You won’t find Johnny Vander Meer rookie cards featured in dealer cases at your next big card show. He’s not a Hall of Famer and his career record, while serviceable, isn’t spectacular. Vander Meer is famous for what he did over the course of a few days. Something no other big league pitcher had done before or since.
When he walked into Crosley Field on June 15, 1938, Vander Meer just wanted to win. It would be his last start before an east coast road trip. The Reds were just three games over .500 and in third place in the National League. The Boston Bees were in town on a Saturday afternoon and less than two hours later, the lefty had done more than just beat them. He’d tossed a no-hitter. Barely over 5,000 people were in the stands that day. Times were tough and not everyone had money to buy a ticket.
As unexpected as the accomplishment may have been, no one could have predicted what happened four days later. Vander Meer, in the first night game played in Brooklyn, held the Dodgers hitless in a 6-0 win at Ebbets Field. It was unfathomable. Back-to-back no-hitters.
Vander Meer would pitch in the majors and be featured on baseball cards through the 1951 season but his place in history was already secure. It’s the one thing people remember about him. Vander Meer died in 1997 and spent many weekends in the preceding years signing autographs through the mail and at shows, happy to oblige by inscribing his feat on photos, bats, balls and programs.
Vander Meer first appeared on a 1938-39 Reds team issue, then appeared on the 1939 Exhibit Salutations set. His first mainstream rookie cards were the 1941 Play Ball, a beautiful card showing him with a huge smile, and a polar opposite 1941 Double Play that features a frowning Vander Meer joined by the Cubs’ Linus Frey.
The Play Ball card varies widely in price in higher grades with PSA 8’s selling for several hundred dollars each. A near mint card graded by PSA or SGC usually brings a little under $200.
Few cards were issued during World War II but the 1948-49 Leaf Vander Meer is a unique horizontal image of him delivering a pitch. Difficult to find in high grades, an EX graded or ungraded usually sells for around $40-50.