Ken Holtzman was drafted by the Cubs in the fourth round of the very first MLB draft in 1965.
By September of that year, still just 19 years old, he was in the big leagues, making thre relief appearances for the Cubs.
And in 1966, with the Cubs retooling under Leo Durocher, Holtzman made 34 appearances (33 starts), with very good results for a 20-year-old: 3.79 ERA, 1.187 WHIP, 2.2 bWAR (not that anyone knew what WAR was in 1966). Nevertheless, he didn’t get a single vote for Rookie of the Year.
What Holtzman did have was a great fastball, and he threw several complete-game wins early in that season.
In late September, the Dodgers, still in a tight race with the Giants for the NL pennant, came to Wrigley Field for a four-game series. The Cubs, who had been 41 games under .500 (44-85) after being swept in Houston in late August, played 500 ball for four weeks, 12-12, entering the Dodger series.
L.A. swept a doubleheader to begin the set, then the Cubs won September 24 behind a four-hit shutout by Fergie Jenkins.
That set up a highly-anticipated matchup in the series finale between Holtzman and Sandy Koufax — “The Battle of the Jewish Lefthanders,” it was being called. 21,259 attended that Sunday afternoon — the fourth-largest Wrigley crowd of 1966.
The Cubs scored a pair in the first inning off Koufax. That in itself was unusual — the Cubs had scored two runs off Koufax in an entire game just one other time in his nine previous starts against them dating to 1964.
Meanwhile, Holtzman started mowing down Dodgers. He issued a leadoff walk to Dick Schofield in the third, but the next batter hit into a double play. That was the only L.A. baserunner through eight innings — Holtzman had faced the minimum 24 batters through eight.
What happened next? Richard Dozer of the Tribune wrote:
Kenny got a big hand as he strode nervously to the mound to undertake the ninth. He was carrying a 2 to 0 lead which fellow Cubs had gotten for him way back in the first inning against Koufax. His first opponent in the lower third of the batting order was Schofield, the newest member of the Dodgers’ hero corps.
Holtzman missed with his first pitch, then slipped a called strike past the little third baseman. The next one was a fast ball which Schofield bounced over Kenny’s reach and past second base. Glenn Beckert almost got a glove on the ball [“I ticked it,” said Beckert later].
And that was it for the no-hitter. Holtzman walked Al Ferrara and then struck out Jim Gilliam. Maury Wills singled in Schofield to make it 2-1. Willie Davis then hit a line drive — but right at Beckert, who turned it into a game-ending double play and a 2-1 Cubs win. Holtzman became the last pitcher to defeat Koufax in a regular-season game.
I imagine WGN-TV likely began recording this game in the eighth inning, as they had with Jim Maloney’s no-no against the Cubs at Wrigley the previous year. But when the no-hitter was broken up, they probably returned the then-expensive videotape for re-use. Pity, it’d have been nice to see those last two innings.
A couple more notes on this game:
Schofield had been acquired by the Dodgers just two weeks earlier. In case you’re wondering, Schofield’s son, also named Dick, played 14 MLB years, mostly for the Angels and Blue Jays, from 1983-96, and the younger Schofield’s sister Kim is the mother of MLB player Jayson Werth, quite the baseball family.
For Koufax, he was near the end of his career, though no one knew it at the time. He made just two more regular season starts and one in the 1966 World Series, then retired.
Holtzman went on to throw two no-hitters for the Cubs — and then lost another no-no in the ninth in 1975, while with the A’s, June 8 vs. the Tigers. Tom Veryzer — a future Cub! — doubled off Holtzman with two out in the ninth.
With just a bit of luck, Ken Holtzman might have thrown four no-hitters.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving; this series will take the holiday off and resume on Friday.