One of the greatest individual achievements as a pitcher in baseball is throwing a no-hitter or a perfect game. As the name suggests, a no-hitter involves a pitcher pitching a complete nine or more innings game without allowing the opposing team to record a hit. A perfect game is even more difficult because it involves a no-hit performance in addition to not allowing a single hitter to reach base throughout the course of a nine or more innings game.
There have been 322 no-hitters recognized by MLB as of August 19, 2023, 20 of them are recognized as combined no-hitters shared between a starter and at least one reliever. There has only been 24 recognized perfect games in MLB’s almost 150-year history.
Since perfect games are no-hitters, it’s natural to assume that one of them would be considered as the greatest no-hitter ever. Perfect games are efficient; 27 batters come up to bat, and the pitcher records 27 straight outs. They are poetry in motion, a moment in time when man becomes machine and all of a pitcher’s pitches are precise, powerful, or deceptive. They wouldn’t be called perfect games if there were any hiccups or miscues in a pitcher’s performance after all.
Professional pitchers most of the time aren’t so perfectly mechanical. Their emotions get in their way, their biomechanics can go out of sync from time to time, they can become too predictable with their pitches, weather, time of day, health and personal matters can all impact a pitcher’s performance on any given day. Despite their gaudy salaries, social following and athletic prestige, pitchers are humans too.
In addition to skill, more than a fair share of luck and solid team defense is needed for a pitcher to achieve a no-hitter.
When thinking of the greatest no-hitter in MLB history, one performance that sticks out is Jim Maloney’s no-hitter on August 19, 1965 for the Cincinnati Reds. No-hitters usually follow a similar pattern, a pitcher is dominant throughout the entire game, either striking out hitters or inducing weak and easily defendable contact. They may end up walking or hitting a few batters throughout the game, or their defense could commit an error or two in the field.
Typically, pitchers that throw no-hitters won’t face more than 30 or so batters, just a few more than the minimum 27 opponent plate appearances throughout a nine-inning game. Maloney’s workload wouldn’t be that light that day. In his no-hitter, he faced an MLB no-hitter record 40 batters.
That day, Maloney threw 187 pitches in a 10-inning complete game shutout. His catcher, three-time All-Star Johnny Edwards said, “[Maloney] walked 10 batters and every time I looked up it seemed like there was a man in scoring position.”
Maloney didn’t normally struggle with his command during that part of his career, averaging about 3.5 walks per nine innings over a six-year stretch from 1963 to 1968. However, this game was an outlier. Maloney only issued more than five walks once in his career to that point, issuing six walks in a nine-inning complete game 1-0 shutout win over the New York Mets in 1963.
“[Maloney] was so wild, I had to do everything just to block the ball,” Edwards said. “He threw 187 pitches. He was worn out after the game, and I was right there with him.”
Maloney was known as a hard throwing right-handed pitcher, especially early and in the prime of his career. His fastball was his power pitch and his number one weapon, but as he settled and became more seasoned in the major leagues, his curveball and changeups became weapons for him as well. From 1963 to 1968 Maloney struck out at least 150 batters and he struck out more than 200 during the first four of that six-year stretch.
Maloney took the mound in the first game of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The teams had to reschedule their August 18, 1965, matchup to the following day due to rain. So, at 1:15 p.m. local time, The Reds and Cubs started what would become a historic game.
The Cubs starting pitcher that game, Larry Jackson, matched Maloney’s production inning for inning, but he couldn’t have done it any differently. In his 10 innings of work, Jackson gave up nine hits, but he didn’t walk a single batter while striking out five. Jackson was extremely efficient in comparison to Maloney’s wildness.
Despite this, Maloney’s superior pitches proved that he would go down in history that afternoon. Although he issued 10 walks, hit one batter, and found himself facing at least 13 full counts to batters throughout the game, Maloney struck out 12 batters, stranded 10 runners on base and limited the Cubs to a 0 for 9 night at the plate with runners in scoring position.
Bill Ford, sportswriter for Queen City, was amazed by Maloney’s perseverance saying, “When trouble loomed — and there was plenty — he called on his resourcefulness to wriggle free.”
Maloney started the game efficiently, retiring the first six batters he faced. However, traffic began manifesting on the bases as Maloney loaded them in the third inning before retiring Cubs right fielder Billy Williams for the third out. In the fourth inning, he issued two more walks, but struck out shortstop Don Kessinger to end the inning.
Normalcy momentarily returned for Maloney as he struck out the side in the bottom of the fifth inning and then retired the side in order in both the sixth and seventh innings. In the eighth inning however, he started the inning with a leadoff walk.
After a sacrifice bunt and a flyout advanced the runner from first base to second base and then to third, Maloney and his manager Dick Sisler decided to intentionally walk the hot Williams and face the two-time National League MVP and future hall-of-famer Ernie Banks.
Maloney got the better of Banks, striking him out to finish off the eighth inning. The Reds however, the highest-scoring and overall best-hitting team in the league at that time, couldn’t muster up a single run of support for Maloney through eight innings.
In the ninth, the Reds offense didn’t have any more luck, stranding a runner in scoring position with no outs in the inning. Overall, the Reds went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position that afternoon.
So, Maloney, no-hitter still intact, found himself coming into the bottom of the ninth inning, not yet looking to finish off a no-hit performance, but simply hoping to send the game into extra innings. It wouldn’t be easy for Maloney, as he began the inning by hitting a batter and then walking the next man up at the plate. With two men on base and nobody out, Maloney found himself in yet another jam of his own creation.
Cubs second baseman Glenn Beckert helped Maloney by striking out after trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. After inducing another out via a flyball to centerfield, Maloney issued his ninth walk of the game to load the bases with two outs. Maloney’s stuff proved to save him yet again as he caused Cubs leadoff hitter Don Landrum to pop up to short for the final out of the ninth.
Dead locked at 0-0 entering the tenth, Maloney made history as the 13th solo pitcher to have a no-hitter intact through nine innings. At that time, only two men, Hooks Wiltse in 1908 and Fred Toney in 1917 went on to complete their no-hit bids in 10 innings each. Not only did 10 of those 12 prior pitchers lose their no-hitters, all but one of the 10 pitchers who lost their no-hit bids ended up losing the game as well. Many of these were heartbreaking losses, including Harvey Haddix’s infamous 13-inning loss, where he was perfect through 12-innings.
Surprisingly, Maloney was in this situation before in his career. In fact, he was the latest pitcher to lose both an extra-innings no-hit pitching performance and the game. He lost a no-hit bid a couple of months earlier on June 14, 1965, in a 1-0 loss to the New York Mets. He suffered that loss after tossing 10 no-hit innings when he surrendered a walk-off home run to begin the bottom half of the 11th inning.
“So after nine innings, I was wondering plenty,” said Maloney when asked if thoughts of achieving a no-hitter or surrendering another heartbreaking loss like the one to the Mets two months again entered his mind. “Larry Jackson was pitching just as good as I was.”
Jackson grinded his way through nine innings himself without giving up a run. He aimed to continue his dominant performance in the 10th inning, but the Reds had different ideas. After Edwards grounded out to first base to lead off the inning, Reds shortstop Leo Cardenas came to the plate.
Throughout the game, the whipping Chicago winds turned the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field into a pitcher’s paradise, causing fly balls that would normally sail into the bleachers to sputter and die at the warning track.
As Cardenas stepped to the plate, the wind finally died down and he launched a line drive to left field. Starting to curve foul, the ball had just enough area in fair territory to sneak above the yellow line in foul territory, caromed off the screen, and bounced onto the field for a home run to give the Reds and Maloney a lead.
“Cardenas homered,” said Maloney, “but it couldn’t be any closer to going foul instead of fair.”
Maloney entered the bottom of the frame, three outs away from achieving unlikely history. He issued a leadoff walk and had to face the heart of the Cubs order in Williams and Banks next. He retired Williams on a fly ball to left field for the first out and then caused Banks to hit a hard groundball to short, starting a 6-4-3 double play to end the game and secure Maloney’s place in history.
“I wasn’t real sharp today,” Maloney told Cubs TV announcer Lou Boudreau in an interview right after the game. “I made some good pitches when I had to. When I had to come in, they popped it up. I had a lot of walks.”
Exhausted and out of breath after prevailing in his 10-inning duel with Jackson, Maloney added, “Edwards told me, said in the last three innings my fastball’s sinking and tailing real good.”
Maloney became just the third pitcher in MLB history to complete an extra-innings no-hitter. Although multiple individual and combined no-hit pitching bids have gone into extra-innings since then, Maloney is the last pitcher to complete the feat.
Perfect games are rare and beautiful in Major League Baseball. For one game, the 24 pitchers who achieved the feat surpassed all human expectations and achieved perfection. However, to err is human. It’s not how we act when things go our way, but it’s how we react to difficult situations that present themselves to us that end up defining our legacies.
Jim Maloney, an extremely gifted athlete, was never less in control of his command than he was on August 19, 1965. However, strong gusts of wind, excellent defense, timely pitching and a little luck allowed Maloney to preserver. He made up for his 11-inning losing performance against the Mets two months prior and pitched his way into history.
He would go on to pitch another no-hitter for the Reds on April 30, 1969, in a 10-0 victory against the Houston Astros. Maloney pitched for 12 years in the major leagues, 11 for the Reds. Unfortunately, chronic arm and shoulder injuries limited him at times throughout his career.
His career essentially ended in 1970 after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in his left ankle while running out a ground ball. He went on to pitch 13 games for the Angels in 1971, but he retired after they released him during that offseason. Following a minor league stint with the Giants Pacific Coast League affiliate, he retired at 32.
Throughout his no-hit performance he struggled and he flourished, he faced 40 hitters and battled until the end. He threw 187 pitches over the course of ten innings and he won. He allowed hitters to reach base, but he never allowed one batter to record a hit off him, nor did he allow a single run to score while he was on the mound.
For one summer afternoon in Chicago, Jim Maloney was perfectly fine just being human. Although he wasn’t perfect, for the two hours and 51 minutes that the game took to complete, he was the greatest.
For the information in this article, the author consulted baseball-reference.com and sabr.org.