When a cyclone circles through a neighborhood most people run for cover, not wanting to face the ferocity of Mother Nature’s wrath. The Dutch Master was like a cyclone, twirling his pills with supreme heat and wildness. But batters, unlike the citizen who takes to his fruit cellar, had to stand in the box and stare the cyclone in the eyes.
A southpaw capable of issuing thunderbolts from his left arm, Vander Meer was a hot commodity as an amateur but his lack of control forced teams to give up on him. The Dutch Master was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1933 but was sold to the Braves while in the bushes. His accuracy didn’t improve in the Braves chain and the Reds bought him after the 1936 season. He won 19 games in the bushes in 1936 which forced the Reds hand. The kid had a powerful arm but many felt he lacked the accuracy needed to flourish at the Major League level.
Called up late in 1937, Johnny won three games for Cincy that year. The following year he caught the imagination of the nation when he reached a feat no other pitcher had attained and none has attained since. During the 1938 season, Vander Meer spun back-to-back no-hitters. He no-hit the Braves on June 11th and then four days later he mirrored the feat against the Dodgers. During that magical year, Vander Meer won fifteen games and surrendered an average of just 0.787 hits per inning – better than Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell (0.955), Red Ruffing (0.996), Lefty Gomez (1.00) and Bob Feller (0.809). The Dutch Master went to his first All-Star game and was also handed a new nickname: Double No-Hit.
An All-Star again in 1939, Vandy was the most prolific strikeout pitcher in the senior circuit, fanning an average of 0.791 batters per inning. His accuracy, which gave him fits throughout his career, seemed to signal a premature end to his days in the Majors in 1940. Sent back to the bushes in 1940, Vandy was taken under the wing of coach Hank Gowdy, baseball’s great war hero during WWI, and harnessed his heat the best he could. The Reds called up Johnny at the end of the year and he tossed three shutout innings in that season’s World Series.
Back on top in 1941, Double No-Hit led the National League with 202 strikeouts and surrendered the fewest hits on average in the league. Johnny finished second in shutouts (he finished in the Top Ten in the shutout department eight times during his career) while winning sixteen games for the Reds. He won 18 games in 1942 and again paced the senior circuit in strikeouts, while making his third All-Star appearance. His hot sauce offerings were still difficult to hit as Vandy issued an average of just 0.770 hits per inning.
With World War II underway, Vandy tried to get into service but was rejected on medical grounds. He told a sportswriter that his military rejection was the low-point of his life. Although he was dejected by the rejection, the Reds were elated to have him in uniform. The Dutch Master won his third straight strikeout crown that year while also topping the league in games started.
Vandy never stopped trying to get into the military and in 1944 the Navy accepted him. Cincy lost its strikeout ace for two years while Johnny did his part for Uncle Sam. Coming back to the Reds in 1946, he posted a 3.17 ERA, but the zip on his fastball wasn’t there – his strikeout total failed to reach 100. He tossed three shutouts in 1947 but the Ks were still absent. His whiff total climbed to 120 in 1948, but more importantly won 17 games for a seventh place Reds club.
For the first time in his Major League career, The Dutch Master gave up more hits than innings worked in 1949 and the Reds gave up on him after the season. He had an adequate season out of the Cubs bullpen in 1950 but after one horrible start with the Indians in 1951, his big league career was over. he pitched a few more years in the bushes, serving as a player/manager in Burlington, Iowa and Daytona Beach.
W 119/L 121/PCT .496/G 346/CG 131/IP 2,104/H 1,799/BB 1,132/SO 1,294/SHO 30/ERA 3.44