Nap Rucker spent his entire major-league career pitching for Brooklyn in the National League from 1907 to 1916. He compiled 134 wins and 134 losses, but do not assume from Rucker’s .500 record that he was an average pitcher. To the contrary, Rucker is better described as a good pitcher who labored for bad teams. A biographer called him “one of the Deadball Era’s top left-handed pitchers,”1 and noted how Rucker’s “strikeouts, no-hit bids, and low ERAs” led to his recognition for throwing one of the best fastballs in the game.2
Rucker’s prowess was on full display in the second game of a doubleheader on September 5, 1908. The patrons of Brooklyn’s Washington Park rejoiced as Rucker allowed no hits or walks and struck out 14 Boston Doves. The only thing that marred his otherwise perfect performance was three Brooklyn fielding errors. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle summed things up succinctly: “The game was all Rucker.”3
In the first contest of this Saturday afternoon twin bill, Brooklyn led Boston 3-2, but surrendered two eighth-inning runs to lose 4-3. It was the Superbas’ seventh consecutive loss, leaving Brooklyn and the St. Louis Cardinals tied at the bottom of the National League with identical 43-78 ledgers.
For Boston, the first-game win raised its record to 52-71, and kept the Doves nestled in sixth place. They were eight games ahead of St. Louis and Brooklyn, but seven games behind fifth-place Cincinnati.
Both Brooklyn and Boston were far removed from an exciting three-way fight for the NL pennant being waged by Pittsburgh, New York, and Chicago, which would be decided on the final day of the season. As September 5 began, the Giants led the Pirates by a half-game and the Cubs by two games. When the last out of the 1908 season was in the scorebook on October 8, it was Chicago leading by one game over both New York and Pittsburgh.
Rucker was tabbed to pitch the second game for Brooklyn on September 5, and went to the mound with a 14-14 record. He was opposed by the Doves’ left-handed Patsy Flaherty (10-14). It had been nearly a month since Flaherty’s last win. He had lost all four starts after beating the Cardinals 9-3 on August 8.
Boston’s first batter, George Browne, reached base on an error by Brooklyn shortstop Phil Lewis. Johnny Bates bunted, but launched the ball right back to Rucker, who grabbed it for an out, and threw to Tim Jordan at first to double up Browne. Joe Kelley fouled out to the catcher, ending Boston’s first inning. It was the only inning without a strikeout for Rucker. Bill Dahlen became Rucker’s first strikeout victim after one was out in the second. (He fanned twice more before the day was done.)
The Superbas scored all the runs they needed in their half of the second inning. Brooklyn loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, and scored its first run when Tommy Sheehan was hit by a pitch, forcing Jordan in from third. With the bases still loaded, Bill Bergen slapped a grounder to Dan McGann near first base, and McGann threw home wildly, allowing both Whitey Alperman and Lewis to score.
After Rucker grounded into the first out of the inning, Al Burch flied to Bates in left field for the second out. After the catch Bates made an off-target throw toward second base in an attempt to double up Bergen, and Sheehan dashed home from third with Brooklyn’s fourth run of the inning.
A four-run lead did not cause Rucker to lose his edge. Peaches Graham grounded out to begin the third inning, and Jack Hannifin and Flaherty both fanned. Bergen dropped Flaherty’s third strike, but he pegged the ball to first to end the inning.
Rucker was even better in the fourth, striking out all three batters. The Brooklyn crowd cheered with gusto when Kelley became the third out – and Rucker’s fifth straight strikeout.
Rucker’s strikeout string ended when third baseman Sheehan bobbled McGann’s grounder opening the fifth. But McGann never advanced past first; a strikeout, a popup to short, and another strikeout quickly got Brooklyn off the field.
Boston managed two groundouts in the sixth before Rucker fanned Browne for the second time. In the seventh, Bates struck out, Kelley fouled to the catcher, and McGann went down swinging, raising Rucker’s strikeout total to 11.
In the bottom of the sixth, a baserunning mistake prevented the Superbas from extending their lead. Bergen grounded to Flaherty to start the inning, but Flaherty hurled the ball wide of first base, and Bergen chugged to third. Rucker lofted a fly to left field for an out, and Bergen scampered home, only to have his tally erased when he was called out for leaving third base before the catch.
As Rucker walked to the mound to begin the eighth, the crowd was cheering loudly. Rucker responded with his third strikeout of Dahlen – his 12th strikeout overall.
What followed was the contest’s only controversy. Sweeney slashed a liner to right, and Harry Lumley raced in “like a steam engine.”4 He got both hands on the ball, but dropped it. Some observers thought it was another Brooklyn error, others thought it a hit. It was scored an error. After the game, umpire Jim Johnstone endorsed the scoring decision, declaring Lumley’s play “nothing else but a muff.”5
Graham flied to Burch in center for Boston’s second out, and Rucker ended the inning by striking out Hannifin. It was his 13th strikeout – the top National League mark to that point of the season. Both Christy Mathewson and Rucker had previously notched 12-strikeout games in 1908.6
In the bottom of the inning, the Superbas scored their final two runs. Jordan hit his ninth home run, over the right-field fence, placing him one ahead of Honus Wagner for the league lead, and putting Brooklyn up 5-0. Jordan hit three more home runs before the season’s end, and claimed his second NL home-run title. After Jordan’s blast, Alperman singled, took second on a bunt, and scored Brooklyn’s sixth run when Bergen doubled to right.
Rucker was scheduled to face three left-handed batters in the ninth, but instead saw three pinch-hitters batting from the right side of the plate. Switch-hitter Claude Ritchey, who enjoyed a reputation as a clutch hitter,7 batted for Flaherty. Two years earlier on this same field, Ritchey’s 11th-inning single ended Harry McIntire’s bid for a no-hitter,8 but on this afternoon he could not repeat his heroics. Instead, he grounded out to Alperman, as did Frank Bowerman, hitting for Browne.
Boston’s final hope was Harry Smith, pinch-hitting for Bates. He became Rucker’s 14th strikeout victim. “When it was over the mob rushed down into the field and gave [Rucker] the biggest send-off in his career.”9
How good was Rucker that day? Years later, researcher Bill James devised “game score” as a way to quantify and compare the performances of starting pitchers.10 The average game score is approximately 50, and scores generally range between zero and 100. Registering a score at either end of the spectrum is rare. Applying the formula to Rucker’s outing against Boston produces a game score of 101.
Only four twentieth-century National League pitchers achieved a game score of 100 or greater in a nine-inning game.11 Rucker was the lone pitcher to reach that mark during the Deadball Era of 1901-1919. It was not until September 16, 1960, when Warren Spahn no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies – striking out 15 and walking two – that another NL pitcher attained a game score of 100 in a nine-inning game.
Rucker’s near-perfect effort stopped Brooklyn’s seven-game losing streak, but the Superbas did not capture another win until September 16. Between September 1 and September 15, the Superbas dropped 16 of 17 contests, and Rucker’s no-hitter was the only favorable outcome during that span. Brooklyn’s final 53-101 mark placed it seventh in the NL, ahead of only St. Louis.
Rucker lost five of his final seven decisions, wrapping up 1908 at 17-19. He was among the league leaders in several pitching categories – both good and bad – including innings pitched (third), strikeouts (second), complete games (tied for fourth), bases on balls (first), and hit batsmen (second).
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes below, the author also relied on data from Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com.
3 “Rucker Pitches No-Hit Game and Makes Strike Out Record,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 6, 1908: 49.
4 “Rucker Pitches No-Hit Game and Makes Strike Out Record.”
5 “Rucker Pitches No-Hit Game and Makes Strike Out Record.”
6 Mathewson struck out 12 Superbas on April 18, and Rucker struck out 12 Cincinnati Reds on May 26. On September 30 the Chicago Cubs’ Orval Overall also struck out 12 Cincinnati Reds. Rucker’s 14 strikeouts against Boston remained atop the National League for 1908.
8 “Greatest Game of the Season,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, August 2, 1906: 8. McIntire surrendered three hits and a run in the 13th, losing 1-0 to Pittsburgh on August 1, 1906.
9 “Rucker Pitches No-Hit Game and Makes Strike Out Record.”
10 To determine game score, start with 50 and add one point for each batter retired, two points for each complete inning after the fourth, and one point for each strikeout. From that figure, subtract two points for each hit, two points for each unearned run, one point for each walk, and four points for each earned run allowed.
12 Stathead.com’s database identified 149 games with a game score of 100 or more between 1901 and August 2021.