How to Pitch a No-Hitter…and Lose

On a warm muggy night in late April 1964, 5,426 baseball fans sat in Colt Stadium to watch the Houston Colt .45’s play the Cincinnati Reds. Ken Johnson was the starting pitcher for the Colts. Little did he know as he was toeing the rubber to make his first pitch of the ball game he would pitch a complete game that evening, not allow a hit, but would lose the game 1-0.

The game was scoreless through 8 innings. And the Reds were hitless. With one out in the 9th inning, Pete Rose bunted and Ken Johnson fielded the ball throwing wildly to first base allowing Rose to go all the way to 2nd base. “I knew Rose was fast and I was going to have to throw quick and I had three fingers wrapped around the ball but no time to change the grip. A halfway decent throw and I had him” said Johnson after the game. Chico Ruiz then hit a ball right back to the mound that hit Johnson in the leg and bounced straight to his third baseman Bob Aspromonte who threw out Ruiz. Rose advanced to third base. So with two outs Ken just needed to coax an out from Vada Pinson to get the no-hit victory. Pinson hit a routine grounder to second baseman Nellie Fox. But Fox bobbled the ball and by the time he recovered his throw was too late to get the speedy Pinson, and Pete Rose scored on the error. Johnson later told a dis-heartened Fox, “It was my fault. I put the runner on or we’d been out of the inning”. Thus the Reds took a 1-0 lead on the unearned run, without the benefit of getting a hit off Johnson. Ken retired Frank Robinson on a fly ball to end the Reds half of the 9th inning. The Colts were unable to rally for a run in the bottom of the 9th and Ken Johnson became the first pitcher in baseball history to pitch a nine inning no-hitter and lose the game. Johnson commented after the game “Say, I guess that will put me in baseball history? What a way to get in the book.” Click here to listen to the live broadcast of the final out of the game.

Ken Johnson had a decent major league pitching career. Although his total won loss record was 91-106, his career ERA was 3.46. Johnson was a major factor in the 1961 Cincinnati Reds successful pennant drive. Joining the Reds in July of that year, Ken went 6-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 15 games down the stretch helping the Reds win the pennant. Johnson threw a fastball, curve, slider and change-up. But it was his knuckle ball that gave opposing batters fits (and catchers too). Pitcher Jim Brosnan, a former teammate and roommate of Ken’s in 1961 had this to say about Ken not long after he joined the Reds. “Johnson warmed up. He looked fairly fast, had a fair slider, and sweated a lot. Wiping his face with his shirt sleeve he signaled Zimmerman that he would like to throw a knuckle ball. I can see why they got him now, I said to Henry. That’s a hell of a bug! A good knuckle ball is a pesky pitch to catch, and Zimmerman had trouble stopping it in the bullpen. Johnson took it to the mound, where the Giants had just as much trouble hitting it.”

The above quote was taken from Jim Brosnan’s book “Pennant Race”, a book I highly recommend!

Ken Johnson must of had his pesky knuckle ball that fateful night on April 23, 1964 when he no-hit the Reds. But Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds were just a little peskier that evening.

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By the way, I first learned about Ken Johnson losing his no-hitter when I saw it on the back of one of his old baseball cards. Some of those old cards have some cool cartoons and facts about the players on the back of the cards! If you are interested in looking at or purchasing some vintage baseball cards, please checkout my e-store A Home Plate. I add old baseball cards daily!

“The Say Hey Kid”, Willie Mays

In 1965 my family moved from Indianapolis, Indiana to San Francisco, California. I was seven years old. My Dad started taking me to San Francisco Giants games at Candlestick Park not long after our family settled into our new home. I still remember the first time we walked into Candlestick Park. The grass was so green and the playing field was huge. I had never been to a big league ball park and this would be my first major league ball game.

It was at this point in my life I became a huge Willie Mays fan. My Dad told me all about Mays. By 1965 Willie was a super star, and had been for many years. Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Batting Champion, Home Run Champion, Mays had done it all. In fact, in 1965 Willie Mays hit a career high 52 home runs and won his second MVP award. But the thing I remember most about Willie was the way he played center field. His mad dashes in all directions to snag fly balls and line drives, his leaping catches over the fence to rob hitters of home runs, and his famous basket catches. Willie always seemed to be in motion. Hustling this way and that. With every ball that was hit to the outfield, there was Mays running to make the grab.

After watching Willie’s amazing defensive feats I decided that when I played baseball I wanted to be a center fielder, just like Mays. So when I joined the San Francisco Bay Area Cub Scouts I quickly tried out for the baseball team and became the starting center fielder. My favorite part of those Cub Scout games was running as fast as I could to try to catch any ball hit in my direction. There is nothing like that youthful feeling you get when running in the lush green grass and jumping and sliding to catch a line drive. With the help of my Dad I gladly practiced my defensive skills constantly. My inspiration to play baseball was instilled by my father, and later because of Willie Mays.

I continued to play baseball till my junior year in high school. By then I was becoming more interested in other things, plus most of the guys on the team were twice my size and could hit the ball twice as far as I could. And I didn’t like sitting on the bench. But I remained a big baseball fan, and to this day Willie Mays is still my favorite baseball player.

Much has been written about Willie Mays, but unless you actually saw him play a baseball game it is hard to describe the excitement Willie introduced to the game. His speed in the outfield and on base paths is legendary, and being able to watch him play baseball in person was a great thrill for me. I was lucky to be able to watch Willie Mays play baseball at Candlestick Park from 1965 to 1971. I owe that to my Dad. To this day I have never seen a professional baseball player match Mays in pure excitement on a ball field. Maybe it was Willie’s enthusiasm for the game. He hustled on every play. Mays really seemed to enjoy playing every game, which is more than I can say for many of today’s rich and coddled ball players. I wonder how many highlight reels are out there that could be put together to do a film showing Willie Mays playing the game? Not a film about Willie’s life, but an action documentary of his extraordinary playing days. Below is something that was cobbled together and put on YouTube. It includes some action highlights of Willie. But perhaps someone should really take the time to do an extensive action film on the greatest and most exciting baseball player to ever put on a major league uniform…Willie Mays!

Here are some great Life Magazine photographs of Willie Mays:

Willie Mays1954

Willie Mays 1954


Willie Mays 1954 Ditching

Willie Mays 1954 Ditching


Willie Mays 1954 Dugout

Willie Mays 1954 Dugout


Willie Mays 1962

Willie Mays 1962

1971 Strat-O-Matic Baseball Replay Update:

May 14, 1971 – The San Francisco Giants defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers last night 3-2 at Candlestick Park. Willie McCovey hit a walk off solo home run in the bottom of the 12th inning to send the Giants to their third straight victory. Rich Robertson gained his first win of the season by pitching one inning of scoreless relief. Jose Pena was the losing pitcher for the Dodgers. This pitching duel included ten pitchers, five pitchers for each team. The Giants and Dodgers now hook up for two more games in the series. Here are the current standing for my Start-O-Matic baseball replay of the San Francisco Giants 1971 season:

1971 Giants SOM Standings May14

1971 Giants SOM Standings May14

And here are the current Giants batting and pitching statistics:

1971 SF Giants Hitting Stats May 14

1971 SF Giants Hitting Stats May 14


1971 SF Giants Pitching Stats May 14

1971 SF Giants Pitching Stats May 14

I still have some Strat-O-Matic baseball cards for sale in my e-store. Also, I’m still looking for a 1971 SOM Ike Brown of the Tigers, if you want to trade.

Vintage Baseball Card Of The Week:

Willie Mays of course! Below is one of my favorite Willie Mays baseball cards. It’s from the 1962 Topps set. 1962 is the year the Giants won the National League pennant and then lost to the Yankees in the World Series. This was the Series that featured a dramatic ending in Game 7. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and Willie Mays on second base representing the winning run and a World Series victory for San Francisco, Willie McCovey hit a screeching line drive to Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the threat, and thus ended the World Series:

1962 Topps Willie Mays

1962 Topps Willie Mays


1962 Topps Willie Mays (Back)

1962 Topps Willie Mays (Back)

And here is one of my favorite baseball cards, from the 1964 Topps set, showing two of the best baseball players ever, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron:

1964 Topps Mays & Aaron

1964 Topps Mays & Aaron


1964 Topps Mays & Aaron (Back)

1964 Topps Mays & Aaron (Back)

If interested, I have many vintage baseball cards for sale in my e-store and on eBay.

On This Day In 1953:

The Milwaukee Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers were tied for first place in the National League. The Dodgers would end the season 105-49, 13 games ahead of the second place Braves. But Brooklyn would go on to lose to the New York Yankees 4-2 in the 1953 World Series.

Speaking of 1953. Below is an 8mm home movie recorded in the Fall of 1953, in New York City. I digitized the film and added some music. I like all the cool neon signs:

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“And Batting Eighth, The Starting Pitcher…”

“Batting eighth Atlanta pitcher Tim Hudson, and batting ninth, outfielder Nate McLouth.” Sound kind of crazy? Well, maybe not. Atlanta Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez today said he is considering hitting his pitchers in the eighth spot of the lineup to try to spark the beleaguered Braves offense. “Moving things around,” Gonzalez said. “Trying to do something to create some runs. Nothing crazy.”

Maybe Fredi is right. St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has had some success hitting the pitcher in the eighth spot. It’s almost like having two lead off hitters setting the table for the heart of the lineup. Or maybe Fredi is just trying to get into the heads of some of his hitters. I mean, what hitter really wants to see his name put in the ninth spot of the lineup card!?

The Braves team is currently batting a cool .241 on the season. Not the worst in baseball, but at the rate the Philadelphia Phillies are currently winning games it appears the Braves best chance of getting into the playoffs this year is via the Wild Card. Which means the Braves need to score more runs. Right now, Atlanta’s pitching staff is allowing about three runs a game. So if the Braves could average four runs per game, in theory, they should win quite a few ball games. Unfortunately for Atlanta’s offense, they are not averaging four runs per game. Maybe the Braves could convince Hank Aaron to suit up for the remainder of the season. Henry was an RBI “machine” during his hey day. Imagine how many runs per game the Braves would score if “Hammerin Hank” Aaron were in the lineup!

Watch Hank Aaron on the Late Show with David Letterman:

1971 Strat-O-Matic Baseball Replay Update:

The San Francisco Giants blast 3 home runs to beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-4! Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Bobby Bonds go deep and Gaylord Perry notches his 4th win of the season to push the streaking Giants to 23-11, the best record in baseball through the first 34 games of the 1971 season. The Los Angeles Dodgers are 6 games back of the Giants in the NL West and the Giants and Dodgers begin a 3 game series tonight at Candlestick Park. Here are the current 1971 standings for my San Francisco Giants Strat-O-Matic baseball replay, games ending May 12, 1971:

Current 1971 standings for my San Francisco Giants Strat-O-Matic baseball replay, games ending May 12, 1971

And here are the current San Francisco Giants hitter and pitcher statistics:


By the way, I have some 1971 Strat-O-Matic baseball cards for sale in my e-store, if anyone is interested. And, I am still looking for that elusive 1971 Strat-O-Matic Ike Brown card (Detroit Tigers), in case someone wants to make a trade.

Vintage Baseball Card Of The Week:

The 1956 Topps Hank Aaron card. Fifty-nine years ago this week (1952) Boston Braves scout Dewey Griggs signed Hank Aaron to a contract. The rest is history:


On This Day In 1960:

Ted Williams hit his 500th HR:

1954, 1957 & 1958 Topps Ted Williams Cards

Speaking of Ted Williams, check out this 1958 Topps card I found of “Teddy Ballgame” with Ted Kluszewski. It looks like “The Klu” either had his shoulder air-brushed by Topps to make it look bigger, or Kluszewski was using steroids:

Compare that 1958 image of Kluszewski (above) with this cool 1957 Topps picture (below). His shoulders still look big, but could they have grown so much in one year!?

Jerry Coker – Owner of A Home Plate
Email: obcbeate@yahoo.com
A Home Plate Website: http://ahomeplate.com/
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Good Pitching Always Beats Good Hitting…Maybe?

Whether it was Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra or Bob Veale who first coined the phrase “good pitching always beats good hitting”, one thing I know for sure is that once a “good” pitcher finds his groove, hitters start walking back to the dugout with their heads down. And that has been happening a lot to hitters facing the Atlanta Braves pitching staff this year.

Through the first 65 games of the 2011 MLB season the Atlanta Braves are ranked 23rd out of 30 in team batting average, hitting a humble .244. The Braves have scored 254 runs so far this year. In contrast the Boston Red Sox have scored 336 runs and are batting .274. So one might think that the “Bravos” are near the cellar in their division.

Not so! Atlanta’s pitching staff is currently ranked number one in team ERA, giving up a stingy 2.99 runs per game. The Braves not only have a strong starting rotation but they also have a formidable bullpen that includes Johnny Venters who currently has an amazing 0.45 ERA. Not bad considering Venters has pitched in over half the Braves games so far this year! Johnny Venters recent success sparked Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker to comment, “He’s a nasty man”. “The game plan is to have the lead when he might be in the game”. Not a bad game plan since Johnny’s “drop off the table” sinker ball makes batters walk away shaking their heads. I think I can hear them saying “how am I supposed to hit that pitch?”

So how does all this translate to the success of the Atlanta Braves so far this season? Well, the Braves are currently 37-28 and just 2 games behind the first place Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Eastern Division. That’s pretty good considering the Phillies are acknowledged as one of the best teams in baseball and the odds on favorite to win the NL East again this year because of their remarkable starting pitching. But the Braves pitching has been good too and that has enabled them to stay in the race despite their current hitting woes.

Earlier this week the Braves played a game against the Florida Marlins, defeating the Marlins 1-0. The Braves managed only 2 hits in 9 innings off Marlins pitching. But one of those hits was a solo home run by Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez which was good enough to win the game. That particular baseball game pretty much sums up the Braves season so far. Atlanta gets a ton of good pitching but only a smidgen of hitting. So far that has been just enough to win ball games. Once Dan Uggla and the rest of the Braves hitters get some of that magic fairy dust sprinkled on their bats, Atlanta could be a team to reckon with come September. Unless the injury bug decides to bite.

Player Of The Week

Goes to Atlanta Braves center fielder Jordan Schafer who has helped ignite the Braves offense by getting to first base, stealing 5 bases and scoring 5 runs. May not sound like much but Schafer has provided the spark that the Braves have lacked all season. A speedy lead off hitter who can steal 2nd base and get into scoring position in front of Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. And given Atlanta’s recent offensive woes, 5 runs and 5 stolen bases in one week is big news!

Vintage Baseball Card Of The Week

I was recently inspired by an article written by Jim Caple called “Modern spin on baseball card cartoons”. After reading the article I starting going through some of my old baseball cards and reading the cartoons on the back. One of the first cards I looked at immediately caught my interest, the 1954 Topps Ted Kluszewski card. The cartoon on the back of Ted’s card had an odd fact about “The Klu” that took me completely by surprise. If you read the three-paned cartoon strip called “Inside Baseball” on the back of Ted’s card, it states:

Back of 1954 Topps Ted Kluszewski baseball card

Back of 1954 Topps Ted Kluszewski baseball card

“To improve his 1951 BA, Ted’s wife took movies of his swing. At home Ted studied the films and found what mistakes he made. The next year ‘Klu’ not only corrected those mistakes but jumped his average from .259 to .320!”. Not only is that an impressive improvement for Kluszewski’s BA, but what is equally impressive is that Ted’s wife filmed her husband in the early 1950’s probably using either an 8mm or 16mm movie camera. Families often used 8mm home movie cameras during this period to film their children on holidays or film their vacation. Possibly Ted and his wife borrowed a 16mm movie camera from the Reds organization so they could film his swing. I’m not sure when MLB teams started using film to help their players, but this could be an early example. And perhaps “The Klu” was already grooming himself for becoming a successful hitting coach, as he would prove to be for “The Big Red Machine”, i.e., the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s. Big kudos to Ted’s wife for doing the filming. I wonder if that film still exists! By the way, occasionally I try to digitize 8mm home movies using the “poor mans” method of film transfer (record film using a cheap camcorder). In case you’re interested, here’s one of my efforts:

Also, I collect and sell old 8mm home movies on eBay (my eBay ID is cokerobc) and in my e-store.

On This Day In 1951

The Cincinnati Reds were defeated by the New York Giants 5-3 at Crosley Field. The Reds starting pitcher Ken Raffensberger pitched a complete 10 inning game, and lost. Ted Kluszewski went 1 for 5 and scored a run. The Giants would go on to win the NL Pennant on Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world”, off Ralph Branca.

Front of 1954 Topps Ted Kluszewski front of card

1954 Topps Ted Kluszewski baseball card.

1971 Strat-O-Matic Baseball Replay Update

I had about an hour to spare over the weekend so I rolled another game of Strat-O-Matic baseball. As I mentioned in a previous post I am replaying the 1971 San Francisco Giants season using my old Strat-O-Matic baseball game (cards and dice). It is a very slow process🙂 I’ve now played through May 11, 1971. The Giants defeated the Cincinnati Reds 8-2 in my May 11th simulated game. Juan Marichal got the win pitching a complete game. Marichal is now 4-2 with an ERA of 4.58 in 8 games started. Juan also doubled to score a run in the 4th inning and singled to drive in 2 runs in the 7th inning! Of course both of Marichal’s hits were off Reds pitcher Jim Merritt’s card🙂 The Giants now play one more game with the Reds before the Los Angeles Dodgers visit Candlestick Park for a 3 game weekend series against the Giants. This will be the first meeting of the year between the SF Giants and their arch rival LA Dodgers. During the 1971 MLB season the Giants beat out the Dodgers by 1 game to win the National League Western Division title (it went down to the final game of the season). I hope I can do the same in my simulation. And then I hope I can beat the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the National League pennant! By the way, I failed to mention in my previous post that Gaylord Perry pitched a no hitter for me in my April 12, 1971 simulation game between the Giants and the San Diego Padres. That was the first no hitter I’ve ever rolled since I started playing Strat-O-Matic baseball when I was a kid! Also, I found some more duplicate 1971 Strat-O-Matic baseball cards in a box with some of my old APBA baseball cards. Most of the 1971 Strat-O-Matic cards I found are the extra cards you had to purchase from Start-O-Matic to add 4 more players per team. If interested, I’m selling these extra cards in my e-store. I’m also still interested in trading for a 1971 Strat-O-Matic Ike Brown card (Detroit Tigers). Ike is the only player I am missing to complete my 1971 Strat-O-Matic baseball card set. Thanks!

Friday Night At The Movies

I enjoy watching movies on Friday night. It feels great to be able to relax and forget my worries after a long week at work. And movies provide a getaway for me. Even if it is only for a few hours. Sometimes I like to watch old movies from the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps because that was the era when I was growing up. When I see the old movie sets from that period it reminds me of “the good old days”. Maybe those days were not all so good, but in my eyes they were🙂 There is something cool about seeing all the “vintage” cars, furniture, clothing, etc. And there is a lot of cigarette smoking and liquor drinking in those old movies that reminds me of my youth, when I could get away with such indulgences. I miss youth🙂

So last Friday night I watched a John Huston movie from 1957 called “Heaven Knows Mr. Allison” starring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. I’ve always liked this movie because the story seems rather plausible and Mitchum and Kerr do a great job of acting. It is so nice to watch a movie that has a good script. The story is about a U.S. Marine and a nun that are deserted on an island in the South Pacific during WW2. The island becomes occupied by the Japanese. There is romance in the air, action and suspense, and a “deserted on a tropical island” kind of vibe going on in this movie. By the way, you don’t have to be a Robert Mitchum or Deborah Kerr fan to enjoy this movie, although they really have good chemistry in this flick. But the story carries the movie throughout.

So…seeing how it is Friday night, I need to start searching for another good movie to watch. Hmmm….am I in the mood for a Comedy or Tragedy tonight?

Vin Scully…What A Joy!

I spent part of my afternoon today listening to Vin Scully broadcast the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game against the Florida Marlins on MLB.com. What a joy it is to listen to Scully announce a baseball game! I spend many hours each year listening to the stuffy airbag announcers who currently work for MLB teams up and down the east coast. Compared to them, Vin Scully is a breath of fresh air. I guess it helps that Vin has over 60 years of broadcasting experience and has seen a lot of baseball games. And I believe that is what makes him so enjoyable to listen to. At 80+ years old Vin has seen it all. And you an tell he still loves baseball and is prepared for each game. Scully talks effortlessly during the game, weaving in stories from baseballs past, interjecting personal tidbits about players that are not necessarily superstars and describing what is happening in the game without personal bias. For instance, today Scully mentioned that a veteran catcher had recently told him that the reason San Francisco Giants star catcher Buster Posey was injured so badly in a collision at home plate earlier in the week was because Posey did not position his feet correctly while trying to block the plate. Specifically, Posey’s knee was on the ground when he was trying to make a tag on the runner at the plate, as opposed to being on both feet in a crouch. Now I don’t know if the veteran catcher who told this to Scully made an accurate assessment of the Posey collision or not, but I do know that Vin Scully proceeded to tell two wonderful stories about other catchers he had watched during his broadcasting career that had similar collision experiences. The first story was about how Brooklyn Dodger catcher Roy Campanella once eluded a collision with New York Yankee runner Billy Martin by moving aside “like a matador” at the very last minute tagging Martin on the top of the head. Martin was called out at the plate. And Billy Martin, always the fighter, was furious. However, Scully said Roy Campanella just “shrugged his shoulders” at Martin. The other story Vin told was how Los Angeles Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro had a habit of crouching very low on both feet when a runner was bearing down on him at the plate, and then quickly jumping up, causing the runner to flip over Roseboro’s back. Now perhaps the reason for Posey’s injury was more complicated than just the positioning of his feet, but the great thing about Scully’s observations were that they captured two instances in baseball’s past, the famous Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950’s (The Boys of Summer) and the pitching powerhouse LA Dodgers of the 1960’s (Johnny Roseboro was Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale’s catcher). Unfortunately, there are not many baseball announcers left that can relay this kind of “history of the game” to the younger generation of baseball fans. Vin Scully is still an amazing baseball announcer and one of the last of his kind. I have heard some people say that Scully talks too much during a broadcast. And I can understand how they might feel that way as I was a big Skip Carey fan when he was broadcasting for the Atlanta Braves. Skip was witty, had a dry sense of humor and knew how to use brief seconds of silence so the listener could just listen to what was happening in the ballpark. But at least Scully doesn’t get personal and babble on about meaningless things during game, unlike many of the reality show type baseball broadcasters I’ve heard the past few years! Maybe I’m just showing my age🙂 I can’t believe I’m going to say this, as I am a lifelong San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves fan, but, do yourself a favor and listen to a Dodgers home game this year. You won’t regret it! I hope Vin Scully can continue to broadcast baseball games for another 20 years!