Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.
Since 1901, what we consider the modern era of baseball, there have been 244 no-hitters (including perfect games) by 200 different pitchers (according to Baseball Reference). Of those, 34 threw more than one no-hitter in a career. Three pitchers—Cy Young, Bob Feller and Larry Corcoran—threw three no hitters. Sandy Koufax pitched four and Nolan Ryan holds the record with seven.
Only five pitchers have ever thrown two no-hitters in the same regular season—Johnny Vander Meer in 1938, Allie Reynolds in 1951, Virgil Trucks in 1952, Nolan Ryan in 1973, and Max Scherzer in 2015 (Roy Halladay had a perfect game during the 2010 season and a no-hitter in the playoffs that year).
But only one of those was able to pull off the feat in consecutive games—Vander Meer.
The First No-Hitter
Vander Meer was as 23-year-old in his first full season for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938. The previous year he’d appeared in 19 games with a 3-5 record.
He got off to a decent start in ’38, going 5-2 in his first nine starts (with two relief appearances). On June 5 he twirled an impressive three-hitter against the New York Giants. The Giants scored in the first inning on a single and double. Vander Meer didn’t give up another hit until two outs in the ninth. It was a precursor of what was to come.
His next start came on June 11 against the Boston Bees. He mowed through the lineup, allowing a walk in the fourth and two walks in the fifth. After that, no runner reached base and Vander Meer had a no-hitter, the first in the National League in almost four years.
The Second No-Hitter
Just four days later, Vander Meer was on the mound again, this time in Brooklyn to face the Dodgers. His control wasn’t exactly sharp–he walked eight batters, but he also struck out seven. But nobody got a hit.
Things got a bit dicey for him in the bottom of the ninth. The Reds were ahead, 6-0 (the sixth run scored by Vander Meer) but with one out, Vander Meer walked three batters in a row. He then induced a grounder to third that forced the runner at home, and Leo Durocher, the final batter, hit a fly ball to center to end the game, giving Vander Meer his second consecutive no-hitter.
He continued to dominate hitters in his next outing on June 19, again against Boston, pitching three no-hit innings until finally with one out in the fourth, Debs Garms singled. He gave up three more hits in that game.
That gave him a 36-inning stretch of allowing just seven hits, including 21-2/3 consecutive hitless innings. The wheels finally came off in his next start, on June 23, when he allowed 11 hits in 7-2/3 innings.
Vander Meer's Pitching Line
June 11, 1938
June 15, 1938
A So-So Career
Vander Meer was never more than a so-so pitcher, finishing with a career record of 119-121 in 13 seasons (like many others, he missed two seasons during World War II). In 1938, he finished at 15-10, going 8-8 after his twin no-hitters. His best season was an 18-12 mark in 1942. He was never a control pitcher, twice leading the NL in walks, including 162 in 1943, the 19th-highest total in the modern era.
His feat of consecutive no-hitters has never been duplicated—although it nearly was less than a decade later by one of his teammates.
The Feat Almost Duplicated by a Teammate
Ewell “Whip” Blackwell was a 24-year-old in his second full season for Cincinnati when he went to the mound on June 18 against the Boston Braves. With Vander Meer looking on from the dugout, Blackwell threw a no-hitter, although he allowed four walks. Then on June 22—a day after Vander Meer had started and lost to the Dodgers—Blackwell started the first game of a doubleheader against the Dodgers. For eight innings they couldn’t touch him, gaining base only on three walks.
He started the ninth inning with a chance to match Vander Meer’s successive no-hitters and it started well when he got a flyout on the first pitch of the inning.
But then on a 1-0 count, Eddie Stanky grounded a single up the middle to end the no-hit bid. After another out, Jackie Robinson also singled before Blackwell could record the final out for a two-hitter. Going back to the game before his no-hitter, Blackwell pitched 19 consecutive hitless innings.
Blackwell's Pitching Line
June 18, 1947
June 22, 1947
Perhaps the closest anyone has come since to potentially matching Vander Meer was Mark Buehrle for the White Sox. On July 23, 2009 he pitched a perfect game against Tampa Bay. Then on July 28, he retired the first 17 batters he faced in Minnesota before walking a batter with two outs in the sixth. Then he allowed a single and a run-scoring double before getting out of the inning. He recorded only one more out, hitting a batter and giving up three singles in the seventh before being replaced.
Could It Happen Again
Could a pitcher get hot again like Vander Meer or Blackwell and pitch consecutive no-hitters? Considering how rare it is to even record two in the same season, it is doubtful. But with the rate that batters today are striking out, it may be getting easier—after all, it’s hard to record hits if you aren’t making contact with the ball.
© 2018 GaryKauffman
Brian Lokker from Bethesda, Maryland on June 13, 2018:
Great article, Gary. Vander Meer was my dad's favorite player when he was growing up. They were from the same town in New Jersey and had the same Dutch family background. My dad was 7 years younger than Vander Meer and he saw him pitch in high school. Although I had first heard about the two no-hitters from my dad, I didn't know the details. I didn't know about Blackwell's near-miss either. Thanks for the good read!