Pitching a complete-game shutout in the major leagues is a difficult task, but it has been done thousands of times in baseball history. Pitching a complete-game shutout while allowing 10 or more hits is a daunting task, but it has been done at least 260 times.1
Pitching a complete-game shutout while giving up 10 or more hits and not walking or striking out a single batter is the rarest of all baseball feats. It has been done exactly once. Such was the accomplishment of Charlie Case, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a game against the Chicago Cubs on August 1, 1904. Case’s pitching line for the game: 9 innings pitched, 11 hits, 0 runs, 0 earned runs, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts.
The name Charlie Case was not familiar even to many baseball fans of the time. Case pitched in only 54 games over parts of four seasons with the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. While he compiled a respectable 23-19 record and a 2.93 ERA in the majors, he spent most of his 14-year professional career in the minor leagues. He had a three-game tryout with the Reds in 1901, but Cincinnati did not sign him to a contract. After three years in the minor leagues, he was summoned back to the majors from Springfield of the Three-I League by the Pirates in July 1904. The Pirates needed pitching help after ace right-hander Deacon Phillippe was stricken by an illness that affected his eyes and rendered him unable to pitch for several weeks.2
The Pirates were a very good team, anchored by the great shortstop Honus Wagner. They had won the National League pennant in 1901, ’02, and ’03 and played in the first modern World Series, in 1903, losing to Cy Young’s Boston Americans. In August 1904, however, in part due to pitching woes and other key injuries to left fielder-manager Fred Clarke and right fielder Jimmy Sebring, they were in fourth place, 12 games behind Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants. So desperate for outfield help were the Pirates that Ernie Diehl, an amateur player and businessman from Cincinnati, was brought in to play right field.
After his call-up, Case pitched well for the Pirates and came into the August 1 game against the Cubs with a 3-0 record in four starts. The Cubs, in second place and 2½ games ahead of the Pirates in the standings, featured future Hall of Famers Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, in just their second year as the double-play combination immortalized in the Franklin Pierce Adams poem of 1910.3 Evers was not in the starting lineup on this day, however, being given the day off by Cubs manager Frank Selee, his place taken by Otto Williams. Case’s mound opponent was Herbert “Buttons” Briggs, who was in the midst of his finest major-league season. He would finish the season 19-11 with a 2.05 ERA. Buttons was given his colorful nickname by teammates when he first joined the Chicago team and walked into the locker room wearing a long gray robe with huge pearly white buttons down the front.4
A shutout looked like the last thing on the docket when Cubs leadoff batter Jimmy Slagle opened the top of the first by smacking a triple to right, the first of four hits Slagle would have in the game. Doc Casey then hit a hard shot to third baseman Tommy Leach, who snagged the ball and trapped Slagle in a rundown. After Chance was hit by a pitch, cleanup hitter Jack McCarthy bounced to Wagner, who touched second and fired to first for a double play. The threat was over. Briggs worked out of trouble for the Cubs in the first as well; after Leach singled, stole a base, and moved to third on an infield out, Buttons struck out Otto Kreuger and Wagner.
Defense became the theme of the ballgame. With runners on base in nearly every inning, the Pirates made big plays time and again, while the Cubs were guilty of several costly miscues. In the third inning, Briggs lofted a pop fly near the stands down the third-base line. Third baseman Leach caught it leaning into the stands and was “given a rousing ovation.”5 Wagner started another double play later in the game. Center fielder Ginger Beaumont made a great stab of a hit by Chance in the eighth inning, holding him to a double. Case then worked out of the inning, stranding Chance at third. In all, the Cubs reached third base four times in the game without scoring.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were throwing the ball around wildly, and the Pirates took advantage. With one out in the third inning. Leach singled. Beaumont then hit a slow roller that was fielded by second baseman Williams, who threw to Chance at first too late to get the speedy Beaumont. Leach charged around second and headed for third on the play. Attempting to get Leach, Chance fired wildly over the head of Casey at third, allowing Leach to score the first run of the game and advancing Beaumont to second. With Kreuger at bat, Beaumont stole third, and when catcher Jack O’Neill’s wild throw went into the outfield, Beaumont scored.
More mishaps awaited the Cubs in the fifth. Beaumont hit what should have been a single to right, but Shad Barry got his feet tangled and fell as the ball rolled past him. Beaumont scampered around to third for a tainted triple. After Kreuger popped out, Wagner scored Beaumont with a Texas League blooper to right. On the next pitch Wagner broke for second, and when catcher O’Neill’s throw went into center field, Wagner got up and moved to third. From there Wagner, noticing that Williams was “inclined to nurse the ball coming back into the infield,” took off for home.6 Williams fired to O’Neill in plenty of time to get Wagner, but O’Neill dropped the ball, and the Pirates were up 4-0.
In the sixth, Case stranded McCarthy at third and continued to shut down the Cubs despite allowing baserunners in all but two innings. As the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette reported, “It was when runners were on that Case was at his best, [he] kept putting the ball over the plate, forcing his opponents to hit it, and trusting the players in back of him to do their share, a confidence that was well placed.”7 And so the old baseball cliché, “Throw the ball over the plate and trust your defense,” was borne out once again.
Charlie Case finished 1904 at 10-5 for the Pirates and pitched effectively for them again in 24 starts in 1905, but after two starts in 1906, Case never appeared in another major league game. He continued to pitch professionally, primarily for the Nashville Volunteers in the Southern Association. He pitched a no-hitter for Nashville in 1909, beating the New Orleans Pelicans 1-0. He retired in 1914 with 111 minor-league wins.
Because there was no play-by-play available for this game, the author deduced the events of the game from contemporary newspaper articles. Articles consulted were “Colts Treated to a Shutout,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, August 2, 1904: 1; “Champions Play Good Baseball,” Pittsburgh Press, August 2, 1904: 10; and “Pirates Blank Chicago Colts,” Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1904: 6. In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.
1 As of May 2021, the last pitcher to accomplish this feat was John Danks of the Chicago White Sox, against the Houston Astros on May 31, 2015.
2 “Baseball Notes,” Pittsburgh Press, July 7, 1904: 12.
3 The poem, known as “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” is famous for its opening lines, “These are the saddest of possible words, ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’”
4 Bullpen, “Buttons Briggs,” baseball-reference.com https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Buttons_Briggs, accessed on May 19, 2021.
5 “Champions Play Good Baseball,” Pittsburgh Press, August 2, 1904: 10.
6 “Pirates Blank Chicago Colts,” Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1904: 6.
7 “Colts Treated to a Shutout,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, August 2, 1904: 7.