Madison Bumgarner was brilliant on Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.
The big lefty gave credit to the shadows at Truist Park in his quick postgame interview with the Diamondbacks’ broadcast crew, but he was just being modest. This was vintage Bumgarner, a welcome sight for Arizona baseball fans who had too often watched a subpar version of the Giants’ World Series hero since he signed in the desert before the 2020 season.
Bumgarner faced 21 Atlanta hitters over seven innings, and he didn’t allow a hit or a walk. The only runner reached on an error in the second, but was quickly erased on a double play. Because this was a 2021 doubleheader, it was a seven-inning game. Bumgarner gets credit for a complete game in the history books.
He does not get credit for an “official” no-hitter, though.
If you’ve checked in on baseball Twitter since the end of his gem Sunday afternoon — not an easy task, what with Oscars Twitter and NFL Twitter taking up so much bandwidth — you’ve no doubt seen lots and lots of smart baseball people railing against this decision, which MLB made when it opted to shorten doubleheaders for the 2020 season and re-upped again for the 2021 campaign, long before MadBum toed the rubber Sunday.
The definition from the Elias Sports Bureau, before the 2020 season: “No-hitters by teams and individuals shall not be credited in scheduled seven-inning games, unless the game goes to extra innings and the team (or individual in a complete game) pitches at least nine innings and does not allow a hit.”
Here’s an unpopular, but strongly held, opinion: Keeping Madison Bumgarner off the official list of no-hitters, as currently defined (we’ll come back to this), is the right call.
Because here’s the truth: Getting 21 outs without allowing a hit is not the same as getting 27 outs without a hit. It’s just not, and any argument to the contrary is foolish and wrong. Neither is easy, obviously, but getting 21 outs sans hits is less challenging than getting 27 outs without allowing a hit. There are 307 officially recognized no-hitters; ask pretty much anyone on that list of 307 and they’ll tell you last six outs are the toughest outs of a no-hitter. Better yet, ask anyone who came close to a 27-out no-hitter and fell short, and they’ll definitely tell you those last six are the toughest outs.
Here’s a list of 11 no-hit bids that ended after 26 outs. Dave Stieb is on that list for his Aug. 4, 1989, effort; it was one of four times in Stieb’s career that he carried a no-no into the ninth inning only to have it broken up (he did finally finish a no-hitter in 1990). The list of no-hit bids carried through seven innings is absolutely much, much longer than the list of 307 completed, official no-hitters.
Once upon a time, Bumgarner’s gem would have counted. But in 1991, MLB convened a baseball statistical accuracy committee, chaired by commissioner Fay Vincent, and that group came up with this determination: An official no-hitter is “a game in which a pitcher, or pitchers, gives up no hits while pitching at least nine innings. A pitcher may give up a run or runs so long as he pitches nine innings or more and does not give up a hit.”
The argument for Bumgarner, of course, is that he never had a chance to pitch nine innings, because it was scheduled as a seven-inning game. And if he never had a chance to pitch nine innings, he should get credit for completing the game as scheduled without allowing a hit by having his effort recognized as an “official” no-hitter.
And, yeah, that makes sense. I get the logic.
He was asked after the game if he thought it should count.
“I mean, I don’t know,” he said, in vintage Bumgarner cadence and drawl. “I didn’t give up any hits today. I’m not in control of how many innings we’re playing. I like the seven-inning double-header thing. I don’t know.”
Historical context is important, though. This isn’t the first time a pitcher has finished a game without allowing a hit and not gotten credit for an “official” no-hitter. According to the Baseball-Reference Bullpen section, that 1991 ruling erased 31 no-hit gems from the official list; those were all officially recognized final games, too, most ended by rain or darkness (in the pre-stadium lights days).
It also wiped out games like Andy Hawkins’ eight-inning no-hit effort in 1990. Hawkins’ Yankees and the White Sox were tied 0-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth in Chicago. With two outs, young ChiSox speedster Sammy Sosa — yep, him — reached on an error by third baseman Mike Blowers, and then he stole second. Hawkins walked the next two batters to load the bases. Robin Ventura lofted a lazy fly ball to left field that should have ended the inning, but Jim Leyritz — a catcher by trade — dropped the ball (it was windy, but the ball hit the glove squarely), and all three runners scored.
Then Ivan Calderon lofted a lazy fly ball to right field, but Jesse Barfield dropped that one, too, and Ventura scored to put the White Sox up 4-0. When the Yankees failed to tie the game in the top of the ninth, the game was over. Hawkins was initially in the no-hit club, but the 1991 ruling — a discussion, no doubt spurred by the Hawkins game, and a rain-shortened six-inning no-hitter by Melido Perez 11 days later — booted him out.
Bumgarner’s scheduled seven-inning no-hit effort isn’t even the first scheduled seven-inning no-hit effort in baseball history. That happened in 1906, when Cincinnati’s Jake Weimer shut down Brooklyn. So there is historical precedence. Bumgarner’s plight isn’t unique. It’s just new and therefore a talking point.
And, yeah, it stinks for Bumgarner that he, essentially, had no chance to join the list. I completely agree.
That’s why it’s good to have this conversation, because something does need to be done to honor Bumgarner’s gem, Weimer’s gem and Hawkins’ excellent effort. So here’s a solution: MLB needs to create a second “official” list of no-hitters (what does “official” really mean anyway?). Let the one list stay as is, as defined by the 1991 committee’s decision.
The other one includes everything else: any no-hit effort that falls short of nine innings because of scheduling, rain or darkness, and also any no-hit effort that lasted at least nine innings but ended in extras. Here’s a wonderful collection of those games. That brings Pedro Martinez back into the fold after his nine perfect innings in 1995 and Rich Hill’s nine no-hit frames in 2017 — both ended in the 10th — and Harvey Haddix’s 12 perfect innings that were spoiled by a hit in the 13th in 1959. This second official list would be full of the stories that make baseball great, the quirks and heartbreak and all that good stuff.
It’s a simple solution. It gives much-deserved, often long-overdue recognition to pitchers who were brilliant, but not by the narrowly defined terms of the 1991 committee’s decision. And it also keeps the traditional list of no-hitters, well, traditional. It’s a win-win.
Make it happen, MLB. And while you’re fixing things, get rid of seven-inning double-headers and magical runners in extra innings. Those are hurting the game.