Former Indian Reynolds Prevails in 1951 Pitcher’s Duel with Feller
Vince Guerrieri | On 12, Jul 2017
On July 1, 1951, Bob Feller made major league history, throwing his third career no-hitter.
Eleven days later, Feller was on the short end of another no-hitter – at the hands of a former teammate.
A crowd of 39,195 had settled in for a pitcher’s duel between Feller and Allie Reynolds. The Tribe was in fourth place, 4 ½ games behind the league-leading Red Sox and three behind the Yankees, then in third.
Reynolds had never played organized baseball until he was a student at Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University). The Indians took a flyer on him, signing him as a free agent in 1939 (a fitting destination for him, since he was part Creek Indian). He made his Major League debut three years later, with no decisions in two appearances for the Indians. Over the next four years, he was a solid if unspectacular starter for the Tribe, and after the 1946 season, he was traded to the Yankees for Joe Gordon. Originally, the Yankees wanted Red Embree, but Joe DiMaggio convinced them to take Reynolds, saying he’d always had difficulty at the plate against him.
The trade yielded instant dividends for both teams. Reynolds went 19-8 for the Yankees in 1947, who went on to win the World Series. Gordon turned out to be a key piece in the Indians’ world championship team the next year. But by 1951, Gordon had retired. Reynolds was still going strong for the Yankees.
In the second inning, back-to-back walks by Reynolds put Luke Easter on second and Harry Sampson on first with one out. Ray Boone hit a sacrifice fly to advance Easter, but Jim Hegan grounded out to end the inning. It was the closest the Indians would come to scoring.
The two pitchers traded goose eggs back and forth, but in the sixth inning, an Oklahoma farm boy named Mickey Mantle, who’d made his major league debut two months earlier, connected for a double, but Feller maintained the shutout.
Then in the seventh inning, Gene Woodling – a Northeast Ohio native who was one of Yankee manager Casey Stengel’s platoon players – hit a 365-foot home run over the right field fence. It was his sixth of the season – and third against the Indians that year. Meanwhile, in the dugout, Reynolds had no adherence to superstition. He looked at Eddie Lopat and said, “Think I can pitch a no-hitter?” Reynolds said Lopat just looked at him and gulped. Then, in the eighth, he told catcher Yogi Berra to keep calling fastballs to keep the no-hitter going.
The crowd started to turn toward Reynolds and a chance to witness history, and when he struck out Bobby Avila for the game’s final out, the crowd at Cleveland Stadium cheered. “I asked him after the game how he could take a ball as close at that one,” Reynolds said. “He just laughed at me.”
Reynolds admitted he struggled with his control during that game – noting that Feller had a longer stride than he did, and Reynolds kept planting his foot in the hole Feller’s foot had left. He said it wasn’t even his best pitching performance. That was a two-hitter in his first start in the 1949 World Series.
Two months later, his answer might have changed. Reynolds no-hit the Red Sox in the first half of a doubleheader on Sept. 28, 1951, as the Yankees were clinging to a 2 ½ game lead over Boston. He became the second pitcher to throw two no-hitters in one season (only three others have done it since).
He finished third in MVP voting that season as the Yankees won their third straight World Series. The following year, he won 20 games as New York won its unprecedented fourth straight Fall Classic. Although both teams benefitted in the short term, it became clear that the Yankees won that trade with the Indians after the 1946 season.
Reynolds retired after the 1954 season and returned to his native Oklahoma. He died in 1994.