Opening day of the 1940 Major League Baseball season generated one of the most bizarre stat lines you’ll see in all of sports. Every hitter on the 1940 Chicago White Sox Opening Day roster who played against the Cleveland Indians ended the day with the same batting average as they started at .000.
How is that possible? Indians pitcher Bob Feller tossed the first and only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history.
Bob Feller’s early career
Heading into the 1940 season, Feller had established himself as one of the game’s biggest stars. Four years earlier, the hard-throwing 17-year-old rookie appeared in 14 games where he struck out an average of 11 hitters per game. He finished the season with a 5-3 mark.
When Feller stepped up on to the mound against the Indians on April 16, 1940, he was a two-time All-Star coming off a 1939 season where he led the American League in wins with 24 and strikeouts at 246. He had a 2.85 ERA.
“This ought to be his greatest season,” said Indians manager Ossie Vitt of Feller during 1940 spring training. Vitt later proved to be clairvoyant.
The lone opening day no-hitter in MLB history
In front of a crowd of 14,000 on a blustery 40-degree day at Comiskey Park, Feller completed the first inning unblemished. After the Indians failed to score in the top half of the second inning, Feller returned to the mound with the game scoreless.
In the bottom half of the inning, the White Sox threatened, loading the bases with two outs including a pair of walks. In typical Feller fashion, the right-hander fanned rookie Bob Kennedy to squelch the threat and end the inning.
The Indians tallied their lone run of the game in the fourth inning on a triple by catcher Rollie Hemsley that scored Jeff Heath. That run sparked Feller, who then proceeded to retire the next 15 Chicago batters in order.
In the bottom of the ninth, Feller surrendered a two-out walk to future Hall of Famer Luke Appling, before facing Taffy Wright. Wright hit a shot between first and second base destined for right field. Indians second baseman Ray Mack made a spectacular diving play to snag the ball and throw out Wright to end the game.
Feller had done it. He had thrown the first no-hitter of his career and the first hitless opening day game in MLB history.
Bob Feller’s Hall of Fame career
That record-setting opening day in 1940 was a pre-cursor of things to come for that season. Feller dominated the American League earning the Triple Crown of pitching by leading the league in wins (27), ERA (2.61), and strikeouts 261.
Feller pitched through the 1941 season before taking three years off to serve in World War II. When he returned from the war, he pitched for 12 more seasons, including the best statistical season of his career in 1946. That year Feller posted stellar numbers where he started an incredible 42 games, and finished with 26 wins, 348 strikeouts, and a 2.18 ERA.
Feller retired following the 1956 season with 266 wins, a 3.25 ERA, 2,581 strikeouts, and two more no-hitters. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962 in his first year eligible. He died in 2010.
Another pitcher might one day match Feller’s 1940 Opening Day performance. But chances are statistically next-to-impossible that any team will surpass the White Sox record of batters having the same average at the end of the day as when they started. The only way it happens, if a team is no-hit twice to start the season.