Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman

This article was written by George W. Hilton

This article was published in 1973 Baseball Research Journal

As is well known, the only man to pitch a no-hit game in his first start in the major leagues since the adoption of the 60½ foot pitching distance in 1893 is Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman. He beat the Philadelphia A’s 6-0 on May 6, 1953, almost 20 years ago. As is almost equally well known, it was the only complete game Holloman pitched in the majors, and by late July 1953 he was back in the minors, from whence he never again arose.As is well known, the only man to pitch a no-hit game in his first start in the major leagues since the adoption of the 60½ foot pitching distance in 1893 is Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman. He beat the Philadelphia A’s 6-0 on May 6, 1953, almost 20 years ago. As is almost equally well known, it was the only complete game Holloman pitched in the majors, and by late July 1953 he was back in the minors, from whence he never again arose.

This circumstance has caused his no-hit game to be looked upon as a historical anomaly, rather like Fred Gladding’s base hit or Hoyt Wilhelm’s home run. Worse, his tenure in the majors was so short that his lifetime statistical record never appeared in either the Baseball Register or Who’s Who in Baseball.

Holloman deserves better of baseball history than this. By pitching a no-hit game in his first start, he achieved what Young, Mathewson, Johnson, and Spahn never did. By pitching a no-hitter, he accomplished what Alexander, Plank, Grove, Roberts, and many other hurling greats could not. This article is intended primarily to provide Holloman’s playing record in accessible form, and secondarily to set forth a short account of his career to place his no-hitter in its historical perspective.

Holloman’s minor league record was an entirely respectable one which entitled him to his major league trial with the Browns in 1953. He broke into Organized Ball with an excellent 20-5 record at Moultrie in the Class D Georgia-Florida League in 1946. As a member of the Chicago Cubs organization he progressed to Macon in the Class A Sally League in 1947, and to Nashville of the Southern Association in 1948. He went to spring training with Los Angeles in 1949 but was found not ready for the Pacific Coast League.

He remained at Nashville until 1951, when the Cubs sold his contract conditionally to Albany of the Eastern League. Albany did not complete the transaction, and Holloman’s contract was sold to Augusta of the Sally League. A good year there caused Syracuse to bring him up to the International League in 1952.

Up to this time, Holloman had been considered wild and rather inconsistent, but the Syracuse manager, Bruno Betzal, made an effective hurler out of him. Holloman turned in a 16-7 record with an ERA of 2.51, sixth lowest among starters in the International League. He gave up only six extra-base hits all season. Syracuse, although operating with a working agreement with the Yankees, had an obligation to allow the White Sox to choose a pitcher at the end of the 1952 season. Frank Lane, general manager of the White Sox, was interested in Holloman, but wound up choosing teammate Bob Keegan, who had led Syracuse with a 20-11 record (and later became a no-hit pitcher himself). Holloman was then offered to the Browns, who secured him in trade for the French-born Duke Markell, who had appeared in five games for the Browns in 1951, and cash. Bill Veeck later reported that he paid Syracuse $10,000 immediately and agreed to pay another $25,000 if Holloman were retained after the final cut-down date.

Veeck in his book Veeck — as in Wreck gives a generally unfavorable view of Holloman. Veeck states that he retained Holloman through a lackluster spring training period out of a belief that the hurler’s ability, presumably on the basis of his minor league record, must be more than he was showing the Browns. He also depicts Holloman as an amiable traveling salesman type who was surviving more on his ability to outtalk the management than on his ability.

Actually, Holloman was exceptionally well motivated. He had a wife, Nancy, and a six-year-old son Gary, and took his family responsibilities seriously. He regularly scratched the initials of his wife and son — “N G” — in the foul line between the dugout and the mound. He bore the nickname “Bob” more out of a facial resemblance to Bobo Newsom than to similarity to Newsom’s flamboyant personality.

Holloman started the 1953 season with the Browns with four relief appearances, two of which were effective and two which were not. In his fourth game on May 1, he was hit hard by Washington, giving up four hits and two runs in 1 and 1/3 inning. This record was such as to make Holloman a candidate for cutting, and Veeck was eager to save the $25,000 he would owe Syracuse for retaining him.

The Brown rookie stated truthfully that he had been a starting pitcher in the minors and he argued for a start. Finally Veeck and manager Marty Marion granted Holloman’s request to start a game, apparently anticipating a further excuse to return him to Syracuse. Holloman was fully aware of this, and pitched accordingly.

May 6, the night of the famous game, proved wet and unpleasant, holding the crowd to a level not unusual for the Browns, 2,473. After the fifth inning, in a gesture believed to be unprecedented, Veeck announced that rain checks would be honored at any later Browns’ game as a reward to fans who had ventured out on a foul night. Of course, the fans had another reward by the end of the game.

Veeck describes the game as “the quaintest no-hitter in the history of the game,” implying that it was the result of line drives hit directly at infielders, and prospective home runs which died in the muggy air just short of the walls. In fact, it appears to have been a straightforward no-hitter, with no more than the usual amount of luck necessary to achieve the feat. There were only two really difficult fielding plays, a catch by Jim Dyck off Gus Zernial in left in the second inning, and a hard shot to Billy Hunter at short by Allie Clark in the fifth.

There was only one error, characteristically by Holloman himself; he was a poor fielder. He walked five and struck out three. He was not fast, but his sinker worked very well. Even at the plate, the game of May 6 was the summit of Holloman’s experience; he had two singles and batted in three runs, the only hits or RBIs he recorded in the majors. It was the only no-hitter in the majors in 1953 and it occurred on the 36th anniversary of the last Brownie no-hitter, by Bob Groom in 1917.

The game converted Holloman from being a relatively unknown member of an unpublicized club to a celebrity. Veeck gave him $100, variously reported for a new suit or a television set. Veeck had little choice now but to pay Syracuse the $25,000 and take title to Holloman’s contract. He later reported that the expenditure made it impossible for him to buy Ernie Banks from the Kansas City Monarchs.

Holloman was now considered by the press to be one of three promising Brown rookie hurlers, along with Don Larsen and Mike Blyzka. He was next started on May 12 in Philadelphia, but he developed a blister warming up, was wild, and was removed in the second inning of a game which Larsen eventually won. On May 17, he started the second game of a twinbill in New York, but the game was halted by darkness with no score in the third. On May 24 he lasted only 2-1/3 innings, losing to the Indians. His second victory came on May 27, when he held Cleveland to one run before being replaced by Satchel Paige in the sixth inning of a 5-1 win.

His next two starts were ineffective and he lost both games. He then made three short relief appearances without a decision before his next start, a 5-3 loss to New York on June 17 in which he lasted four innings. Then, at Boston on June 21, Holloman pitched his last major league victory, an excellent game in which he barely missed his second shutout and second complete game. He held the Red Sox to two hits and five walks before being relieved by Paige after facing one batter in the ninth. The Browns won 2-0.

Thereafter, Holloman’s record deteriorated steadily. He made two more unsuccessful starts, on June 26 and July 5. He was also unsuccessful in most of his relief jobs. On July 7 he was brought in against Cleveland at the start of the eighth inning. He gave up a walk and a single and was removed immediately, but was the losing pitcher. It was his seventh loss against three wins. It also was the Browns’ 20th consecutive home loss, a new record.

Holloman made three more relief appearances, all without decision. On July 19 he had a disastrous 1 and 1/3 inning in relief of Lou Kretlow, in which he was charged with six runs en route to the team’s 13-4 loss to the Senators. Veeck gave up on him at this point, and on July 23 sold his contract to Toronto of the International League. Toronto newspapers said the price was $15,000, but Veeck said it was $7,500. All major league clubs had waived on him. The financial loss was bitter for Veeck and the demotion galling to Holloman. He at first refused to report, threatening to return to a trucking business in Chattanooga, of which he was a partner. He was particularly irritated that his tenure of more than 30 days in the majors would prevent him, wider the rules at that time, from playing winter baseball. The previous winter he had led the Puerto Rican league with 15 victories.

Apparently in need of money for his family obligations, Holloman reported to Toronto in time to start the game of July 26. He attracted a big crowd of 12,000 and pitched creditably. He yielded two hits in six innings and departed with a 5-1 lead which five subsequent pitchers could not hold. He won his first game for Toronto on August 7, going 11 innings at Syracuse to win 6-3 as Ed Stevens pinch hit successfully for him in the 12th. Ray Shore, Toronto’s specialized short reliever, saved the win. For the rest of the season Holloman was hot and cold. He closed out fast with three wins in a five-day period, including a final 5-0 complete game win over Montreal on September 9.

The year 1954 saw Holloman sink into the lower minors and finally out of 0.B. He went to spring training with Toronto, but barely made the team. He appeared in five games and was not effective, averaging one walk per inning. He was revealed to have a sore arm. Holloman blamed the Toronto management for failure to provide whirlpool baths, diathermy, or medical treatment. On May 19 he was optioned to Columbus of the American Association, where he made one losing start. Columbus returned him to Toronto which then sold him conditionally to Chattanooga of the Southern Association. After three brief appearances there, Chattanooga declined to complete the purchase.

In late June, Toronto next sent him to St. Petersburg of the Class B Florida International League. There he started six games, pitched twice in relief, and played briefly in right field. After a game on July 23, the management accused him of making no effort to field a bunt, of criticizing his teammates of indifferent support, and of becoming involved in acrimony with some bleacher fans. He was suspended. Four days later, the St. Petersburg club disbanded.

Holloman’s contract was still owned by Toronto, which next placed him with Augusta of the Sally League, where he had pitched with some success in 1951. He won one game and lost two, the final one at Savannah on August 12. On August 16, Holloman requested of the management what was described as “a further advance on his salary,” was refused, and left the club for his home in Athens, Georgia. In five months of 1954, he had played with five clubs in five different leagues. It must have been some kind of record.

In 1955 Holloman was carried on Toronto’s voluntarily retired list. So ended the career in O.B. of the man who alone among modern major league hurlers had thrown a no-hitter in his first start. To have gone from such a feat to the limbo of the lower minors in one year would have been difficult psychologically for any man. It must have been particularly tough for Holloman, who had considerable ambition and self-confidence.

As Bill Veeck observed in his unflattering treatment of Holloman, the no-hitter made him “one of the immortals.” Unfortunately, formal recognition is currently awarded only to the immortals in the large, not those, who like Holloman, achieved it in the small. If, as has been proposed, the Baseball Hall of Fame is enlarged to provide recognition of notable individual performances, let Holloman’s no-hitter be enshrined without hesitation and treated for the achievement it was.