals, who threw a no-hitter as a 22-year-old rookie in 2001. Smith floundered through the rest of the season and was traded the following year after a horrible start. From there, he was sent to the minor leagues and never surfaced again.
On the other hand, Greg Maddux—one of the greatest pitchers of all time—never threw a no-hitter.
Last year may have been the Year of the Pitcher, but it was not the year of the no-hitter. That would have been 1884, in which eight no-nos were thrown, or 1990-91, during which 14 no-hitters were thrown over two years.
Seven no-hitters were thrown last year, if you choose to count Armando Galarraga’s robbed perfect game (as Jim Joyce does).
Instead, last year’s no-hitters were among the most shocking moments of an amazing year—whether it was Galarraga’s masterpiece or Dallas Braden’s gem in Oakland or Roy Halladay’s postseason dominance. Chances are high that most baseball fans remember where they were when they heard about at least one of those three incredible feats.
To comprise the greatest no-no’s in each team’s history in order of greatest-ness, we employed a combination of criteria—dominance, the context of the game, the team against whom the gem was thrown and any unusual circumstances that could only happen in baseball.
Some no-hitters were steeped in an uncanny confluence of all four, and those singular moments top our list…
No. 1 Don Larsen’s perfect game
It is, hands down, the most improbable no-hitter of all time.
Larsen was a surprise starter for Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, after lasting less than two innings against the Dodgers in Game 2. Larsen swears he didn’t know he would start until he showed up to the ballpark and found a baseball tucked in his shoes.
During the 2-0 whitewashing, Larsen violated no-hitter protocol Rule No. 1 by trying to discuss the no-hitter with teammates in the dugout, asking Mickey Mantle if he thought he could finish the no-hitter. Mantle reportedly told Larsen to “f--- off”. But Yogi Berra didn’t avoid Larsen after the final strike. The image of Berra jumping into Larsen’s arms is one of the most memorable in baseball history.
Honorable mention could be given to David Cone’s 88-pitch masterpiece in 1999 or David Wells’s hangover-ridden perfecto a year earlier. But the more amazing feat goes to Jim Abbott, who threw a no-hitter with one hand in 1993 against Cleveland.
No. 2 Roy Halladay’s Postseason Gem
Halladay’s amazing feat is not merely indelible because it happened four months ago. It might go down as the greatest pitching performance in postseason history. It will likely be in the discussion a century from now, which is reason enough to remember it like it just happened.
Halladay didn’t merely become the sole pitcher to have thrown a no-hitter in both the regular and postseason (and, yes, his perfect game last May against Florida would likely have put him near the top of this list, too). He threw it after asking to be traded to Philadelphia, leaving money on the table to do so, and dreaming about pitching a single postseason game for all eleven years of his playing career.
At the time, fellow Phillie Ryan Madson said “he probably prepared more than anybody in the history of the game for this start.”
For what it’s worth, no hitters have not always been kind to the Phillies, who have had more no-no’s thrown against them than any other club (18), and once went 57 years without throwing a no-hitter, the all-time record (relax, Mets fans). But Roy Halladay provided two of the greatest moments for Phillies fans, re-writing Philadelphia’s no-hitter history in 2010.
No. 3 Johnny Vander Meer’s Second Consecutive No-Hitter
If there is an all-time record that will never be broken, it’s Vander Meer’s consecutive no-hitters in 1938.
Vander Meer was a wild, rookie left-hander who dazzled the Braves one June day, and then followed it up four days later by walking seven and striking out eight in the first night game ever held in Brooklyn. He also allowed no hits, while walking the bases loaded in the ninth, and holding on for a 6-0 victory.
Vander Meer’s feat may have been helped by the new lights installed in Ebbets Field, and a free-swinging Dodgers club that had never faced him before. Vander Meer, himself, admitted he was maybe too young to be aware of what was really happening. But the end result was surely a record that will stand forever.
Honorable mention goes to Tom Browning’s perfect game, also against the Dodgers, in 1988. Neither team had a hit through five innings and Browning stayed composed enough to retire all 27 Dodger batters.
No. 4 Sandy Koufax’s Perfect Game
Koufax’s record fourth no-hitter in September of 1965 was the greatest game thrown by the unquestioned best pitcher at the time of the game. The 1-0 gem in Dodger Stadium against the Chicago Cubs was selected in 1995 by members of SABR as the single greatest game ever pitched…in the history of baseball.
The game holds the record for fewest baserunners (two) and fewest hits allowed (one). The complete game pitched by Cubs starter Jim Hendley is surely the greatest game thrown by a pitcher who lost when his team was no-hit by the opponent. It remains the last time the Cubs were no-hit, giving the Cubs the longest current streak of consecutive games with a hit.
In major league history, the Dodgers hold the record for most all-time no-hitters with 22. But Koufax’s 1965 masterpiece remains the best of them. He also struck out 14 batters (a perfect game record), and set the stage for the World Series title the team won a month later.
No. 5 Nolan Ryan’s 7th
There are improbable no-hitters and then there’s the 44-year-old Ryan’s dismantling of the powerful Blue Jays lineup in May, 1991.
Ryan woke up sore and achy. He spent the day popping over-the-counter pain relievers and complaining that he would be lucky to make it through five innings. After throwing 131 pitches five days prior, he seemed very near the end of his historic career…
…and then he took the mound in Arlington. Facing a lineup that included Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Joe Carter and John Olerud, Ryan kept the Blue Jays clueless all night, throwing 96 MPH heat and snapping off mid-80s breaking balls like a man twenty years younger.
Observers said it was Ryan at his best, as dominant as he was in the mid-70s for his first two no-hitters.
Honorable mention goes to Kenny Rogers, who became the first AL lefty to throw a perfect game when he beat the Angels 4-0 in 1994.
No. 6 Charlie Robertson’s Perfection
The beauty of perfection is that it can happen anywhere, at anytime. And the ultimate example of perfection from obscurity happened for the Chicago White Sox on April 30, 1922, when a completely forgettable pitcher on an eminently forgettable White Sox team retired 27 straight Tigers in his fourth career start.
There wouldn’t be another perfect game for 34 years.
The Tigers’ .306 BA was the best ever for a team that was no-hit, and their OBP was an improbable .373. Ty Cobb, batting third for the Tigers, would finish the year with a .401 BA, and Harry Heilman, batting fifth, would finish .356. The game featured overflow seating on the field that shortened the dimensions and made hits easier to reach, for the White Sox anyway.
Roberston finished his career with only 49 wins and a .380 winning percentage, both the lowest marks of any pitcher to throw a perfect game, which might make this game the most unlikely outcome in the history of Major League Baseball.
No. 7 Catfish Hunter’s Perfect Game
Long before Dallas Braden’s perfect game came Catfish Hunter’s. In fact, Hunter’s took place in the A’s 25th game after moving to Oakland from Kansas City. The christening moment came against Minnesota, during which Hunter struck out 11 Twins and won the game 4-0.
Hunter also was the star at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a double and 3 RBI. His bunt single in the seventh inning provided the game-winning run, and makes his performance the best offensive outing by a pitcher who also threw a perfect game.
After his retirement, Hunter was asked why his only no-hit game happened so early in his career. “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass all the time,” Hunter said.
No. 8 Dock Ellis on Acid
Ellis claims he was high after dropping acid earlier in the day prior to his 1970 no-hitter against the hapless San Diego Padres. The story goes that Ellis woke up in a hotel in Los Angeles thinking the Pirates had an off day. At 1 pm his girlfriend read in the paper that he was the starting pitcher that evening in San Diego, and the rest is illegal narcotics history.
Ellis walked eight Padres and hit three others. He mostly remembers focusing really hard on the catcher’s mitt and seeing the bases loaded a couple times. He also recalls diving out of the way of a line drive that was actually a dribbler that never reached him.
The Pirates might have the craziest no-hitter history of any team. In 1959, Harvey Haddix lost a perfect game and a win in the 13th inning of a scoreless game against Milwaukee by giving up a hit, an error and eventually a run. Also, the Pirates threw the majors’ only combined extra inning no-hitter in July, 1997, when Francisco Cordova (in his first year as a major league starter) and Ricardo Rincon combined to no-hit the Astros for 10 innings.
No. 9 Randy Johnson is perfect in Atlanta
Johnson was 40 at the time of his perfect 2-0 gem in Atlanta. He was so dominant that no one was surprised when he struck out Eddie Perez on 98 MPH heat to end the game. Johnson’s perfect day gave him the longest gap between no-hitters—he also threw a no-hitter as a Seattle Mariner in 1990.
The game was seen as the capstone on Johnson’s Hall of Fame career for a floundering D-Backs team that had the lowest winning percentage (.315) of any team to win a perfect game, by a lot.
Johnson, on the other hand, became the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game, also by a lot. He was three and a half years older than Cy Young, who threw his perfect game a century earlier.
No. 10 El Presidente blanks L.A.
Dennis Martinez cobbled together a 23-year career which he was mostly durable and rarely dominant.
He retired as the winningest pitcher never to win 20 games. But one night in Los Angeles twenty years ago he used pinpoint control and nasty breaking stuff to dominate the punchless Dodgers 2-0 and claim the first perfect game thrown by a Latin American pitcher.
Two days earlier, teammate Mark Gardner threw a 9-inning no-hitter that was broken up in the tenth, making it unofficial. And Dodgers starter Mike Morgan nearly matched Martinez by throwing 6 no-hit innings against Martinez, and finishing with a four-hitter.
Honorable mention goes to Pedro Martinez, who threw 9 perfect innings against San Diego in 1995, but gave up a lead-off double to Bip Roberts to start the tenth, before getting the win.
No. 11 The Saga of Dave Stieb
On four occasions, Stieb had taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning before he finally claimed the only no-no in Blue Jays history—a 3-0 shutout of the Indians in 1990.
In consecutive starts to end the 1988 season, he finally surrendered a hit with two out in the ninth—the only time in major league history that has happened. On the third time Stieb retired the first 26 Yankees he faced in front of his hometown fans before losing his bid for a perfect game with two outs in the ninth.
When he finally threw his no-hitter, he claimed it was luck that carried him.
“I had much better stuff the other times, much better control,” Stieb said at the time. But the Indians of 1990 were woefully bad—like enough to be mocked in the movie Major League and nobody would mind. And with Toronto fans making the trek across the border, the crowd cheered when Stieb finally capped off his achievement.
No. 12 Ernie Shore Fills in
There have been other great no-hitters in Red Sox history (including Cy Young’s perfect game in 1904). But there’s never been another Sox game like the one started by Babe Ruth and ended by Ernie Shore in June, 1917, against Washington.
Ruth was ejected after walking the first batter for arguing balls and strikes. Enter Shore, who promptly watched the leadoff runner get caught stealing second and then retired the next 26 batters to finish the game.
Shore always considered it a perfect game, and it’s hard to argue. With Ruth out of the game and having pitched two days prior, Shore dominated the hapless Senators. However, baseball rules call it a combined no-hitter.
No. 13 Jack Morris’ No-Hit Gem
With apologies to Justin Verlander, who threw an amazing no-hitter against the Brewers in 2007, Morris’ no-hitter is one of the high-water marks in Tigers history—the beginning of their great championship season and the first sign that it would be their year.
Morris blanked the White Sox 4-0 in his first start of the 1984 season for the Tigers’ first no-hitter since Jim Bunning threw one in 1958.
Morris was not great and needed a double-play ball in the fourth after walking the bases loaded. But the game sent the Tigers ascending toward their incredible 35-5 start and was part of Morris’s amazing run, in which he won 10 games in the first two months of the season.
Verlander’s performance against Milwaukee—on its own—was superior. He struck out 12 and still had 100 MPH heat late in the game. He allowed just two balls to reach the outfield after the first inning to complete the first no-no in Comerica Park.
And we won’t forget Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect night last year. Galarraga may have thrown the most famous one-hitter in major league history against the Indians last June.
No. 14 Kevin Brown Dominates SF
Brown was a high-potential, low-production project until he finally put it all together for the Marlins in 1996. The next year he threw his dominating no-hitter and led Florida to its first World Series. It is easy to forget, after the massive contract and nasty competitive streak, that Brown was among the best starters in the NL for three years in the late ‘90s.
He was never better than in his 9-0 shellacking of the Giants in June 1997. Brown only missed a perfect game by hitting a batter with two outs in the eighth. He walked no one and finished the ninth with the heavy, sinking forkball that was his signature.
Maybe no pitcher used a no-hitter to springboard to greatness more than Brown, who won his final seven starts in 1997, and then two more in the NLCS along the way to the title. The following year he was traded to the Padres and led them to the World Series, and the year afterward he signed his $105 million contract with Los Angeles.
No. 15 Hoyt Wilhelm Dazzles the Yanks
Five weeks after being released by Cleveland in 1958, the long-time reliever was converted to start for the Orioles against the powerful Yankees.
Wilhelm faced a lineup that featured Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Moose Skowron and Bobby Richardson. New York led the league that year in hits and average, and was on its way to a fourth consecutive American League pennant and ninth in 10 seasons.
Wilhelm threw just 99 pitches, most of them knuckleballs, holding the Yankees hitless for a 1-0 victory in a drizzling rain. Wilhelm was considered washed up and his knuckleball had begun to flatten out earlier in the year, but he kept the Yankees off-balance enough to pitch one of the most remarkable no-hitters in baseball history.
Wilhelm threw only 20 complete games during his 21 years in the majors. He won only three games that year, and the no-hitter would be his only victory with the O’s that season.
No. 16 Mike Witt’s Perfecto
Mike Witt threw his perfect game on the final day of the 1984 season, beating the Texas Rangers 1-0 in the all-time buses-are-already-running game. Witt was only 24 when he struck out ten and threw only 94 pitches in dispatching the Rangers to end their pathetic ’84 campaign.
Witt would later become the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter and contribute to one as a reliever, earning the save with two innings of work after Mark Langston threw seven hitless innings in 1990 to beat the Mariners 1-0.
No. 17 The Amazing Len Barker
Known as the Big Donkey, Barker had an overpowering fastball but little control, winning just 74 games in 11 seasons. But on one 40 degree might in May, 1981 in front of a friends-and-family-only crowd, Barker was dominant against an overmatched Blue Jays team. Barker struck out eleven batters, all of them swinging, and never once threw ball three, on his way to a 3-0 whitewashing.
The Indians haven’t thrown a no-hitter since, and the closest competitor to Barker’s gem would be a perfect game by Addie Joss in 1908.
Barker’s perfect game was the first that used a DH. His catcher that day was Ron Hassey, who later caught Dennis Martinez’ perfect game.
No. 18 Saberhagen Dazzles the White Sox
At only 27, Saberhagen was already the Royals’ most accomplished pitcher when he threw his only no-hitter, the fourth in franchise history. He had already won two Cy Young awards and pitched a shutout in the clinching Game 7 of the World Series in 1985. He snagged an eighth-inning line drive by Ozzie Guillen that would have been a hit and induced a ground out to second base from Frank Thomas to end the game.
Saberhagen otherwise dominated a struggling White Sox team, striking out five and walking just two in a 7-0 win for the 13th no-hitter in Major League Baseball over the previous two seasons.
No. 19 Randy Johnson, This Time for the M’s
Johnson becomes the only pitcher to appear twice on this list, for his first no-hitter—a dominating 2-0 victory over Detroit in 1990.
This was the pre-visit-with-Nolan-Ryan Johnson—the fireballing, stringy-haired volcanic lefty with the massive potential. Johnson didn’t have his breakout year until 1993 when he won 19 games and compiled the first of his six 300 strikeout seasons. In 1990, Johnson had yet to find the handle on Mr. Snappy, the nasty slider that baffled hitters and forced lefties to the bench for the next fifteen years.
In this no-hitter, Johnson was his usual wild self, walking six. But he kept the veteran Tiger bats in check and notched the first no-hitter in Mariners history.
No. 20 Matt Garza Outduels Max Scherzer
The Rays had no no-hitters and had been no-hit three times in less than a year (two of them perfect games) before Garza dominated the Tigers last July at the Trop. Garza allowed only a second-inning walk to face the minimum 27 batters and top the nearly-as-dominant Max Scherzer for a 5-0 win.
It was a historic no-hitter for many reasons. It was the first time an AL park hosted two no-hitters in a season in 37 years. In the process, the Rays became the first team since 1917 to participate in three no-hitters in one season
Garza’s no-no left the Padres and Mets as the only franchises never to pitch a no-hitter.
No. 21 Mike Scott Throws the Clincher
The Astros’ amazing 1986 season reached a climax with Scott’s late-September no-hitter at home against the Giants to win the NL West. It was the only no-hitter to be thrown in a clinching game in major league history.
Scott walked three and struck out thirteen in the 2-0 victory, locking up the NL Cy Young in the process and making the red-yellow-orange Astros rainbow uniform look better than it ever had.
Honorable mention goes to the 6-pitcher no-hitter the Astros managed against the New York Yankees in June, 2003. Roy Oswalt started the game but was pulled after one inning due to injury. Pete Munro pitched the most innings, throwing 2 1/3 innings while allowing six baserunners.
But the Yanks never managed a hit, losing 8-0.
No. 22 Jonathan Sanchez Is Nearly Perfect
Despite making his first start in 18 days, Sanchez threw the first Giants no-hitter since 1976, and barely missed a perfect game. Third baseman and World Series hero Juan Uribe committed an error on a groundball immediately after switching over from second in the seventh inning. It was the latest an error has led to the only baserunner in what would have been a perfect game.
Sanchez was, and is, an inconsistent fireballer. He had yet to throw a complete game and so is among the most unlikely no-hitter authors in major league history. But he was as dominant as he has ever been in tossing his gem against the Padres in July, 2009.
No. 23 Ubaldo Jimenez’ No-No
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ubaldo Jimenez. Miguel Olivo, who caught Jimenez’ 4-0 gem versus Atlanta last April, had told Jimenez a year prior that he would throw a no-hitter soon, and he proved prophetic last April.
Jimenez threw 100 MPH during the game and finished by striking out Brian McCann on 98 MPH heat. The no-hitter might not have been Jimenez’ best performance during his incredible 15-1 start last year—he walked six and needed 128 pitches to complete the task. But the no-no helped establish Jimenez as one of the top pitchers in baseball.
No. 24 Juan Nieves Breaks His Arm off
Nieves became the second youngest pitcher to throw a no-hitter, when he accomplished the feat at age 22 in 1987 for the Milwaukee Brewers, beating the Baltimore Orioles 7-0. He also became the first Puerto Rican to throw a no-hitter.
The game is memorable in that it required two outstanding, no-hitter-saving plays in the outfield—the last by Robin Yount with two out in the ninth.
Unfortunately, Nieves threw out is arm the next year and was done with baseball two years later.
No. 25 The Double No-No
Hippo Vaughn is known for two things—having the worst nickname in baseball history and the double no-hitter he pitched against the Reds in 1917.
If you’re looking for the game most symbolic of the Chicago Cubs, look no further than the game that pitted Vaughn versus the Reds’ Fred Toney and featured the majors’ only dual no-hitters in history. It was the ultimate pitchers’ duel, with both pitchers tossing a scoreless nine and continuing into the tenth inning.
However, Vaughn lost his no-hitter when he surrendered two hits and the game-winning run.
For decades, until the rules on no-hitters were changed, the game was considered a “double no-hitter”, and for the purpose of this article, it still is.
No. 26 Kent Mercker Gets His No-Hitter
Mercker got his no-hitter in 1994—three years after tossing the first six innings of a no-hitter that was finished by teammates Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena.
Best known for being the fifth starter on the great Braves rotations of the early ‘90s, Mercker threw nine brilliant innings against the Dodgers in 1994, and is the last, and least likely, Brave to throw a no-no.
No. 27 Eric Milton Gets Up Early
Milton was struggling through a 7-11 season in 1999 when the Angels came to town in September for a meaningless game. Furthermore, the Metrodome was needed for a college football game later that day, pushing up the start to 11 a.m.
The Angels used a lineup full of reserves—Jeff DaVanon, Orlando Palmeiro and Todd Greene were the first three batters in the lineup.
Milton was nonetheless dominant, walking only two batters and striking out thirteen. He retired the last 18 Angels, threw 81 strikes along the way, and the game was over by 1:30.
No. 28 Bud Who?
Cardinals rookie Bud Smith was neither the most improbable pitcher to throw a no-hitter nor the youngest. But he might have benefited the least from having thrown one.
Smith threw 134 pitches to nab his shocking no-hitter against the Padres in 2001, part of the escalating pitch counts Smith took on as the Cardinals made their playoff push that year. In retrospect, Smith believes the increased work load was a likely contributor to the arm troubles he suffered the next year.
Smith was not the same pitcher before or after his amazing feat. The start before blanking the Padres 4-0, he was bombed by them, giving up 7 runs in 3+ innings. The year after he was sent down, then traded for Scott Rolen and finally diagnosed with a torn labrum, causing the Phillies to claim “damaged goods”.
But for one night in his 11th career start, Smith made Cardinals history—a 22-year-old facing a team that featured aging Hall-of-Famers Rickey Henderson and Tony Gwynn.
No. 29 The Curse of Clay Kirby
The Padres no-hitter drought should have ended in their second year. Kirby was a rookie phenom enduring a dreadful Padres season in 1970 when he shut down the Mets for eight hitless innings. The problem was that he gave up a run in the first on a walk, two stolen bases and a fielder’s choice.
The Mets held the 1-0 lead into the 8th, at which point manager Preston Gomez yanked Kirby for a pinch-hitter.
Let’s just say yanking a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter was not so popular with Padres fans, who had little to root for in a brief Padres history. Pinch-hitter Cito Gaston was booed lustily and a few fans ran onto the field. Gaston promptly struck out, reliever Jack Baldschun quickly gave up a leadoff hit in the ninth, and the Mets tacked on two runs.
Add 41 years and you have the second longest current no-hitter drought.
For what it’s worth, Steve Arlin came within one out of a no-hitter in 1972 against the Phillies. But if Preston Gomez hadn’t needed to play for a win during a 99-loss season, in a game the Padres lost anyway, the Mets might be the only team without a no-hitter.
No. 30 Mr. Met
The Mets have come so close.
Mets pitchers have thrown 35 one-hitters. Six former Mets have gotten it done after leaving the Mets, including Nolan Ryan seven times. Hideo Nomo threw a no-hitter before and after his Mets career. Ten Mets threw a no-hitter prior to joining the Mets, including two pitchers on this list (Ellis and Saberhagen).
But still, the Mets remain without a no-no—49 years and counting.
The list of Mets one-hitters evoke the sense that it might not be meant to happen.
Maybe the most improbable one-hitter was spun by R.A. Dickey last year. Dickey yielded only a sixth inning single to Cole Hamels in knuckleballing the slumping Phils last August. Tom Seaver took a no-hitter into the ninth in 1972 against the punchless Padres, before surrendering a one out single.
The Mets have been the victim of six no-hitters, including one by someone named Ed Halicki in 1975 (for the Giants). The law of averages says it has to happen someday. But don’t tell that to Mets fans.