This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf
When Cardinals right-hander and future Hall of Famer Jesse Haines retired in 1937 after 18 seasons with the club, he held the franchise record for wins (210), innings pitched (3,203⅔), starts (387), and complete games (209), and had helped guide the Redbirds to five NL pennants and three titles. Haines’s pitching records have all since been surpassed, but there is one that can never be broken. On July 17, 1924, Haines tossed the only National League no-hitter in the history of Sportsman’s Park, the steel and concrete stadium built in 1909. “I started as I always do,” said Haines of his fateful performance against the Boston Braves, “trying the corners with my curve on the outside to right-handed hitters and keeping the fast one close to the handle of the bat.”1 “[N]ot even a questionable hit,” opined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,2 while the Boston Globe gushed, “nothing doubtful whatsoever about Haines’ brilliant accomplishment.”3
Best remembered as a knuckleball pitcher, the 30-year-old Haines was primarily a fastball/curveball pitcher at the time of his no-hitter. He began experimenting with the knuckler in 1923, and credited Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Eddie Rommel, the first big leaguer to use the knuckleball extensively, for teaching him the pitch. Unlike Rommel, who gripped the pitch with the tips of his index and middle fingers, Haines gripped the ball with the first knuckles on those fingers with the ball resting against the inside of his ring finger. The result was a hard knuckler that came straight down and did not flutter like Rommel’s. “[My knuckler] acted like a spitball,” said Haines. He had a breakout season in 1923, winning 20 games, and seemed primed for stardom, but his knuckler suddenly vanished. “Thought I had [the knuckler] in 1923,” said Haines, “but it eluded me the next years.”4 Haines struggled in 1924. “[He] has not been a wonderful pitcher this season,” offered the Post-Dispatch bluntly.5 Entering the game against Boston, Haines (4-12) had lost eight of his last nine decisions, and had a 66-66 career record.
Branch Rickey, the Cardinals’ 42-year-old skipper in his sixth season guiding the club, needed big Jess to kick it up a notch. Despite winning the first two games of a six-game series with Boston, St. Louis had the worst record in the majors (32-49), a whopping 22½ games behind the New York Giants. The Braves, en route to their third consecutive season with at least 100 losses, were an early-season surprise under Dave Bancroft, who assumed the role of player-manager for the first time in his Hall of Fame career. However, despite a 16-16 start, the Tribe (33-48) was in sixth place.
A Thursday-afternoon game between two bad teams would not normally be a hot ticket, but it was the annual Tuberculosis Day in the Gateway City. The Post-Dispatch estimated that 15,000 people showed up at Sportsman’s Park, yet derided the crowd as “apathetic.” “The many ladies in attendance,” suggested the paper, “gave passing attention to the ball game” and seemed more interested in the music, festivities, and the “variegated color in the stands.”6
Following Haines’s 1-2-3 first, the Cardinals took their swings at Boston’s 25-year-old right-hander Tim McNamara (6-4), who sported a lackluster 12-21 career record in parts of three seasons. Seeming a “bit unsteady,” according to the Boston Herald, McNamara yielded a one-out single to Wattie Holm, who extended his hitting streak to 17 games.7 The hot-hitting rookie, who entered the game batting .362, moved to second on a wild pitch, and then scored on Rogers Hornsby’s single.
After fanning four of the first eight batters he faced, Haines walked his mound opponent, but second baseman Hornsby redeemed the cardinal sin by making an impressive grab of Gus Felix’s “low line drive” to end the frame.8 It was the Rajah’s second stellar defensive play of the game, following his scoop of Cotton Tierney’s hard grounder an inning earlier.
Haines’s single in the third led to the Redbirds’ second run. He moved up a station on a sacrifice bunt, and scored when Felix misplayed Jim Bottomley’s fly to center field.
Leading the majors with a .405 batting average entering the game, Hornsby belted his second of three singles in the fifth with one out. Bottomley, who finished runner-up to Hornsby in the race for the batting title the previous season (.384 to .371), also singled. After Ray Blades flied to center and Specs Toporcer, widely considered the first position player to don eyeglasses, was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Cuban-born Miguel Gonzalez (to whom the Post-Dispatch referred with his given name instead of the more common anglicized nickname Mike), hit a routine grounder to second baseman Ernie Padgett. The rookie’s throw to first sailed over Stuffy McInnis’s head, enabling Hornsby to scamper home. Jimmy Cooney followed with a single to drive in Bottomley and Toporcer, for a 5-0 lead.
The rest of the game revolved around Haines, who profited from good defense, including his own, to record the final 12 outs. After Haines walked both McNamara and Bill Cunningham in the sixth, Casey Stengel smashed a bullet back to the mound “with such force that it almost took off the pitcher’s glove,” according to St. Louis sportswriter Dent McSkimming.9 The Boston Globe reported that the 6-foot Haines knocked down the ball, which rolled toward third. “For several moments it was a question whether the big pitcher would recover in time,” but Haines retrieved the orb and rifled it to Bottomley to end the inning.10
Two additional defensive gems helped keep the no-hitter intact. In what was described as the “most remarkable fielding play of the day,” Hornsby corralled another sharp grounder by Tierney in the seventh. The crowd gasped the next inning when Mickey O’Neil hit a blooper to short center, but Holm was playing shallow and made a difficult catch seem routine, according to the Globe.11
Haines needed only six pitches to retire the side in the ninth. Felix flied to right field on the first pitch and Cunningham popped up to short on a 1-and-2 count. Up stepped Stengel, whose heroics in the 1923 World Series had made him a household name. The Braves acquired the journeyman flychaser from the Giants in the offseason, after he went 5-for-12 in the World Series, including game-winning home runs in Games One and Three, as the Giants almost knocked off the New York Yankees. Praised by the Post-Dispatch as the “biggest batter of the whole Boston team and one of the most dangerous pinch-hitters in either major league,” Stengel hit an 0-and-1 grounder to Hornsby, whose throw to Bottomley ended the game in one hour and 43 minutes. “[T]hat fellow had great stuff on the ball,” said the rough-and-tumble Stengel, still decades removed from the “Old Perfessor” moniker. “Wonderful speed and pretty good control.”12 Haines’s batterymate was equally impressed. “Haines had greater speed than I have ever found him using before,” said Gonzales.13
The loss went to McNamara who yielded 12 hits and five runs, but just one earned, in seven innings. Johnny Cooney, whose brother Jimmy started at short for the Cardinals, set down the side in order in the eighth.
The no-hitter was poetic justice for Haines, who finished with five strikeouts and three walks while facing 30 batters. As a rookie in 1920, he was in a grueling pitchers’ duel with the Chicago Cubs’ Pete Alexander in his last start of the season on October 1. Haines hurled 9⅔ hitless frames, from two outs in the sixth until one out in the 16th, in a game he eventually lost in the 17th inning, 3-2.
Notwithstanding his no-hitter, Haines continued to struggle in 1924, finishing with an abominable 8-19 record. After another poor campaign (13-14) in 1925, Haines miraculously rediscovered his knuckler. “Not until mid-summer 1926 did the mystery of it come back to me,” he explained. “And then I started to throw a slow ball. That helped me as much as the knuckler.”14 Haines emerged as one of the Redbirds’ most consistent hurlers, going 95-43 over the next six seasons (1926-1931), twice notching 20 wins.
Haines’s no-hitter is widely considered the first in Cardinals history; however, two hurlers for earlier teams based in St. Louis also tossed no-hitters at home. On July 15, 1876, the Brown Stockings’ George Washington Bradley beat the Hartford Dark Blues in the first no-hitter in the history of the National League. The game took place at the wooden-framed Grand Avenue Ball Grounds, on the site of the future Sportsman’s Park. In his first professional start, Ted Breitenstein of the American Association Browns held the Louisville Colonels hitless on October 4, 1891, also at the Grand Avenue Ball Grounds, which by that time had been renovated and was affectionately called Sportsman’s Park. The American Association disbanded after the 1891 season, and the Browns joined the NL in 1892. The teams played as the Browns, Perfectos, and, since 1900, as the Cardinals.
This article appears in “Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis: Home of the Browns and Cardinals at Grand and Dodier” (SABR, 2017), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. Click here to read more articles from this book online.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com, SABR.org, and The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record.
1 Billy Evans, “Hitless Hero Says Good Control Gave Him Record Game,” Olean (New York) Times, September 17, 1924: 7.
2 Dent McSkimming, “Jess Haines No-Hit, No-Run Game Against Boston,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 1924: 19.
3 “Jess Haines of St. Louis Enters Pitching Hall of Fame,” Boston Globe, July 18, 1924: 10.
4 Neil Russo, “Batters Knuckled Under to Haines and Schultz,” [publication unknown], September 6, 1964. Jesse Haines player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
5 “Haines Has Won 5 Games and Lost 12; So Far This Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 1924: 6.
7 “Jess Haines of St. Louis Shuts Out Braves Without a Hit – Only Three Reach First,” Boston Herald, July 18, 1924: 7.
8 “Jess Haines Pitches No-hit Game for Cards,” Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), July 18, 1924: 17.
10 “Jess Haines of St. Louis Enters Pitching Hall of Fame.”
14 Eugene F. Karst, director of information, St. Louis Cardinals Press release, 1928. Jesse Haines player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.