April 16, 1940 – Bob Feller’s Opening Day No-Hitter
The 1940 season began on a chilly day on the south side of Chicago. With a high temperature of 48 degrees, the bats were not expected to be hot. Blustery winds off Lake Michigan held the crowd down to just about 14,000. Few of those fans could have predicted that they would witness a piece of baseball history that has yet to be repeated.
In his fourth season in the League and second year as the Indians’ Opening Day starter, Bob Feller was maturing into full dominance. Feller came to the Major Leagues directly from high school at age 17. His fastball was the stuff of legend. In the absence of radar gun technology, “Rapid Robert” once raced his fastball against a motorcycle in Chicago’s Lincoln Park at the request of the MLB Commissioner.
Game 1 of the 1940 season would only further Feller’s legendary status. Feller striking out the talented Luke Appling looking to begin the second inning. Then, Chicago outfielder Taffy Wright reached on an error by Roy Weatherly. Feller recorded another strikeout, but after several walks, the bases were loaded. Feller struck out rookie Bob Kennedy to quell the threat.
The Indians lone run came on an RBI triple from Rollie Helmsley in the top of the fourth inning. After settling in from some early walks, Feller was in the groove. He retired 20 straight Sox on the way to his greatest test of the game.
With two outs in the ninth, future Hall of Famer Luke Appling battled Feller for a 10-pitch at-bat. Appling fouled off four two-strike pitches and finally drawing a walk. With the tying run at first, Taffy Wright stepped in for Chicago. He smashed a hard-hit ball to the right side of the infield. Rookie second baseman Ray Mack made a diving stop and narrowly threw out Wright at first to seal the game and complete the first and still only Opening Day no-hitter.
“I think I’ve thrown faster several times,” Feller said following the game. “Of course, the wind behind me helped make me faster. But I couldn’t seem to throw a curve very well.”
Randy Johnson was perhaps the closest to matching this feat. In the first Home Opener at Jacobs Field in 1994, Johnson took a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
Feller was in the press box at that game, pacing the aisles and urging the team to get a hit. Feller was visibly relieved when Sandy Alomar poked a single between first and second base in the bottom of the 8th to keep his 54-year-old feat unique in the history of the game. He celebrated with the rest of Cleveland when Wayne Kirby won the game for the Tribe with a single in bottom of the eleventh.