By Cliff Corcoran
Edison Volquez's no-hitter this past Saturday may have come as a surprise given that he had started the season 0-7, hadn't recorded a seventh-inning out since last September and hadn't completed a start since May 2015, but such is the nature of no-no's. Though often considered a validation of a great pitcher or a great pitching season, they are just as often statistical anomalies that prove that any pitcher can be dominant, or perhaps lucky, on any given day.
With that in mind, what follows is a list of the ten pitchers with the least-impressive Major League careers to have thrown a no-hitter. Every pitcher on this list posted a career ERA+ of 86 or lower and was worth no more than a single win above replacement for his entire career. Also, all ten pitchers threw their no-hitters in the National or American Leagues, a distinction designed to eliminate a handful of antediluvian hurlers -- such as wonderfully-named Frank Mountain, Ledell Ticomb, and Dick Burns -- whose moment of glory occurred in lesser leagues.
10. Mal Eason, Brooklyn Superbas, July 20, 1906
Eason appeared in parts of six seasons for the Cubs, Braves, Tigers and pre-Dodgers Superbas, four times surpassing 200 innings pitched in a season, and even turning in a league-average campaign in 1902, in which he went 10-13 in 29 starts with a 2.76 ERA (102 ERA+ in those days of the deadball). Nonetheless, his career ERA+ was a mere 84, and he was worth just one win above replacement over 951 1/3 career innings. His no-hitter came against the Cardinals in his final Major League season. Curiously, he had been the losing pitcher in the previous no-hitter that season, tossed by another undistinguished hurler, Johnny Lush of the Phillies. Eason also served as a National League umpire from 1910 to 1917.
9. Bo Belinsky, Los Angeles Angels, May 5, 1962
A former teenage pool hustler, Belinsky was acquired by the Angles from the Orioles in the 1961 Rule 5 draft. In his fourth Major League start, he threw the first no-hitter in Dodger Stadium history, against the Orioles. The 25-year-old quickly parlayed his feat into stardom, dating a string of starlets -- including Ann-Margret, Connie Stevens, Tina Louise, and Mamie Van Doren -- becoming a regular in Walter Winchell's gossip column, making guest appearances on several TV dramas and proving a reliable source of entertaining quotes for newspaper men of all stripes. In 1963, he held out for a better salary, then struggled and found himself back in the Minors. The following season went far better, until he got in a fistfight in a hotel room with a sportswriter, resulting in a season-ending suspension and a trade to the Phillies. After the trade, Belinsky went 7-23 with a 74 ERA+ for four teams while battling alcoholism and drug addition, though he did throw another no-hitter in the Minors in 1968. Altogether, he finished his eight-year career with an 86 ERA+ and just 0.8 wins above replacement.
8. Philip Humber, Chicago White Sox, April 21, 2012
A top-100 prospect as a Mets farmhand, Humber's legacy in the Majors is that he is the least-accomplished pitcher ever to throw a perfect game. Drafted third overall in 2004, Humber had Tommy John surgery in 2005, made his Major League debut in 2006, made his lone start for the Mets in 2007, was sent to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade in early 2008, and passed through two other organizations before being picked off waivers by the White Sox in early 2011. He entered that season having made just two Major League starts, but established himself in Chicago's rotation by the end of April, compiling 163 innings of a 116 ERA+ that season, the only one in his career that he would qualify for the ERA title. In his second start in 2012, Humber retired all 27 Mariners batters he faced, but he struggled thereafter, spent some time on the disabled list with a flexor strain in June, and was out of the rotation soon after his return. Humber passed through three more organizations over the next four years, but retired at the end of Spring Training in 2016 with an 81 ERA+ and just one win above replacement to his name. His perfect game was his only career complete game.
7. Don Black, Cleveland Indians, July 10, 1947
Black pitched six years in the American League for Philadelphia and Cleveland, and his highest ERA+ in any of them was the 89 he put up in the year of his no-hitter. That 1947 season came after Black sobered up at the behest of Cleveland owner Bill Veeck, but even in his no-hitter, Black walked more men (six) than he struck out (five). Black's career came to a sudden end in the midst of the 1948 pennant race, when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while batting on Sept. 13. Veeck held a night in Black's honor to help raise money for his medical bills, and manager Lou Boudreau dedicated Cleveland's eventual World Series win to his ailing pitcher. Black made a full recovery, but retired after finding himself too weak to compete the following spring. He finished his career with an 80 ERA+ and graded out at 1.5 wins below replacement level over 797 innings.
6. Chris Heston, San Francisco Giants, June 9, 2015
Just 29 and in Triple-A in the Dodgers' system, Heston may yet remove his name from this list, but it is increasingly unlikely that he will. Heston was a revelation for a banged-up Giants rotation in 2015, providing a league-average performance over 31 starts and tossing his no-hitter against the Mets on June 9. However, he failed to retain his rotation job the following spring, and has thrown just ten big league innings since, allowing 18 runs (17 earned). The last time he took the mound, as of this writing, was his debut with the Oklahoma City Dodgers. He gave up three runs in three innings and took the loss. As things stand, he has an 85 ERA+ in 193 Major League innings and has been worth just a half a win above replacement.
5. Bud Smith, St. Louis Cardinals, Sept. 3, 2001
Ranked the 39th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2001 season, Smith made his Major League debut that June and had a fine rookie campaign. After no-hitting the Padres on Sept. 3, he finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting having posted a 113 ERA+ in 84 2/3 innings across 14 starts and two relief outings. The next spring, Baseball Prospectus wrote, "there's nothing in his record that portends anything except great success." However, Smith struggled to start the season, missed some time with a shoulder strain, then was sent to the Phillies in a package for third baseman Scott Rolen at the Trade Deadline. Soon thereafter it was discovered that Smith had torn the labrum in his pitching shoulder. He would continue his comeback attempts through 2007, by which point he had sunk to the independent leagues, but he never threw another Major League pitch, finishing his career with an 85 ERA+ in just 132 2/3 innings, a performance that grades out as 0.4 wins below replacement.
4. Mike Warren, Oakland A's, Sept. 29, 1983
The final three starts of Mike Warren's rookie year were something to behold. On Sept. 18, he beat the Royals with a five-hit complete game in which he walked no one. On Sept. 24, he held the Blue Jays to just one run over ten innings in another complete-game win. Then, on Sept. 29, he no-hit the White Sox. In the process, he dropped his season ERA from 6.45 to 4.11. However, he would never complete another game in the Majors, posting a 5.50 ERA (69 ERA+) over 139 innings over the next two seasons for Oakland before washing out of big leagues entirely. He finished his career with a 75 ERA+ in 204 2/3 innings and was 0.9 wins below replacement level.
3. Iron Davis, Boston Braves, Sept. 9, 1914
Having earned the nickname "Iron" for transforming himself from a scrawny intellectual to a brawny athlete while an undergraduate at Williams College, George Allen Davis split his time between school and the pros during his four Major League seasons. His debut, consisting of a 6.50 ERA in seven starts and three relief appearances for the Highlanders in 1912, came during his final summer as a Williams undergrad. He then made two appearances with the Braves the following September after enrolling in Harvard Law School, and pitched for the Harvard team the following spring before returning to the Braves in July. His moment of glory, the first no-hitter ever at Fenway Park, came that September as the Miracle Braves streaked toward the pennant, but Davis was just an extra arm to help keep the Braves' aces from burning out (his no-hitter came in the second game of a double-header against the Athletics), and he did not appear in the World Series. Davis pitched for the Braves the following summer, but retired from baseball upon receiving his law degree in the spring of 1917. After serving in World War I, he spent the rest of his professional life practicing law. His final Major League numbers include a 68 ERA+ in 191 innings, a performance that grades out as 1.5 wins below replacement level.
2. Bobo Holloman, St. Louis Browns, May 6, 1953
Alva Lee "Bobo" Holloman is the only man ever to throw a no-hitter in his only Major League season. He is also the only man since the pitching distance was set at 60 feet, six inches in 1893 to turn the trick in his first Major League start. A 30-year-old rookie, Holloman had spent seven years in the Minors, mostly in the Cubs' system, prior to making his Major League debut with the Browns. His first four appearances came in relief, but he badgered his manager for a start and backed up his words by no-hitting the Athletics when finally given the chance. His next time, out, however, Holloman lasted just 1 1/3 innings. After posting a 8.04 over his first five post-no-hitter starts, he was back in the bullpen. Holloman got another chance to start in late June, which is when he made the only other quality start of his career (eight shutout innings against the Red Sox in the second-game of a double-header at Fenway), but he was back in the Minors by the end of July and was out of baseball entirely by the end of the 1954 season due to a sore arm. In total, he made just 10 starts, threw just 65 1/3 innings, posted an 81 ERA+ and walked twice as many men as he struck out in what amounted to roughly three months in the Major Leagues.
1. Bumpus Jones, Cincinnati Reds, Oct. 15, 1892
Of the 296 no-hitters in Major League history, short-lived leagues included, none was thrown by a pitcher who compiled fewer Major League appearances (eight), starts (seven), innings (41 2/3) or wins (two) than Charles Leander "Bumpus" Jones. It almost feels like cheating to include the diminutive Jones on this list, as he twirled his gem in 1892, when pitchers threw underhanded from flat ground in a pitcher's box, the front of which was just 50 feet from the plate. Nonetheless, Jones did pitch in the National League, and he did no-hit the Pirates. He did so in his Major League debut, which came on the final day of the 1892 season. When Jones returned to action in 1893, the modern pitching distance of 60 feet, six inches had been put in place, providing an easy excuse for his quickly washing out of the league. Nonetheless, Jones' no-hit fame made him a drawing card in future AL founder Ban Johnson's Western League for the remainder of the decade, and his Minor League pitching career lasted into the new century.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on the MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.