Grave Story: Bobo Holloman (1923-1987)

Here lies Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman, who is the only pitcher in baseball’s Modern Era to throw a no-hitter in his first major-league start. He also has one of the shortest careers of any pitcher who threw a no-no. Holloman pitched 22 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1953.

The fun thing about no-hitters is their utter unpredictability. Great pitchers can go a whole career and never get close, and some run-of-the-mill hurler might catch lightning in a bottle for 27 outs and put his name in the history book. The game I’ll briefly describe below was one of the unlikeliest of the near 300 no-hitters ever thrown.

So, May 6, 1953, Browns versus the Philadelphia Athletics. Holloman to that point had pitched in relief in 4 games and had an 8.44 ERA in 5-1/3 innings. Fewer than 2,500 people showed up to the matchup of two thoroughly average teams on a rainy night. The weather was so terrible that Browns owner Bill Veeck gave those 2,473 fans a complimentary pass to another Browns game as a reward for their loyalty.

Rain or not, Holloman’s magic touch resulted in a 6-0 no-hit win. He also singled twice and drove in 3 runs. As no-hitters go, it wasn’t a particularly dominating affair. Holloman walked 5, struck out only 3 and committed a fielding error. He wasn’t fooling the A’s. In his memoir,
Veeck–As In Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck, Veeck wrote, “Big Bobo went out and pitched against the Athletics, the softest competition we could find, and everything he threw up was belted. And everywhere the ball went, there was a Brownie there to catch it.”

Bobo Holloman, center, along with catcher Les Moss (left) and shortstop Billy Hunter (right), celebrates his no-hitter.

In the second inning, Jim Dyck made a leaping catch of what should have been a double by the A’s Gus Zernial. With four outs to go, shortstop Billy Hunter made a diving grab of Joe Astroth’s would-be single and made a perfect throw to first base. Bobo danced in and out of trouble the whole game. An Astroth bunt rolled foul at the last second. A line drive to second base turned into a double play, one of three the A’s hit on the day. While it wasn’t pretty, it was still a no-hitter.

It was a good thing Holloman had the magic that night, because Veeck was about to ship him back to the minors. Holloman, who entered baseball after serving in World War II, had put together several good seasons in the minors, including a 16-7 record for Syracuse in 1952. The Browns paid Syracuse $10,000 for Holloman’s contract, only to find that his oversized personality didn’t compensate for his general lack of ability.

“He could outtalk me, outpester and outcon me,” Veeck wrote. “Unfortunately, he could not outpitch me.”

The only reason Holloman even made that start is because he’d spent weeks begging manager Marty Marion for a chance. It broke baseball convention in a big way, but it worked. The Browns decided to give Holloman his start and then dump him — but fate intervened.

“I’m mighty happy that he pestered me into giving him his chance to start that game. He proved to me that he’s just about as good as he thinks he is,” Marion said.

Holloman made more starts after that, but he routinely got knocked out of the game early. A month after his no-hitter, he got knocked out of the starting rotation entirely and was back in the bullpen. He made a few more starts, and a couple were even good ones, but the magic was clearly gone. After getting torched for 6 runs in 1-2/3 innings of relief work against the Washington Senators on July 13, Holloman was sent to Toronto of the International League. Within two-and-a-half months of his no-hitter, his MLB career was over. His time in the majors resulted in a 3-7 record, 5.23 ERA, 1.821 WHIP and 50 walks in 65-1/3 innings.

Holloman played for five different teams in 1954, picking up a 4-8 record in 20 games. That was his final season. He won 118 minor-league games, but when he crashed, he crashed hard. Part of that could have been his workload. After pitching a full season for Syracuse in 1952, Holloman went to winter ball in Puerto Rico and won 20 more games. When that ended, he reported to Spring Training with the Browns, essentially pitching right through the offseason. Such a schedule is unheard of now, but Holloman pitched at least a full calendar year without any extended rest. His walk ratio in the minors was never great to begin with, but his quick exit from baseball and complaints of arm problems in later interviews would indicate that he was pitched past his breaking point.

Holloman’s experience in the majors left a mark, and he fell into and out of a severe drinking problem in his retirement. He and his wife settled in Athens, Ga., where they opened an advertising agency. He also scouted for the Baltimore Orioles (formerly the Browns). Bobo Holloman died of a heart attack on May 1, 1987. He was 64 years old. He is buried in Evergreen Memorial Park Cemetery in Athens, Ga.

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