Sunday, June 15, 2014

JUNE 15 = Johnny Vander Meer's Second "No-No"

"There are some records that are meant to be broken. Babe Ruth's single season home run title was taken over by Roger Maris, then Mark McGwire, and most recently Barry Bonds. Even those that were supposed to last forever like Ty Cobb's career hits records and Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played streak each falling to Pete Rose and Cal Ripken, Jr respectively, but this is one record that will never be broken: In 1938, Johnny Vander Meer of the Cincinnati Reds pitched two consecutive no-hitters. In order to break this record, a pitcher would have to pitch three consecutive no-hitters — simply impossible!"

- The Baseball Almanac

On today's date, June 15, 78 years ago in 1938 Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer (above) completed a second consecutive no-hit game... and as baseball's on-line almanac says above this is a record that is likely never to be equaled, and which will certainly never be broken.

Johnny Vander Meer Starts Out in the Dodgers System

A native of  Midland Park, New Jersey, Johnny Vander Meer signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers when he was 17.  He spent some time with their minor league system, and also with the Boston Braves system before arriving with the Reds and being called up to the Major Leagues in 1937 and posting a 3.83 Earned Run Average in 85 innings.  But it was in 1938 that the young left hander would come back to torment the two organizations which had allowed him to get away. Because it was on June 11 of that year that he would quickly dispatch the Boston Braves in less than two hours, no-hitting them for a  3 to 0 victory in Cincinnati.  “I wasn’t real quick, didn’t have my real good stuff, but it was one of my few days I had control." Vander Meer said of his performance that day. "I think there were only about five fly balls in that game."

June 15, 1938: the First Night Game at Ebbets Field

A few days would pass before Vander Meer would get his chance to put an unbeliev- ably similar torment to the other team that had passed on him before he had made it to the big leagues.  It was the first time ever for a night game at the storied home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in Brooklyn, New York.  In order to get as many fans into the Park, Lee Mac Phail who was then with the Dodgers front office continued selling tickets well beyond capacity, thus delaying the game's start until almost 9:00 p.m. as Vander Meer would later recall.: "And the Fire Department came in because he had them sitting in the
aisles, and you name it...  I got to warm up three times, and I had to sit down three times."

Mom and Dad Were There to See It!

In the crowd that night were some five hundred people from Johnny's hometown of Midland Park, N.J., including his parents who were seeing their son pitching in the major leagues for the first time.  In the films I've seen, Vander Meer's delivery was quite unique in the way he would seemingly bow forward before rearing back into the rest of his wind-up motion. "Vander Meer’s pitching motion was quite involved, including a high leg kick that one newspaper described as “the schoolboy’s idea of what a fastball pitcher should look like.” Coupling that leg kick with a fastball that rivaled the great Bob Feller’s and the dim lights of nascent night baseball, and Vander Meer was a recipe for trouble for the Brooklyn hitters." as Joel Luckhaupt wrote in his superb book,  "100 Things Reds Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die."  And his control was actually not the best that night, as he walked five men in the first eight innings while still striking out seven.

And Vander Meer recalled having excellent velocity on his fastball that night, at least through the first eight innings. "I was busting the ball real good... I was probably throwing the ball 95, 96, 97 miles per hour. And... about the eighth inning I was probably starting to loose a little bit off my fastball, so I started throwing curve(balls)s and everybody kept looking for fastballs.  So that really may have helped me."  That control problem almost cost him the game, when in the ninth inning, he managed to walk the bases loaded with two out. With Leo Durocher at bat, Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi (to whom my father used to sell newspapers!) told Johnny to throw a fastball down the middle on a 2-2 pitch.  He did and Durocher (who would later become the Dodgers manager) popped the ball up to be easily caught by Reds center fielder Harry Craft, thus completing what was and what will likely remain the only consecutive no-hit starts by a Major League baseball player in MLB history.

Sources =  

Image of  6/15/38 at Ebbets Field:

"100 Things Reds Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die."  by Joel Luckhaupt, Triumph Books, Chicago, 2013.

"Reds Weekly" edition of June 14, 2013, Fox Sports Network, 2013.

+ 54.

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