Sixty years ago, Harvey Haddix threw the greatest game ever pitched. And lost.
A wispy left-hander who looked more like a schoolteacher than a major league pitcher, Haddix played for five teams over 14 big league seasons from 1952 to 1965. His best season came in 1953, when he went 20-9 with a league-leading six shutouts to finish second to Jim Gilliam in Rookie-of-the-Year voting. A three-time All-Star with superb control, Haddix had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the National League in both 1957 and ’58. Featuring a live fastball and wicked breaking stuff, Haddix led the NL in strikeouts-per-nine-innings [6.4] in 1954, then topped the senior circuit in WHIP [1.061] and fewest hits allowed per nine innings in 1959.
Born September 18, 1925, in the central Ohio town of Medway, Harvey Haddix Jr. grew up on a farm outside Columbus. After graduating from Catawba High School, the 5’9”, 170-pound southpaw signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Nicknamed “The Kitten” for his resemblance to veteran Cards left-hander Harry “The Cat” Brecheen, Haddix made his major league debut for the Redbirds in August 1952, earning a complete game victory over the Boston Braves 9-2.
After making three straight All-Star teams with St. Louis, Haddix made stops in Philadelphia and Cincinnati before landing in Pittsburgh as the key ingredient in a seven-player deal prior to the 1959 season.
Haddix made baseball history on May 26, 1959.
One-quarter of the way into the season – and four days before Rodger Ward captured the first of his two career victories at the Indianapolis 500 – the wiry left-hander took the mound at half-empty County Stadium against the Milwaukee Braves. Opposing Lew Burdette, who had already won seven games that season, Haddix entered the game 4-2 — and battling the flu.
Facing a Braves team that had won the last two NL pennants and featured future Hall of Famers Eddie Matthews and Hank Aaron, the 33-year-old Ohioan had his work cut out for him. Despite his health woes, Haddix had great command that evening. “I could have put a cup on either corner of the plate and hit it,” he would later say. Throwing nothing but a fastball and slider, Haddix – who did not shake off his catcher all evening — set the Braves down in order. Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski called it “the easiest game I ever played in.” On a soggy night in the Heartland, there were no diving heroics or robbed home runs, just clean inning after clean inning.
Haddix had some experience with holding teams hitless. As a Cardinals rookie in 1953, he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before surrendering two hits in a 2-0 victory over the Phillies. After a rocky start, Burdette was tossing a gem of his own. Despite giving up eight hits, the Braves right-hander had stranded five baserunners and the game remained scoreless through nine.
The Pirates put men on base in the 10th, 11th and 12th but never got a runner past second. Meanwhile, the Braves went down in order each time, with Burdette fanning to end the 12th. At that point, Burdette had allowed 11 hits but had not walked a batter. Haddix remained perfect. “Harv was just trying to win the game,” said Marcia Haddix, Harvey’s wife of 38 years. “He always said he didn’t go out there to lose.”
After Pittsburgh came up empty in the top of the 13th, Haddix – who had thrown an unbelievably economical 104 pitches – trotted out for the bottom of the frame. Milwaukee second baseman Felix Mantilla lead off, hitting a routine grounder to third baseman Don Hoak, who had come over with Haddix from the Reds in January. Hoak’sthrow to first was low, allowing Mantilla to reach on an error. With the spell broken – but the no-hitter still alive, Haddix faced Mathews, one of the strongest power hitters of his generation.
A two-time NL home run king who belted 512 career dingers, Mathews bunted [something you would never see in today’s game].
Haddix, a three-time Gold Glover, hopped off the hill and threw Mathews out at first. The Pirates then walked Aaron to set up a double play or force out. With one out, up came Joe Adcock, a right-handed hitter who had clouted 38 homers in 1956. With the count 1-0, Haddix got a slider a bit up and over the plate, and the hulking Braves first baseman didn’t miss it, sending a shot over the right-center field fence. When Mantilla crossed the plate, the game ended with a loss for Haddix and the Pirates. The home run was ruled a double when Adcock passed Aaron on the bases, making the final score 1-0.
Haddix became an overnight celebrity. When he made his next start in Pittsburgh, the 28,644 fans at Forbes Field gave him a standing ovation. Haddix responded with a shutout win over the Cardinals. He was invited to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show but declined, saying that he had to pitch the next day. In 1991, Major League Baseball changed the definition of a no-hitter to “a game in which a pitcher or pitchers complete a game of nine innings or more without allowing a hit.”
The Pirates portsider had set down a record 36 batters in a row. Despite having thrown more perfect innings than anyone in a single game – he had actually thrown one-and-a-third perfect games in one night – Haddix’s masterpiece was taken off the list of perfect games and no-hitters. “That’s all right,” said Haddix. “I know what I did.”
Over the course of his 14-year MLB career, Harvey Haddix went 136-113 with a 3.63 ERA.
He struck out 1,575 batters in 2,235 innings of work. Following his retirement as a player after the 1965 season, he worked as a pitching coach for the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. Haddix earned two World Series rings in his career, both with the Pirates. After going 2-0 against the New York Yankees in the 1960 Fall Classic — including the Game 7 clincher — Haddix served as pitching coach for the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates. Mr. Haddix died of emphysema in January 1994 in Springfield, Ohio. He was 68.