This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles written by readers who tell the stories of the sports memorabilia they collect and why.
I learned about Johnny Vander Meer in 1996, when my wife and I moved to Midland Park, New Jersey. I soon became fascinated with his story—small town boy becomes major leaguer, sets record in his rookie season that no one will ever break, is loved by his hometown and helps local children with scholarship money and good deeds. His name sparks an instant recognition among baseball fans for the back-to-back no-hitters he threw for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938.
However, it was when I attended “Johnny Vander Meer Day,” a special Midland Park event held on April 28, 1996, that my appreciation for the man truly began.
It turns out my father, now age 91, attended Johnny’s second no-hitter at Ebbets field and Vandy was my father in law’s (now age 88) favorite player when he was a child and he listened to both no-hitters on the radio. The Vandy connection grew stronger inside me.
Sadly, only a year and a half after that Midland Park event, Johnny Vander Meer died at the age of 82. Soon thereafter, I was put in touch with Johnny’s life-long best friend, Mr. Dick Jeffer, who was 83-years-old at the time.
With our shared love of the game, Mr. Jeffer and I became close friends. Mr. Jeffer gave me a game ball of Vandy’s—from a two-hitter he pitched with the Durham Bulls in 1936, and some photos. When Mr. Jeffer handed the game ball to me, I said it was too nice and should be kept in his family. He then proceeded to swing his arm toward my ten-year-old nephew and offer it to him. I quickly swung his arm back to me and took it.
I then started to collect Vander Meer baseball cards and other fun things I could find online. Collecting Vandy not only has hometown appeal for me—his cards won’t break my bank, and I have all the vintage ones and most of the modern ones as well (nearly 40 in total). My favorite vintage ones are the two Reds team issue cards (portrait and action shot) and the 1941 Playball.
One of my favorite memorabilia items is an original newspaper ad featuring Vandy promoting Huskies cereal.
Before Mr. Jeffer died at the age of 96, he asked me to do whatever I could to help keep the memory of his best friend and the record alive. To date, I’ve created Vandy t-shirts, baseball cards, a website (www.johnnyvandermeer.com) and included the back-to-back no-hitters as a subplot in my book Hitting Glory, and crafted an eBook about the event as well—Batboy Stories, Catching Rainbows—the story of Johnny Vander Meer’s consecutive no hitters—a fun read for adults too.
My collection is also featured in local public library displays with fact sheets about Vandy so more people can learn about him.
It’s been a fun collection to start and grow, and with not many ideas left, I often wonder what will I do next to keep my vow to Mr. Jeffer and keep the memory of his best buddy and “the record” alive. This article will suffice for now. Thanks for your attention and please share the good word about Johnny Vander Meer’s unbreakable record.
Do you want to tell the story of what you collect and why? From players to teams to complete sets, autographs, game-worn material and anything else that has kept you busy for years, we’d love for you to share your story in your own words and photos. Send us an email:[email protected].