Feller Opening Day No-Hitter Remains the Only of its Kind

The edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer published April 17, 1940 contained 28 pages and cost 3 cents. Headlines were strewn across the page like someone spilled a basket of words and pasted them wherever they landed.

One of the headlines read “NAZI PLANES ROAR NORTH IN STREAM,” in all capital letters. Buried further down on the front page, another headline said “Cuyahoga Poll Backs Kennedy For Governor.” But pasted at the top, in bold capital letters that spanned all eight columns, one headline screamed “FELLER HURLS NO-HITTER TO WIN, 1 TO 0.”

The day before was April 16, 1940, just another opening day for the Chicago White Sox. The 32,000 seats in Comiskey Park were filled with only 14,000 fans on what Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Gordon Cobbledick described as a “chilly afternoon.”

That day should have been forgettable—Chicago walked five times and struck out eight, while the visiting Cleveland Indians only scored one run on six hits. The box score from Comiskey Park on Opening Day 1940 should have been tossed down next to an old Benny Goodman album, ready to collect dust and fade into obscurity.

Bob Feller wouldn’t let this game be forgotten, though.

Only six batter’s reached base in the contest, five by way of base on balls and one due to an error on a muffed fly ball in the second inning. But much of the drama didn’t come until the ninth inning.

Chicago’s Mike Kreevich stepped up to the plate in front of the roaring Comiskey faithful. After a tense five-pitch at-bat that ended in a fly-ball out, the crowd erupted again.

“It came to rest in Ray Mack’s hands for the first out and a tremendous roar went up from the crowd, which by this time left no doubt that it was rooting for Feller, not the Sox,” Cobbledick wrote.

Julius Solters was next on the hit list that Feller was compiling. Three pitches after stepping into the batter’s box, Solters dribbled a grounder to shortstop Lou Boudreau who threw to first baseman Hal Trosky to record the second out.

Luke Appling stepped up next to try his hand at hitting a Feller fastball. The at-bat lasted 10 pitches; Appling fouled off four with two strikes on him before being walked. He was the first Chicago player to reach base since the botched fly ball in the second inning.

With a man on base, the winning run came to the plate. Taft Wright watched a ball go by before swinging, and connecting, on the next pitch.

“It was a couple of steps to Mack’s left, but Ray reached it with a lunge, knocked it down with his gloved hand and then pursued the ball into the outfield grass,” Cobbledick explained. “He retrieved it, whirled and shot a perfect throw to Hal Trosky that nailed Wright by a half step and the ball game was over.”

Feller’s no-hitter was the first, and only, opening day no-no in “modern major-league baseball history” and remains that way to this day. A no-hitter was inevitable for a pitcher like Feller. As Cobbledick noted, “The thing that had to happen sometime happened here this chilly afternoon.”

The opening day no-hitter was Feller’s first of three. The 1940 season was arguably his best, going 27-11, with a league leading ERA of 2.61, appearing in 43 games and starting 37 while pitching 320 innings. He finished second in the American League MVP voting, losing narrowly to the Detroit Tigers’ Hank Greenberg.

After nearly four years of military service from 1942-1945, Feller threw his second no-hitter on April 30, 1946 against the New York Yankees.  His final no-hitter was against the Tigers on July 1, 1951.

Photo: Bob Feller Museum

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