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The 19 greatest starts in Cubs history, No. 7: Lon Warneke, April 17, 1934

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So close.

Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The things you learn when diving deep into Chicago Cubs history... I had not once heard about this game before I put together this list, and it should absolutely get more recognition as one of the best-pitched games in franchise history.

Why? Gather round and I’ll tell you why.

The Cubs had won the N.L. pennant in 1932 and finished third in 1933, though just six games out of first place. Hopes were high for a contender again in 1934.

On the mound for the Cubs on Opening Day 1934 against the Reds in Cincinnati was Lon Warneke, a 6-2 righthander from Arkansas who had won 22 games and finished second in N.L. MVP voting in ‘32 and was nearly as good in ‘33, an 18-win, 2.00 ERA season good for 6.6 bWAR and 20th place in N.L. MVP balloting.

In short, the Cubs not only had their best hurler that afternoon, but one of the best in the league to face the host Reds.

And Warneke began mowing down Reds. He issued a walk in the first and another in the fourth. The Cubs had taken a 1-0 lead in the third on an RBI single by Billy Herman and they stretched it to 4-0 on a three-run rally in the sixth, highlighted by a home run from Chuck Klein, the former Phillies slugger playing his first game for the North Siders.

And still, the Reds did not have a hit. The game went to the bottom of the ninth with Warneke working on a no-hitter. He had struck out 12 through eight innings, and struck out Ernie Lombardi to lead off the ninth. Two outs to go. No pitcher had ever thrown a no-hitter on Opening Day.

Then this happened, per Irving Vaughn in the Tribune:

Adam Comorosky, an ex-Pirate, slammed the door in the face of the fire balling Chicagoan. He singled to center, a sort of lazy hit that appeared as if the effort had been only half hearted. But half hearted or otherwise, 30,247 spectators booed loudly as a vent to their disappointment. Those 30,247 came to cheer the Reds, but they soon discovered there wasn’t much to shout about. So they adopted Warneke as their hero for the afternoon.

And that’s how Lon Warneke lost his Opening Day no-hit bid with one out in the ninth. First baseman Charlie Grimm then made an error on an attempted double play, recording the second out but leaving a runner on first. Warneke got Tony Piet to pop to short, and he had his shutout, a one-hitter, a 4-0 win.

A no-hitter on Opening Day would have been remembered forever, a key part of Cubs history. This one-hitter? I did not know its significance until I started researching this series, and now you know. Warneke’s Game Score that day: 96.

Six years after Warneke lost his Opening Day no-no with one out in the ninth, Bob Feller of the Indians no-hit the White Sox on Opening Day. To this day, more than 80 years later, it’s the only Opening Day no-hitter.

Warneke pitched for the Cubs through 1936, then was traded to the Cardinals for Ripper Collins and Roy Parmelee. The Cubs got him back in 1942, not nearly what he was, and he pitched sparingly for them in 1942, 1943 and 1945, though not in the ‘45 World Series.

After his playing career was over, Warneke wanted to stay in baseball and through the help of Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley, became a minor-league umpire and worked his way back to the big leagues in that capacity in 1949. He worked as a National League umpire for seven seasons, from 1949-55, before quitting and returning to his native Arkansas, where he passed away from a heart attack in 1976, aged 67.