Don't jinx the no-hitter
It's just like Fight Club. The first rule of a baseball no-hitter is you don't talk about a no-hitter. The second rule: you DO NOT talk about a no-hitter.
For as long as there have been baseball no-hitters (and the first major-league one was thrown way back in 1875) superstition dictates that you don't do or say anything to bring attention to the fact that a pitcher is working on no-hitter and, for goodness sakes, whatever you do, don't say the word "no-hitter.''
If you watched Matt Garza's gem on Sun Sports on Monday, you didn't actually hear the word "no-hitter'' until the final out was recorded and Garza had officially thrown the first in Tampa Bay Rays history. Neither play-by-play announcer Dewayne Staats, a veteran of more than 5,000 major-league broadcasts, nor analyst Kevin Kennedy wanted to be blamed for jinxing Garza's bid. Plus, Staats said that part of the drama of a no-hitter is alluding to it, but not mentioning it directly.
"I framed it in every way possible without actually saying it,'' Staats said Tuesday. "Fans start to catch on that something is happening. At one point, I said, 'Garza has faced the minimum and has allowed only one base runner and that came on a walk.' So I'm essentially saying it without saying it. I say things like, 'We have something special building here.' I'm giving the viewers clues along the way and it helps them become more involved in the game, I think. And they can see the box score at the end of each inning showing that a team has no hits.''
For Staats, hinting at a no-hitter without saying it is half the fun of a no-hitter, but make no mistake, there is a part of Staats that is definitely Old School and Old School Rules say you never use the word "no-hitter.''
Kennedy said he normally breaks tradition and uses the word, but avoided it Monday night because of Staats.
"I followed Dewayne's lead on that one,'' Kennedy said. "He's called eight no-hitters so I guess it's hard to argue with what he prefers. But I've called games in the past and said it. Then again, as Monday's game went on and I looked in the dugout and saw players doing the same things, I started to get caught up in it. And then I thought, 'Oh man, I'm not going to be the one to say it.'' The last thing I wanted was to be the guy who jinxed the first no-hitter in team history.''
Players are even more superstitious than the TV announcers. Not only do they not mention a no-hitter to a pitcher, they stop talking all together. Often, pitchers find themselves alone on the bench with no one talking to them, sitting next to them or even looking at them.
After Monday's game, Rays pitcher James Shields told Times sports columnist John Romano, "I was trying to do the same thing every single inning. As the night went on, I kind of knew I couldn't move. My butt was hurting all night from sitting there, but I had to do what I had to do.''
Pitching coach Jim Hickey said he barely spoke to Garza after the sixth inning, adding, "Even if I had a really good thought, I just kept it to myself.''
Over on radio, however, Rays announcers Dave Wills and Andy Freed mentioned the word "no-hitter'' early and often.
"Andy and I had this talk a long time ago about what we should do,'' Wills said.
Freed told Wills that he had called several no-hitters in the minors and always told listeners that a pitcher had a no-hitter going. Wills said he has done both -- used the word "no-hitter'' and not used the word. It has never mattered because regardless of what he has said or not said, he has seen no-hitters hold up and no-hitters broken. So he and Freed decided years ago that if a pitcher ever had a no-hitter, they would say so.
"We have to on the radio because people can't see the box score,'' Wills said. "We have to say it. Plus, you know what? If we had the power to break up no-hitters, we're certainly wasting our talents calling play-by-play of baseball games on the radio.''
After the eighth inning, Wills said he told listeners "to text, tweet, e-mail, Facebook and call your friends to tune in because Matt Garza has a no-hitter.''
Meantime, St. Petersburg Times baseball writer Marc Topkin wrote on Twitter and his Rays blog on TampaBay.com during the game that Garza had a no-hitter going. Topkin said, "People started ripping me'' for using the word "no-hitter.''
In the end, there appears to be no right or wrong. Staats and Kennedy didn't say it and Garza threw a no-hitter. Wills and Freed did say it and Garza threw a no-hitter. In the end, baseball traditions are what you make of them. Surely, however, there are those today who are convinced Garza threw a no-hitter because they didn't jinx him by actually saying the word out loud.