"It's only fair
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
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
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
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
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