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A No-Hitter Follows A No-Hitter: JOHNNY VANDER MEER

         

"It's only fair to warn Adolf Hitler that if he does march in Czechoslovakia one of these fine hot days, he won't have the headlines in these parts if the Reds are playing - and particularly if Johnny Vander Meer is in the box." Cincinnati Enquirer editorial,

June 17, 1938

That editorial appeared two days after the left-handed-throwing Vander Meer performed the most incredible pitching feat baseball has ever seen - back-to-back no-hitters. On June 15, working the first night game ever played at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn, Vandy held the Dodgers hitless, matching his previous start four days earlier when he fired a no-hitter against Boston.

 

The first one, an afternoon game against the Boston Bees at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, was a 3-0 masterpiece. He faced only 28 batters and not one Boston player reached second base in the first Cincinnati no-hitter since 1919.

   The second one was tougher. Vander Meer, who was plagued by wildness throughout his career, walked five through the first eight innings but appeared to be throwing the ball much harder than in the first no-hitter. The Reds built a six-run lead and then awaited the fateful ninth.

 

After getting out Buddy Hassett, who led off the ninth, Vander Meer suddenly couldn't throw a strike. He walked the next three batters - Babe Phelps, Cookie Lavagetto and Dolf Camilli. That brought manager Bill McKechnie out of the dugout for some comforting words.

 

McKechnie's advice obviously helped. Ernie Koy was the next hitter and he bounced a ground ball to third baseman Lew Riggs. Riggs threw home to catcher Ernie Lombardi for a force out. All that stood between Vander Meer and immortality was Leo Durocher.

 

Durocher, for whom the expression "good field, no hit" was probably invented, didn't spoil Vander Meer's night of nights. Leo hit a short fly to center that was easily grabbed by Harry Craft.

 

Ironically, Vander Meer had at one time been a member of both the Boston and the Brooklyn organizations. Because of a paper-work mistake, Brooklyn lost him and Boston sold his contract to Nashville in the Southern League in 1936.

 

Nashville offered the Dutch Master to the Boston Red Sox for $25,000, but was turned down. Bill Terry, manager of the New York Giants, wanted the left-hander, but was willing to pay only $15,000. That was snubbed by Nashville.

 

Finally, the Reds offered $15,000 plus a player and Vander Meer joined the Reds farm team in Durham, North Carolina. He was voted the top minor league player in 1936 and that earned him a promotion to the major leagues in 1937. But the 22-year-old southpaw had repeated control problems and finally was optioned to Syracuse to try to get his pitching act together. Wildness kept him in the hole.

 

New manager McKechnie began working immediately in the spring of 1938 on Vander Meer's control problems. Nothing seemed to work, so McKechnie and coach Hank Gowdy arranged a meeting with Lefty Grove, the former great Philadelphia hurler who, like Vander Meer, had severe control problems as a young pitcher.

 

Grove's advice to Vander Meer was simple: follow through more.

"I was wild," Grove explained to Vandy, "because I was letting the ball go too soon and not following through. So I decided to follow through with my pitch regardless of where the ball went. I made myself follow through to the extent that I didn't consider any pitch properly executed unless my left forearm struck my right knee after letting the ball go.

 

 

 

         
       

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