Baseball records, like other forms of knowledge, are not chiseled in stone. Our knowledge changes over time as new information comes to light.1
At the start of the twenty-first century, baseball’s consensus was that Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan had thrown the American League’s inaugural no-hitter, in 1902, and Bob Rhoads had tossed the first one for the Cleveland Indians franchise in 1908.2
Midway through 2020, that consensus was shaken. Two prominent authorities on baseball statistics and records, Retrosheet and Baseball Reference, quietly recognized a 1901 American League pitching performance — by Pete Dowling in the Cleveland Blues’ June 30 win over the Milwaukee Brewers — as a no-hitter. This is the story of that confounding game and the baseball community’s century-long journey in finally recognizing Dowling’s gem as a no-hitter.
Dowling began the 1901 season with Milwaukee, but after a slow start his contract was sold to Cleveland on June 1. In the opener of a three-game series in Milwaukee on June 30, he faced the Brewers for the first time since they let him go. On a sweltering Sunday afternoon, Dowling took to the hill looking for revenge on his old team. With good command of his curveball and an unusually live fastball, the mercurial left-hander proceeded to dominate the Brewers.3
Dowling continued to cruise through Milwaukee’s lineup. According to one newspaper report, he received “a warm reception every time he stepped in or out of the box and before the game was half over he had the entire crowd with him.”6
Dowling took a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh, and that’s when things really got interesting. According to a wire-service report, Milwaukee registered a hit on “a hot drive by Wid] Conroy to Bradley, who could not handle it in time to put the runner out.”8 Dowling regrouped to pitch hitless ball for the remainder of the game.
In the top of the ninth, Erve Beck hit a three-run home run over the right-field fence, extending Cleveland’s lead to 7-0.9 Dowling finished his masterful outing by retiring the Brewers in order in the ninth.10 Although he walked four and hit one batter, not a single Brewer reached second base.11
Newspapers across the country printed a wire-service story the next day reporting that Dowling had limited Milwaukee to “but one scratch hit.”12 The box score showed a hit for Conroy and a one-hitter for Dowling.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal headline on July 1 heralded a different story: “Dowling Gets Even; Former Brewer Does Not Allow Duffy’s Men a Hit or a Run.” The box score showed an error for Bradley and no hits for Conroy. The article explained why: “Conroy hit a hot one to Bradley, who let it get away from him. … However, he had plenty of time to recover himself but failed and Cleveland’s only error resulted.”13 The most plausible explanation for the divergence is that the official scorer, who was probably a Milwaukee sportswriter, changed the hit to an error after the game had ended.
Two Cleveland papers also reported Dowling’s outing as a no-hitter.14 The Cleveland Press headline read, “Dowling’s Great Work; Shut Out Milwaukee Without a Hit,” while the Cleveland Leader headline declared, “Dowling Made a New Record; He Shut Out Milwaukee Sunday – Without a Man Making a Hit.”15 However, another Cleveland paper, the Plain Dealer, printed a game story with the headline, “Only One Scratch Single.”16 All three Cleveland papers had a nonstaff correspondent covering the road game, which was not uncommon in that era.
It is unclear whether the official scorer communicated the scoring change to the writer(s) from a wire service or the Plain Dealer. Those reporter(s) may have already left the press box to file their stories.17 If the official scorer did inform these reporter(s), it appears they didn’t correct the record. No-hitters hadn’t yet achieved the lofty status they held decades later.18 As of 2020, there was no evidence that a correction was ever printed.19
Dowling started against the Brewers three more times in 1901. After a win in Cleveland on July 6, he faced them again at the Lloyd Street Grounds on August 2, and the game had extraordinary similarities to the June 30 match. His one-hitter beat the Brewers by the same 7-0 score. The only hit of the game was a “measly little grass-cutter which was slowly handled” by Bradley.20 The game stories in the Milwaukee Journal and the Cleveland Press reminded readers of the June 30 no-hitter; the Plain Dealer stated that he had duplicated his previous one-hitter.21
Dowling next opposed the Brewers on August 8 in Cleveland. This time, he struck out 11 batters, setting a new high-water mark for the fledgling league.22 Once again, the Milwaukee Journal game story referenced the June 30 no-hitter.23
In its year-end review of American League pitching accomplishments, the Plain Dealer proudly listed Dowling’s “two” one-hitters.24 The 1902 Reach Base Ball Guide also had him throwing a pair of one-hitters in 1901.25 As 1901 came to a close, it is probable that relatively few people viewed Dowling’s June 30 outing as a no-hitter.
The Brewers finished dead last in the American League with a 48-89 record; the team was moved to St. Louis for the 1902 season.26 This was one of several factors that made it more difficult for knowledge of the no-hitter to spread. In addition to the franchise move, Dowling’s 1901 season was his last in the major leagues. Exactly four years after his enigmatic no-hitter, he died tragically in a train accident.27
In August 1902, a pitcher for the Milwaukee Creams of the Western League tossed a minor-league no-hitter at the Lloyd Street Grounds, and the Milwaukee Journal’s game story mentioned Dowling’s 1901 no-hitter yet again.28 It was at least the fourth acknowledgement of the no-hitter in that newspaper in the previous 14 months. Milwaukee didn’t return to the National or American League until the Boston Braves were transferred there in 1953.29 By that time, Dowling’s June 30, 1901, outing had long since been forgotten.30
When the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia was first published in 1969, it quickly became the go-to reference book for serious baseball fans.31 A data processing company, Information Concepts, Inc. (ICI), spent three years researching and compiling data for the encyclopedia. The first edition of the “Big Mac” did not include a list of all major-league no-hitters.32 Instead, a no-hitter was indicated below a pitcher’s biographical information in the pitcher register section. In the first edition, Dowling’s pitching record is at the bottom of page 1812. Right below the birthplace, his entry notes: “No-hit game vs. MIL A, June 30, 1901.”
The final nine editions of the Big Mac did not include no-hitter annotations in the pitcher register. Instead, a list of all major-league no-hitters was included for each league. In the last nine editions of the Baseball Encyclopedia, Dowling’s name was conspicuously absent from the AL list.
Why did the no-hitter disappear? “The data reported by the ICI group in the first edition of the Baseball Encyclopedia upset many people in baseball, for their numbers were different from those traditionally accepted,” wrote John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball, in 2014. “In subsequent editions, many of the prominent players’ statistics were fudged back to their traditional values.”33 It’s possible that the re-emergence of the Dowling no-hitter 68 years later also upset baseball people.
Retrosheet, which can be considered a high-tech descendant of the Baseball Encyclopedia, began computerizing play-by-play accounts and box scores in 1989.34 Researchers started with games in the 1980s and worked backward.35 This labor-intensive project gradually dug deeper and deeper into baseball history.
Prior to the summer of 2020, the Retrosheet website showed only line scores — excluding hits and errors — for the games of June 30, 1901.36 On July 12, 2020, Retrosheet posted box scores from several seasons in the early twentieth century on its website, with some games as far back as the start of the 1901 season.37 One of the new box scores was for Pete Dowling’s outing on June 30, 1901. It showed no hits for the Brewers and an error on Bradley.
Retrosheet has constructed box scores by looking at all available evidence. Multiple sources have been used — as many as possible for each game.38 Discrepancies have been resolved by analyzing all available information and coming to a logical conclusion. Effectively, Retrosheet has used a process like the one used by ICI to build the first Big Mac in 1969.39 Retrosheet Vice President Tom Ruane published an article in February of 2021 in which he described two rules of thumb that were applied to resolve the Dowling discrepancy. The first is to not be influenced by the number of out-of-town papers that print one version of events, since they are usually parroting a single wire service report. Second, “local reporting is usually more reliable, especially when it comes to determining a scoring decision, than out-of-town accounts.”40
A key resource for Retrosheet researchers was the original ICI records used to create the first edition of the Big Mac. Dowling’s ICI page for 1901 is a first-generation version of the 1901 game log found for him on Retrosheet.org or Baseball-Reference.com.41 The printout clearly shows that ICI credited Dowling with a no-hitter: There is a “1” in the No-Hit column for his June 30, 1901, outing.42
A short time after Retrosheet initially posted the 1901 box scores, Baseball Reference also recognized the Dowling no-hitter. As of December 2020, both the Retrosheet list of no-hitters and the Baseball Reference list of no-hitters included it, as had the first edition of the Big Mac.
So, did Dowling pitch a no-hitter in 1901? Based on the evidence available in 2020, it appeared very likely that he did. Can we say with complete certainty that he threw a no-hitter? No. The American League’s day-to-day source data for statistics were lost long ago.43 But the evidence was compelling enough that Retrosheet and Baseball Reference gave Dowling the benefit of any doubt.44
I first stumbled upon Dowling’s 1901 masterpiece in the summer of 2020 when I was doing research for an article on no-hitters for the Baseball Research Journal. After downloading Retrosheet box-score data for all no-hitters between 1901 and 2019, I began to check for data completeness. I consulted the list of no-hitters on Retrosheet’s site and noticed that it had one more no-hitter than other websites listed — the 1901 Pete Dowling no-hitter. As luck would have it, this was mere days after Retrosheet posted the box score for it. This started me on my quest to solve the case of the lost Dowling no-hitter.
Thanks to longtime SABR member David W. Smith for answering my numerous questions, and thanks to everyone who has contributed to Retrosheet over the years. David is the founder and president of Retrosheet. Thanks to Bill Nowlin and John Fredland for guiding this research to its completion. Thanks also for the assistance of the following SABR members: Vince Guerrieri, Kevin Larkin, Len Levin, Bill Pearch, Jacob Pomrenke, Carl Riechers, Bruce Slutsky, and Steven Weiner. Special thanks to longtime SABR member David S. Neft for his visionary work on the first edition of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia. This article was originally published on December 9, 2020, and last updated on March 13, 2021.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 A college student in 1977 discovered that Hack Wilson had 191 RBIs in 1930. Until that point, Wilson was thought to have knocked in a major-league record 190 runs that season. Baseball’s record book was corrected to credit Wilson with 191 RBIs in 1930. There are many other examples of baseball statistics being corrected years later, including the number of career hits by Ty Cobb and the career RBI total for Babe Ruth. Alan Schwarz, “Numbers Cast in Bronze, but Not Set in Stone,” New York Times, July 31, 2005: 8-4.
2 No-hitters had been previously thrown for two different Cleveland National League franchises. Hugh Daily of the Cleveland Blues no-hit the Philadelphia Quakers on September 13, 1883, and Cy Young of the Cleveland Spiders tossed a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on September 18, 1897. The Cleveland Blues franchise that Hugh Daily played for in 1883 existed from 1879 to 1884. Although Pete Dowling, Win Kellum, and Doc Amole all threw no-hitters in the American League in 1900, the league was not recognized as a major league until 1901.
3 “Only One Scratch Single,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 1, 1901: 3.
4 “Dowling Made a New Record; He Shut Out Milwaukee Sunday – Without a Man Making a Hit,” Cleveland Leader, July 1, 1901. LaChance singled with one out in the fourth inning. He scored on a double by Bradley. Yeager’s single drove in Bradley.
5 “Only One Scratch Single”; “Dowling Gets Even.”
6 “Dowling Gets Even.”
7 “Only One Scratch Single.”
8 “Dowling’s Great Work,” Boston Globe, July 1, 1901: 10.
9 “Only One Scratch Single.”
10 “Dowling Gets Even.”
11 “Only One Scratch Single.”
12 The wire-service story appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Detroit Free Press, St. Louis Republic, and Baltimore Sun, among many other newspapers.
13 “Dowling Gets Even.”
14 Neither of those Cleveland newspapers were still in business in 2020. The Cleveland Press went out of business in June of 1982, and the Cleveland Leader was purchased by the Plain Dealer in 1917.
15 “Dowling’s Great Work; Shut Out Milwaukee Without a Hit,” Cleveland Press, July 1, 1901; “Dowling Made a New Record; He Shut Out Milwaukee Sunday – Without a Man Making a Hit,” Cleveland Leader, July 1, 1901.
16 “Only One Scratch Single.”
17 Long-distance phone calls, while technically possible, were exorbitantly expensive in 1901. The preferred technology for communicating time-sensitive information between cities at that time was the electric telegraph. The electrical wires that transmitted these early text messages are the reason why we still call them “wire” services.
18 For instance, the headline in the sports pages of the Chicago Tribune the day after Nixey Callahan’s 1902 no-hitter read “White Sox Win and Tie.” The subheading was “Callahan Pitches No Hit Game in First Contest.”
James Elfers, “September 20, 1902: Chicago’s Nixey Callahan Throws American League’s First No-Hitter,” SABR Games Project, sabr.org/gamesproj/game/september-20-1902-chicagos-nixey-callahan-throws-american-leagues-first-no-hitter/, accessed December 5, 2020.
19 The July 6, 1901, editions of both Sporting Life and The Sporting News also included box scores showing a one-hitter for Dowling. “Games Played Sunday,” Sporting Life, July 6, 1901: 7; “American League,” The Sporting News, July 6, 1901: 2.
20 “The Usual Lost Game,” Milwaukee Journal, August 3, 1901: 10.
21 “The Usual Lost Game;” “Pete, the Invincible,” Cleveland Press, August 3, 1901; “With Just One Scratch Hit,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 3, 1901: 3. The Cleveland Leader made no definitive reference to Dowling’s June 30 outing in its August 3, 1901, edition. A failure to uniformly disseminate a game account may be hard to comprehend for those born in the internet age. However, information silos were more common in 1901. Printed newspapers and magazines were vital to mass communications at the time. The first radio station in Milwaukee or Cleveland was still 21 years away when Dowling threw his no-hitter.
22 “Dowling the Cause,” Milwaukee Journal, August 9, 1901: 8.
23 “Dowling the Cause.” The game stories in the Cleveland Press, Plain Dealer, and Cleveland Leader on August 9, 1901, did not mention Dowling’s outing on June 30.
24 “Honors Carried Off by Moore and Dowling,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 19, 1902: 27.
25 The 1902 Reach Base Ball Guide also listed Dowling as having thrown one four-hitter and two five-hitters in 1901. As of December 2020, Retrosheet and Baseball Reference showed him as having thrown zero four-hitters and three five-hitters that season. Similar discrepancies exist for other top AL pitchers such as Cy Young, Ned Garvin, Earl Moore, and Eddie Plank. Francis C. Richter, The Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide 1902 (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Co., 1902), 98, archive.org/details/reachofficialame19021phil/page/n103/mode/2up?q=dowling, accessed November 26, 2020. Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide 1902 made no mention of no-hitters. Henry Chadwick, Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide 1902 (New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1902), archive.org/details/SpaldingsBaseBall1902/page/n5/mode/2up, accessed November 26, 2020.
26 American League President Ban Johnson had attempted to move the Brewers to St. Louis prior to the 1901 season, but Milwaukee owner Matthew Killilea refused. Johnson was keen to gain a foothold in larger cities like St. Louis and New York, knowing the league had a better chance of survival being in larger markets. He finally got what he wanted when the Brewers moved to St. Louis in 1902 (becoming the Browns), and the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York in 1903 (becoming the Highlanders). Denis Pajot, “Matthew Killilea,” SABR BioProject, sabr.org/bioproj/person/matthew-killilea/, accessed November 26, 2020.
27 News of Dowling’s death merited a one-sentence entry in the Milwaukee Journal: “Pete Dowling, the baseball pitcher, was killed at La Grande, Oregon, by being run over by a railway train, the result of an accident.” No details about his pitching career were mentioned. “Come on In, Water’s Fine,” Milwaukee Journal, July 10, 1905: 5.
28 The Milwaukee Creams played in the Western League in 1902 and 1903. Doc Adkins threw a no-hitter for the Creams against the Denver Grizzlies on August 15, 1902. It was the last professional no-hitter thrown at the Lloyd Street Grounds; the ballpark was demolished in 1904. “Work Is Perfect,” Milwaukee Journal, August 16, 1902: 5.
29 The Milwaukee Bears played in the Negro National League I in 1923. None of their pitchers threw a no-hitter.
30 When Milwaukee Braves pitcher Jim Wilson tossed the next major-league no-hitter in Milwaukee, on June 12, 1954, the Milwaukee Journal listed several notable past no-hitters, including “Henry” Dowling’s minor-league no-hitter for the Brewers in 1900. Henry was Pete Dowling’s correct first name, but he was generally referred to as Pete. No mention was made of his outing in Milwaukee on June 30, 1901. It appears that Dowling’s 1901 no-hitter was forgotten (or not acknowledged) in Cleveland by 1908. The game stories published in the Cleveland Press and Cleveland Leader following the no-hitter tossed by Bob Rhoads on September 18, 1908, mysteriously failed to mention Dowling’s 1901 no-no. Perhaps those papers simply acquiesced to the majority opinion, which was based largely on the erroneous wire-service report published on July 1, 1901.
31 The Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia was the first compilation of baseball records created using computers.
32 David Neft of ICI was the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia’s editor-in-chief for the first edition. He did not edit any of the subsequent editions. John Thorn, “Major League Baseball Record Keeping,” Our Game, July 23, 2014, ourgame.mlblogs.com/major-league-baseball-record-keeping-3fd036a44072, accessed December 5, 2020.
33 Thorn, “Major League Baseball Record Keeping.”
34 Baseball Reference can also be considered a descendant of the Baseball Encyclopedia. Tom Hoffarth, “The Baseball Encyclopedia Was Born 50 Years Ago, 2337 Pages Landing with a Thud,” Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2019, latimes.com/sports/story/2019-08-31/baseball-encyclopedia-fifty-year-anniversary-sabr-statistics, accessed November 26, 2020.
35 The Retrosheet website also contains data for more recent games. As of November 30, 2020, it included play-by-play data and box scores for games played as recently as the end of the 2020 season. The site continues to be updated on a regular basis.
36 The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine captured the state of Retrosheet’s “Events of Sunday, June 30, 1901” page on June 16, 2019, and stored it here. The current version of that page, located at retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1901/06301901.htm, looks much different.
37 Retrosheet includes a change log on its website with a summary of recent enhancements. As of November 27, 2020, the change log was listed under the “What’s New” heading on the Retrosheet home page.
38 Email correspondence with Retrosheet President David W. Smith, November 29, 2020.
39 Of course, baseball researchers in the early part of the twenty-first century also had the benefit of accessing searchable, digitized newspapers on the internet.
41 Please note that the 1901 Dowling game logs on the Retrosheet and Baseball Reference websites did not exist prior to the summer of 2020.
42 Email correspondence with Retrosheet President David W. Smith showing a scanned image of Dowling’s printed ICI page for 1901, December 4, 2020.
43 Thorn, “Major League Baseball Record Keeping.”
44 As of December 2020, the list of “all” no-hitters in major-league history on MLB.com did not include Dowling’s 1901 no-hitter, and the 2020 Cleveland Indians Media Guide credited Bob Rhoads with throwing the franchise’s first no-hitter, on September 18, 1908. Ed Eagle, “All-Time No-Hitters in MLB History,” MLB.com, September 13, 2020, mlb.com/news/no-hitter-c265779246, accessed November 27, 2020.