Diamondbacks rookie Tyler Gilbert produced a spectacular feat of baseballing magic on Saturday night when he no-hit the high-powered Padres in his first career start. Before his start against San Diego, Gilbert had only pitched 3.2 innings in his career, he’d never pitched a complete game in college or the minors, and he didn’t even play baseball in 2020. When the pandemic caused the cancelation of the 2020 season, Gilbert worked with his dad as an electrician and threw to an old high school coach. He was in the Dodgers system before the Diamondbacks picked him in the Rule 5 draft last December, and the team’s staff had to talk him into starting for the first time since 2016, when he tossed one start for the Clearwater Threshers of the South Atlantic League.
“It was weird,” he said after the game. “I wasn’t nervous at all. I felt like I should have been. I don’t know why.” Gilbert was perfect against every hitter besides Tommy Pham, who he walked thrice. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo planned to limit Gilbert to 85 pitches, though he kept him out there once it became clear that he had a real chance for a no-hitter. Sitting on 88 pitches after seven innings, Gilbert then produced just the third three-pitch inning of the season in the eighth, then fanned two and lined Pham out in the ninth. I’d be crying too if I was this guy’s dad.
Only three other pitchers have notched a no-hitter in their first career start, and nobody has done it in almost 70 years. Here are the stories of those who Gilbert now shares the record with.
Theodore Breitenstein, 1891
Breitenstein won more than 300 games from 1891 to 1911, pitching for a decade with the St. Louis Browns and then another decade with a couple teams in the Southern Association. The schism came after Breitenstein had some trouble with his throwing arm then broke his non-throwing arm after being bucked off of a horse-drawn carriage. In addition to being a legendary left-hander, Breitenstein was also a legendary sot, who formed the “Five Cent Gang” with fellow German Heinie Peitz after routinely drinking an alleged $50 worth of five-cent bottles of beer a night (this can’t be, strictly speaking, true, since that grades out to 1,000 bottles per evening).
He was a St. Louis native who became a town favorite and spent his non-playing days working as a machinist, though he pitched three seasons for the dreaded Cincinnati Reds after a dispute with management. Selling his new fans took some doing, but he quickly became beloved. “Some of those who in the early spring used to refer to Breit as a ten-cent counterfeit, are now quite ready to take off their hats to him as the only genuine, blown-in-the-glass, Ten-Thousand-Dollar-Beauty in the business,” wrote the Cincinnati Enquirer. Breitenstein tossed his no-hitter on the final day of the 1891 regular season, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Louisville Colonels. He walked just one batter, and apparently didn’t know that he even had a no-hitter going because his teammates simply didn’t tell him.
Bumpus Jones, 1892
Bumpus, born Charles, started playing baseball the old-fashioned way: after dropping out of the fourth grade to work at a lime kiln, then joining the kiln’s baseball team. He began to play for local semi-pro teams, making $6 per start and playing for a while in the Illinois-Iowa league. In 1891, Cincinnati Red Stockings manager Charles Comiskey traveled on down to the lime kiln to recruit Jones, who pitched an inning of relief before making his first start three days later, on the final day of the season. He was reportedly visibly nervous, as he walked the first two batters he faced and even allowed a run after airmailing a throw to first. But he settled in and didn’t allow a baserunner after the third inning. His no-hitter would turn out to be one of the last games pitched before the mound was moved back five feet to its present-day distance of 60 feet, 6 inches.
Poor Bumpus Jones had a hard life. His no-hitter was one of just two Major League wins, and he was reportedly never the same pitcher after being struck in the head by a batted ball during a spring training game in 1893. He kept playing for another eight years, on teams like the St. Paul Apostles, with teammates like “Wee Willie McGill,” though appendix trouble forced him out of baseball and into the shoe repair business in 1901. After declining in health over the next few decades, the Reds held a benefit for him in the ’20s and gave him enough money for him to retire to his family home in Cedarville, Ohio.
Bobo Holloman, 1953
Alva “Bobo” Holloman was a real cocky motherfucker. He finally made a major league roster in 1953 after several years in the minors, and once he got to the St. Louis Browns, he reportedly badgered owner Bill Veeck for a chance to start for months. Holloman didn’t exactly earn the start for himself with his play, racking up an 8.44 ERA in four relief appearances, though he kept whining about how he was a natural starter and if he could only start a game, he’d show everyone that he was a real pitcher. His manager, Marty Marion, eventually acceded and allowed him to start on May 6 against the Philadelphia Athletics, though Holloman knew that he would likely be cut by the team ahead of the cutdown deadline if his start went as poorly as his relief efforts.
According to accounts of the game, Holloman’s no-hitter was a bit of a sloppy mess, at least by the standards of a no-hitter. Fewer than 2,500 people showed up for the rainy, windy game, and Holloman only recorded three strikeouts, relying instead on a series of spectacular defensive moments. The rain delays allowed him to rest up, and the defensive efforts from various Browns were lauded by recappers. One ball cleared the outfield fence, only to be ruled foul by a few feet; one borderline hit was ruled an error, and third baseman Bob Elliot stood over a grounder to third and watched as it barely rolled foul. Either way, a no-hitter is a no-hitter, and Holloman also helped himself with an RBI in his first career plate appearance. Like Bumpus Jones, he would soon be out of the majors, logging just two more wins before getting sold to a Canadian team from the International League. Fittingly, he initially refused to report, saying he would rather “devote himself to a Nashville trucking company he co-owned.”
Hopefully, Gilbert can have a cooler career than those last two dudes.