By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 1999
The attraction was lights, Brooklyn's first night game at home and, like moths to a flame, the fans flocked to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers play the Cincinnati Reds.
Johnny Vander Meer was just an added attraction.
He had pitched a no-hitter the previous Saturday.
That Wednesday night in the summer of '38, he did it again.
Only eight pitchers in major-league baseball's 38 previous years had thrown two no-hitters in their career. None had done it twice in the same season.
But in consecutive starts, the 23-year-old left-hander did it as the Reds beat the visiting Boston Bees 3-0 and then the Dodgers 6-0.
Vander Meer, who lost two more games than he won in a 13-year career, became an instant and permanent star in baseball's constellation.
When Vander Meer died at 82 in Tampa in 1997, Reds pitcher-turned-broadcaster Joe Nuxhall said, "It's almost unbelievable, to pitch 18 innings without allowing a base hit. There are guys, I'm sure, who had better stuff than that. But I doubt that will be ever duplicated. Certainly, the feat he performed is one of the all-timers, probably the all-timer."
Although Vander Meer suspected it, he didn't know for sure that he'd be facing the Dodgers until Reds manager Bill McKechnie told him an hour or two before the game that he'd be starting.
"It doesn't make much difference, though," Vander Meer said of McKechnie's habit of keeping pitchers in the dark until the day (or, in this case, night) of the game. "I just go out and pitch my own natural ballgame. The fielders behind me really make it possible, anyway. I had every possible confidence in them all through the night."
It was about the fourth inning, Vander Meer said, that he realized he might be making history. "Of course, I didn't have it in my hip pocket," he said, "but I felt mighty good and my arm was okay."
Inning after inning, before 38,748 Brooklyn fans, Dodger after Dodger came to the plate and, except for five walks in the first eight innings, they returned to the dugout.
In the ninth, "I got the first man (Buddy Hassett) out," Vander Meer said. "Then I walked the bases full."
McKechnie, catcher Ernie Lombardi and the Cincinnati infield gathered at the mound. "Take your time, Johnny," McKechnie said. "Quit pitching so fast and pitch the way you know how to pitch."
The next batter, Ernie Koy, hit the ball to Lew Riggs at third base, who threw home for the forceout. "It was fast thinking by Riggs," Vander Meer said, "going for the sure thing rather than the long double play because Koy could run." Next up, Leo Durocher.
"With the count two strikes and one ball," Vander Meer said, "I tightened up. Ernie (Lombardi) came out and told me to throw a curve. I did, but it was outside. Then Ernie told me to give him the fastball down the middle. And when he hit it, I knew right away that (centerfielder) Harry Craft would catch it. After it was over, I was in a daze for half an hour. You know, you're concentrating so much on the game that, when it's finished, you don't know what you're doing for some time."