Clyde Shoun was the most honest player in Major League Baseball, Lou Smith declared in a column he wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1948.
Shoun was pitching for the Boston Braves at the time and a sports publication mailed him a questionnaire with a familiar query: “What was the greatest thrill you ever got out of baseball?”
“Payday,” Shoun answered in a candid and straightforward reply that Smith could appreciate.
Shoun played for pay for five different clubs over 14 MLB seasons and while cashing those big-league checks was delightful, it’s hard to imagine going to the bank was as thrilling as what Shoun had achieved four years earlier.
It was on May 15, 1944, while with the Cincinnati Reds, that Shoun twirled a no-hitter in a 1-0 triumph over the Boston Braves at Crosley Field. He also pounded out two hits at the plate.
Friday marks the 76th anniversary of the afternoon when the man from Mountain City, Tennessee, had his finest day in a MLB uniform.
Wherever he played, Clyde Shoun’s nickname followed.
Everybody called him Hardrock.
“Back when I was a freshman in high school, a bunch of us were divided up playing a game, some from Doe Valley and the others from town,” Shoun told Jimmy Smyth of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle in 1949. “That day I struck out 16 or 17 batters and the opposing players were quite a bit peeved because they couldn’t get to first base. After the game, Tom Walsh, who is still in business here in Mountain City, explained it all by saying ‘Shoun is just an old hard rock.’ “
Shoun’s athletic exploits on the Northeast Tennessee sports scene made him a rock star of sorts before that term even existed
He was the center for Mountain City’s basketball team, along with being a football standout.
Shoun scored 17 of his team’s points in an 18-17 victory on the hardwood one winter night.
That wasn’t his only notable high school hoops performance.
“A little comedy as well as ingenuity was provided during the first day’s play when Shoun found the sun a handicap while his team was playing Tennessee High,” the Bristol Herald Courier once reported. “During the game which was played in the early afternoon, the sun streamed through a window above one of the goals in the Kingsport gym and made the shooting of fouls difficult. Not daunted, Shoun shaded his eyes with one arm and calmly tossed the ball through the net with the other.”
Yet, baseball was by far his best sport and after dominating in the minor leagues he made his big-league debut for the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 7, 1935 as the 23-year-old threw two scoreless innings of relief against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.
If there was going to be a pitcher throw a no-hitter on May 15, 1944 most would’ve bet on Jim Tobin of the Boston Braves achieving the feat.
Tobin had thrown a no-no on April 27 against the Brooklyn Dodgers and entered the day with a 2.44 ERA.
His adversary on the other hand, Shoun, was making his first start of the season after four appearances out of the bullpen. His ERA at the time: 6.23.
Of his 454 appearances in the big leagues, only 85 of them were starts for Shoun.
He was a relief specialist before relief specialists were cool, a durable and tough left-hander who was good for one inning or nine.
“I never take a rubdown,” Shoun told the St. Louis Star and Times in 1940. “Don’t need ‘em. Oils, ointments, liniments and massages are all right for some pitchers, but I never use ‘em. Once or twice last summer I put a little alcohol on my arm to cool it off after pitching a few innings, but generally speaking, I have a rubber arm that doesn’t need all the care and attention that some pitchers require for their costly wings.
“In fact, I really don’t have to warm up to pitch. I can go right out and throw a fastball now without taking any practice throws. Ordinarily, three or four pitches are enough to get me ready to face the batters.”
Bucky Walters had thrown a one-hitter for the Reds on April 14, 1944 in a win over Boston, but he would be outdone by his less heralded teammate 24 hours later.
Hardrock and his rubber arm must’ve been feeling good that fateful day at Crosley Field as umpire Beans Reardon gave the command to play ball and Shoun unleashed his first pitch to catcher Ray Mueller.
The 32-year-old retired Tommy Holmes, Max Macon and Chet Ross in order in the top of the first inning on two flyballs and a groundout.
Bristol Herald Courier sports editor Gene “Pappy” Thompson was in Chicago in 1962 to attend the American Football Coaches Association’s annual banquet. He struck up a conversation about baseball with a cab driver while in the Windy City.
“For my money,” the cabbie told Thompson. “I’d take a left-hander who used to be with the Cubs. He didn’t care how tough the spot was or who was up there swinging the bat. He’d go out there and start throwing his fast one. And buddy, nobody took a toehold on him. No, sir. His name was Shoun. Clyde Shoun.”
Shoun began and ended his MLB career in Chicago, breaking in with the Cubs and throwing his final big-league pitch in 1949 for the White Sox.
The Cubs traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1938 along with Curt Davis, Tuck Stainback and $185,000 for future Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean, whose best days were behind him.
Four years later he was dealt again, ending up in Cincinnati along with some cash for Whitey Moore.
He found a home in Ohio and was 14-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 1943 for the Reds.
What kind of pitcher was Shoun?
“I don’t wear my arm out pitching any one particular style,” Shoun said in 1940. “My fastball really takes off and is probably my best weapon, but I study my batters and use sidearm, overhand, three-quarters or cross-fire delivery, according to what the situation demands.”
Shoun had everything working that day against the Braves.
Boston got its only baserunner on in the bottom of the third when Tobin drew a two-out walk. Shoun wasn’t flustered and got Holmes to fly out to left field to end the inning.
The only run of the game came in the bottom of the fifth inning when George Aleno homered on a two-out offering from Tobin. It was the only home run Aleno hit in ‘44 and one of just two the third baseman hit over the course of his four-year MLB career.
Right fielder Gee Walker and shortstop Eddie Miller both made key plays to keep the no-hitter intact according to newspaper accounts.
Shoun’s only strikeout came in the second inning when he fanned Chuck Workman.
Shoun singled in the third inning and doubled in the eighth, but wound up being stranded on the bases both times. Not bad for a guy who finished with a career batting average of .202.
There probably wasn’t much of a buzz in the ballpark that day as Shoun kept putting up zeroes since only 1,014 folks attended the contest.
Pinch-hitter Stew Hofferth grounded out to start the nerve-racking ninth, while Tobin followed by popping out to Mueller in foul territory.
On the final pitch of the game, Shoun got Holmes to hit a weak grounder back to him. He handled the chance calmly and tossed the ball over to first baseman Frank McCormick for the final out.
“I threw my hard fast one to Tommy Holmes,” Shoun explained to the Associated Press afterwards. “Putting everything I had on it.”
Final Score: Cincinnati 1, Boston 0.
Time of Game: 1-hour, 19-minutes.
Shoun’s no-hitter was big deal in Cincinnati.
It was the first no-no by a Reds hurler since Johnny Vander Meer threw back-to-back no-hitters in 1938.
“If Clyde Shoun, the tall hillbilly with the long pantaloons, had a claim to fame before, it was not particularly because of his mastery of the art of pitching, for he has never been much more than a fair journeyman hurler, with rather unusual control and a talent for stepping into tough relief spots and getting out with a minimum of damage,” Si Burick wrote the next day in the Dayton Daily News.
It was an even bigger deal back in his hometown.
“I do remember that the older people told me later, that people were glued to their radios,” Johnson County, Tennessee, resident Jack Swift told the Bristol Herald Courier in 2008. “They wanted to listen to the local boy’s exploits in the big leagues.”
Eight months after that game, Shoun was inducted into the United States Navy in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and spent 1945 suiting up for Uncle Sam in a non-combat role due to his age.
He returned to the big leagues in 1946 and Smith described to the newspaper readers in Cincinnati a round of applause Shoun received in an exhibition game that April “when he fanned the great Ted Williams with a man aboard and two outs. Ted spun ‘round like a top after taking a mighty cut at a curve, hitting nothing but the ozone.”
Shoun never did consistently regain the form he had on that day in 1944.
The Braves, the team he no-hit, acquired him in 1947.
A 16-game stint with the White Sox in 1949 marked the end of Shoun’s MLB career.
Shoun was on two National League pennant-winning clubs: Chicago in 1935 and Boston in 1948, but did not pitch in the World Series either time.
Stan Musial and Yogi Berra were among his 483 career strikeouts victims.
The southpaw’s final stats in the majors: 73-59, 31 saves, 3.90 ERA.
He suited up for the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks in 1951.
There were also outings for the Damascus Beavers of the semi-pro Burley Belt League.
Shoun later became an alderman and vice-mayor in his hometown and was an avid outdoorsman.
He died on March 20, 1968, at the Mountain Home Veterans Hospital in Tennessee. Sadly, he passed away on his 56th birthday.
Major League Baseball recognizes 303 official no-hitters in its record book.
Rural Retreat, Virginia, native Deacon Phillippe held the New York Giants hitless on May 25, 1899 in his seventh big-league outing for the Louisville Colonels.
Former Tazewell High School star Billy Wagner was the last of six Houston Astros hurlers used to no-hit the New York Yankees on June 11, 2003 at Yankee Stadium.
The Cincinnati Enquirer included Shoun’s masterpiece among the top 100 games in Reds history last year.
Shoun’s lengthy baseball career is considered a success and it was highlighted by a memorable Monday in May when he was unhittable.
Plus, he did it honest.
May 15, 1944
Cincinnati Reds 1, Boston Braves 0
Boston 000 000 000—0 0 2
Cincinnati 000 010 00x—1 5 0
Tobin and Masi. Shoun and Mueller. W – Shoun (2-1). L – Tobin (3-3). HR – Aleno (C), 5th, none on.
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