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In 2006, Sports Illustrated listed its choices for the baseball record least likely to be broken. Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games played ranked at No. 1. And Johnny Vander Meer‘s two no hitters placed No. 2.
The key word there is ‘broken’. To do that, a pitcher would need to toss three straight no-nos, placing the feat squarely in that untouchable category.
Vander Meer, who recorded nearly as many walks as strikeouts in his 13-year Major League career, might at first glance have seemed an unlikely fellow to have performed such a once-ever accomplishment. But, when healthy, Vandy had one of the league’s livest arms, just wild enough to keep hitters honest and with enough stuff to keep them at bay.
James W. Johnson‘s biography, Double No-Hit: Johnny Vander Meer’s Historic Night Under the Lights (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 216 pps., $15.95) looks at how the rest of his career was shaped by that singular feat. More time is dedicated to that second no-no, as that was the day on which he succeeded where all other no-hit hurlers have fallen short.
Vandy’s life story itself, while interesting, doesn’t have the inherent drama or conflict of some of the more notable biography subjects. No Ruth excess, Gehrig tragedy or Robinson pioneering. This somewhat handcuffs Johnson, but he makes up for it with increased details on 30s and 40s- era players, including stars like Ernie Lombardi but also many relatively forgotten or obscure.
Vander Meer’s career only occasionally approached the greatness that the double-no-hit suggested. Injuries and inconsistency riddled the lefty, but he did manage to win 119 Major League contests and did toss some other memorable games, including a 13-inning effort in the Reds’ pennant clincher in 1940, in which he tagged from third and scored he winning run. Talk about unlikely feats: when will be the next time the starting pitcher is still in the game in the 13th inning, let alone bats for himself and runs the bases. Never.
Baseball in the pre-integration era was significantly more like the decades that preceded it than those that followed. Vander Meer played and managed for a few years in the minors after his major league career ended, a much more common occurrence in that time. A bit more detail about those days might have been interesting, if only to show how that adjustment affected Vandy.
But what Johnson primarily does that makes Double No Hit work is take a singular feat and weave a slice of baseball in that era around it. Well worth the effort.
Topics: Baseball Record, Cal Ripken, Clincher, Consecutive Games, Ernie Lombardi, Feats, First Glance, Gehrig, Handcuffs, Hurlers, Inconsistency, James W Johnson, Johnny Vander Meer, League Career, League Contests, Livest, Memorable Games, Nebraska Press, Pennant, Starting Pitcher