July 21, 1950: Bob Friend tosses no-hitter at age 19 for Waco Pirates
Bob Friend established a reputation as one of the National League’s most consistent workhorses during his 16-year big-league career. An integral member of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1960 World Series champion team, Friend won 197 games and authored 36 shutouts, including two one-hitters.1
Just months into his first and only season in the minor leagues in 1950, the teenage Friend fired his only professional no-hitter.
“I was signed as a freshman out of Purdue University by a former Dodgers scout from the Branch Rickey era and who joined the Pirates,” Friend told the author in a 2012 interview.2 “Stan Feasal, who was a Big Ten basketball official in Indiana, had scouted me for a long time. I stayed with him and signed with the Pirates in 1950 for a bonus of $12,500, which was pretty good for those days. I joined the Pirates in spring training in 1950 and then played minor-league ball in Waco, Texas.”
Nineteen-year-old Friend was assigned to the Waco Pirates in the Class B Big State League, one of the parent club’s 13 minor-league affiliates. The 6-foot-tall, right-handed Friend emerged as the “kid pitching ace” on skipper Buddy Hancken’s club, opined the Waco News Tribune, and was “regarded as the brightest hurling prospect” in the eight-team circuit.3
Hancken’s youthful squad featured some heavy-hitting prospects, such as John Powers, who eventually led the league with 39 home runs, and Tom Vangelas, whose 26 homers ranked fifth, but the team was pitching-bare, much like its big-league parents.4 Struggling in sixth place (45-50), 12½ games behind the front-running Texarkana Bears, Waco traveled to Wichita Falls, Texas, to begin a three-game set with the Spudders (54-42), tied with the Gainesville (Florida) Owls for second place.5
Taking the mound in the opener was Friend, whom sportswriter Lester Koelling praised as “the top pitching prospect in the Pirates chain.”6 Friend sported an 11-9 record with a 3.23 ERA but was coming off his worst outing of his thus far 28 professional games pitched, yielding six runs and walking five in just four innings against the Temple Eagles on July 17.7 Toeing the rubber for manager Hack Miller’s St. Louis Browns affiliate was 21-year-old right-hander Everette Neal, in the fourth of his seven-season minor-league career.
With temperatures hovering at about 90 degrees at the early evening game time, a near-capacity crowd of 1,719 packed Spudder Park.8 Named in honor of the workers who set up and operated the oil-well drilling machines that helped drive Wichita Falls’ growth, Spudder Park traced its history to the mid-1910s and had been the home of professional baseball since 1920 for various teams and leagues.
In a command performance, described by the Waco News-Tribune as “brilliant,” Friend overpowered the Spudders, tossing a perfect game through six innings, aided by two fielding gems.9 In the third, Wichita Falls’ Dick Neal propelled a “high deep fly to left center” that “sounded like a four-master,” according to Bob Cole of the Wichita Falls Record News, but center fielder John Moore snared the ball at the fence.10 Three innings later, Irv Tassin “sledge-hammered a drive” to left field, reported the Wichita Falls Daily Times, but Skip Baas made a running grab on the low-flying liner.11
By the seventh inning, fans began cheering for Friend. On yet “another possible game-ruining hit,” quipped Cole, shortstop Irv Carlson stopped Vern Gilchrist’s “hard skinner.”12 Spudder hitters seemed to be getting better wood on Friend’s offerings. The next batter, Bob Seltzer, blasted a screeching liner back to the mound. According to Cole, Friend made a “split-second snatch … saving his no-hitter and possibly some teeth.”
Perhaps a bit unnerved, Friend issued consecutive walks to Carl Powis and cleanup hitter Cecil McClung for the Spudders’ first two baserunners of the game.13 He retired Al McCarty to escape the jam. Friend’s no-no was kept intact by second baseman George Sopko’s “splendid stop and throw” on Nick Samela’s eighth-inning leadoff bouncer. The Daily Times reported that the ball “was almost past” Sopka when he “snatched it and quickly fired to first.”14
While Friend and his fielders kept the Spudders hitless, Pirate batters grabbed an early lead, aided by an especially porous and “sluggish” defense.15 Waco scored four runs in the second inning on a single, a triple by Baas, and three errors.16 Two consecutive singles in the fifth produced another run.
Spudders manager Miller called his own number to begin the seventh and took the mound for one of 13 times in 1950. The 37-year-old career minor leaguer, with cups of coffee with the Detroit Tigers in 1944 and 1945, donned the tools of ignorance by trade but was converted into a rare catcher-pitcher with the Class C Tyler Trojans of the Lone Star League, logging a combined 223 innings in 1947 and 1948.
Pirate hitters greeted him with a pair of singles and a double by Troy Mitchell while the Spudders committed two more errors to give the Pirates a 7-0 lead. Burke McLaughlin took over for Miller in the eighth and was as victimized by his defense as his predecessors were. The Spudders’ sixth and seventh errors, a passed ball, a single, and a walk accounted for the Pirates’ final three runs.
Friend breezed through the ninth inning, fanning McLaughlin, retiring Gilchrist on a popup to Sopka at second, and punching out Seltzer swinging for his eighth strikeout of the game to finish his no-hitter in 2 hours and 25 minutes.
While teammates and spectators cheered Friend’s performance, the teenager received even bigger news later in the clubhouse. “Joe Brown [the Pittsburgh Pirates’ business manager] called me,” remembered Friend, “and said ‘You’re going to Indianapolis.’”17 According to the Associated Press, the Pirates announced just a “few minutes” after the game that Friend was promoted to their Triple-A club, the Indianapolis Indians.18 Indianapolis News sportswriter Lester Koelling opined ecstatically that the Indians “struck it rich” with the acquisition of Friend, whom manager Al Lopez had been clamoring to have.19
Friend certainly left Waco in a “blaze of glory” by tossing the first no-hit, no-run game in the four-year history of the Big State League.20 The league’s other two no-hitters, both in 1949, were marred by asterisks. On June 29, Tom Pullig of the Greenville Majors held the Sherman-Dennison Twins hitless, 3-0, in an abbreviated seven-inning no-hitter; on August 18, the Austin Pioneers’ Elwood Moore beat Greenville, 5-1.
Furthermore, Friend became just the second Waco hurler to author a no-hitter, joining Cuban-born Oscar Tuero of the Class A Texas League Waco Cubs. Tuero beat the Shreveport Sports, 4-0, on June 24, 1925.
Facing experienced, older competition just one rung below the majors, Friend struggled with Indianapolis, producing a 2-4 record with a 5.46 ERA. His total of 246 minor-league innings, however, demonstrated to Pirates brass that he had a rubber arm. The following season, Friend earned a spot on the Pirates staff, a position he maintained for the next 15 years, during which he averaged 232 innings per season, twice leading the NL in that category.
This article was fact-checked by Kurt Blumenau and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for pertinent material and the box scores noted below.
1 On September 7, 1955, Friend allowed only one baserunner, on a fourth-inning infield single by Frank Baumholtz, in a 2-0 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Nearly a decade later, on July 23, 1965, Friend pitched another one-hitter at Wrigley Field, yielding only Don Landrum’s fourth-inning infield hit in a 6-0 shutout.
2 Gregory H. Wolf, “A Friend of Pirate History,” Hardball Times, April 6, 2012, https://tht.fangraphs.com/bob-friend/.
3 “Pirate Ace Sold to Indianapolis,” Waco News-Tribune, July 22, 1950: 6.
4 The 1950 Pirates allowed 857 runs, the most in the NL.
5 “The League Standings,” Wichita Falls Record-News, July 22, 1950: 6.
6 Lester Koelling, “Tribe Welcomes a Real Friend,” Indianapolis News, July 22, 1950: 4
7 Friend received a no-decision in the Pirates’ 8-7 win in 13 innings. Oscar Larnce, “Pirates Edge Temple in 13th Inning, 8-7,” Waco News-Tribune, July 18, 1950: 11.
8 “The Weather,” Wichita Falls Record-News, July 22, 1950: 1. Attendance figure from “Indianapolis Recals [sic] Bob Friend; Spudders Slip Back to Third Place,” Wichita Falls Daily Times, July 22, 1950: 3.
9 Associated Press, “Waco’s Bob Friend Hurls No-Hit, No-Run Game in Finale,” Waco News-Tribune, July 22, 1950: 6.
10 Bob Cole, “Friend’s No-Hitter Shackles Spudders, 10-0,” Wichita Falls Record-News, July 22, 1950: 6.
11 “Indianapolis Recals [sic] Bob Friend; Spudders Slip Back to Third Place.”
14 “Indianapolis Recals [sic] Bob Friend; Spudders Slip Back to Third Place.”
16 Neither Waco nor Wichita Falls newspapers provided details on the Pirates’ runs.
17 Wolf. Brown served as Pittsburgh Pirates general manager from 1955 through 1976 and in 1985.
18 Associated Press, “Waco Shuts Out Wichita Falls,” Bryan (Texas) Eagle, July 22, 1950: 6.
19 Koelling, “Tribe Welcomes a Real Friend.”
20 “Waco’s Bob Friend Hurls No-Hit, No-Run Game in Finale.”
Waco Pirates 10
Wichita Falls Spudders 0
Wichita Falls, TX
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