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Johnson Shines On Vander Meer’s ‘Night Under the Lights’

Double No-Hit: Johnny Vander Meer’s Historic Night Under the Lights
James W. Johnson
University of Nebraska Press (April 2012)

Who holds the most consecutive games record? OK, easy one since you’re from Baltimore. How about most complete games in a career? Who holds the record for longest consecutive games hitting streak? Haven’t stumped you?

OK, here’s one: Who pitched two consecutive no-hitters?

His name isn’t in the Hall of Fame, only in the records book. And throughout a rather lackluster career, Johnny Vander Meer’s feat in 1938 as a rookie Cincinnati Reds pitcher will most likely stand the test of time. Think about it. Someone would have to pitch three no-hitting games in a row to pass his feat.

James W. Johnson’s new book, Double No-Hit: Johnny Vander Meer’s Historic Night Under the Lights (University of Nebraska Press), takes the reader through the second game on June 15 against the Brooklyn Dodgers with not only baseball-announcer-like precision and detail, but also filling in enough back story on Vander Meer, his early playing days, his managers and life after the historic night, to put into context what a underrated feat this was.

Modern-day pitchers hit the mound today after a no-hitter … wait, who am I am kidding? It’s the age of Twitter. They don’t even make it to the locker room before they are asked if they think they can match Vander Meer’s record and go for a second.

Though Vander Meer’s pitching that day was no cakewalk, there was no pressure because no one thought about it. The left-hander almost quietly completed one of the best baseball records of all time, one that would carry over for years to come in his career.

Johnson goes through each inning of the second no-hitter frame by frame and interposes those images with accounts from managers, players and teammates for a full look into Vander Meer’s career through the prism of his outstanding achievement. Though all most people will ever hear about Vander Meer will be in regards to that accomplishment, Johnson outlines a career and a player who had fortitude and willpower and drive.

This 160-page book packs in a lot of career and a lot of life of one Johnny Vander Meer. His mark does not go unnoticed in Johnson’s book, nor does its importance.

Johnson documents speculation that Vander Meer was able to pitch two consecutive no-hitters because the two teams were playing in some of the first night games in baseball. But whatever the circumstances, the abilities of this pitcher, especially as a rookie, cannot, and do not, fly under the radar thanks to Johnson.

The Reds won NL pennants in 1939 and ’40, and a World Series in the latter, but injuries and illnesses, plus a stint in the military held Vander Meer back. He would return and be given a chance because of what he had achieved, but his overall career wouldn’t warrant him more than a passing glance … and a book.

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