Tuesday, December 29, 2009

#15 Johnny Vander Meer

Johnny Vander Meer enjoyed a 13 year career in the major leagues, winning 119 games, but he is best known for a feat most likely to never be repeated.

Born the son of a Dutch-born stone mason in 1914 in New Jersey, Vander Meer signed with the Dodgers in 1932. He wound up in the Reds' farm system, playing with Durham in the Piedmont league. In 1936, he was the league's pitcher of the year, going 19-5. He joined the Reds in April of 1937. On June 11, 1938, against the Boston Braves, he threw a no-hitter (with legendary hurler Cy Young in attendance). Four days later, Vander Meer took the mound again, at the first night game at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn. Vander Meer walked eight batters, but once again did not allow a hit, becoming the first and only pitcher to throw two-consecutive no-hit game. In his next start, Vander Meer went into the fourth before Debs Garms singled, ending Johnny's bid for a third-stright no hitter. The 23-year old hurler went on to win 15 games that year, and stayed with the Reds through 1949 (excepting two years in the U.S. Navy).

Notoriously wild, he also brought a lot of heat and was regularly in the league leaders for strikeouts, leading the National League three times. Former teammate Billy Werber described the straight-laced Vander Meer as being frequently at odds with teammates, in large part to his reluctance to give his teammates any credit for aiding him in his no-hitters. After He was released from the Indians in 1951, Vander Meer signed with Tulsa in the Texas league, where at the age of 37, he threw another no-hitter, this time against Beaumont.

After his pitching days ended, Vander Meer managed in Savannah for a few years, even opening up his home to rookie players to make sure they didn't fall in with the wrong crowd. He died in 1997 of an abdominal anneurysm at the age of 82.

The Autograph: I remember the day I got this card signed through the mail from Vander Meer. It was the type of player I liked the most, the type who through one event would be immortalized forever. It is amazing to me how great players like Jimmie Foxx and Mel Ott are virtually forgotten today, but players like Vander Meer (with his double no-hitters) or Bill Wambsganss (unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series) are much more well-known and remembered, despite unimpressive careers.

There is a great recollection on-line of a fan meeting Johnny Vander Meer when Vander Meer was 81.

Vander Meer and fan Robert Skead in 1996

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