Dulany: Vander Meer to stand test of time
Josh Dulany | Monday, October 13, 2014
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a 10-part series in which our writers debate what is the most unbreakable record in sports. Follow along with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #UnbreakableRecord
When people think records, it’s the big numbers that come to mind. Whether, it’s 88 wins, 100 points, 109 yards or 2,632 games, records get people thinking about how high, long and far human ability can stretch. Sometimes, though, in a rush to count as high as we can, we can miss something small. I think the most unbreakable record indeed comes down to a surprisingly small number: two.
Yep, just two. In 1938 Johnny Vander Meer tossed two consecutive no-hitters and gave us the most unbreakable record.
The Cincinnati Reds rookie – rookie! – took down Boston for his first no-hitter and came back four days later in Brooklyn and pitched another. Eighteen innings, no hits and two straight no-hitters.
For anyone still looking for big numbers, how about 3.375 billion? The most generous odds the World Wide Web can offer will tell you that there is about a one-in-1500 chance of throwing a no-hitter. If you want three in a row, you are up to 1 in 3.375 billion. That’s a tough sell even for Lloyd Christmas.
What I really like about this record is that it seems deceptively breakable. Recently, the rate of no-hitters has sharply increased. There have been 13 solo-no hitters in the last three seasons alone, and San Francisco Giants pitcher, Yusemeiro Petit, threw 15.1 consecutive perfect innings in relief this season. It seems that pitching gets better and better every year and sooner or later someone could put a ridiculous run together and take down Vander Meer. This seeming ability to be caught is what makes the record all that more impressive.
Because it’s only when you look closer that you see how truly unbreakable the record is. Since 1919, only sixteen pitchers (including Vander Meer) have thrown three straight complete games in which they allowed three hits or less in each. Other than Vander Meer, only two of the games in those runs were no-hitters. In other words, in the last 100 years only 15 other guys have got kind-of-sort-of-not-really-all-that close to Vander Meer. That’s what unbreakable looks like.
Each and every record that will be covered in this column in the days ahead is impressive in its own way. Some speak to the quirks of stat keeping such as the NFL not recording partial yardage. Others, such as win streaks and point totals, reflect a parody-lacking era that seems to have passed. Still others display a truly impressive combination of longevity of skill. Yet, the best unbreakable record holds up under continued pursuit. As athletes get faster and stronger and as games change and evolve, the best records will remain. Vander Meer’s remains unshakeable even as baseball steadily provides opportunities to go after it.
The baseball season is notoriously long, and starting pitchers trot out to the mound over thirty times a year. Yet, putting three no-hitters together remains a ludicrous prospect. It is a record that is ceaselessly pursued and, yet never truly approached.
It is likely even Vander Meer wouldn’t be able to tell you how it was possible. He led the league in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons (1941-43), but was never as dominant as his rookie campaign. He ultimately compiled a 119-121 record in 13 years, never threw another hitter in the major leagues and is not even enshrined in Cooperstown. Yet, Vander Meer need not worry about being remembered. The number two will stand forever.