Posts Tagged ‘Kiki Cuyler’

A Crushing: the Cubs

October 20, 2017

The 1932 National League winner was the Chicago Cubs. They weren’t the “loveable losers” of later times. As recently as 1929 they’d been in the World Series. Their manager at that point was the current Yankees manager Joe McCarthy.

Charlie Grimm

The Cubs began the season with Rogers Hornsby as manager. By Series time he was gone. Frankly, he’d hadn’t done much as manager and bluntly no one liked him (well, I suppose Mrs. Hornsby did). So out he went and in came “Jolly Cholly” Charlie Grimm, the first baseman. He was able to get more out of the team and led them to the Series. In most hitting categories, the Cubs were middle of the National League. They were fourth in runs, triples, walks, batting average, slugging, and total bases; fifth in hits, homers, stolen bases; and third in doubles. Their three top home run hitters combined for one more home run than Lou Gehrig hit. The staff was much better. They led the NL in ERA, hits, and runs allowed; were second in strikeouts; and fifth in walks.

The staff consisted of five pitchers who started 15 or more games. The ace was Lon Warneke who went 22-6 with a 2.37 ERA (160 ERA+), a 1.123 WHIP, and a team leading 6.9 WAR. Pat Malone and Guy Bush had ERA’s in the low to mid-threes, had WHIP numbers that were good and put up 2.7 WAR (Bush) and 2.5 (Malone). At 38, Hall of Fame hurler Burleigh Grimes was still good enough to start 18 games. His ERA was over four, his WHIP was 1.585, and he had a -0.9 WAR. The fifth starter was Charlie Root. He ha 15 wins, a 3.58 ERA, a 1,230 WHIP, and 1.8 WAR. He would also throw the most famous pitch of the Series.

Their primary receiver was Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett. He was 31, hit .271, was second on the team with 12 home runs, had a 111 OPS+ and 2,5 WAR. As his backup, Rollie Hemsley hit .238 and had four home runs, the most of any bench player.

Riggs Stephenson, Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler, and Johnny Moore were the primary Chicago outfield. Stephenson, who ended his career with a huge batting average, but few at bats, hit .324 with a team leading 121 OPS+. He led the team with 49 doubles and 189 hits, and had 3.3 WAR. Cuyler, who’d been known for his speed, hit 291 with nine steals, 10 homers (good for third on the team), and managed all of 1.6 WAR. Moore led the team in home runs with 13 and hit .305, while producing 2.3 WAR. Backups included Marv Gudat, who played first and actually pitched an inning, Lance Richbourg, and Vince Barton. Barton had the most home runs and Gudat’s 0.0 WAR led the crew.

The Cubs infield saw six men do most of the work. Manager Grimm was at first. He hit .307 with seven home runs, good for fourth on the team. His 80 RBIs were second and he pulled 107 OPS+. All that produced 2.5 WAR. Hall of Fame second sacker Billy Herman hit .314 with a team leading 14 stolen bases. His 3.5 WAR led all position players. Woody English and Billy Jurges were the normal left side of the infield. English hit .272 with 1.8 WAR while shortstop Jurges hit .253, lowest among the starters, and had 2.4 WAR. Both men were spelled by players that would have a profound impact on the team. Stan Hack was still 22 and beginning a long run as the Cubs third baseman. He hit .236 and had 0.2 WAR. If Hack had the longer term impact on Chicago, Mark Koenig had the more important short-term value. He’d come over in mid-season and sparked the team. He hit .353 with three home runs, had 11 RBIs in 33 games, put up an OPS+ of 136 with 1.4 WAR. He was generally credited with being the cog that put the Cubs over the top. But because he’d come over at mid-season, the team didn’t vote him a full share of the World Series purse. As a former teammate of the Yankees (he was the Murderer’s Row shortstop in the late 1920s) this action hacked off a lot of the New Yorkers, especially Babe Ruth. It would cause more bad blood between the teams than did a normal World Series campaign.

If you look at the team numbers closely, you can see why New York was favored. Chicago was, despite the number differential, still a good team and there were hopes it could compete evenly with the Yankees.

 

 

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A Chance for Revenge: the 1935 Cubs

August 11, 2017

Charlie Grimm

By 1935 the Chicago Cubs were in the midst of one of the strangest runs in Major League history. After falling off beginning in 1911, they’d won a pennant in 1918 then spent a decade in the wilderness. In 1929 they won the National League pennant and lost the World Series. Three years later in 1932 they won another pennant and lost another Series. In 1935 it was again three years later. And they would carry it on through a final pennant three years later in 1938. That’s winning a pennant at three-year intervals from 1929 through 1938.

Their manager was former first baseman Charlie Grimm. By ’35 he was technically a player-manager, but at age 36 he was much more manager than player, getting into only two games (eight at bats without a hit). He was, unlike Cochrane, well liked by most people and most of his team (“Jolly Cholly” being his nickname). The team was first in the NL in batting, on base percentage, and OPS while being second in slugging and total bases. It was also first in runs, doubles, and walks, while finishing third in triples, homers, and stolen bases. The staff finished first in hits allowed (that’s the least number of hits allowed by a staff), runs allowed and ERA, while coming in second in strikeouts.

It was a team of mixed veterans and new guys. The newest guy was Phil Cavarretta who was 18. He hit .275 with eight home runs and 0.8 WAR, but would get better, earning an MVP Award in 1945. Hall of Famer Billy Herman held down second. He led the team with a .341 batting average was second on the team with 83 RBIs (one more than Cavarretta). His 6.9 WAR led the team. His double play partner was Billy Jurges. He hit all of .241, but had 2.5 WAR, 3.0 of that coming from his defense. Stan Hack was at third. Hitting .311, he did some lead off work. He stole 14 bases and put up 4.5 WAR. Woodie English and Fred Lindstrom, both in the latter part of their careers, did most of the backup work. Both were 29. Lindstrom hit .275, English just barely topped .200. Lindstrom did produce 62 RBIs in 90 games. They both turned in WAR of 0.5.

The outfield saw five men patrol it for more than twenty games. Augie Galan was the main man. He had a triple slash line of .314/.399/.468/.866 (OPS+ of 131, good for second on the team). He stole a team leading 22 bases. The entire team stole 66 and Galan’s 22 was a third of the total (and with Hack’s 14 they had over half). He scored 133 runs and his 5.1 WAR was second on the team (to Herman). Phillies refugee Chuck Klein, a few years removed from a Triple Crown year, led the team with 21 homers, had 73 RBIs, hit .293, and had 2.8 WAR. The other main starter was Frank Demaree. He hit .323 with no power and only six stolen bases. His WAR was 1.6. The backups, Tuck Stainback and Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler managed about 250 at bats together they had seven home runs and Cuyler hit .268 to Stainback’s .255.

At 34, Hall of Fame backstop Gabby Hartnett was the oldest starter (Cuyler, at 36, was older). He’d been around for both the 1929 and the 1932 pennants and was instrumental in the 1935 victory. His triple slash line read .344/.404/.545.948 with an OPS+ of 151 with 13 homers, a team leading 91 RBIs, and 5.0 WAR. His backup was Ken O’Dea who got into 76 games, hit .257, with six home runs. That total gave the catching position second place on the team for homers (behind Klein). When Chicago made it back to the World Series in three years, Hartnett would be managing.

Seven pitchers showed up in 20 or more games (and later Dodgers stalwart Hugh Casey pitched in 13, all in relief). Lon Warneke and Bill Lee both won 20 games with Lee’s ERA coming in just under three and Warneke’s at just over three. Both managed to give up fewer hits than they had innings pitched and had more strikeouts than walks. Warneke had a WHIP of 1.173 with 4.3 WAR while Lee’s WHIP was 1.290 with 3.1 WAR. Larry French was the main southpaw. He went 17-10 with a 2.96 ERA (same as Lee’s), ninety strikeouts to 44 walks, a 1.311 WHIP, 3.4 WAR, and the continuing bugaboo of giving up more hits than he had innings pitched. Tex Carleton and Roy Henshaw were the other two primary starters. Both had ERA’s in the threes and Henshaw walked more men than he struck out. Charlie Root, of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” infamy, was in the bullpen. He was 36, started 18 games (of 38 pitched) had a 3.08 ERA, and at 201 innings actually pitched more than either Carleton or Henshaw. Fabian Kowalik was the other man with more than 20 games pitched. His ERA was 4.22 in 55 innings.

Having lost their last two World Series (actually four, but no one from the 1910 or 1918 losses was around), the Cubs wanted a win badly. There is no evidence that I could find that showed they cared about the two wins their earlier versions had put up against Detroit. Games one and two would be in Detroit.

Beat Down: the 1927 Pirates

January 14, 2016
Paul Waner while with Pittsburgh

Paul Waner while with Pittsburgh

So if the Yankees of 1927 are all that great and won the World Series, who’d they beat? The answer is the 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates. They’re not as famous as their American League counterparts and are probably most famous for losing the ’27 World Series, but they were a legitimately good team that, because of what happened in the Series, are very underrated.

The manager was former Detroit Tigers shortstop Donie Bush, who’d played with Ty Cobb in a couple of World Series’. He had what was, for the mid-1920s, a fairly typical National League team. They hit for good average, had a lot of doubles and triples, but few home runs. Part of the reason the team had lots of doubles and triples and few home runs had to do with Forbes Field, their home park. It was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and 442 feet to dead center. The alley between left and center went all the way to 462 feet. That meant, no matter the power, hitters were going to lose a lot of home runs, but gap power could produce doubles and triples. The Pirates led the NL in runs, hits, batting average, and OBP. They were second in slugging, OPS, total bases, triples, and batter strikeouts while showing third in doubles. The pitching staff wasn’t as good. They were fifth in ERA, fourth in strikeouts and home runs (much of that attributed to the park), third in runs and walks, and second in hits.

Joe Harris, George Grantham, Glenn Wright, and Pie Traynor were the infield (first to third). Harris hit .326 with 27 doubles, nine triples, no power (2.8 WAR–BBREF version), but had World Series experience in 1925 for the Senators (against the Pirates). Grantham hit .305 with eight home runs, good for third on the team. His WAR was 3.5. Wright was a good hitting shortstop. He hit .281 and his nine home runs tied for the team lead. His 105 RBIs were third on the Pirates, as were his 96 runs. Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor hit .342 with 106 RBIs (3.9 WAR) and was considered the premier fielding third sacker of the era. It was, in other words, a good infield, but lacked either a Gehrig or Lazzeri. Hal Rhyne’s .274 and 17 RBIs were high among backup infielders who played 15 or more games. Two future stars, Hall of Famer Joe Cronin and shortstop Dick Bartell also played in a handful of games for the ’27 Pirates (one for Bartell, 12 for Cronin).

Despite having three Hall of Famers in it, the outfield was a problem for the Bucs. Paul Waner held down right field. His triple slash line read .380/.437/.549/..986 with an OPS+ of 154 (highest on the team) and a team leading 6.9 WAR. He had nine home runs, 18 triples, 42 doubles, 237 hits, 131 RBIs, and 342 total bases. All led the team and all those big numbers helped give him the NL League Award (an early version of the MVP) for 1927. His little brother Lloyd Waner patrolled center field. He was a good defensive outfielder who led off. He hit .355, scored a team high 133 runs, had 223 hits, 198 of them singles. His 14 stolen bases was second on the team. Hazen “Kiki” Cuyler was supposed to be the normal left fielder. He played 85 games, hit .309, had a team leading 20 stolen bases, and missed the entire World Series. He and manager Bush didn’t like each other (to be kind about it). There are differing stories about what happened between them, but Bush was so upset at Cuyler by Series time that he benched Cuyler for the entire World Series. Clyde Barnhart replaced him for the Series and for a lot of the season. Barnhart hit .319 but had neither power nor Cuyler’s speed. Backup outfielder Frank Brickell played in 32 games but had only 23 at bats. He hit .286. Adam Comorosky also got into 18 games, but batted 68 times. He hit all of .230.

Catching duties were split among three men: Johnny Gooch, Earl Smith, and Roy Spencer. None had 300 at bats, but Gooch had the most. He hit .258 with 17 doubles, and 48 RBIs, while Smith had five home runs, hit .270, and put up a .722 OPS. Spencer hit. 283 in 92 at bats.

They caught a staff that was decent, but today is mostly forgotten. Lee Meadows, Carmen Hill, Vic Aldridge, and Ray Kremer were the only men to start double figure games. All were right-handed and Hill and Aldridge gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. Hill was 22-11 with a 3.24 ERA (4.7 WAR) and a 1.224 WHIP. Meadows was 19-10 with an ERA of 3.40 (4.6 WAR), and a 1.273 WHIP. Kremer’s ERA was 2.47 with a 19-8 record (6.5 WAR, good for second on the team to Paul Waner) and a WHIP of 1.143. Aldridge went 15-10, had an ERA of 4.25 (0.0 WAR–try doing that very often) and a WHIP of 1.345. Only four other men pitched in double figure games. Johnny Morrison had three saves, Johnny Miljus had an ERA of 1.90, and Mike Cvengros was the only lefty. The lack of a  lefty would hurt them in the Series.

Pittsburgh had a good, a solid team in 1927. They won the National League pennant by a game and a half (over St. Louis), but they were clearly outclassed by the Yankees. They were big underdogs in the Series.

Building a Winner: Worse

November 20, 2015
Dolph Camilli

Dolph Camilli

As bad as the 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers were, the 1938 version was even worse. They dropped all the way to seventh in 1938 going 69-80 to finish 18.5 games back (which is actually closer than in 1937–the ’37 Giants  won 95 games, the ’38 Cubs only 89). Their Pythagorean said they should have finished 74-75, so they underperformed. In hitting they finished sixth in most categories but first in stolen bases and walks. In fact they had 611 walks and only 615 strikeouts for the season (and if you exclude pitchers they actually walked more than they struck out), which helped them to second in OBP. The pitching was also bad. The staff consistently finished about sixth in most categories coming in high in shutouts (3rd) and having the third lowest walk total. Even Hilda Chester might have had trouble rooting for this team.

But a couple of significant changes occurred. First, Dolph Camilli came over from Philadelphia. He posted 24 home runs and 100 RBIs, both of which easily led the team. His 118 walks also led the team (as did his 101 strikeouts). His OPS and OPS+ also led the Dodgers, while his WAR was second on the team (but first among position players). He replaced Bud Hassett at first, but Hassett moved to the outfield replacing Heinie Manush (who got into 17 games), so effectively Camilli replaced Manush. Manush hit for a much higher average in 1937 than did Camilli in 1938, but had only about half the WAR and drove in 73 with four home runs. The other big infield change saw Leo Durocher take over at short. Durocher’s numbers weren’t better than Woody English who’d held down shortstop in 1937, but Durocher became team captain and brought a new competitive attitude to the team. Also in the infield Cookie Lavagetto moved from second to third and John Hudson replaced him at second. Lavagetto replaed Joe Stripp making Hudson essentially Stripp’s replacement. Hudson’s OPS+ and WAR weren’t very good, but they were better than Stripp.

The outfield was entirely different. The aforementioned Hassett was now on one corner. Goody Rosen took another and former college football standout Ernie Koy had the final position. Koy almost hit .300 and his 11 home runs were second on the team, as were the 76 RBIs.

The bench was long in 1938. Merv Shea and Gilly Campbell were the backup catchers while former backup Roy Spencer got into only 16 games. The 1937 starting shortstop Woody English now rode the pine and Pete Coscaret was pushing Hudson for more time at second. Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler was, along with Tuck Stainback, the primary backup outfielder. He was 39 but could still hit in the .270s. Other than Cuyler they didn’t do much.

The battery consisted of Babe Phelps behind the plate and nine primary pitchers. Phelps hit .300 with no power and 1.7 WAR (that was eighth on the team). The primary starters were three holdovers from 1937: Luke Hamlin, Fred Fitzsimmons, and Van Mungo (of Van Lingle Mungo song fame). Fitzsimmons’ 4.4 WAR led the team and Hamlin’s 3.4 was third. The new guy was Bill Posedel who poured kerosene on an already combustible staff by going 8-9 with an ERA north of five. The bullpen (those with 20 or more games pitched) saw Fred Frankhouse as a leftover from 1937 and Tot Presnell, Vito Tamulis, and Max Butcher as the new guys. Both Tamulis and Presnell posted ERA+ number above 100.

Part of the problem lay with manager Burleigh Grimes. Essentially everyone knew he was a lame duck and his authority in the clubhouse waned. He’d been a good pitcher for a long time (eventually making the Hall of Fame) but wasn’t much of a manager. He came immediately into conflict with Durocher who, it was assumed, was manager-in-waiting. It didn’t help team chemistry.

There was one significant off field addition also. In 1939 Larry McPhail became President and General Manager of the Dodgers. He would change the culture of the team greatly.

So where were we when 1938 came to a close? Much of the infield was in place. Camilli was at first and Lavagetto at third. Both were playing well. Durocher was at short, but would leave the position after the end of the season to become manager. Neither the 1941 outfielders nor the catcher were yet in place. The pitching staff was beginning to add the first parts of the pennant winning group in holdovers Fitzsimmons and Hamlin, but the mainstays of the 1941 staff were still missing. Much of this would change in 1939, making it a key year in the rebuilding process.

 

The “Called Shot” Game

July 19, 2013
The Babe

The Babe

There are a handful of home runs that are so famous that almost any fan can tell you about them. There’s Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951. There’s Bill Mazeroski’s World Series ending homer in 1960. There’s Bucky “Bleepin'” Dent’s 1978 shot. Kirk Gibson’s 1988 homer is also famous. But equally famous and certainly more mythologized, is Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in 1932. Here’s a look at the game in which it occurred.

In 1932 the New York Yankees returned to World Series play for the first time since their thrashing of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928. Much of the team was the same, anchored by Ruth and by Lou Gehrig. Their opponents were the Chicago Cubs, back in the Series for the first time since they’d lost to Philadelphia in 1929. With Gabby Hartnett and Kiki Cuyler they also had a good team. New York won the first two games of the Series by scores of 13-6 and 5-2. That set up game three in Wrigley Field on 1 October.

The Yanks scored early when Earle Combs opened the game with a grounder to shortstop Billy Jurges, who proceeded to throw it away. A walk to Joe Sewell brought Ruth up to face Cubs starter Charlie Root. Ruth promptly crushed a three-run home run to put New York up 3-0. The Cubs got one back in the bottom of the third on a Billy Herman walk and a run scoring double by Cuyler. The Yanks got that one back when Gehrig hit a solo home run to lead off the third. Chicago again scored in the bottom of the inning. Cuyler slugged a homer and a single and long double made the score 4-3. The Cubs then tied the game up in the fourth on a Jurges hit and an error by New York second baseman Tony Lazzeri.

All of which led to the decisive, mythic, and still controversial top of the fifth. Sewell led off the inning grounding out to short. That brought up Ruth, who took strike one. Then he apparently did something with his hand. He pointed, he wagged it, he held up one finger indicating one strike, he gave the Cubs “the finger”, he pointed to center and called his shot. All are possible. Root dealt strike two and Ruth again gestured with his hand. There’s a picture that purports to be a shot of Ruth at the moment of his second gesture. It is too far away for these old eyes to tell exactly what he’s doing, but the arm is up. Root threw the third pitch and Ruth parked it in the deep center field bleachers for a 5-4 New York lead. The next man up was Gehrig, who also unloaded. This time the ball went to deep right and Root went to the showers. Both New York and Chicago picked up one more run in the ninth (the Cubs run coming on a Hartnett home run) to make the final score 7-5. The next day the Yankees won the Series  shellacked five Cubs pitchers for a 13-6 victory(Ruth went one for five and Gehrig went two for four).

The fifth inning of 1 October 1932 became, arguably, Ruth’s most famous at bat. Few people know it was the game winning hit (the Yanks never trailed after Ruth touched home). Fewer know that Gehrig hit a homer in the next at bat. What they know is Ruth’s “called shot”. Did he do it? Frankly, I don’t know. A study of Ruth leads me to believe that it wasn’t out of character for him to do so. It was also equally in character for him to flash his middle finger at the Cubs. I’d like to think he did call his shot, it would be utterly Ruthian (but so would the middle finger). I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself.

A Bad Century: The Nadir (Older than the Rockies)

May 7, 2012

Riggs Stephenson, Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, and KiKi Cuyler in 1929

Most people might tell you that the failure to win a pennant since 1945 is the nadir of the Chicago Cubs’ “Bad Century”. Others might pick the long list of last place finishes as their nadir. And In one sense they’d both be right. But for my money I pick 1929 because of the way in which the Cubs lost an available championship. Somehow that’s more awful than simply finishing last. Anybody can finish last, but to blow an entire World Series in two innings takes Cubs-like effort.

After losing the 1918 World Series, the Cubs became also rans in the National League, falling back into the pack for a decade. By 1929, they’d righted the ship, found a way back to a pennant and under manager Joe McCarthy (yes, the same McCarthy who would lead the Yankees through the 1930s) had a chance to pickup a championship. It was a solid team consisting of an infield of Charlie Grimm at first, Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, Woody English at short, and third sacker Norm McMillan. The outfield had Riggs Stephenson in left and Hall of Famers Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler in center and right. Gabby Hartnett was the normal catcher, but arm injuries limited him to pinch hit duties in the Series, so Zack Taylor took his place behind the plate. Hornsby and Wilson tied for the team lead with 39 home runs, and Wilson led the NL in RBIs with 159 while Cuyler had 43 stolen bases to cop the league crown. The staff consisted of  ace Pat Malone, Sheriff Blake, Guy Bush, and Charlie Root (not yet infamous for throwing Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in 1932). They were all right-handed, gave up  more hits than they had innings pitched, and both Blake and Bush walked more men than they struck out. So the pitching was a bit of a problem, but Bush did lead the NL in saves with eight.

In 1929 they faced Connie Mack’s resurgent Philadelphia Athletics, whose losing streak went back even farther than Chicago’s. The A’s hadn’t won a pennant since 1914, but had won a World series in 1913, five years after the last Cubs victory. The 1929 Series could be seen as redemption for one team or the other.

With Lefty Grove as the staff ace, everyone expected Mack to start him in game one. The A’s skipper opted instead for Howard Ehmke. Ehmke was 35 and in the words of one wit “older than the Rockies.” He’d started eight games all season (11 total games pitched), was 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA and 20 total strikeouts. Not bad, but not Lefty Grove. What Ehmke had going for him was great command of the strike zone and a fastball that topped out at about Jaime Moyer level. Ehmke had never been a blazing fastball pitcher, but now he was, to put it as nicely as I can, slow. But for Mack that was exactly the point. The Cubs were notorious fastball hitters and free swingers (for the era). Mack reasoned that the Chicago batters would be too impatient to wait on Ehmke’s “fast” ball.
The game was played in Chicago on 8 October and for six innings Ehmke and Cubs starter Root matched shutouts. Both men were pitching well, Ehmke was simply mowing down (can you “mow down” a batter with a slow fastball?) Chicago hitter after Chicago hitter and Root had given up only two hits. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Jimmie Foxx crushed a ball that put the A’s up 1-0.  That held up until the ninth. In the top of the ninth with the bases loaded on a single and consecutive errors, Bing Miller singled to drive home two runs. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs finally got to Ehmke, picking up one unearned run on an error and a single. Then Ehmke closed the door by striking out the final man to preserve the A’s 3-1 win.

Root had pitched well, so had reliever Bush, but Ehmke was the story of the game. He gave up the one unearned run, scattered eight hits, walked one, and in what had to be utter vindication for Mack, struck out 13 Cubs. It was a record for a World Series game that lasted to 1953 (Carl Erskine got 14 k’s). And remember that Ehmke had only 20 strikeouts for the entire regular season.

So the Cubs were down 0-1 with another game at home. The World Series had started badly, but it was still possible to save it and bring home a championship to Chicago. But, of course, this is the Cubs we’re talking about.

Twice

April 17, 2012

Johnny Vander Meer about 1940

Baseball is full of obscure records and feats. Some of those records and feats are accomplished by the greats of the game, others by players who had one moment in the sun. Johnny Vander Meer is one of the latter.

Vander Meer was a left-handed starter for Cincinnati in the 1930s and 1940s. He was known as one of those scatter-armed lefties who could throw the ball through a brick wall, but you needed to make it a pretty big brick wall because it was anybody’s guess where the ball would impact the wall. His rookie year was 1937. He went 3-5 with an ERA of 3.84 in 19 games (10 starts). He struck out 52 in 84 innings, but walked 69. By June 1938 he was trudging along on the way to a 15-10 record with 103 walks and 125 strikeouts. On Sunday, 11 June, with a record of 5-2, he got the start in an afternoon home game. By the end of the game, he’d thrown an absolute jewel.

He faced the Boston Bees (now the Braves) and he shut them out. In fact, he no-hit them. He faced 28 total batters, walked three (including Woody English), stuck out four (including Vince DiMaggio) and used a couple of double plays to get out of two of the walk situations. All in all it was a great performance. It was the first no-no of the season and only the sixth of the decade of the 1930s. There were to be only two more for the remainder of the decade.

One of those came four nights later in Brooklyn. Vander Meer. now 6-2, again took the mound for the Reds. This time he shutdown the Dodgers in the first night game in Ebbets Field history. He wasn’t quite as good that night. This time he walked eight and struck out seven. Hall of Fame outfielder Kiki Cuyler got two of the walks and first baseman Dolf Camilli was issued three. But the Reds lit up four Dodgers pitchers for six runs (including a three run home run by first baseman Frank McCormick).

Vander Meer became an instant celebrity. No one had even thrown consecutive no-hitters. No one has done it since. It remains a unique moment in baseball lore. He won his next game (also against Boston) 14-1, giving up four hits, walking seven and striking out two. He managed to reach 10-2 before taking his next loss against Chicago on 10 July (he lost 3-1). As mentioned above, he finished 10-5, and made the All Star Game for the first time. He started, got the win, gave up one hit and struck out one. At the end of the season, Cincinnati finished fourth. They would make the World Series in 1939, win it in 1940, then slip back into the pack.

Vander Meer didn’t do much in either 1939 or 1940. He had good years in 1941, ’42, and ’43, winning three straight strikeout titles (and leading the National League in walks in ’43). He went off to war in 1944 and 1945, came back to Cincy, had one more decent year in 1948, then was out of the Major Leagues after a one game stint with Cleveland in 1951. He played minor league ball for a while, including throwing a no-hitter in 1952, then retired.

His record was 119-121 with an ERA of 3.44 (ERA+ of 107), 1132 walks, and 1294 strikeouts. So he was never a great pitcher. Well, except for those two nights in June 1938, when he was arguably the greatest ever.