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Midland Park

The Vander Meer-acle: June 15, 1938 at Ebbet's Field

06/14/2013 04:41PM ● By Anonymous

It was 75 years ago this month, when a handsome, young rookie pitcher from Midland Park set a Major League Baseball record that has never been broken, and probably never will. Cincinnati Red Johnny Vander Meer achieved the miraculous when he pitched back-to-back no hitters on June 15, 1938.

The night was historic for another reason as well: The Cincinnati Reds played the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first-ever night game at Ebbet's Field in Brooklyn. The crowd — including Babe Ruth, the Vander Meer family and 500 fans from his hometown — watched every pitch nervously. By the seventh inning, even the  Dodger fans start to cheer him on realizing they are witnessing baseball history. In the ninth inning, he loses control and walks the bases loaded. He manages to pull it together again and the Johnny Vander Meer-acle is etched into baseball immortality!

Midland Park recently celebrated this amazing milestone with Johnny Vander Meer Day at the Baseball-Softball Opening Parade and Ceremonies in April. Baseball fan and author Robert Skead created a new website and children's book in honor of the hometown hero.

Johnny Vander Meer was born Nov. 2, 1914, in Prospect Park to Dutch immigrants, Jacob and Katie Vander Meer. His father worked as a maintenance foreman for United Piece and Dye Works in Paterson. In 1918, the Vander Meers moved from Prospect Park to Rea Avenue in Midland Park. Johnny, his older brother, Martin, and younger sister, Garberdina, attended Midland Park Christian School, where he began his baseball career.

Vander Meer showed interest in baseball when he was very young, his sister Garberdina Nywening told Midland Park Press.

"He was always throwing a ball from a little kid on," she said. "My grandmother bought him a baseball uniform when he was just two years old."

Back then, the boys in town would all play on a sand-lot field off Godwin Avenue near Irving Street, which has since been built up with houses. 

"Even as a kid, he was good." Nywening said. "I remembered he would win all the games in the sandlot."

Vander Meer helped to start a baseball league associated with the Obadiah Society and then later formed the Midland Park Rangers with other kids in the area. Their older brother, Mart, would catch while Johnny pitched. 

After school, "Vandy" played for the Midland Park Rangers, where not surprisingly, he was the star pitcher and earned 30 cents an inning. In the summer of 1932, he pitched five no-hit, no run semi-pro games in Paterson — three of which were back-to-back games.

His big break into professional baseball came in 1933, when he was tapped to star in the movie "Typical American Boy," where he played an all-American boy who tries out for a major league team. At the conclusion of filming, he was offered a $125 a month contract by the Dodgers to play for its “A” farm team in Dayton, Ohio.

This led to Johnny playing for several minor league teams, ending up playing for the Cincinatti Reds in 1937, and in June 1938, he attracted attention outside the world of baseball.

The first part of the record took place on June 11, 1938, when the Cincinnati Reds pitcher threw a no-hitter against the Boston Bees.

"[After that game], the residents of Midland Park actually drove to Ebett's Field for their first night game," Nywening recalled. "There were cars and buses filled with them all looking forward to see Johnny pitch.... I sat with Lois, Johnny's girlfriend, and several other friends of his in the box seats."

Immediately after the game, the whole Vander Meer family was whisked away to have pictures taken.

"We didn't get home until almost 1 a.m. and Johnny said to not go home because our street would be crowded with newspaper reporters," his sister said, adding with a laugh, "When we got home, Johnny went fishing."

The family took his advice and kept their distance from Rea Avenue for the day, even to the point of skipping school.

"I said to my father I would need a note, but he just said, 'Your teachers will know where you've been when they read the newspapers'," she said with another laugh.

The following day when she returned to school, several boys were standing, ascending up a staircase, near her locker waiting to ask about the June 15 game, and she had a great deal to tell, including meeting Babe Ruth.

"I like to say Babe Ruth sat on my davenport," she said. "It had been arranged for him to come to Midland Park and meet Johnny."

Her brother wasn't exaggerating when he warned the of the crowd of reports. They littered the front yard and neighborhood with used flashbulbs. "My father filled two baskets with the used flashbulbs," she said.

The following day when she returned to school, several boys were standing, ascending up a staircase, near her locker waiting to ask about the June 15 game, and she had a great deal to tell, including meeting Babe Ruth.

"I like to say Babe Ruth sat on my davenport," she said. "It had been arranged for him to come to Midland Park and meet Johnny."

Her brother wasn't exaggerating when he warned the of the crowd of reports. They littered the front yard and neighborhood with used flashbulbs. "My father filled two baskets with the used flashbulbs," she said.

Vander Meer continued to play baseball until he joined the Navy in 1944. After serving, he went back to baseball but ultimately retired from playing in 1951. He went on to manage the Cincinnati Reds minor league team and retired from baseball in 1962. While he worked several years for a brewing company, he never forgot baseball nor Midland Park.

"John started a scholarship for students who played baseball from their freshmen year to senior," she said.

To read more about this local hero's road to the record books, visit www.johnnyvandermeer.com, a site created by local author Robert Skead to commemorate the anniversary, or read Catching Rainbows: The Story of Johnny Vander Meer's Unbreakable Record. (See our review of the book here.)

This book is currently available online as an eBook only. You can purchase the 80-page, 14-chapter story from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or the Apple store or through the author's website www.RobertSkead.com.

This article contains reporting by Midland Park Press Contributor Don E. Smith.

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