This week’s trip down memory lane begins in 1966, when the Indians ended what was then the longest gap between no-hitters in franchise history in a story captured June 11, 2016, by Bob Toth.
On June 10, 1966, Sonny Siebert etched his name permanently into the record books when he no-hit the Washington Senators at Cleveland Stadium.
His gem was the eleventh no-hitter tossed by a member of the Cleveland franchise, as he joined the likes of Bob Rhoads, Addie Joss (2), Ray Caldwell, Wes Ferrell, Bob Feller (3), Don Black, and Bob Lemon. He ended what might have felt then like a never-ending drought between hitless games – the Indians were less than a month away from the 15th anniversary of Feller’s final no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on July 1, 1951. (That nearly 15-year span is now the second longest in Indians history, as the team has not thrown a no-hitter since Len Barker’s perfect game in 1981.)
There was another story behind what was a memorable accomplishment for the third-year Tribe starter, one that Siebert shared after his historic feat on the mound in Cleveland – he promised his wife a no-hitter, just six hours prior to his start.
“I haven’t been going so good, and she’s sort of been on me, joking about my getting bombed,” he was quoted from the Indians’ dressing room in the Saturday morning, June 11, 1966, edition of The Plain Dealer. “I said – ‘Promise to get off my back – and I’ll pitch a no-hitter’.
“About the third inning, when they didn’t have any hits, I remembered that.”
Siebert wasn’t kidding about getting bombed. He had started the season well after making a pair of relief appearances to open his year and he allowed just three earned runs over four April appearances. He mixed some good with the bad in May – making seven starts, winning three, losing two, tossing a pair of complete games, and posting a 3.24 ERA. He turned in a season-high ten strikeouts (his seventh career double-digit strikeout game) in his no-decision on May 31. But while he had three starts with just one earned run allowed, he also had three short starts where he gave up four earned. Two of those three games turned into Cleveland losses.
It got worse on June 5 at Minnesota, when he pitched into the seventh inning but was shelled for seven runs on five hits with three walks and three strikeouts. Three Twins homers, including shots by Bernie Allen, Sandy Valdespino, and future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, spoiled his day. His bullpen did him no favors, as Bob Allen allowed both of his inherited runners to score on RBI singles in the seventh.
His game against the Senators got off to a much better start.
Siebert struck out Frank Howard to lead off the second and added two more strikeouts of Ed Brinkman and Ortega to wrap up the third. After that, there was no more looking at the scoreboard for the Indians starter, especially when recalling the conversation from earlier in the day with his wife, Carol Ann.
“I just concentrated on the batter and the catcher,” he said. “None of the fellows said anything to me about it. They didn’t have to the way they were going after everything.”
Chico Salmon made it 2-0 Cleveland in the bottom of the third after Vic Davalillo walked and stole second with an out in the frame. Salmon singled to center to knock in the run, but he was caught between first and second and retired for the second out.
Siebert retired his 13th straight batter to start the game when he got the dangerous Howard to fly to center for the first out of the fifth inning. Any shot at perfection, however, died when he issued a walk to Dick Nen. The runner would stay put at first base, as Siebert struck out Don Lock and got Paul Casanova to ground to second to end the inning.
The Indians right-hander struck out Brinkman in the sixth and got Jim King on strikes in the seventh as he pressed on with just one over the minimum faced.
In the eighth, the Senators nearly got that elusive first hit. But as seems to be the case in so many no-hitters, there is that one defensive contribution that saves the day and Max Alvis, Cleveland third baseman, may have had it on a hot shot liner from Lock for the inning’s second out.
“You call that kind ‘do or die’,” said Alvis after the game. “And if I didn’t, Sonny probably would have died.”
The Senators did manage a second base runner for the game with two outs in the same frame, as Casanova reached on an error at shortstop by Salmon, the club’s backup. Again, with a runner on base, Siebert allowed him to move no further, striking out Bob Chance to end the inning.
“I was trying to make too sure on the play,” said Salmon post-game. “Was I getting nervous? Just a little in the last inning. I had to play in a little close with two fast men up. I didn’t want them to beat out an infield hit.
“So I was thinking. Wouldn’t it be awful if they get one through that I could field if I’m playing back.”
The pitcher Ortega was due up first in the ninth, but was lifted for pinch-hitter Fred Valentine, who grounded to second for the first out. Leadoff man Don Blasingame stepped in and grounded to first baseman Fred Whitfield, who converted to Siebert at first for the second out. With one out remaining, Siebert got a fly to left from Bob Saverine and he had his place in the history books.
“I figured that Don Blasingame and Saverine would be tougher than the big swingers,” Seibert shared. “I thought they’d get wood on the ball.”
Said Carol Ann, who watched the game in the stands with their two children and next to the wife of pitcher Gary Bell, of the final batter Saverine, “We had that last batter struck out at least twice.”
After the game, legendary Indians pitcher and the club’s pitching coach, Early Wynn, was asked his thoughts on the game.
“Not bad,” he said with a grin. “There are a couple of things I want to work on with Sonny tomorrow.”
Siebert’s catcher, Joe Azcue, noted that his battery mate “threw mostly sliders and fastballs” and when asked about the pitch taken by Saverine with two down in the ninth, he said “too close to take” with a smile.
The no-hitter may have erased some of the bad taste in the Indians’ mouths about the last no-hitter in baseball before Siebert’s effort. The Tribe had been the victims of Boston’s Dave Morehead in his no-hit effort on September 16, 1965.
Siebert’s no-no was the only one of the 1966 season. He finished the year 16-8 for the second straight year with a 2.80 ERA and he made his first career All-Star appearance that season. He did not throw another shutout that year, but he did register eight more complete games.
Siebert remained with the Indians through two starts of the 1969 season, when he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox with catcher Azcue and pitcher Vicente Romo for Dick Ellsworth, Ken Harrelson, and Juan Pizarro. He became an All-Star again in 1971 with Boston and spent the final three seasons of his career from 1973 to 1975 bouncing around with five organizations, including the Red Sox, the Texas Rangers, the St. Louis Cardinals, the San Diego Padres, and the Oakland Athletics.
The Indians were no-hit again the following season by the Minnesota Twins and Dean Chance, 2-1. They did not throw another no-hitter of their own for more than eight years, when Dick Bosman threw his near-perfect game against the Athletics on July 19, 1974.
Photo: Plain Dealer (Marvin M. Greene)