Best Cincinnati Reds Ever: Johnny Vander Meer v. Ewell Blackwell

Feb 18, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; View of baseballs in a bucket during workouts at Cincinnati Reds Development Complex. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; View of baseballs in a bucket during workouts at Cincinnati Reds Development Complex. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

First Round Matchup No. 8 Johnny Vander Meer vs. No. 9 Ewell Blackwell

Johnny Vander Meer

Nearly every baseball fan knows this name. Vander Meer was, of course, the only pitcher in the history of the sport to throw a no-hitter in back-to-back starts, doing so with the Reds back in 1938 at the age of 23. The southpaw is mostly known for those historic two starts, but he was a pretty good player outside of that, too.

Acquired by the Reds from the Boston Braves in 1935, Vander Meer would make his debut in 1937 and spend the next seven seasons in the Queen City. “The Dutch Master” battled control problems throughout his career (4.8 BB/9), but was still named an All-Star four times as a Red, posting a record of 116-116, 3.41 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in his 11 seasons with the club. His best season came in 1942, when he went 18-12 with a 2.43 ERA and led the majors in strikeouts with 186. Vander Meer was also a part of the Reds’ World Series winning club in 1940, making one relief appearance in Game 5.

Vander Meer left the Reds to join the U.S. Navy in 1944 and returned to Cincinnati in 1946. He would spend four more seasons with the Reds before he was sold to the Chicago Cubs in 1950. Following a season there, he pitched in one final major-league game with the Cleveland Indians in 1951. His career didn’t end there, however, as he spent four more seasons in the minor leagues before retiring at 40 years old.

When he ended his Cincinnati career, he was the team’s all-time leader in strikeouts (1,251) and is currently tied for fourth on that list with Jose Rijo. He also ranks seventh in Reds history in starts (279) and 13th in both wins (116) and fWAR (25.7). In 1958, Vander Meer was part of the first class to be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame, along with Frank McCormick, Bucky Walters, Ernie Lombardi and Paul Derringer.

Ewell Blackwell

One of the only players to ever come close to matching Vander Meer’s record was none other than his teammate, Blackwell. The sidewinder through a no-hitter on June 18, 1947 against the Boston Braves and took another no-no into the final inning in his next start against the Brooklyn Dodgers. His quest to tie the record came up two outs short, however, as he gave up two hits in the ninth.

Blackwell signed with the Reds in 1942 and after being drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, he returned in 1946 after three years away from baseball. And when he got back on the mound, he became one of the most feared pitchers in the game. Starting that season, “The Whip” made six consecutive All-Star teams. In the same year he nearly matched Vander Meer’s record, he finished second to Bob Elliott for NL MVP in what proved to be his best big-league season. That year, he went 22-8 with a 2.47 ERA and led the majors in wins, complete games (23) and strikeouts (193).

His dominant streak didn’t last for long as he dealt with shoulder troubles and even had a kidney removed, but he would spend eight total seasons with the Reds before he was traded to the New York Yankees in 1952. He would spend the 1953 season with the Yankees and didn’t pitch in ’54. He pitched in his final two major-league games for the Kansas City Athletics in 1955 before finishing out the year in the minors and calling it a career.

Blackwell didn’t spend as much time in Cincinnati as Vander Meer, but his name can be frequently found near the top of many Reds’ pitching records nonetheless. He ranks in the top 30 in starts (163), ERA (3.32), strikeouts (819), wins (79) and fWAR (25.5). He was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1960.

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