John Clarkson (Trading Card DB)

July 27, 1885: Chicago’s John Clarkson pitches a no-hitter vs. Providence

This article was written by Tim Hagerty

John Clarkson (Trading Card DB)Hall of Famer John Clarkson’s only major-league no-hitter came on July 27, 1885, for the National League’s Chicago White Stockings against the Providence Grays in Providence, Rhode Island. Providence’s starting pitcher was fellow Hall of Famer Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn.

The White Stockings entered the game in first place with a 48-14 record and victories in nine of their last 10 games. The Grays – who had won the NL pennant a season earlier, then defeated the American Association’s New York Metropolitans in baseball’s first-ever “World Series” between two major-league champions – came in at 36-22 and victories in five of their last six. It was the only game played in the series, as the other scheduled game had been rained out two days earlier. Chicago played three games in Providence in late July, but none of them were on successive days; all three games were sandwiched between games in Boston. A crowd of 1,030 fans settled into Providence’s Messer Street Grounds ballpark on the 27th.1

Clarkson, a 24-year-old, 5-foot-10, 155-pound righty, had a distinctive delivery. He began by turning and facing second base before whipping around and releasing the pitch. He used a rising fastball, multiple types of curveballs, and a changeup, all from a variety of arm angles.2 Clarkson’s teammate Billy Sunday said he “could put more turns and twists into a ball than any pitcher I ever saw.”3 Hall of Famer Sam Thompson said of Clarkson, “I faced him in scores of games and I can truthfully say that never in all that time did I get a pitch that came where I expected it or in the way in which I guessed it was coming.”4

While it’s not known exactly how Clarkson looked in the pitcher’s box that day, he was known for his sharp appearance. Clarkson’s uniform was usually ironed and pristine, with a stylish handkerchief attached to his jersey for flair.5

In the early innings, Clarkson shut down a Grays lineup that featured notable veterans like center fielder Paul Hines and 42-year-old first baseman Joe Start, a former White Stocking whose career in baseball dated to 1859 and New York City’s amateur club teams. Chicago’s offense supported Clarkson with two runs in the second and two more in the fourth.

Like all no-hitters, Chicago’s fielding was part of the achievement. Only six balls were hit out of the infield, and all were handled smoothly by White Stockings outfielders. At one point, right fielder King Kelly scooped up a batted ball that bounced in front of him and threw to first baseman Cap Anson from the outfield in time to retire the Providence batter. The Chicago Tribune observed that the play would have been a base hit “nine times out of ten.”6

It’s also likely that Clarkson helped his own cause with strong fielding. Sporting Life wrote in 1885 that “Clarkson fields his position better than any other [National] League pitcher.”7

Neither team scored in the final five innings and Chicago won, 4-0. It was the fourth no-hitter for the franchise now known as the Chicago Cubs, which had been founded in 1876, the NL’s first season. The first three were all pitched by early 1880s star Larry Corcoran.

Clarkson struck out four Providence batters. The no-hitter gave him national praise, with newspapers across the country printing glowing recaps of his performance. As one example, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote that the “Providence game was a remarkable one, as Clarkson’s splendid exhibition of strategic pitching resulted in the failure of the home team to score a single hit in the game.”8

Clarkson’s no-hitter was from a closer pitching distance than today. In 1885 the front of the pitcher’s box was only 50 feet from home plate.9 (Today it is 60 feet 6 inches.) The NL had removed its prohibition against overhand pitching a season earlier in 1884. For 1885, it had adopted a rule requiring pitchers to have both feet touching the ground at all times during the pitching motion, but that limitation had been revoked on June 7, the month before Clarkson’s gem.

Fred Pfeffer scored two runs for the White Stockings and Anson and Ned Williamson scored one each. All three Providence baserunners reached on errors. Three errors in nine innings was a solid defensive performance for a team in this era, when most players took the field barehanded. Clarkson’s batterymate was Silver Flint, one of the best catchers of the 1880s. Radbourn pitched nine innings and allowed only one earned run on five hits in the loss.

Tommy Bond was the game’s lone umpire; the same Tommy Bond who was a star NL pitcher from 1876 to 1882. In fact, five years before umpiring this no-hitter, Bond gave Clarkson pitching advice when Bond was a Boston Red Stockings pitcher and Clarkson was an amateur club player in Boston.10 Bond umpired 28 games in his career, all working solo, including two games as a fill-in ump while he was an active player.

Clarkson’s no-hitter was a highlight of his magnificent 1885 season. He started a majors-best 70 of Chicago’s 113 games and also led in complete games (68), wins (53), innings (623), and strikeouts (308). In the first three days after his no-hitter, he started and won two more games in two different cities. Clarkson’s 53 wins in 1885 are still the second-most in a season in major-league history, behind only Radbourn’s 60 in 1884.

The White Stockings finished 87-25-1 and won the 1885 NL pennant, their fourth in six seasons. Clarkson’s contributions that year went beyond the field; he reportedly sang on trains and in hotels to entertain his teammates on road trips.11 Clarkson’s training before his epic 1885 season included coaching Dartmouth College’s pitchers and refereeing boxing matches.12

Clarkson came close to his second no-hitter in as many seasons on August 23, 1886. He pitched seven hitless innings for Chicago in front of 4,500 fans in Detroit before a single by future Hall of Famer Deacon White broke up the no-hit bid in the eighth. It was the only hit by the Wolverines that day and no Detroit runner reached second base in Chicago’s 4-0 victory.13

Clarkson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963, 54 years after his death. The lead sentence on his plaque in Cooperstown is “Pitched 4 to 0 no-hit game against Providence in 1885.”



This article was fact-checked by Mike Huber and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used,, and

Photo credit: John Clarkson, Trading Card Database.



1 “Base Ball,” Saint Paul Globe, July 28, 1885: 4.

2 Brian McKenna, “John Clarkson,” SABR BioProject,

3 Elijah P. Brown, The Real Billy Sunday: The Life and Work of Rev. William Ashley Sunday, D.D. The Baseball Evangelist (Dayton, Ohio: Otterbein Press, 1914), 41.

4 “John Clarkson,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, accessed March 23, 2024,

5 McKenna, “John Clarkson.”

6 “Sporting Events,” Chicago Tribune, July 28, 1885: 5.

7 “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, October 21, 1885: 3.

8 “Sports and Pastimes,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 28, 1885: 2.

9 John Thorn, “A Brief History of the Pitching Distance,” Our Game, February 27, 2015,

10 McKenna, “John Clarkson.”

11 “John Clarkson.”

12 “John Clarkson.”

13 “The Sluggers Blanked,” Chicago Tribune, August 24, 1886: 2.

Additional Stats

Chicago White Stockings 4
Providence Grays 0

Messer Street Grounds
Providence, RI

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