50 Years Ago : Johnny Vander Meer’s Second Consecutive No-Hitter Beat the Brooklyn Dodgers Under the Lights at Ebbets Field

Associated Press

Fifty years ago, the stars came out at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and one was born on the mound.

On June 15, 1938, Cincinnati’s Johnny Vander Meer pitched his second consecutive no-hitter to beat the Dodgers, 6-0. There were 38,748 on hand to see the first night game at Ebbets and Vander Meer’s unmatched piece of baseball history.

“The lights at Ebbets Field were just as good as today, and the players were used to playing night games in the minor leagues,” said Vander Meer, who now lives in Florida. “I never played day ball until I got to the major leagues.”


On June 11, Vander Meer had pitched a no-hitter against the Boston Braves, 3-0, at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.

The first night game at Ebbets Field had a carnival atmosphere, and as the hours elapsed the ebbing shouts and shrieks conjured sounds of a distant Ferris wheel.

The bleacher gates at Ebbets that breezy June night were opened at 5 p.m and it took no time until the stands were filled. Prior to the start of the game, Olympic track star Jesse Owens gave an exhibition, finishing second to Brooklyn outfielder Ernie Koy in a 100-yard race in which he gave Koy a 10-yard handicap. Owens also finished second to Dodgers outfielder Gib Brack in a 120-yard race, in which he hurdled while Brack ran on the flat.

A smoke bomb exploded behind second base to signal the playing of the national anthem by a uniformed band and by 8:36 the gates were closed. It was estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 were unable to get in.

There was still a glimmer of daylight left when 615 floodlights went on at 8:35. And, when the game eventually started at 9:23, the lights were thankfully still on as the Dodgers went out, out, out.

Like many an opening night, Vander Meer saved his best scene for the closing act.

Until the ninth, only one Dodger had gotten as far as second base. In the seventh, the 23-year-old left-hander walked Cookie Lavagetto and Dolf Camilli. In the eighth, with the crowd on Vander Meer’s side, he struck out Woody English, Kiki Cuyler and Johnny Hudson.


With one out in the ninth, Vander Meer walked Babe Phelps, Lavagetto and Camilli to load the bases.

With a count of 1-1, Koy hit a grounder to third and Lew Riggs’ carefully aimed peg to catcher Ernie Lombardi got the force for the second out.

The next batter was Leo Durocher, a name that would dot baseball history on more than one occasion.

Vander Meer’s first pitch to Leo was hit for a scary liner that twisted into the right-field stands. Durocher then lifted a short lazy fly to center that Harry Craft caught.

Hundreds ran into the night and congratulated Vander Meer as his teammates escorted him off the field.

“I filled the bases in the ninth because I was bearing down too hard,” Vander Meer recalled. “I tried to bear down too hard. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t tired at all.”


Among the record crowd that starry, starry night was his girl friend and mother and father of Midland Park, N.J.

Prior to Vander Meer’s consecutive no-hitters, only seven pitchers threw two no-hitters, and none were in the same season.

Since his historic week, many no-hitters have been pitched but only a few have come close to doing it in succession.

Vander Meer doesn’t feel jealous of the record, saying “it would be good for the game if someone did it again. Someone could tie the record, but I don’t think anyone will ever break it.”

Cincinnati’s Ewell Blackwell pitched a no-hitter at the Boston Braves on June 18, 1947, and then went 8 hitless innings against Brooklyn in his next start on June 22.

On Sept. 25, 1986, Houston’s Mike Scott pitched a no-hitter against the Giants and then pitched six hitless innings in his next start at San Francisco.


Vander Meer says if anyone does equal his record it will be a strikeout pitcher.

“If someone’s going to do it, it won’t be the kind of guy who gets four or five strikeouts,” Vander Meer said. “You need to be a hard thrower like Nolan Ryan. If you get 10-12-14 strikeouts, that’s half of the batters you need for a no-hitter. That gives you a better chance.”

Ryan has pitched a major league record five no-hitters, and this season took one into the ninth against Philadelphia.

Vander Meer says his two no-hitters was not the biggest thrill of his career.

He said he hurt his arm the year after his no-hitters, and was sent to the minors because the Reds were in a pennant race and couldn’t afford to let him work out his problems. He had only a 5-9 record in 1939 and feared that his career was in jeopardy at age 24.

“But I came back late in the 1940 season and pitched 13 or 14 innings to clinch the pennant,” Vander Meer said. “I was throwing just as hard at the end than I did at the beginning of the game. That was my biggest thrill because it not only won the pennant, but I was so excited that I knew my career would continue.”

Indeed, Vander Meer had his best seasons in 1941 and 1942, winning 16 and 18 games, respectively, before World War II interrupted his career.

Vander Meer says he is donating many of his baseball mementos to a historical society in Midland Park, N.J., where he grew up, but he is keeping the two balls he used to pitch his two no-hitters.


“I’ve been offered a lot of money--I’m not saying how much--for those balls,” he said. “I’m as sentimental as the next guy but I might sell them some day if the price is right.”