Johnny Vander Meer
Born: November 2, 1914
Died: October 6, 1997
Town: Midland Park, New Jersey
John Samuel Vander Meer was born November 2, 1914 in Midland Park. Growing up during the Depression, Johnny spent his time honing his hopping fastball and darting sinker—which he delivered from the left side—on the diamonds of Bergen County and as a member of the Midland Park High School varsity. A good switch-hitter, he could launch line drives from either side of the plate. He was scouted and signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers at 18.
Johnny worked his way through the minors as the property of the Dodgers, Braves and Reds. A 19-win, 295-strikeout season at Class-B Durham put him on the Reds’ radar and in 1937 he broke camp with Cincinnati. Johnny had his ups and downs as a rookie, including a trip to the minors. He struck out 11 batters in his first big-league start, but also walked 11in a game less than a month later.
In his first full season with the Reds, Johnny accomplished something that is unmatched in history. On June 11, 1938, he no-hit Boston and on June 15 he no-hit the Dodgers in the first game played under the lights at Ebbets Field. Johnny finished the season with 15 wins. In 1939 and 1940—when the Reds won two pennants—Johnny was still struggling to control his repertoire. Despite being selected for the All-Star Game, he did not see action in the 1939 World Series. In 1940, he pitched three innings of relief as the Reds defeated the Tigers for their first championship since 1919.
Johnny finally came into his own in 1941. He led the NL in strikeouts three years in a row, winning 49 games during that time. In the 1943 All-Star Game, Johnny matched a record set by Carl Hubbell when he fanned six American Leaguers. In 1944, at the age of 30, he was called into military service. After a stint in the Navy, he returned to the Reds. He won 17 games in 1948, but arm trouble ruined his career soon after.
Johnny tried to hang on with the Cubs and Indians, but was ineffective. He continued to play minor-league ball until age 40, when he became a manager. His last moment of glory came pitching for the Tulsa Oilers in 1952. At 37, he no-hit the Beaumont Roughnecks in a Texas League game.
Johnny’s final major-league totals were 119 wins and 121 losses, with 1,294 K's...but also 1,132 walks. When he had control of his pitchers, he was untouchable. When he didn’t he was unwatchable. Johnny died in Florida in 1997 at the age of 82.