Past feature articles, game summaries, and game box scores of African-American newspapers indicate there were at least 29 no-hitters thrown in Negro League baseball. Most notably there were two by Satchel Paige and one each by Hilton Smith, Andy Cooper, “Smoky” Joe Williams, and Leon Day; all Hall of Fame pitchers. The “invisible color line” that kept African–American ballplayers out of the Major Leagues was not erased until 1947 which was too late for these and many other good Negro League hurlers who were by then either dead or passed their prime. But there were younger Negro League pitchers that got their opportunity in the Major Leagues; “Toothpick” Sam Jones was one of them. He is the only former Negro League pitcher to throw a Major League no-hitter.
Born 12/14/25 in Stewartsville, Ohio, Jones also spent a portion of his youth in West Virginia. He left for military service before starting the life of a coal mine worker as were many of his family members and friends. He played with a local black team while stationed in Orlando, Florida in 1947 and caught the eye of Quincy Trouppe, then the manager of the Negro American League (NAL) Cleveland Buckeyes. Jones signed in time to help the team win the NAL pennant, but they lost to the New York Cubans in the 1947 Negro League World Series. Jones got his nickname from having a toothpick in his mouth while on the pitching mound.
It would be 1950 when the Cleveland Indians finally noticed the talented right-handed hurler that had been in their own backyard. However, Jones pitched in only 16 games with the Indians in four years before being traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1954 season. Once in the National League, the talented pitcher proved what he had done in the Negro Leagues was no fluke. Opponents claimed Jones, a power pitcher standing at 6’4” and weighing 200 pounds, had the best curveball in the National League. He faced batters with a never-changing, expressionless look on his face which resulted in him also being called “Sad” Sam. That is the nickname I mostly remember. But opponents also said Jones had a mean streak exhibited by his pitches; he hit 14 batters in 1955 (league leader). There was an ongoing intense confrontation whenever Henry Aaron faced Jones that is well documented. Jones struggled at times with control of his pitches; he led the National League in walks four times. But he also could be overpowering; being the league leader in strikeouts three years and pitching 17 shutouts in his 12 year Major League career. He became a two-time National League All-Star, winning 21 games with the San Francisco Giants in 1959 and 18 in 1960.
But it was on May 12, 1955 as a Chicago Cub that Jones pitched himself into the Major League Baseball record book with a 4-0 no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a “Sam Jones” pitched type of game. He struck out six batters, walked seven, threw a Wild Pitch, and was helped with two double plays. In the ninth inning, he walked the first three hitters before striking out the final three.
He retired after pitching with the Baltimore Orioles in 1964, the sixth team played with during his time in the Major Leagues; Cleveland Indians 1951 – 1952, Chicago Cubs 1955 – 1956, St. Louis Cardinals 1957 – 1958 and 1963, San Francisco Giants 1959 – 1961, and Detroit Tigers 1962. On November 5, 1971, the 45 years old Jones died of throat cancer.
“Sad “Sam Jones won 102 games in the Major Leagues. He lost 101. No doubt the inconsistent control of his pitches cost him victories early in his career, but he still had 1,376 career strikeouts. And no former Negro League pitcher, other than Don Newcombe, had the success in the Major Leagues as Sam Jones.
To learn more about the Negro League baseball era, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. To order go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown) http://www.klmitchell.com