John Samuel Vander Meer (1914
), nicknamed "The Dutch Master," was a major league baseball pitcher
with the Cincinnati Reds
, the Chicago Cubs
and the Cleveland Indians
. A hard thrower with a decent curveball and a very good sinker, Vander Meer compiled a mediocre career record of 119-121 but did manage to be named to four All-Star squads ('38
, and '43
However, he would probably not even have a writeup on this site if not for two games he pitched in 1938, when as a 23-year old in his first full major league season, Vander Meer became the only man in baseball history to throw two consecutive no-hitters.
On June 11, 1938, Vander Meer pitched a no-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds at home against the Boston Bees en route to a 3-0 victory. Four days later on June 15, pitching against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first ever night game at Ebbets Field, Vander Meer hurled an unheard of second consecutive no-hitter, leading the Reds to a 6-0 victory in a feat that in all likelihood will never be repeated.
The final inning of the second game was intense and the exhausted Vander Meer lost control of his pitches and issued three consecutive walks to load the bases with only one out. Reds manager Bill McKechnie came out to the mound to calm down Vander Meer.
"Take it easy, Johnny," he said. "But get the no-hitter."
Vander Meer then used his sinker to induce Ernie Koy into hitting a potential double play grounder, but infielder Lou Riggs conservatively elected to go for the force out at home, preserving the shutout, but leaving the no-hitter at risk. Dodgers player-manager Leo Durocher came up next as the last man with a chance to prevent the no-hitter. He smashed the first pitch down the rightfield line, but it hooked foul, and on the second pitch he popped up on the infield to end the threat and seal one of the most amazing individual accomplishments in the annals of baseball lore.
Some have suggested it was easier for Vander Meer to get the second no-hitter under the weaker lights of the era, but it is notable that while the Dodgers were held hitless, the Reds stroked 11 hits that night.
Newspapers and magazines across the nation were abuzz about Vander Meer's feat for weeks on end. At the time, only two pitchers in major league history had thrown two no-hitters in their entire careers, and nobody had even thrown two no-hitters in the same season, let alone in back to back games. The accomplishment must have been all the more sweet for Vander Meer as the Dodgers and the Bees were both teams he had tried out for and been rejected by as a young prospect.
Vander Meer went on to have a solid but up-and-down career. He did lead the National League in strikeouts three consecutive years (1941-43), but was also prone to wildness, leading the circuit in walks in '43 and '48. His best season was 1942, when he posted a career high 18 wins in 33 starts (along with 12 loses) and a career low 2.48 ERA. Vander Meer lost two years at the very prime of his career to military service in 1944 and '45, and when he returned he was not the same pitcher, plagued by arm troubles and forced into retirement at age 36 in 1951.
But on the strength of his astounding and utterly improbable performance on those two June days in 1938, Vander Meer will live on in baseball lore forever.