Harvey Frommer / Records & Feats / Reds
Vandy's Masterpiece: The Double No-Hitter
by Harvey Frommer
It's almost a baseball cliché.
A no-hitter is tossed. And the next time that pitcher takes the mound, there is all the talk and speculation about the possibility of a second straight no-no taking place.
And always what Johnny Vander Meer did 62 years ago today comes back into the public consciousness.
On June 11, 1938, the Cincinnati hurler no-hit the Boston Bees, 3-0. Four nights later, he was tabbed to start against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first night game ever in the New York City metropolitan area. To that point in time, only two pitchers had ever recorded two career no-hitters. No one had ever posted two no-hitters in a season. No one had probably even contemplated back-to-back no-hitters.
More than 40,000 jammed into Ebbets Field to see the first night game in that tiny ball park's history and also bear witness to Vander Meer questing after his second straight no-hitter. Utilizing a one-two-three-four pitching rhythm that saw him cock his right leg in the air before he delivered the ball to the plate, Vandy featured a fast ball that was always moving and a curve ball that broke ever so sharply.
Inning after inning, the Dodgers went down hitless. In the seventh inning, Vander Meer walked two batters. But the fans of "Dem Bums" cheered the Cincinnati pitcher on, sensing they were witnessing baseball history.
The ninth inning began with Cincinnati holding a 6-0 lead. Buddy Hasset was retired on a grounder. Then suddenly, Vander Meer lost control of the situation. He loaded the bases on walks. Reds manager Bill McKechnie came out to the mound to talk to his beleaguered pitcher.
"Take it easy, Johnny," he said, "but get the no-hitter." Vander Meer got Ernie Koy to hit a grounder to infielder Lou Riggs, who conservatively elected to go to the plate for the force-out for the second out. The bases were still loaded, though. Leo "Lippy" Durocher, the Dodger player-manager and a veteran of many wars, stepped into the batter's box.
Only the Lip stood between Vander Meer and the double no-hitter. Durocher took a lunging swing and smashed the ball down the right-field line. But it went foul into the upper deck. Bedlam and tension intermingled at Ebbets Field as Vander Meer's left arm came around and delivered the pitch to Durocher, who swung and popped up the ball into short center field. Harry Craft clutched the ball. With, Vander Meer made baseball history.
Fans leaped out onto the playing field, but Vander Meer's Cincinnati teammates had formed a protective shield around the exhausted hurler as he scurried into the relative calm of the dugout. His mother and father, who had come to see their son pitch with about 500 others from their hometown, were not as lucky. Swarms of well wishers and autograph-hunters milled about Vandy's parents. It took about half an hour before they could be extricated from the mob of admirers.
The event remains in memory as the miracle of 1938, consecutive no-hitters spun by John Samuel Vander Meer, the man they called the "Dutch Master." President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent congratulations. Newspapers and magazines featured every detail of the event for months. For Vander Meer, the double no-hitters were especially sweet coming against Boston and Brooklyn - teams he tried out for and been rejected by.
Vander Meer performed for 13 big-league seasons, winning 119 games and losing 121. He perhaps would be remembered as a southpaw pitcher who never totally fulfilled his promise if it had not been for the epic moments of June 11 and June 15, 1938.