Although they’ve increased in frequency recently, no-hitters remain one of baseball’s rarest occurrences. And what’s even rarer is when a pitcher turns a no-go in the twilight of his career. We marvel when we see a pitcher do the unbelievable at the end of his season, knowing we are witnessing something that doesn’t happen often.
There have been seven pitchers in AL/NL history who have thrown a no-hitter aged 37 or older. Here’s a look at the 10 no-hitters that resulted, in descending order of the pitcher’s age at the time of the pitch:
1) Nolan Ryan, Rangers – 44 years, 90 days on May 1, 1991 v Blue Jays
Appropriately, the man with the most no-hitters in AL/NL history also holds the record for the oldest pitcher to throw a no-no. The Ryan Express went full throttle that day in Arlington against the Blue Jays, who had arguably the best lineup in baseball at the time. Not only did Ryan throw his seventh and final no-hitter — he threw one of his best games ever, walking two and hitting 16 on 122 pitches for a game score of 101.
It was the seventh no-hitter in Ryan’s illustrious career, as well as his second no-no in as many seasons – he broke his own record for the oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter, having done so at the age of 43 years and 131 days had done this past June. Coincidentally, Ryan threw this no-hitter on the same day that Rickey Henderson eclipsed Lou Brock for the all-time stolen base crown by stealing his 939th bag.
2) Nolan Ryan, Rangers – 43 years, 131 days on June 11, 1990 vs. Athletics
Ryan made his second start since missing almost three weeks with a sore back, and it came against an Oakland lineup that had hit Ryan hard in his previous start at Arlington. But this time, despite back pain, he would be unbeatable throughout the competition.
Ryan batted 14 and walked two, throwing 130 pitches — 83 for strikes. The last out was a pop out in foul ground along Willie Randolph’s right field line. When right fielder Ruben Sierra squeezed the final out of Ryan’s sixth no-hitter, Ryan broke Cy Young’s 82-year-old record for oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter. It was also Ryan’s first no-hitter in almost nine years. He threw a no-no for the Astros against the Dodgers on September 26, 1981, and his four previous no-hitters came with the Angels.
3) Cy Young, Red Sox – 41 years, 93 days on June 30, 1908 vs. New York Highlanders
Young threw three no-hitters in his legendary career, and the third came that day at Hilltop Park, where the Highlanders played before moving to the Polo Grounds and becoming the Yankees a few years later. Young led his Red Sox to an 8-0 win by going one, batting two and facing at least 27 batters. It was the 468th of his record wins of 511 and the second no-no with Boston after throwing the first of his career in 1897 while fielding for the Cleveland Spiders.
4) Randy Johnson, D-Backs – 40 years, 251 days on May 18, 2004 vs. Braves
The Big Unit may not be the oldest pitcher to throw a no-hitter, but he is the oldest in AL/NL history to throw a perfect play. Johnson already had one no-hitter on his résumé, having been with the Mariners since 1990. But 14 years later, he overwhelmed the Braves at Turner Field for one of the greatest single-game pitching feats of all time.
Johnson was a hard-throwing but wild left-hander when he threw his first no-no. But at the time of his perfect game, he was a five-time Cy Young Award winner, throwing up a nearly unbeatable three-digit fastball and a devastating slider for the D-backs every five days. In his 2004 masterpiece against Atlanta, he hit 13 from 117 fields for the 17th perfect game in AL/NL history.
5) Warren Spahn, Braves – 40 years, five days on April 28, 1961 vs. Giants
The Braves (then in Milwaukee) scored a run in the first on a Hank Aaron RBI single, and that would be enough to beat the Giants that day because to Spahn, age was just a number. The legendary left-hander walked two and hit five, including Willie Mays twice, for his second career no-hitter and second in as many seasons. In fact, it was his second no-no in six starts – the previous one coming on September 16, 1960 against the Phillies at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. The second no-hitter also lowered his season ERA to 0.96 in three starts.
“That’s ridiculous. A guy my age shouldn’t throw no-hitters,” said Spahn after the game. “…Here I am hitting 15 years in the National League and not getting a no-hitter. Then, bingo, I have two. How do you imagine that?”
6) Sal Maglie, Dodgers – 39 years, 152 days on September 25, 1956 vs. Phillies
Seeing Maglie in a Dodgers uniform had to be an odd sight after spending the first six and a half seasons of his career on the other side of the historic Dodgers-Giants rivalry in New York. But Cleveland sold Brooklyn an aging Maglie in May 1956, and here he is wearing Dodger blue. While the Dodgers initially didn’t want Maglie on the starting rotation, his three-hit shutout by the Braves in Milwaukee during a spot start the next month changed that.
Although he only played 47 games for Brooklyn before retiring from the Yankees and Cardinals, Maglie was brilliant in his short stint as a Dodger. There was no better example of this than his no-hitter against the Phillies at Ebbets Field on September 25, 1956 – walking two and batting three. On the radio, legendary Vin Scully said Maglie “repaid all the heartache and sorrow he brought to the borough of Brooklyn” with the performance. Maglie played a big part in helping the Dodgers win the pennant before making two starts with a 2.65 ERA in the World Series that fall against the Yankees.
7) Warren Spahn, Braves – 39 years, 146 days on September 16, 1960 vs. Phillies
Spahn’s first no-hitter came just six starts short of his second. And it was a dominant performance – the left-hander went two and hit 15 in a masterpiece against Philadelphia at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. He had more hits than the Phillies that night, leading the fifth inning and scoring the Braves’ first run to a 4-0 win. Spahn also worked so quickly with the Phillies that the game only lasted two hours and two minutes.
The win was Spahn’s 20th of the season and gave him his 11th 20-win season of his illustrious career (he finished at 12 and won 21 in 1961).
8) Dennis Martinez, Expos – 37 years, 75 days on July 28, 1991 vs. Dodgers
“El Presidente, el perfecto!” was the famous call from longtime Expos play-by-play broadcaster Dave Van Horne after Martinez secured the final of the 13th perfect game in AL/NL history. In doing so, Martinez became the first pitcher born outside of the United States to throw a perfect game.
It was a long and hard road for Martinez to reach this moment of glory – he battled alcoholism and shoulder problems for years before finding his form in Montreal. That 1991 season was the best of his 23-year MLB career — he posted an MLB best 2.39 ERA in 31 starts and finished fifth in picking for the NL Cy Young Award.
The perfect game came against the Dodgers on a sun-drenched day in Los Angeles. Martinez was extremely efficient, needing only 96 pitches to retire and hit five of the 27 Dodgers he faced.
9) Cy Young, Boston American – 37 years, 37 days on May 5, 1904 vs. Athletics
It’s hard to believe that Young, the pitcher’s gold standard — he literally has his name on the trophy for the best pitcher in every league every year — didn’t have a no-hitter until the age of 37. But that’s the nature of no-no — even some of the greatest of all time have never thrown one.
That day, Young not only threw a no-hitter, but a perfect game against the Philadelphia A’s at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, site of the first modern World Series the previous fall. He struck eight and brought his season ERA down to 1.54. That year, he led the majors in shutouts (10), WHIP (.94), and walks per nine innings (.7), and also recorded 26 of his record wins from 511 careers.
10) Bob Keegan, White Sox – 37 years, 16 days on August 20, 1957 vs. Senators
Keegan only played six seasons with the majors, but his name is in the record books for what he did on August 20, 1957 in the second game of a doubleheader between the White Sox and the Senators at Comiskey Park. The right-hander walked two batters as the only blemish on his line for the day and crossed out one.
Keegan credited his success that day to a new pitching delivery, which he also put in a run with a single in the sixth inning. The 22,815 in attendance on Chicago’s South Side saw Keegan efficiently cleave Washington’s lineup, resulting in a 1-hour, 55-minute contest, despite Chicago scoring six runs.