Thanks to some impatience from the Boston Red Sox and a fairly liberal rulebook in terms of ball-doctoring, Eddie Cicotte became a fixture on the White Sox staff during the bulk of the 1910s. Red Sox owner John I. Taylor and Cicotte had a contentious relationship over the course of a few seasons, but Cicotte was just good enough to stick around. When Cicotte started the 1912 season with a 5.67 ERA over his first nine games, Taylor finally could bear to part with a fairly valuable, if inconsistent, pitcher.
As we now know, knuckleballers are often late bloomers. But the 28-year-old Cicotte didn’t have much of a precedent, and he didn’t fully develop his bag of tricks — which included a shine ball and emery ball -- until his early 30s.
He was 32 years old at the start of the 1917 season, and while he had one excellent season to his name (18-11, 1.58 ERA in 1913), he followed it up with a couple of rocky ones that required stints to the bullpen.
It wasn’t until 1917 that he really challenged Walter Johnson for supremacy among American League pitchers. He led the league with 28 wins, a 1.53 ERA and 3462⁄3 innings. Among stats that didn’t exist then, he also led the league with a 174 ERA+ and a whopping 11.4 Wins Above Replacement.
And he made his presence known immediately by throwing a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns in his first start of the season.
A seven-run second inning by the White Sox made it wholly unnecessary, but Cicotte saw it through just the same in an 11-0 blanking at Sportsman’s Park.
The no-hitter was the sixth in Chicago White Sox history. Cicotte faced four over the minimum. He allowed three walks and hit a batter, the latter erased by a double play. Another Brown reached base on a late-game error by Chick Gandil that required the scorer’s discretion, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Cicotte let the Browns down without a base hit or a run and did it with apparent ease. Only once did the enemy come anywhere near getting a safe hit. That was when [Jimmy] Austin hit a bouncer which filtered through Gandil’s mitt in the eighth. It was a palpable error, as Gandil was all set nicely in front of the ball and it bounded nicely. The official scorer squelched his yearning to give Austin a hit and called it an error.
The Chicago Examiner’s Irving Vaughn nodded to Cicotte’s up-and-down past in his lede:
Eddie Cicotte, the little old man of the White Sox, is not yet ready for the scrap heap. He showed it here to-day when he hurled the best ball of his historic career and emerged without the semibalance of a hit being registered against him. The ease with which he sent down one Brown batter after another was nothing short of phenomenal, and meantime his mates were hammering the ball without caution, winning by the lop-sided margin of 11 to 0.
The accounts disagree on a couple details -- Gandil’s error was in the eighth in the Trib, seventh in the Examiner; Examiner says a Brown reached third, while the Trib says nobody got past second -- but both agree it wasn’t much of a game.
Earl Hamilton, who started the opener for St. Louis, was pulled by Browns manager Fielder Jones after plunking Buck Weaver and giving up a double to Ray Schalk to the start the inning. But then Jim Park entered and gave up four hits to the four batters he faced. It wasn’t until the third pitcher of the inning (Tom Rogers) that the Browns recorded an out. Rogers ended up pitching the second through eighth innings, giving up three more runs, but at least sparing Jones additional trips to the mound.
The Sox led 8-0 after two, and so an uninterested home crowd made Cicotte’s feat a little less momentous than usual.
The White Sox spread out their offense. Happy Felsch led the Sox with three RBIs, and he was one of three Sox with two-hits. Gandil was the only one to fail to reach base; even Cicotte contributed to the big second inning with a two-run single.
That’s fitting, considering he was the story of the day. The Sporting News noted the accomplishment in their look at the White Sox’ first week, and from there projected a season that turned out to be rather accurate:
Eddie was by all odds the best-conditioned of the Sox pitchers on the spring training tour. Never in his career has he rounded into mid-season condition so early. Brains are his principal asset in pitching, and with a battery mate like Ray Schalk this hurler should set the pace in the American League.
Record: 2-1 | Box score