- Double No-Hit: Johnny Vander Meer’s Historic Night under the Lights by James W Johnson
In Double No-Hit, James Johnson examines a feat that has only happened once in baseball history. On June 15, 1938, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Cincinnati Reds rookie Johnny Vander Meer pitched the second of a back-to-back no-hitter, an event that has yet to be repeated and some speculate never will. The game was also the first home night game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A controversial subject when it first began in the 1930s, playing under the light became commonplace to allow more fans to attend games. Johnson reviews the game by recounting Vander Meer’s past and connecting him to other players of the era.
Johnson begins by helping the reader understand the difficulty of Vander Meer’s accomplishment. Given that a pitcher has a .000645 chance of throwing a no-hitter in any game, being able to do it twice in a row placed the event on Sports Illustrated’s list of ten records that would never be broken (p. xx). In just a few pages of a prologue, Johnson discusses Vander Meer’s first no-hitter on June 8 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. The first chapter focuses on the other historic event of the June 11, the night game. A new and controversial addition to baseball in the 1930s, night games would eventually become the standard. Although his focus is on the first night game in Brooklyn and the debate of management of whether or not to implement games under the lights, Johnson does not mention that night games began in the Negro Leagues.
As Johnson moves through a description of the nine innings in the next twelve chapters, the characters of the event come alive. From Vander Meer’s personal background to the other players, Johnson includes the people of the game as well as the statistics. Vander Meer received recognition for his accomplishment from his parents to President Franklin Roosevelt to the Sporting News. Fans came out to see Vander Meer’s next start and began [End Page 179] talking about his future storied career. However, Vander Meer would never garner the same attention in his fourteen-year career; his decline began during the next season with wild pitching and illness. Johnson includes a chapter on after the game and another on the rest of the season and then follows Vander Meer to the end of his professional baseball career. After improving during the 1940 season, his baseball career took second place to service during World War II. His major league career ended in 1951 with Cleveland, but Vander Meer played five more seasons in the minors as a pitcher, pitching coach, and then manager. Johnson describes the last decades of his life quickly and only as it related to a handful of anniversary events of his no-hitters. In an epilogue, Johnson discussed other players who have come close to back-to-back no-hitters.
For a reader interested in statistics and detailed information about the game itself, the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, or the major leaguers in the 1930s, they will find the book offers a lot. The author does assume a certain amount of baseball literacy on the part of the reader, though, and those knowledgeable of the people and places will have a better understanding of the details. The author does not frame the story of Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitter historically or socially. The two references to the Great Depression and its effect on baseball or the baseball players are brief (pp. 36, 50), and there is no mention that professional baseball at the time was segregated. While historical or social context is not the focus of the book, so little reference to the larger society takes away from understanding the time and place of the player.
The book lacks an index and numbered footnotes within the text, although notes are...