The Old Hat No-Hitter?

As a writer for Baseball Nation, it's my responsibility to be present as often as I can to cover big stories. Big stories like breaking trades. Big stories like major injuries. Big stories like a guy throwing a no-hitter.

Given that last one, through the first several weeks of the 2011 regular season, I've found myself following games I didn't think I'd be watching that morning. Many a night at home has had me scrambling to think up possible column ideas, and many a night away from home has had me staring at my phone, hoping for someone to hit a single so I wouldn't miss history while away from the keyboard. Needless to say, it's been kind of a stressful month.

From the beginning, we've had extended no-hit bids almost daily. I can't remember all of them, but I know Josh Johnson had three. Every day it seems like somebody's going at least five or six hitless innings. And lately it's only ramped up. Francisco Liriano finally threw the season's first no-hitter last week. Justin Verlander followed with one of his own four days later. Derek Lowe took a no-hit bid into the seventh on Friday, and Jaime Garcia took a perfect game into the eighth. As Verlander was doing his thing on Saturday, Yovani Gallardo lost a perfect game in the eighth. Anibal Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh on Sunday. And just for funsies, even though nobody was buying it, Ryan Vogelsong was perfect for five innings a little later on Sunday afternoon.

With offense down league-wide, the no-hitter mistress has been flirting with everybody, and while we've seen two complete no-hitters over the past week, what's more incredible is that we could've had more. We were just a few breaks away from having three or even four no-hitters within just a handful of days. Considering that there wasn't a single no-hitter in 2005, and that there was only one in 2006, that's insane.

I love a no-hitter. Everybody loves a no-hitter. Everybody wants to watch a guy on their team throw one, and failing that, everybody's happy watching a guy on another team throw one instead. But no-hitters and no-hit bids are growing increasingly frequent, and it's worth considering what this means for the actual no-hitters themselves.

Why are no-hitters such big deals? They're big deals because they require a certain blend of talent, consistency and luck. But basically, they're big deals because they're rare. Or, they're supposed to be rare. Rare feats of sustained individual* accomplishment.

* kind of

So what happens when we start to see more of them? What happens if we start to see more of them completed, and what happens if we start to see more of them almost completed? What happens is that, slowly but surely, they lose their luster. They don't lose their luster completely, because they're still no-hitters, but they're not no-hitters, the way we thought of them a few years ago. They're not the once- or twice- or thrice-a-year feats of brilliance. They're the things that someone new is trying to do every few days.

Justin Verlander's game against Toronto was amazing - and was probably a better-pitched game than Francisco Liriano's - but because Liriano's game had happened so recently, Verlander's was less of a big deal. And although Liriano's no-hitter was the first of the season, it was less of a big deal because of all the no-hitters we saw a year ago, and because of all the no-hit bids we'd seen through the first month. People were always looking for no-hitters, and talking about no-hitters, and no-hitters are at their most astonishing when they come out of nowhere and catch fans by surprise.

Offense goes through its peaks and lulls, and this isn't the first time that pitchers have seemingly been in command. There were 14 no-hitters in 1990 and 1991, when offense was also at a low level. But because of the fluctuations in offense, there are corresponding fluctuations in the value of throwing a no-hitter. And while a no-hitter will always be rare, and will always be exciting, it isn't always as rare, or as exciting. Though the term itself suggests something improbable, and though no-hitter memorabilia gets sent to the Hall of Fame, a no-hit bid right now doesn't quite feel as good as we'd probably like it to.

This is not intended to disparage Liriano or Verlander, who threw games that they and their fans will never forget. It's more of a response to this recent flood of attempts that even a casual baseball fan couldn't help but notice. Just the other day I was watching Felix Hernandez go to work against the White Sox, and while it seemed from his first pitch that he was throwing no-hit stuff, I didn't get the same feeling that I did in the stands for his Fenway one-hitter in 2007. I was excited and hopeful, but I wasn't going to call all my friends to make sure they were watching. Another potential no-hitter? Add it to the pile.

The no-hitter will always occupy a special place in our hearts, but as the frequency of attempts and successes rises, the average appreciation sinks. Maybe there's something we can do to make up for it. Some other spectacular accomplishment we can try to appreciate more. Since the beginning of last season, there have only been 11 games in which a batter took at least six trips to the plate and reached base in each. That's amazing. I don't know. Maybe this is just something we accept or ignore. It's not like no-hitters are literally going to start happening every other day, and they'll still feel great when they actually happen. But it's something to think about. Something aside from another no-hitter attempt.

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