Goldman: Johnny Vander Meer and the art of almost losing it

From SABR member Steven Goldman at VICE Sports on June 9, 2016:

This week in 1938, Cincinnati Reds left-hander Johnny Vander Meer was 23 years old and on one hell of a roll. On June 11, he took the mound at Crosley Field against a strongly mediocre Boston Bees team and pitched a no-hitter. His next start, on June 15 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, was the first night game in Dodgers history. Vander Meer, confronted by another weak ball club, walked eight but again allowed no hits. He was a rookie, although by today’s service-time standards he’d be a sophomore. No pitcher had ever thrown consecutive no-hitters before, and no pitcher has done it since.

Even Vander Meer didn’t recall the first no-hitter as having much drama; it was the Dodgers game that was memorable, both because it was unprecedented and because he nearly blew it. An overflow crowd showed up to see the first game played under the lights in Brooklyn. They were also treated to two fife and drum corps, a band, and a pregame 100-yard race with Jessie Owens; Dodgers outfielder Ernie “Chief” Koy (if you had any Native American heritage at that time, you were sure to have a nickname like that hung on you) was given a ten-yard handicap, and won. Vander Meer’s parents, immigrants from Holland, had come over from his hometown of Midland Park, New Jersey. Aware of the no-hitter in the ninth, Vander Meer told himself, “I’ve got 30 good pumps left in me. I still have my good stuff, and boy, they’re going to have to hit the very best I’ve got.” Suitably fired up, he promptly began overthrowing. With one out, he walked the bases loaded on 18 pitches.

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Originally published: June 9, 2016. Last Updated: June 9, 2016.