Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history, dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, MiLB.com will attempt to fill that gap
Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history, dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, MiLB.com will attempt to fill that gap and explore these historical oddities in our "Cracked Bats" feature. Know of any stories to be considered for this feature in the future? Send an email and let us know.
Stan Williams never faced Johnny Vander Meer, never played with Johnny Vander Meer and had only one brief encounter with Johnny Vander Meer. Yet the big right-hander will forever be linked with Johnny Vander Meer, sharing some space in the Minor League record book with the man known as "Double No-Hit" after breaking his single-season strikeout record.
Though Vander Meer gained national acclaim for the back-to-back no-hitters he pitched for the Reds in 1938, he already was a pitcher of note in baseball circles, having set the Piedmont League records for strikeouts in a game (20) and season (295) two years earlier. Vander Meer fanned Puerto Rico baseball legend Hiram Bithorn to set what became the single-season mark. It remained the standard for Piedmont League pitchers for nearly 20 seasons before Williams pushed him aside in 1955, the year in which the Class B circuit ceased to exist.
Williams was pitching for Newport News, an affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers, when he struck out 20 Lynchburg hitters in a 5-2 victory on May 31. He continued to blaze his way through the circuit, striking out batters at a record pace, until he eclipsed Vander Meer's season mark during his final start. He got Portsmouth's Orestes Hernandez looking to notch his 296th strikeout of the season. Williams whiffed 10 batters that final day, closing out the Piedmont League's run with 301 punchouts.
Williams was still 20 strikeouts shy of equaling Vander Meer's mark heading into the final week of the season. But he fanned 16 against Lynchburg in his penultimate start before claiming the record against Portsmouth.
"I met Johnny Vander Meer one time at a function and I introduced myself," Williams said. "I told him that I was thrilled to meet him and that I broke his record. After that, he was very cold to me. It was a go away kid-type of thing.
"I had five one-hitters that year and three of them were on bunts. I was so green I didn't know 'sick 'em' from 'c'mere.' I don't think I had a second pitch all year. I dropped down sidearm once in a while, but everyone knew the fastball was coming. I had to feel my way and mature as I went, because I was pretty immature at the time."
Williams, who went on to pitch 14 years in the big leagues and earn a World Series ring with the Dodgers, said he never felt like he was too good for the Piedmont League. He was just happy to pitch the best he could and win a few games, regardless of the level of competition.
Still, it was obvious early that he could bring some heat. And at the end of May, he dominated Lynchburg to get a piece of Vander Meer's single-game record.
"I remember at the end of seven innings that I had 15 strikeouts and needed six to break the record," said Williams, who finished with an 18-7 record in 1955. "I struck out the next five and had two strikeouts on the last hitter when he hit a little poopy popup to third in foul territory. The third baseman looked at me like, 'Should I drop it or catch it?' I yelled, 'Catch,' so we can win the game.
"That was a night game in Lynchburg and they had seven lefties in their lineup, including the pitcher, and he hit a home run to dead center field. That was my first full year and I threw pretty hard. I was pretty wild, too, but I got it together after awhile."
The game in which he broke Vander Meer's season mark also saw another record fall, one Williams still talks about. Though Williams won the game, he allowed a home run to slugger Ken Guettler, who was doing double duty as the Portsmouth manager. Guettler's blast was his 41st of the season, setting what was considered the "modern record" for the Piedmont League. He eclipsed Russ Derry, who'd connected for 40 homers in 1939 with Norfolk, although the all-time mark of 46 was set by High Point's Dan Boone in 1929, when the Piedmont was still a Class C circuit.
Guettler smacked 62 homers the following season to set the Texas League record.
"He hit a homer that tore down a gas station about 150 yards past the fence," Williams recalled. "I don't remember the hitter I struck out for the record, but I do remember that home run. The league ended after that season, so the record will stand a long time. It was an enjoyable year."
Williams gave up a few more homers before he was through, but he was in Los Angeles with the Dodgers by 1958 and remained in the big leagues through 1972. He finished with a career mark of 109-94, the cumulative highlight of which was the 43 victories he posted over a three-year stretch with Los Angeles in the early '60s.
The man known as "The Stanley Steamer" also served for many years as a Major League pitching coach following his retirement and recently finished up a run as an advance scout for the Mariners. He's still looking to stay involved in the game and is hopeful of catching on with another club this season.
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MiLB.com.