Game Rewind: Pirates at Giants, August 23, 1907

One day after his 26th birthday, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Howie Camnitz was unhittable in New York. While it’s not recognized now as an official no-hitter, Camnitz threw a complete game no-hitter at the Polo Grounds during a doubleheader on August 23, 1907. Here’s the story of that game and some background on why it happened.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Giants played a doubleheader on Friday, August 23, 1907. The two teams needed to make up a rained out game from May 9th. It’s important to note that games back then moved at a quick pace without commercial breaks between innings or every guy swinging for the fence and missing over and over and over. Players back then were mostly trying to put the ball in play. They used heavier bats with bigger barrels, choked up and used controlled swings. It was the deadball era, so pitchers would ease up against the bottom of the lineup hitters. They weren’t going to hit a homer and that pitcher was expected to take the ball every few days and go nine innings, so why not let them put the ball in play early in the count and trust your fielders. That all led to a quick pace of play in most games, especially when they knew they had a doubleheader to play. However, things didn’t go as planned in the first game that day.

Game one was moving along at a quick pace until late in the contest. Sam Leever was on the mound for the Pirates and he was throwing shutout ball until the eighth. He gave up one run in the eighth inning and another in the ninth to tie the score and send it to extra innings. Honus Wagner started the tenth off with a double off of Hall of Fame pitch Joe McGinnity and the Pirates added two runs. Leever remained in and got the complete game win.

The time of game was two hours and five minutes. That doesn’t sound like a long game now obviously, but when you’re playing a mid-afternoon doubleheader and there are no stadium lights, anything over the normal 90-100 minutes back then would cut into the second game. The teams took a short break between contests to allow the game two pitchers to warm up. Before the second game started, managers Fred Clarke and John McGraw informed home plate umpire Hank O’Day that the game would be limited to five innings. If both teams agreed to it back then, the second games of doubleheaders could be shortened. As a side note, that was three future Hall of Famers involved in that discussion about the game length.

Howie Camnitz knew he only had to go five innings on this day, possible 1-2 more if the game was tied after five, but the looming darkness wouldn’t allow them to go much longer if needed. He was going up against former Pirates pitcher Mike Lynch, who was a teammate of Camnitz just two months earlier.

Both pitchers had some trouble throwing strikes in this one, but the opposing hitters had more trouble collecting hits. Neither team collected a hit through the first two innings. The game had a low point in the second when Camnitz beaned catcher Frank Bowerman and knocked him unconscious. He had to be carried off of the field and Hall of Fame backstop Roger Bresnahan entered the game in his place.

The Pirates got in the hit column in the third with a single by catcher Harry Smith. That’s when Lynch got in trouble on his own. Smith would score five batters later on a Honus Wagner single, but it was just the second hit of the inning. Lynch had loaded the bases with two outs for the best hitter in baseball and it came back to bite him.

That was it for hits for the rest of the day. Just two singles in the top of the third inning. It wasn’t it for base runners though. As mentioned, Howie Camnitz threw a no-hitter, but it wasn’t a pretty game. He walked five batters and hit Bowerman, but the Giants stranded all six runners. The crowd of approximately 14,000 that day got to see the great Christy Mathewson pitch the fifth inning to keep it a one-run game and give his team a chance to tie or win it in the final frame. Camnitz shut them down though and had his no-hitter. The game took just 62 minutes to play, even with the delay due to Bowerman’s injury.

The papers called the game a no-hitter at the time, some running with it in the headlines. There was no rule in place that said that games had to be at least nine innings for it to be an official no-hitter. That rule didn’t come into place until about 85 years later. This game was scheduled for five innings from the start and Camnitz threw a complete game without a hit. In fact, just two weeks earlier, St Louis pitcher Ed Karger threw a perfect game in a game scheduled for seven innings. The rule change took that away from him, which is a much tougher break.

In my own personal opinion, this Camnitz game should count as a no-hitter still to this day because they played a complete game for the agreed upon innings. The rule was in place to allow shortened games, so the only way Camnitz could have thrown more innings was if the Giants tied the score. Basically, he was too good for a recognized no-hitter.

On September 26, 1906, Pirates pitcher Lefty Leifield threw six no-hit innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in the second game of a doubleheader. His game was a bit different than the one by Camnitz in that it was ended due to darkness. Leifield’s official no-hit bid was hurt at the time by the Pirates scoring eight runs, so the game didn’t move quickly. Also being late September, they had less daylight to work with during his no-hit game.

At one time, both Leifield and Camnitz had recognized no-hitters, the first two in Pittsburgh Pirates history and the only two shortened no-hitters in team history as well. Now they are just footnotes in team history, though I make sure to recognize both for their feat.

Here’s the boxscore from Baseball-Reference.