According to the record books, the first official no-hitter thrown in Pittsburgh Pirates history was by Nick Maddox on September 20, 1907 over the Brooklyn Superbas. Prior to that event, the Pirates had been no-hit twice since joining the NL in 1887, both times by Reds pitchers. In 1898, Ted Breitenstein no-hit the Pirates. He was a 160-game winner in the majors before age 32 and a 165 game winner in the minors after that. Pittsburgh was no-hit for the first time by a pitcher named Charles “Bumpus” Jones on October 15, 1892. There were two unique facts about this game. It was his major league debut and he won just one more game in his major league career.
Those were the official no-hitters in Pirates history before 1907, but other no-hitters have been thrown involving the Pirates prior to the performance by Maddox. During Pittsburgh’s second season in the National League, they were no-hit for six innings by Chicago White Stockings pitcher George Van Haltren. The game was called due to rain with Chicago up by a 1-0 score. Van Haltren would later join the Pirates as an outfielder in 1892 and he would hit .338 for them during the 1893 season. Prior to joining the National League in 1887, the Pittsburgh franchise was playing in the American Association, a recognized major league of the time. Nicknamed the Alleghenys back then, they were the victims of four no-hitters, including three straight league no-hitters from 1882 to 1884. They were no-hit on May 24, 1884 by Al Atkinson and then five days later by Ed “Cannonball” Morris, who would join the Alleghenys in 1885 and win 139 games in the next five seasons with Pittsburgh.
The 1906 Pirates had two pitchers who had thrown no-hitters earlier in their career. In 1899 while with Louisville, rookie pitcher Deacon Phillippe threw a 7-0 no-hitter over the New York Giants. He joined the Pirates after the 1899 season in the 16-player deal widely known as the Honus Wagner trade. Also, Vic Willis, who was obtained prior to the 1906 season by the Pirates, had pitched a no-hitter over the Washington Senators while with Boston in 1899. His no-hit effort was actually the next one in NL history after Phillippe, who had pitched his 74 days earlier. The Pirates at one time had Pud Galvin and Adonis Terry, who each pitched two no-hitters prior to joining the team. Plus they had Gus Weyhing, Guy Hecker and Frank Mountain who pitched one no-hitter apiece.
So the team had history with no-hit games, but not until September 26, 1906 had a Pirates pitcher been on the right end of one of these games while actually playing for the Pirates. Nearly 25 full seasons into their history, that changed when Albert “Lefty” Leifield took the mound in the second game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Going into that day, the Pirates were in third place in the NL with an excellent 87-55 record. The Cubs had already sealed up the division and were on their way to 116 wins on the year. The Phillies were in fourth place but they were far behind the Pirates with their 68-75 record. The season was nearing a close, so they only thing that the Pirates were playing for was a possible chance to catch the second place Giants, who were 2.5 games ahead of them. September 26th was a Wednesday and the teams had a doubleheader scheduled due to a rain out earlier in there season. There were no further meetings between the two teams, except for the following day, which was a travel day for the Pirates, so they didn’t have time to play two games that day. They were also in the midst of a 17 day, 18-game road trip when they stopped in Philadelphia.
In game one of the doubleheader, the Pirates went with 21-game winner Vic Willis against rookie Lew Richie, who had an 8-9 record. Richie had shutout the Pirates in June in his third career start, and his mound opponent that game was Lefty Leifield. On this date however, the Pirates behind Willis, handed Richie and the Phillies a shutout loss in game one, winning 5-0.
In game two, the Phillies went with another rookie, Walter Moser, who had just two career starts and was coming off a 13-2 loss against the Giants and Christy Mathewson. Leifield had a 17-11 record at that point, with an ERA just under 2.00 in 28 starts. He had already thrown an incredible seven shutouts, and in five of his losses, the Pirates failed to score a single run. On July 4th he pitched a one-hitter, taking a no-hitter into the 9th inning against future Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown. Leifield actually lost the game 1-0 and he had the only hit for the Pirates that day, as Brown threw a one-hitter of his own.
Games during this era usually were played under two hours, but in late September there wasn’t as much time to play doubleheaders as there was during the middle of the summer. Obviously no stadium back then had lights, so once it got too dark to see, the games were called. As long as they had played five innings, then the game ended, even if there was a tie score at the time.
The Pirates offense that day not only helped Leifield to the win, but by scoring eight runs in the second game of the doubleheader, they ensured that there wouldn’t be enough time to play a full game as darkness was setting upon Philadelphia quickly. After six innings, Leifield had allowed just three base runners on two walks and one error. He had struck out six and more importantly he had not allowed a hit. The home plate umpire called the game due to darkness, giving the Pirates a sweep in the doubleheader and their first no-hitter in team history. The game isn’t counted as an official no-hitter under the current rules (it was considered one back then) because it was called early, but it is still a complete game no-hitter in the boxscore whether officially recognized now or not.
Leifield finished the season with an 18-13, 1.87 record. He had a chance to win 20 games after winning his 18th game with two starts to go but he lost both games he pitched following his no-hit effort. He finished fifth in the NL in ERA, trailing his teammate Vic Willis and three Chicago Cubs starters who finished 1-2-3 in the ERA standings. Leifield’s eight shutouts were the 2nd most in the NL, trailing Mordecai Brown who had nine. Only Ed Morris has thrown more shutouts in a single season than Leifield and that happened in 1886 before the move to the NL.