PnP Conversations: No-Hitting and the Tight Rope

Ted: Eric, Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the year, which creates a great opportunity to discuss one of the more distinct accomplishments that baseball has to offer. I can’t think of another accomplishment in sport that receives so much attention for preventing something from happening. No shutout by any goalie, dominant number of blocks from a basketball big man or NFL defensive wall has quite the cultural cachet as the no-no does.

I still get all tingly when a pitcher throws a no-hitter. What is it about the feat, and the watching of the feat, that is so dramatic and compelling?

Eric: I have always admired the basketball Triple Double because it comes with a sense of completeness — it highlights balance and teamwork and efficiency. But rebounds are far less romantic than strikeouts. The great thing about the no-hitter is that it’s a high-wire act. With every succeeding batter the odds of it actually happening get slimmer. The other thing is that like a high-wire act, a no-hitter allows for a certain amount of wobbliness.

Ubaldo Jimenez walked a precarious six batters when he threw his no-no. That’s far from a perfect game. The perfect game is a different feat, a symmetrical achievement that borders on the artistically genius (I wrote about it here). A no-hitter like the one thrown by Jimenez is as much about guile, as much about nerves, as much about fear, as it is about pitching.

When pitchers throw perfect games, they look invincible. But when they throw no-hitters, they look human. That’s why I won’t let go of my high-wire metaphor. Have you seen Man on Wire by the way? I’ve been meaning to check it out on Netflix Instant.

Ted: I have seen Man on Wire. You will love it for the same reasons you’ll love the 1978 Expos: if you’re into the 70s and eccentric French people.

I don’t know if I’m buying your starry eyed vision of a 6-walk no-hitter. When I heard that little side note about the free passes I felt the feat was that something of a gold-plated clunker, to get the credit for a no-no when you’ve let six men on base. After all, the point of a no-hitter is that you dominated the opposition, not that you gave up an inordinate number of free outs. There’s a point at which it becomes a gimmick, like saying a guy just threw a no-doubler or a no-balker.

Now obviously I’m exaggerating; it was still a dominant performance. But can we put this into the canon of great performances? I suppose it doesn’t matter: it’s really fun to watch a pitcher walk the tight rope.

Have you ever seen a no-hitter in person? I haven’t, and I wonder what it’s like. Thoughts?

Eric: This is the point in our conversation when I inevitably tip my cap to the blogosphere’s ghost of the Expos, Jonah Keri. Moving on, I don’t know if I buy your sudden sabermetrically induced skepticism. It’s a no-hitter, not a no-walker. Have there been 1-hitters or 3-hitters pitched better than Ubaldo’s no-hitter? Probably. But they aren’t magic.

In other words, I don’t think the idea is that you dominated. The idea is that you didn’t allow any hits. NO HITS! I don’t see it as a gimmick at all. The no-hitter is not about retrospect. It’s not about analysis. It’s about the moment. Some accomplishments grow greater in scope as we look back on them. No-hitters are at their most dynamic as they are occurring.

I haven’t seen a no-hitter in person. But this is why I’ve always wanted to. I don’t think there’s any sporting achievment I’d rather see in person. I saw Fernando Tatis take Chan Ho Park for two grand slams in the same inning. I saw Ichiro break the single season hit record. But I’d trade both to see a no-hitter in person. I can only imagine the shivers and the tension and the elation at the end of it all.

What about you? If you could see any baseball achievement in person, what would it be? I know you’re a fan of the cycle’s mystique.

Ted: I feel fortunate to have actually seen the achievement I most wanted to in person: Craig Biggio’s 3,000th hit. As you’ve very effectively pointed out, that one was about retrospect, not about the tension of the moment. If you’re talking single-game variety achievements, I’d most want to see Josh Wilker throw out the first pitch at a Vermont Lake Monsters game.

Some cynical part of me thinks that a no-hitter is best appreciated from home, via television. That’s where the mastery is clear, after all. From the stands, most pitchers look the same, as do most pitches. The results would be engaging, obviously, but the true depth of the accomplishment goes out the door. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to be there, just that the experience is profoundly different. It’s very likely that I am over-thinking it. I’d love to see a no-hitter in person.

Having no-hit myself with 18 walks, logic-wise, we’ll just have to agree to agree. No-hitters are as awesome as eccentric French people and the 70s.

15 Responses to “PnP Conversations: No-Hitting and the Tight Rope”

  • Man on Wire was a really cool movie, definitely watch it. As far as a six walk no-hitter it is impressive sure, but I just can’t bring myself to get that excited by it.

  • I can say that I was there when the Pirates mathematically secured their 17th consecutive losing season, setting a record. That’s something.

  • I’ve always thought it would be confusing to be witness an opposing pitcher no-hitting the hometown club. Sure, if it’s a blowout, the odds of victory would be so low that it would make no sense to root for your offense. But what if it’s a close game? I’m not sure how I would feel.

    On a related note, if you want to see a no-hitter in person, I recommend Mariners season tickets. King Felix or Cliff Lee both have the stuff and they have a top-tier defense behind them. The M’s are also coming off a season in which they had, easily, the worst offense in the league. They then took that offense and subtracted arguably their two best power hitters. So yes – I think it will happen at Safeco this year.

  • In my opinion, there’s two pitching performances more impressive than a no-hitter:
    1. Kerry Wood’s 20-K one-hitter (May 6, 1998 if you want to look it up)
    2. Harvey Haddix’s loss in the 13th after being perfect through 12 innings (since he did give up a hit in the 13th, it doesn’t count as a no-hitter, but it SHOULD, dammit.)

  • I’d like to see an absolute no-hitter going into the bottom of the 9th, 2 outs (that is, both pitchers throwing no-hitters). And let’s end it with a first-pitch, walk-off homerun just to leave everyone completely confounded.

  • Man on Wire was a great movie, yeah.

    I think no-hitters are defined by their mystique and not level of excellence as per Eric. Probably each individual one falls somewhere different on the Scale of Excellent Pitching Performances; Jimenez’ is towards the lower end of the Excellent part of the scale, Haddix’s near the top of the charts, etc. But we appreciate them for being something else.

    I, personally, have a hard time understanding and appreciating the physical actions of baseball in the park or on TV, so I’d much rather see a no-hitter live for the cool factor. I’ve seen a perfect game turn into a no-hitter and then into a mere shutout, all in the ninth inning. I also saw Kelly Shoppach tie the record for extra-base hits in a game.

    Harry: yes. The ending made me chuckle. Good call.

  • Speaking of the Expos and no-hitters and witnessing history, I’ve seen a perfect game in person (Dennis Martinez). Despite the fact that it was nearly 20 years ago and that my team was on the losing end, I still remember it being pretty magical. By the ninth inning I was able to put my usual rooting interest aside and start rooting for El Presidente. And seeing him sitting in the dugout afterward with tears of joy running down his face made it even more special.

    As great as that memory is, I’d still trade it for being able to see my Dodgers win a World Series in person.

  • Great stuff, all around, thanks for your input everyone, it’s great to hear what you’ve seen and what you want to see.

    The 20 strikeout game is, I agree, a far superior feat to a six-walk no-hitter. There’s a lot of luck in the game of hitting hits, after all. Far less so in the game of striking hitters out.

  • Been enjoying the great stuff on this site after we brought our own meditative madness into cyberspace with a collaborative blog of imaginary baseball glory not so long ago. Several of us are Denver natives and Rockies fans who never dreamed one of our dude’s could throw a no-hitter. That is, until Ubaldo turned in one helluva gutsy performance. It’s the PROCESS that should be marveled at; I’ve posted a revised transcription of the radio broadcast you all might wanna check out, in order to fully appreciate just how this particular no-hitter came to be. Keep up the good work, boys.

  • Thanks, Kroh. I remember when Nomo threw a no-hitter at pre-humidor Coors in the 90s — that was so magical. It took his mystique to a whole different level.

    I’ll check out your site/that transcript too.

  • Great editing on the transcript. Nice to see how his pitch count evolved, and where that whole stretch thing came from. I believe Don Larsen had success from the stretch at one point and decided just to start from the stretch during the perfect game.

  • Sorry to be this guy, but I must – the odds of completing a no hitter get better with each batter retired.

    As each batter is put down the achievement of having gotten that far becomes rarer and rarer, but the odds of actually finishing out the game without allowing a hit definitely get better the fewer batters you have left to go.


  • Fair point (and a fairly obvious one when you think about it).

  • Agree with the sentiment that a 6-walk no-hitter is a golden turd. Sure, its a nice accomplishment, but really. 6 walks? That seems a bit of a letdown.

  • It’s true that most pitches and pitchers look the same from the stands, but witnessing something great, or even just interesting, with a crowd makes the experience better. It’s like as seeing a great band live. Even if you don’t get up and dance and don’t feel the need to push your way up to the very edge of the stage – you’d think the only real difference between live music and recorded music is the volume, but there’s also an energy in a crowd that is infectious. Same goes for a no hitter (I assume).

    I tend not to think about what I’d really like to see though. I like every baseball experience I have to be new and unexpected. Maybe someday I’ll see a no hitter and if I do it will be all the more exciting for my not having hoped for it in advance.

    Speaking of baseball, and pitchers, and things that are worth seeing, and to prove once again that I have a Sports Night quote for every occasion:

    “There’s really nothing like seeing a guy realize he’s not done yet” – Dan (Sports Night – The Sword of Orion)

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