By Tom Knight
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Cincinnati Reds were training in Tampa, Fla. in the spring of 1939 and their first exhibition game was with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Brooklyn General Manager Larry MacPhail thought it would be a great attraction if the Reds could pitch Johnny Vander Meer and Paul Derringer against the boys from Flatbush. The Reds agreed.
After all, the year before, Vandy pitched his two consecutive no-hitters and Derringer won 20 games. So the game with the two star pitchers was thus advertised and every ticket for the little Tampa ballpark was sold.
The stands were packed early the day of the game and the crowd was as enthusiastic as if it were opening day of the regular season. But they were disappointed. Both “Big Paul” and “The Double No-Hit Kid” were taken ill with the flu and hauled off to the local hospital. Right before game time, an announcement was made that since the two billed aces would not appear as publicized, anyone who wanted to could leave and have their money refunded. Not one fan accepted the kind offer!
The 6’1”, 190-pound left-handed Vander Meer pitched his no-hit games on June 11, 1938 in Crosley Field against the visiting Boston Bees (Braves), 3-0. Then, on June 15, here in Brooklyn, in the first major league night game in New York, he blanked the Dodgers, 6-0, before more than 35,000 fans at Ebbets Field!
In those days, no-hit games were not common. The last no-hit game in the National League was four years earlier when Paul “Daffy” Dean threw one against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field on Sept. 24, 1934, winning 3-0 in the second game of a doubleheader. That was the day on which Paul’s brother “Dizzy” had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning of the first game before the Dodgers came up with three hits.
Diz shut them out anyway and said after the doubleheader, “Gee, if I’d known Paul was gonna do it, I’d a done it too!” Perhaps he would have. That year, “Dizzy” won 30 games and “Daffy” won 19 as the St. Louis Gas House Gang won the N.L. pennant and World Series over the Detroit Tigers.
After Vander Meer’s 1938 gems, the next no-hit game did not occur until 1940 when the tables were turned as Brooklyn’s Tex Carleton hurled a marvelous 3-0 game at Cincinnati. So, Vander Meer’s feat was all the more incredible considering the comparative rarity of hitless games in those years.
Vandy won 119 and lost 121 lifetime. Then at age 35 he was out of the majors and tried a comeback. It was his swan song. He joined the Tulsa club in the Texas League and, on July 15, 1952, was scheduled to pitch against Beaumont.
Only 335 fans came out to see “Double No-Hit Johnny,” but many more fans wished they had been there. For on that day, 14 years and one month after that second consecutive no-hit game in Brooklyn, Vander Meer pitched another no-hitter! He walked three, hit one batter, and one runner was safe on an error.
This time, only 335 fans cheered Johnny at the end of the game. It was a game they would never forget.