Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
Here’s another entry on the list that has been covered by my other ongoing series, the daily look at the 1977 Royals. This one goes to show the fickle nature of a no-hitter; on any given evening, seemingly any pitcher can do it, but some of the greatest pitchers in baseball history have never thrown a no-no.
Jim Colborn’s magical evening kind of feels like a footnote in Royals history, even though it was the first one ever thrown by a Kansas City pitcher in front of the home crowd, at least in the major leagues. (Actually, now that the Negro Leagues are considered major leagues, we can credit Jose Mendez and Bullet Rogan with a combined one in 1923 and Hilton Smith with another in 1937. But still, it had been a long time.) Steve Busby had two before Colborn did it, but both were on the road. Colborn’s wasn’t even the first in Royals Stadium; Nolan Ryan threw one against the home team in the park’s first year.
Plus, Colborn was only a Royal for the 1977 season and a bit of the 1978 one, so even though he was a key part of the 1977 division winners, it’s not like he was a Royals great like Busby or Bret Saberhagen, the other pitchers in team history to accomplish the feat.
But on May 14, 1977, Colborn was just about as good as any pitcher could be. He wasn’t overly dominant, striking out six, but he faced one batter over the minimum; Texas had only two baserunners, one on a walk and one hit batter, and one of those was erased on a double play. Colborn did have plenty of help from his defense, further underscoring how sometimes a no-hitter needs some luck to happen. Oddly, the Royals did not have their usual defensive alignment on the field; Tom Poquette was in right field instead of left, because Al Cowens was in center field instead of right field, and that was because Amos Otis was in a slump and getting a night off. But Poquette tracked down a drive to the warning track in the first, did it again in the second, and made a running catch near the foul line in the seventh. Cowens made great catches in the seventh and eighth innings.
“No way was anything gonna fall in,” Cowens said. “I would have done anything to make the plays, dive, just anything.”
“You just have to make all the plays,” Poquette added. “I guess they all add up. It’s tough to throw a no-hitter in this park. Jim did it.”
The Kansas City infield was a little bit different than usual, too. First baseman John Mayberry was also mired in a slump, so Pete LaCock was there in his place. Third baseman George Brett was injured, so he spent his free time on the bench needling Colborn while the Royals batted.
“George was the only guy talking to me,” Colborn said after the game. “After the third, he said to me, ‘You’ve got no rhythm, you have no idea where the ball is going, why don’t you throw the ball right.’”
“I said it to him (in the eighth),” Brett recalled, “but he just looked at me and his eyes were glazed or something, so I don’t think he heard me. I decided maybe I should just keep my mouth shut in the ninth.”
LaCock fielded a grounder for the final out. He admitted to being a bit nervous.
“I think I counted every bounce of the last ground ball,” he said. But he fielded it cleanly and beat Claudell Washington to the bag for the last out. A good thing, because Colborn wasn’t sure he was up to being part of the play.
“When I ran to the bag to cover, I was saying, ‘Please, God, don’t make me have to take the throw.’ I was too nervous by then,” Colborn said.
Catcher Darrell Porter, who had come to the Royals from Milwaukee in the same offseason trade that netted Colborn, had a unique perspective on the feat. He had been behind the plate when Colborn threw a one-hitter for the Brewers in 1973.
“I was as excited as Jim tonight,” Porter said. “It’s one of the biggest thrills I’ve ever had. First no-hitter I’ve ever caught. He had a good fastball, a strong fastball, the best one he’s had for a while. He kept after the hitters. He wouldn’t let up.”
Colborn went on to win 18 games for the Royals in 1977, his second-best mark after winning 20 in 1973. But, as a further emphasis on how random no-hitters can be, he went 4-12 in 1978 with the Royals and Mariners, then was cut by the Mariners during spring training in 1979 and was out of baseball less than two years after his magical night.