In the years leading up to World War II, the New York Yankees asserted themselves as baseball's dominant force. Led by Hall of Fame center fielder Joe DiMaggio, the team won an unprecedented four consecutive World Series titles from 1936-39, then added two more championships amid a streak of three straight American League pennants from 1941-43. During the latter period though, the roster slowly depleted as their top players, like DiMaggio, shortstop Phil Rizzuto, and second baseman Joe Gordon, went overseas. Due in part to these losses, the Yankees lagged for a few years, even after DiMaggio returned from the war in '46. That year, the Boston Red Sox ran roughshod over the AL as the Yankees had in years past, winning the pennant by 12 games (and 17 ahead of the third-place Yankees).
Owners Dan Topping, Del Webb, and Larry MacPhail bought the team from the Ruppert estate in '45, and after the disappointing '46 campaign, they sought to improve their pitching staff. Spud Chandler ranked among the league leaders in wins, ERA, and ERA+, but he was 38 years old and the team had just one other starter who had a good season, Bill Bevens. The Yankees felt that they could deal from a position of strength by putting a future Hall of Famer on the trade market in Gordon. "Flash" had fallen to a .210/.308/.338 batting line in his first year after the war, but he still had a great reputation around the league. The Cleveland Indians were interested, and they told the Yankee owners that they could have any Indians starter other than Bob Feller in exchange for him.
Ownership respected DiMaggio's opinion, so they called him in to see who he thought they should select from the Cleveland staff. Reynolds pitched to a mediocre 3.88 ERA and 85 ERA+ in '46, but DiMaggio assured MacPhail that the man they called "Super Chief" had to be their target. "Take Reynolds. I'm a fastball hitter, but he can buzz his hard one by me any time he has a mind to." The Gordon-for-Reynolds swap became official on October 11, 1946. It was a rare trade that worked out well for both sides, as Gordon rebounded to help the Indians win the '48 World Series (the franchise's last championship to date).
Reynolds won 19 games and pitched to a 3.20 ERA in his first season in New York as the Yankees won the '47 World Series, then won a record five titles in a row after Cleveland's '48 triumph. Reynolds was a vital member of the pitching staff both in the rotation and occasionally out of the bullpen, especially after Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel took over the team. Due to this versatility, Stengel described Reynolds as "two ways great." In '51, Reynolds combined 26 starts and 14 relief appearances for a then-career best 3.05 ERA and 126 ERA+. It was a fine season, but what made it truly remarkable was what Reynolds did in two of those starts.
On July 12th, Reynolds took the mound at Yankee Stadium against his old Indians teammates and fired the fourth no-hitter in Yankees history, a 1-0 gem. It was a tremendous feat, and for many players, it would have been the pinnacle of his career. Reynolds was more than a typical pitcher though, and later on, in his final start of the season, he made baseball history. 13 years previously, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer accomplished one of the game's most incredible feats--a no-hitter in two consecutive starts. It was the first time that any pitcher had thrown two no-hitters in a season, let alone in back-to-back games. It had never been done in the American League.
The Yankees were on the verge of clinching the AL pennant, 2.5 games ahead of the Indians with five games to go. They played a doubleheader on September 28th against the Boston Red Sox, and a sweep would give them the pennant. Boston had a fine team with great hitters like Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, and the "Splendid Splinter" himself, Ted Williams. The team actually outscored the Yankees that year by six runs--Reynolds would have a tough task taming the Red Sox in the first game.
Reynolds walked DiMaggio to lead off the game, but he got Pesky to bounce to Rizzuto for a double day. Williams then suffered a rare strikeout, one of just 45 he had all year. Reynolds struck the next two batters out as well, and it would be three innings before Boston got another baserunner. Meanwhile, the Yankees jumped on starter Mel Parnell for four runs on five hits and two walks, led by RBI singles from Hank Bauer, Gil McDougald, and Yogi Berra. They tacked on a fifth run in the fourth inning, and it was 5-0 already.
Reynolds was on top of his game, and the day felt over without much of a hope for the Red Sox. A walk to Williams in the fourth made him the only baserunner in a streak of 19 of 20 batters retired. The game moved to the ninth after Yankee hitters Joe Collins and Gene Woodling both homered to remove doubt about the final outcome of the game. The score was 8-0 and Reynolds had struck out eight, allowing just three baserunners over the first eight innings. "Super Chief" knew exactly what was going on throughout the game--he later said, "How could I help it? The scoreboard was right there." Regardless, Reynolds claimed that he "never had an anxious moment" despite his attempt to make history.
Charlie Maxwell pinch-hit for reliever Harry Taylor to lead off the ninth, and he hit a harmless dribbler to Jerry Coleman at second base. One out. DiMaggio followed, and he reached on Reynolds's fourth walk of the day. Pesky stepped to the plate hitting .314 on the season. The number 6 on his back would one day hang up with Boston's retired numbers, but he was not a New England legend yet. Reynolds got two strikes on him, then put him away on a called strike three. Reynolds was one out from his second no-hitter of the season, but a huge threat to the attempt stepped to the plate in Williams, one of the greatest hitters to ever play this game. 32 years later, another Yankee pitcher named Dave Righetti found himself in a similar situation trying to get Wade Boggs out with a no-hitter on the line. However, with all due respect to Boggs, he was no "Teddy Ballgame." Few were.
Reynolds pitched, and Williams swung. The ball went straight up in the air, behind the plate. He was going to do it! He approached the ball, but his sure-handed catcher Berra moved over a few steps to get it. Yogi got under it, waited... and completely muffed it. The ball bounced off the top of his glove as he closed his mitt a millisecond too early. Williams had new life, and Berra felt awful. When asked if he was upset about the missed opportunity, Reynolds dismissed this idea, saying, "No. I was just afraid I had stepped on Yogi's hand. I asked him and he said I didn't. I saw the wind blowing the ball toward the field." Reynolds was daring enough to throw the exact same pitch to Williams since he had just popped it up. Unbelievably, the .344/.482/.634 lifetime hitter popped it up again to Berra behind the plate. This time, Yogi made sure he didn't miss the opportunity. He caught it for the third out, and Reynolds had his second no-hitter of the '51 season.
The Yankees clinched the pennant by beating the Red Sox 11-3 in the nightcap, but everyone wanted to talk about Reynolds's tremendous performance. He is still the only Yankee to ever throw two no-hitters, let alone two in one season. It was not quite Mike Scott throwing a no-hitter to clinch the National League West division title for the 1986 Houston Astros, but it was pretty darn close. The Yankees went on to win the '51 World Series over the surprising New York Giants in six games with Reynolds pitching a complete game victory in Game 4. His number 22 was not retired or anything silly like that for the work of a man who only spent eight years in New York, but the Yankees honored him with a plaque in Monument Park on August 26, 1989. It was a deserving honor one of the best pitchers in franchise history.
Reynolds closed out his second no-hitter 61 years ago today.