The One Start, One Shutout Wonders

How many pitchers in MLB history have thrown a shutout in the only game they ever started? I might have guessed that the answer was none. If a pitcher threw a shutout on his debut start, why would you not give that player a second opportunity?

I was wrong. The answer is four. Four players have started one MLB game, and thrown one MLB shutout. Here are their stories:

#1. Don Fisher (New York Giants 1-0 Boston Braves, September 30, 1945)

The New York Giants were not in contention for the pennant in 1945, or any year that started with one-nine-four. The 1940s remains the only decade since the formation of the World Series in which the franchise played no postseason games.

The Giants’ lack of October pretensions in 1945, in combination with the ongoing shortage of viable major leaguers due to the Second World War, might be why they turned to a “husky right-hander from the sandlots of Cleveland” to aid their pitching staff down the stretch.

Don Fisher, listed at six-feet, 215 pounds, had made a name for himself in Cleveland semi-pro circles over the previous summer. But he saw little action with the Giants after his signing. Aside from a poor relief appearance on August 25 in which he allowed four runs in five innings, and a similar shelling in an exhibition game, he sat on the sidelines.

On the final day of the season, with nothing to play for, manager Mel Ott finally gave Fisher another opportunity to show his worth by starting the first game of a doubleheader versus the Boston Braves.

In front of “4,717 half-frozen fans“, Fisher pitched the game of his life. The Braves lineup was, admittedly, not the most fearsome on the planet – three hitters in the hometown starting nine were playing in the only big league season of their career – but Fisher kept them scoreless for nine innings. Unfortunately, the Giants hadn’t mustered a run off sophomore pitcher Lefty Wallace either, and so extra innings were required.

Fisher pitched a scoreless tenth, eleventh and twelfth, before Giants third sacker Napoleon “Nap” Reyes mercifully broke the deadlock with a home run – his last hit in MLB – in the top of the 13th. Ott, “anxious to see to see just how far the big rookie could go“, let Fisher put the finishing touches on the shutout. Fisher’s outing remains the ninth most recent shutout of at least thirteen innings in MLB history, with none having been thrown since 1966.

Sal Maglie, in his last start before jumping ship to the Mexican League, pitched the second game of the doubleheader, which was inevitably called for light after seven innings.

Fisher joined the Giants in Miami for spring training in 1946 but evidently did not impress and was sent down to Jersey City of the International League in April. By July he had been released, and although he caught on with the Cardinals affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, he pitched no further pro ball after 1946. His career major league line stood at two games played, one start, one shutout.

#2. Luis Alomá (Chicago White Sox 9-0 Philadelphia Athletics, June 17, 1951)

Unlike Fisher, Luis “Witto” Alomá was much more than just a September afterthought in the majors. The Cuban-born right-hander spent much of the 1940s as a starter in the Senators minor league system, before spending 1949 with Detroit’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.

The White Sox acquired Alomá ahead of the 1950 season by trading away pitcher Álex Carrasquel, “the first native Venezuelan to play in the major leagues“. Alomá pitched exclusively in relief for the White Sox in 1950, appearing in 42 games and recording a 3.80 ERA. Frequently appearing behind him in the field was shortstop Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel, nephew of Álex. Alomá often acted as a translator for Carrasquel, who had only been in the United States for a year.[1]

Paul Richards took over the reigns of the White Sox in 1951 and presided over an all-hands-on-deck approach to pitching for the first two months of the season. Chicago deployed “ten starters and ten relief men” (the same ten men, to be clear, not a twenty-man pitching staff as will surely have become the norm by 2035).[2]

Even Richards’ flexible staff could not keep up with the demands of a mid-June stretch that saw them play seven games in four days on the road. Alomá, who had missed April and May with “misery” in his left shoulder, was pressed into action as the starting pitcher for the last of these encounters, the second game of a Sunday doubleheader in Philadelphia.[3]

Behind plentiful support from the Chicago offense, Alomá cruised to a 9-0 victory over the Athletics, allowing just five hits and one walk in nine innings. Alomá didn’t allow a player to reach second base after Wally Moses singled and stole in the first inning. New White Sox arrival Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso was a typically diverse offensive threat, getting on base via a walk, a hit by pitch and four hits, including a double and a triple.

By July, Richards had set a six man rotation and decided that, despite his shutout on June 17, Alomá would be best used out of the bullpen. “Alomá is the type of guy who keeps firing hard all the way,” said Chicago’s manager. “You have to have a certain stamina to do that. He can retain it for short relief stints.” Indeed, Alomá’s arm was reportedly sore after his start in Philadelphia.[4]

Alomá turned in an outstanding 1951 season, pitching 69.1 innings and tallying a 1.82 ERA, even as the Sox fell from first place at the All-Star Break to fourth by season’s end. The righty pitched in 49 games over the next two seasons, ending his major league career with a total of 235.1 innings pitched and a 3.44 ERA.

After his playing career ended Alomá settled in Chicago and became president of the Cuban American Society, a group that “helped Latinos settle in Chicago, along with serving as a center for activists and anti-revolutionary efforts”. Alomá also owned a club, La Havana Madrid, which hosted Society meetings.

#3. Larry Anderson (Detroit Tigers 0-7 Milwaukee Brewers, September 28, 1975)

Mike Schmidt was taken 30th overall in the 1971 June Amateur draft. George Brett was picked 29th. Taken just ahead of them by the Brewers, with the 27th pick, was high schooler Larry Anderson.

Anderson made steady, if unspectacular, progress through the minors, but his spell with Triple-A Sacramento in 1974 went disastrously. The short fences of Hughes Stadium left Anderson “shell-shocked” and, more tangibly, with a 10.91 ERA.[5] A cup of coffee with the big league team went better, as Anderson went unscored upon in 2.1 innings of work.

By 1975 Anderson had somewhat recovered from his shellackings in the Pacific Coast League and posted a 5.48 ERA in Triple-A, nearly half the figure from the previous year and a mere half a run above the league average. On August 10 he threw a ten strikeout two-hitter, and his final two starts with the Solons were complete game victories.

The Brewers’ pitching staff was suffering from a late season injury crisis in 1975 and Milwaukee responded by calling up a quintet of minor leaguers, including Anderson. The rookie had to make do with mop up work, entering each of his seven September relief appearances with his team already losing.

Milwaukee had been tied for the AL East lead on July 5, but a calamitous second half of the season saw them 29 games back entering the final day; Detroit were now the only team below them in the division. Manager Del Crandall paid for the poor results with his job, and hitting coach Harvey Kuenn stepped in to manage the final game after Crandall was dismissed mere hours before the first pitch.

Anderson, who to that point in the season had allowed a 7.17 ERA in 21.1 big league innings, was given the final day start against the visiting Tigers. Pitching in front of Henry Aaron, who was rumored to be playing his final major league game and was further rumored to be in contention for the Brewers’ managing job, Anderson turned in a nine inning, complete game shutout. Detroit mustered just five singles and two walks off the rookie, who sat down sixteen Tigers in a row between the third and eighth innings en route to victory. Despite his spotless 1-0 managerial record, Kuenn did not get the Brewers job (yet) and neither did Aaron, who stuck around for one more season as a player.

Anderson could not capitalize on the success of his shutout: his outings in the following spring training earned him a demotion to minor league camp, and his ERA in the PCL ballooned to an unsightly 6.14. Toronto selected Anderson in the 1977 expansion draft, but traded him to the White Sox in short order. Chicago gave him one last opportunity in the bigs in June of 1977, but a 9.35 ERA in less than ten innings of work saw him traded across town. Although multiple big league ballclubs acquired Anderson over the next few seasons, his big league career was over at the age of 24.

#4. Frank Williams (San Francisco Giants 7-0 St. Louis Cardinals, May 5, 1984)

Fans of the Giants in 1984 must have come out of spring training carrying some hope that the torpor of the previous decade was about to end. San Francisco’s spring slate ended with them owning the best record in the National League.

A surprise member of the Opening Day roster was right-handed reliever Frank Williams. A part of the Giants organization since being drafted out of college in 1979, Williams had only reached Triple-A in 1983, which was also his first year of full time relief. His spring training ERA of 6.08 suggested more minor league work was to come, but manager Frank Robinson was intrigued by Williams’ sidearm delivery.

The rookie’s first appearance out of the bullpen could not have gone worse. Williams entered the Giants’ second game of the season with men on in the fifth inning and failed to retire any of the four batters he faced. A loss in that game proved to be a common outcome for the team from by the bay: San Francisco finished the month with the worst record in the majors, a long fall from the optimism of March.

Williams had been steady the rest of the month, however. On May 5 he had his most impressive outing yet. Rain delayed the start of a Saturday night game in St. Louis by more than a hour and a half, and in a last minute decision (a last eight-minute decision to be precise), Williams was named the starting pitcher.[6]

The Giants hit the Cardinals with a deluge of runs, crossing home plate six times through three innings while Williams held the home team scoreless. Another downpour halted proceedings for 81 minutes, but Williams stayed in the game.[7] Once play resumed he kept St. Louis off the board for a further two innings, before more rain finally put an end to the affair. The Giants were 7-0 winners, and Frank Williams had pitched a five-inning shutout.

While Williams’ pitching was noted as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season by manager Frank Robinson, the side-armer was not considered for further starting duties. The game in St. Louis had been an emergency and nothing more. Williams finished the season with a 3.55 ERA in 106.1 innings pitched. A dip in form followed in 1985, but the righty turned in a magnificent 1986. Williams allowed just one extra base hit – a double – in 52.1 innings. No one else in the liveball era has allowed so few extra base hits in a season of 50 innings or more.

A trade to Cincinnati came after the 1986 season. Two years there were followed by a season in Detroit. Injuries sustained in a car crash ended his career prematurely.

After his playing career Williams explored his familial connections with the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island, his heritage having been unknown to him in childhood due to his early upbringing in foster care. His later years were sadly marked by homelessness and battles with alcoholism. [8] Williams died in 2009 at the age of 50.

Conclusion

So, how does a one start, one shutout career happen? Two of the games occurred on the last day of the season, and the pitchers in question failed to impress in the following spring training. Fisher had little pedigree to justify continued tryouts in the majors, but he, and especially Anderson, might well have been given another shot had their starts come a week earlier in the season.

Alomá’s and Williams’ starts came in emergency circumstances – a packed schedule and a rain-delayed game – after a season spent exclusively as a relief pitcher. Alomá’s manager had questions over his stamina, and the shortened length of Williams’ outing meant his start provided little real evidence of his viability as a starter (he even had a longer relief appearance later that season).

Furthermore, while each start was impressive, none was unignorably dominant. None of the pitchers struck out more than three batters (although, to be fair, none of the opposing pitchers did either), and none faced a powerful opposing lineup. Even considering the circumstances outlined in the preceding paragraphs, it’s possible an even more commanding performance would have earned one of these pitchers a second start.

Will such a career happen again? It seems unlikely. Complete games, let alone shutouts, are already such a rarity: any pitcher who shows the ability to throw one – or rather, is allowed to throw one – would surely be given more opportunities to do so. And even if a pitcher threw a shutout in their first start but continued to be viewed as a bullpen-only type, they might earn a cheap start through the role of the opener anyway.

In which case these might be the only four players to ever pull off this unusual feat.

Notes

[1] Irving Vaughan, “Chico Joins Sox; ‘Knee? She’s Fine’,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 3, 1951: B3.

[2] Edgar Munzel, “Richards Divides Hill Staff, Names Big Six Starters”, The Sporting News, July 4, 1951: 9

[3] Irving Vaughan, “Rain Thwarts Boston and Sox,” Chicago Daily Tribune May 11, 1951: C1.

[4] Edgar Munzel, “Richards Divides Hill Staff, Names Big Six Starters”, The Sporting News, July 4, 1951: 9

[5] “Pacific Coast League,” The Sporting News, September 20, 1975: 36

[6] Rick Hummel, “Home Hasn’t Been Sweet for Cards,” The Sporting News, May 21, 1984: 19

[7] Dan Hafner, “National League Roundup,” Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1984: C8

[8] Tom Hawthorn, “Frank Williams, baseball pitcher (1958-2009),” Globe and Mail, January 26, 2009

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Tom
Tom
1 month ago

Aloma had a career 18-3 mark, the best of any pitcher with over 20 decision. Bob Lacey missed it by that much. After griping to Billy Martin about his lack of use during the 1980 season, he finally got a start in game #161. The A’s “Closer” gave up 7 hits and a walk while striking out 5 in a 4-0 win over Milwaukee. Milwaukee led the league in HRs, and were second in runs that year. They started their regulars, including HOFers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount; Cecil Cooper, entering the day batting .357; Gorman Thomas, the 1979 AL… Read more »

Doug
Editor
1 month ago

Good bit of research there, Aidan. Well done.

That 2nd half collapse by the ’75 Brewers (going from 46-42 before the ASG to 22-52 after) was historically bad, one of 53 teams to post a 2nd half (after the ASG, or actual second half for seasons before the ASG) with a W-L% under .300. The rest of those teams were really bad all season long, except for one – another Brewers club, in 2004, that was 45-41 before the ASG and 22-53 after. Those two seasons are the only times the Brewers have had a second half below .300.

Last edited 1 month ago by Doug
Doug
Editor
1 month ago

In the same vein, the games by Fisher, Aloma and Anderson rank 1st, 2rd and 4th respectively, in game score among single start pitchers (Williams is a ways back at 28th). Here are those with a game score of 75 or better in a single career start. Prince Oana, BTW, was the first Hawaiian born pitcher to be credited with a win. He debuted with 6 games as a Phillie outfielder in 1934, converted to a pitcher in 1938, and finally made it back to the majors with the Tigers in 1943. Eddie O’Brien was also a converted position player.… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Doug