“9th Inning”

I started this amazing project last September. The first purchase was a Billy Parker card on 9/2/20, and on 7/8/21 I found the Larry Doby card I wanted to complete it all. I had so much fun assembling this mix of well known cards, as well as some I never knew existed.

Sixteen players out of the 86 did not have an MLB card produced, which made things very interesting. I had to dig for autographs, Minor League cards, original photos, and even game cards. The back stories of these great players were so interesting: the journey, the struggle, the closed doors eventually pushed wide open.

I learned so much about the players and their families, the Negro League and its origins. I’m a bit bummed it has come to an end but happy I was able to share it with all of you. Thanks to SABR Baseball Cards and the whole SABR team for giving me their platform to share it. So here we go, it’s the bottom of 9th, time for a walk-off!

George Crowe 1953 Topps. As you know I love the ’53 Topps set. So ahead of its time. Big George with the frames as a member of the Boston Braves. Crowe was an outstanding basketball player, and enjoyed the game better than baseball. He was smart enough to know there was more money in baseball back then. In 1947 he joined the New York Black Yankees where he hit .305 in 141 at bats. In ’52 he made his debut with the Braves. He played 11 years in MLB, in ’57 he had his best season smashing 31 dingers along with 92 ribbies for Cincinnati.

🐐fact: “Crowe was the most articulate and far-sighted Negro then in the majors. Young Negroes turned to him for advice.” – Jackie Robinson

Joe Black 2001 Fleer Stitches in Time Autograph. Figured I would go the auto route with Joe, it’s a super clean signature, and a card I have never seen before. Black pitched for 3 MLB teams over 6 years. His best season was his rookie year playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He finished 41 games, sported a 15-4 record with a 2.15 era, 15 saves, and took home NL ROY as a 28 year-old. Joe played for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro League.

🐐fact: Along with Jackie Robinson, Joe pushed for a pension plan for Negro League players. After his retirement from baseball, he remained affiliated with the Commissioner’s Office where he consulted players about career choices.

Quincy Trouppe 1978 Laughlin BVG 8.5. This card was from a set of 36 cards by sport artist R.G. Laughlin honoring outstanding black players from the past. Quincy was one of the players in this project who was never featured on a MLB card. He only appeared in 6 games with Cleveland as a 39 year-old. That was his MLB career, but Quincy was a legend in the Negro Leagues! He was a big switch-hitting catcher, 6′ 2″ and 225 pounds. Excelled as a player, manager, and scout. Trouppe was a baseball lifer who did many great things for the game.

🐐fact: In 1977 Quincy self-published a book entitled, “20 Years Too Soon”. He also had a vast collection of photographs, and supplied Ken Burns with most of the Negro League video footage for his legendary documentary.

Hector Rodriguez 1953 Bowman RC. Hector played one year for the Chicago White Sox in 1952. He was a natural shortstop, and a native of Cuba. A member of the New York Cubans in the Negro League. Even though he only played a short time in MLB, he was a fixture in the International League for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As you can see on this awesome Bowman card with Yankee Stadium in the background, he’s about to sling that ball sidearm. He was known for his underhand flip throws from deep in the hole just like someone I enjoyed watching growing up, Tony Fernandez.

🐐fact: Hector sported a great eye at the plate. In 1952 with the White Sox, he struck out only 22 times in 462 plate appearances!

Frank Barnes 1960 Topps RC. This is a really sharp card, not centered well, but great condition. Barnes played in 1957, 1958 and 1960 for the Cardinals, he pitched in only 15 career MLB games. If you notice, Frank is a member of the White Sox on his baseball card, but he would never appear in a game for them. Barnes played for the Kansas City Monarchs, he was later sold to the Yankees along with Elston Howard.

🐐fact: Barnes continued to pitch professionally in the minor leagues and Mexico until age 40 in 1967.

Joe Durham 1958 Topps PSA 7 RC. Joe had his first taste of the big leagues in 1954 as a 22 year-old OF with the Baltimore Orioles. He missed the ’55 and ’56 seasons due to military service. He returned to the O’s in ’57, then finished his career with the Cards in ’59. Durham started his professional career with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. After his playing career was over he became the O’s batting practice pitcher, and then moved into the front office. He was a member of the Orioles organization for over 40 years.

🐐fact: “I was in the Negro American League because I couldn’t play in anything else. People talk about racism in Mississippi and Alabama. Mississippi was bad, and Alabama was bad, but Chicago was just as bad as any of them.” – Joe Durham.

George Altman 1958 Topps RC / 1964 Topps Autograph. This is a really crisp rookie card, obviously not centered well, but an overall nice card. The Altman autograph came from Ryans Vintage Cards, a really cool Instagram account that sells random vintage cards in re-packs. George played 9 years in MLB as an OF and 1B. He was a 2x All-Star with the Cubs. In ’61 he led the league with 12 triples, batting .303 with 27 HR and 96 RBI. He started his pro ball with the Kansas City Monarchs, mentored by the great Buck O’Neil who taught him how to play 1B. The Cubs signed George, as well as Lou Johnson and J.C. Hartman all from Buck’s word.

🐐fact: After his time in MLB, Altman went on to play ball in Japan, amassing 205 HR until he retired at the age of 42.

Lino Donoso 1956 Topps Pirates Team Card. Donoso was one of the toughest players to find anything on. It took me months to realize he was on the Pirates ’56 team card. It’s Clemente’s second year, so it’s not a cheap card even in poor condition. Lino was a lefty pitcher, a Cuban native who started his professional career in 1947 with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. He made his MLB debut in 1955, and played a few games for Pittsburgh in ’56 as well. He had a long career in the Mexican League, and was elected to their Hall of Fame in 1988.

🐐fact: Donoso was a teammate of Minnie Miñoso for the New York Cubans in ’47. He sported a 5-2 2.18 ERA as a 24 year-old.

Editor’s Note: You can enjoy the rest of this series right here on the SABR Baseball Cards blog.

The Ted Williams code

Three of my great loves in the Hobby—Fleer, Ted Williams, and crazy number patterns—all come together in the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set, 80 cards that chronicle the life and times of the Splendid Splinter, both on and off the field.

The set’s cards are refreshingly affordable with the exception of card 68 in the set, “Ted Signs for 1959,” which was pulled due to its inclusion of Bucky Harris, for whom Fleer did not have rights. Because this single card (in like condition) is typically priced higher than the rest of the set combined, many collectors opt to settle for a “79/80” set and call it a day.

Something I’d wondered about but never researched was how Fleer’s production process changed once it became necessary to pull card 68. There seemed to be two strategies available:

  • Continue printing all 80 cards but remove card 68 prior to collation into packs.
  • Omit card 68 from all subsequent printing

The first of these approaches seemed bulky, though perhaps not unprecedented. (Goudey may have done similar in 1934 with its Lajoie card.)

1934 Goudey series four uncut sheet

The second of these approaches seemed much easier. Fleer could simply replace card 68 on its printing sheet with any other card from the set. While this would create a “double-print,” a card twice as numerous as others due to its dual placement on printing sheets, it would also, at least presumably, save Fleer all kinds of work.

Again, there was precedent in an older Goudey set, though it’s unknown to collectors whether Goudey doubled up on its Ruth 144 (second row, third and sixth cards) in 1933 to replace another card or simply to print more Ruth cards. (I’m probably in the minority who would vote for the former.)

1933 Goudey series six uncut sheet

I hoped to settle the question by finding an uncut sheet with a double-print. Instead, I stumbled upon this sheet that recently sold on eBay. No double-prints, but right there in the lower left corner was card 68!

The presence of card 68 on the sheet suggested one of two possibilities:

  • Fleer continued to print card 68, even if it meant having to pull it over and over before collating cards into packs.
  • The sheet pre-dated Fleer’s decision to pull card 68.

I won’t settle that question in this article, partly because I don’t think the answer is knowable but mostly because I’m so easily distracted by oddball numbering patterns.

Here are the card numbers from the back of the sheet.

One simple pattern and two less simple ones are evident.

  • The numbers decrease by two in going from the first to the second column.
  • The numbers increase by 13 or 15 in going from the second to the third column.
  • The numbers increase by 15 or 17 in going from one row to the next.

The first of these patterns suggested a way to extend the table to the left and right, stopping once a new column would generate repeated numbers. Here was the result.

Two small changes I’ll now introduce are the letters A-P to label the table’s sixteen columns and a vertical divider line between column H and column I to mark the break in the pattern. If nothing else, this table suggests a nomenclature for the original sheet: GHI.

In truth, all columns except GHI are hypothetical at this point, but you can imagine I’d hardly be writing this up if there wasn’t something more happening.

For example, here is another sheet, which corresponds exactly to columns KLM in the table.

And here are two 20-card sheets, corresponding exactly to ABCD and DEFG.

In other words, the hypothetical extension of the numbering scheme does reflect something real. Having now seen ABCD, DEFG, GHI, and KLM, can we find sheets with that include J, N, O, and P to complete our set?

Definitely! Here are two different sheets, HIJ and JKL, that include column J.

Finally, here is NOP to round things out.

You might wonder if all sheets from the Ted Williams set match the table as nicely as the ones I’ve shown. From what I can tell the answer is yes. You may also be familiar with the occasional 6-card panel that appears from time to time. Sure enough, even these panels have a home in the table.

Recognizing the wide, if not universal, applicability of the numbering scheme to the set, it’s fair to wonder where such a scheme could have come from. I won’t pretend that the information below reflects any intentional thinking from Fleer or their printing house, but I’ll nonetheless offer a simple three-step algorithm that generates the entire table and demystifies it in so doing.

STEP ONE: Start with the numbers from 1-80, arranged in a 16 x 5 table.

STEP TWO: Subdivide each row into its odd and even components.

STEP THREE: Rebuild the 16 x 5 table by adding the rows from the above table in a serpentine pattern.

In other words, however complicated the “Ted Williams code” might look, it is simply the result of arranging eight straightforward “strips” of cards in a relatively straightforward manner.

HOW WERE THE CARDS PRINTED?

When I first stumbled upon the sheet of 15 cards I was surprised not only by the presence of card 68 but also the number of cards on the sheet. After all, the only ways to get to 80 cards, fifteen at a time, seemed to involve excessive double-prints. For example, six sheets of 15 will get you the set but introduce 10 double-prints along the way.

It was comforting then to discover a 20-card sheet since it opened the door to two seemingly more likely possibilities.

  • The set was produced in four sheets of 20 cards, with any 15-card sheets (or smaller panels) being trimmed afterward from larger sheets.
  • The set was produced using four sheets of 15 and one sheet of 20.

Let’s start with the first of these. Taking a look at the top edge of KLM from earlier, it feels safe to conclude that this sheet used to be at least a little larger. What’s inconclusive is whether only the border was cut off or if there used to be a fourth row of cards. In other words, we don’t know if we are looking at 99% of KLM or three-fourths of KLMN.

These next two 15-card sheets, both NOP, don’t show any evident trimming through each has thin enough edge that it’s fair to wonder if they simply reflect a much cleaner cutting job than in the previous example. If trimmed from 20-card sheets, the first would have come from MNOP, but the second presents a challenge to my numbering scheme, which doesn’t anticipate any columns after “P.”

Still, let’s assume all 15-card sheets in existence came from 20-card sheets. The simplest configuration would be ABCD, EFGH, IJKL, and MNOP shown below. Any departure would either require more than four sheets (and introduce significant double-printing) or conflict with the numbering scheme that has so far been consistent with all known examples.

Yet having already seen sheet DEFG, we know this was not how the cards were printed! Therefore, at least based on the sheets known to exist, I think we’re back to schemes involving combinations of 15 and 20 card sheets.

Assuming the cards were printed as four sheets of 15 and one sheet of 20, there are only five ways to do this that don’t leave stray remnants of 5 or 10 cards.

Here are the five solutions, represented in list form.

  • ABCD-EFG-HIJ-KLM-NOP
  • ABC-DEFG-HIJ-KLM-NOP
  • ABC-DEF-GHIJ-KLM-NOP
  • ABC-DEF-GHI-JKLM-NOP
  • ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP

While the typical question to ask would be which one did Fleer use, the existence of ABCD and DEFG tell us the answer would have to be at least the first two solutions. Additionally, the existence of JKL, unique to the final entry on the list, adds a third solution to our solution set.

Okay, but isn’t this a rather crazy way to produce the cards? YES! But when I compare the known data (shown in red) with the sheets predicted by such a scheme, I have to admit the coverage is pretty strong: 9 out of 13.

  • ABCD-EFG-HIJKLMNOP
  • ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP
  • ABCDEF-GHIJ-KLMNOP
  • ABCDEFGHIJKLM-NOP
  • ABCDEFGHIJKL-MNOP

Just as compelling to me are the sheets such an approach predicts would not exist:

  • Impossible 15 card sheets: BCD, CDE, FGH, IJK, LMN, MNO
  • Impossible 20 card sheets: BCDE, CDEF, EFGH, FGHI, HIJK, IJKL, KLMN, LMNO

Sure enough, none of these fourteen sheets are currently known.

My takeaway, therefore, is that Fleer most likely used combinations of 15 and 20-card sheets to produce the set and hardly adopted the simplest possible approach. Rather, of the five sensible solutions available, Fleer at various times or locations used at least three and potentially all five of them!

Admittedly, my entire chain of reasoning draws from a rather small sample size: eleven different sheets (and some duplicates) in all. A CDEF discovered in the wild is all it would take to derail half this article, and a CDEG in the wild would derail the entire article. Meanwhile, EFG, GHIJ, JKLM, or MNOP would lend even greater support to my hypothesis. As such, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments if you’re aware of sheets I’ve overlooked in my research.

Either way, can we at least agree that Ted Williams was the best &@#%! hitter who ever lived? Great! Now can anyone help me crack the code to find out what &@#%! means?

CTB: 1997 Topps #13 Derek Jeter (with guest Chris Snopek)

Covering the Bases (CTB) is a feature where we take a deep dive into a single card. With his Cooperstown Hall of Fame induction imminent we are taking a look at Derek Jeter’s 1997 Topps Card.

1997 Topps #13 Derek Jeter

Folks that folllow our columns likely suspect the draw of this card to me is the rookie cup. Derek Jeter was the 1996 AL Rookie of the year and the star of the years Topps All-Star Rookie Squad. Although I must mention that the 1996 AL Rookie WAR leader was not Jeter…

Jose Rosado was also snubbed for the All-Star Rookie squad in favor of reliever Billy Wagner, who received a grand total of ZERO ROY (NL) votes. Rosado spent the entirety of his five year MLB career with the Royals. He made a pair all-star teams including sharing the field with Jeter in 1999.

1997 Topps

The 1997T is simple and functional. My only complaint is that the player position is not present on the card front.

One thing I do like is that the card borders are league specific, AL Players are in red while the Senior Circuit is green

1997 Topps #177 Todd Hollandsworth

Jeter’s NL rookie of the year counterpart was Todd Hollandsworth, here with the green NL Border. I am pretty sure that the league borders is a nod to the red and green books of the past.

At some point I had a couple of green books, but they appear to have escaped from the phungo museum. Unfortunately Red/Green books ceased publication in 2008.

Also noticed the change in orientation, Most 1997T are in portrait format like Hollandsworth.

Guess the Game

When possible Guess the Game is a prominent tenet of a CTB feature, and today’s Derek Jeter card is indeed traceable. However it is the guest Chris Snopek that is the key to the research.

Prior to the issuance of this card in 1997 Snopek played four games at Yankee Stadium, May 4-5 and August 6-7 1996. It appears that in only one of those games is there a play at 2nd base involving Snopek and Jeter. The play occurred in the 6th inning the game that occurred on May the 4th (Star Wars Day!). This is the front end of an inning ending 4-6-3 double play induced by Bob Wickman.

The twin killing may have quelled the Chicago rally, but in the end the White Sox won the game 11-5 .

It was Derek Jeter’s 41st career game. A double in the 6th inning was his 35th career hit. 3430 more hits would follow. Defensively the play on the card was among the 4 assists and 2 putouts recorded by Jeter.

The games big star was the White Sox Harold Baines, who collected 5 RBIs despite not entering the game until the 8th inning. His big blow was a 9th inning grand slam off of Jim Mecir.

But wait there’s more…

1997 Topps #137 Chis Snopek

Chris Snopek’s 1997T is a sort of Jeter mirror. It is also a keystone play at Yankee Stadium. Only this play features the White Sox on defense.

Quickly we can tell it is not the same game, note on this card Snopek is sleeveless while on the Jeter offering he is wearing an undershirt

The game was played on May 5th 1996, Snopek was playing career game 32. In the game he tallied his 7th career double and scored the White Sox lone run.

We also notice this image features Yankees star Bernie Williams on an attempted steal of 2nd base…

Safe or Out

This play appears to have occurred during the 7th inning of game on an attempted steal by Bernie Williams.

On the play Bernie Williams was…

SAFE!

He next went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Joe Girardi. Nice trip around the diamond for Bernie, The Yankees went on to win the game 7-1.

Flip

1997 Topps #13 Derek Jeter

Returning to our original subject, On the card back we now see Jeter’s position prominently at the top, also kudos to Topps for making the card # large enough to be read easily.

The card back element that jumps out me most is the text. Here we are at the beginning of Jeter’s career and he is already being compared to Don Mattingly. This is an incredible legacy to approach and Amazingly not only does Jeter carry the torch of “Most Popular Yankee”, I think most folks would agree he surpassed Mattingly.

Sources and Links

Lifetime Topps Project

Sports Collectors Daily

Baseball-ref

amazon

ebay

Phungo 1996 Topps All-Star Rookie Team

Phungo Derek Jeter Index

2b Or Not 2b? When American Caramel Charted a New Course for the Flying Dutchman

In my May 2020 article on Jimmie Foxx’s 1935 Diamond Stars card (as well as Jason Schwartz’s exacting look at that set overall), my comparison of Foxx’s versatility to that of Honus Wagner proves ironic in light of the fact that National Chicle’s presumed update of Foxx’s position change on his card was a tactic “scooped” by American Caramel a full twenty years earlier (albeit without the spectacle of Foxx portrayed at his new position): Wagner’s E106 card, issued in 1915 (both the “batting” and “throwing” versions), denotes the Flying Dutchman as a second baseman, making the card something of a novelty for the aged Pirate. Long baseball’s most celebrated shortstop, Wagner had not put in an inning at second base since 1910, so there would be no reason for the “2b” on the front of his card—except that Honus began the 1915 season as Pittsburgh’s second sacker and played his first dozen games in the field there.

The loss of Mike Mowrey to Pittsburgh’s Federal League Rebels before the 1915 season left manager Fred Clarke in a pinch for a third baseman. (Mowrey had, in fact, been reported in the January 15, 1914, edition of The Sporting News to have decided to jump to the Baltimore Terrapins for that season—a decision on which he didn’t follow through, as Mowrey opened the season as a Pirate and played 79 games through August.) But with Mowrey now gone for real and, according to the March 4, 1915, Sporting News, the entire starting nine outside of the battery in flux, Clarke tinkered with all sorts of infield combinations during spring training, ultimately reshuffling his basemen. Despite the fact that the 41-year-old Wagner had ranked among the National League’s best-fielding shortstops in 1914, a late-season lag indicated that a shift to a less taxing position would behoove him. Second baseman Jim Viox replaced the departed Mowrey at the hot corner, and rookie Wally Gerber took Honus’s post at shortstop. But it soon became apparent that Gerber couldn’t handle major league pitching and Clarke restored Wagner and Viox to their normal positions on May 2, having already inserted rookie Doug Baird at third base several games earlier.

Unlike reports that Jimmie Foxx had re-signed with Philadelphia to become the A’s catcher for the 1935 season—very likely giving National Chicle a substantial heads-up on his switch to backstop—the situation for the Pirates in 1915 was one of uncertainty and conjecture. As late as March 25, as The Sporting News reported, Fred Clarke did not know—or would not state—where Honus would start the season. (It is difficult to determine with any certainty whether or when The Sporting News reported that Wagner would be moving to second base; the Sporting News archive does not contain any regular-season articles mentioning “Wagner” until July, although that probably indicates missing issues rather than an extremely unlikely 4-month silence on Honus.)

Coming to something of a rescue, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asserted on April 9 that Wagner was loaded and locked as Pittsburgh’s second baseman (also calling his replacement, Wally Gerber, “another Wagner in the short field, as far as fielding goes”). So, it does appear, at first glance, that American Caramel may have based its position change for Wagner on preseason reports.

Potentially complicating the issue, however, is that the same E106 set includes Cardinals infielder Dots Miller, who had been swapped to St. Louis in 1913 in an eight-player deal that brought Mike Mowrey to Pittsburgh. Similarly to Wagner, Miller is denoted as a second baseman (with the same, or very similar, artwork used as in the “sunset variation” of his earlier American Caramel cards). The hitch here is that Dots—though a second baseman when he was a Pirate (and when his earlier American Caramel cards were issued)—had played just 11 games at second base in 1914 (and none either in 1912 or ’13, having switched primarily to first base). So, questions essentially converse to Jimmie Foxx’s Diamond Stars card arise: Did American Caramel not account for Miller’s move to first base? Did it simply retouch one of its cards from several years earlier without knowing about, or bothering to update, his current position? Or was it responding to Dots’ early season appearances of 1915?

This last scenario is unlikely, because although Dots returned to second base for 63 games in 1915, he played two-thirds of the season at first base, not making a single appearance at second base until May 20 and none in any quantity until early June—rather late in the season to not have issued cards from a set that, totaling just 48, likely was not released in series.

So, whereas it appears that American Caramel’s denoting of Honus Wagner as a second baseman was a direct reaction to his 12 games spent there in April 1915, the same cannot logically be said for Dots Miller—unless American Caramel released the E106 set substantially well into the 1915 season (which, ironically enough, would have been after Wagner had returned to shortstop).

Even so, the deeper question surrounding all American Caramel cards remains: Was American Caramel candy any good? Producing its sweets from the late 19th century until 1928—sporadically accompanied by cards from 1908 to 1927—anyone who could testify to American Caramel’s quality is either long dead or long without teeth and functioning taste buds. It’s doubtful that even a famished Elaine Benes, known for satisfying her sweet tooth with 62-year-old wedding cake served at the marriage of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, would dare try century-old caramel, if ever any were found. (And don’t look at me—just because I crunched my way through piles of stale bubble gum after buying unopened boxes of Topps and O-Pee-Chees several years after they were issued, I’m not about to turn my gastrointestinal tract into a mad scientist’s laboratory.) So, this is likely an answer whose time has passed…

Unfolding chaos at National Chicle, Part One

As detailed in my prior articles (listed below), the 1934-36 Diamond Stars release from National Chicle started slowly in 1934, picked up speed in 1935, and then unceremoniously fell off a cliff in 1936.

Were one to extrapolate to the larger goings on at National Chicle, the image wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. After all, the company filed for bankruptcy in early 1937. At the same time—and I mean literally at the same time, from 1934-36—another National Chicle baseball card set brings to mind the “not dead yet” scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Evidently, there were a lot of new cards coming out of National Chicle that year, just not Diamond Stars.

1934-36 NATIONAL CHICLE “BATTER UP”

Like Diamond Stars, the Batter Up set was produced by National Chicle from 1934-36 and consisted entirely of baseball subjects. A typical card in the set is this one of Dodger legend Hack Wilson, numbered 73 in the lower right corner. The most distinct feature of the set is the die cut around Wilson’s upper body, which allows for turning each card into a self-standing version of itself.

If you thought this card looked familiar but remembered it a different color, there’s a good reason for that. Six different colors (or “tints”) were used in the “Batter Up” set, with each card coming in either four or six different tints, though only four of the six were used for Wilson. (More on this later.)

As for the self-standing feature of the set, the pictures below, courtesy of David at Cigar Box Cards, shows how these cards looked when folded as intended. Though it may be Hobby heresy to say so, I’ll die on the hill that these cards look better folded than mint!

Notably, three cards in the set featured more than one player, something uncommon though hardly unprecedented at the time.

Separate from these multi-player cards, there are also 35 players who appear twice in the set. A typical example is Ben Chapman of the Yankees, and a very atypical example is White Sox pitcher Clint Brown.

In comparison to the Diamond Stars set, which features colorful artwork, updated statistics, playing tips, and biographical information, the Batter Up set can come across as a mere novelty or oddball offering. On the other hand, the sheer size of the Batter Up set casts doubt on such an impression. Ignoring color variations, the set is nearly twice the size of Diamond Stars (192 vs 108), and counting color variations there are 848 different cards!

SERIES ONE VS SERIES TWO

Virtually all documentation organizes the set’s cards into two series, differing in multiple ways including the physical size of the cards:

  • Series One: Cards 1-80, measuring 2-3/8″ by 3-1/4.” The first 40 of these cards are available in six tints (black, red, brown, blue, purple and green) while the second 40 are available in only four (black, brown, blue, purple).
  • Series Two: Cards 81-192, measuring 2-3/8″ x 3″ (a quarter inch shorter) and available in four tints (black, brown, blue, and green)

Recall I mentioned earlier that Clint Brown presented an unusual—really the unusual—example of a player with repeated cards in the set. Of the 35 repeats, 34 have their first card in Series One and their second card in Series Two. For whatever reason, Brown has both his cards in Series Two. (Offer up a theory in the comments if you have one!)

No uncut Batter Up sheets are known, but the shift in color schemes has led to speculation that Series One cards were printed in sheets of 40, with Series Two cards possibly printed in sheets of 56. Certainly another possibility, even with the card sizes changing, is that all sheets had 40 cards but double-prints occupied the 8 surplus slots left over from a 192-card set.

The key detail I have not yet shared about the Batter Up set is which cards came out when. To my knowledge this information is currently unknown or at least unpublished. The question then is whether it’s even possible to assign a specific year to the various cards in the set. For example, is there any way to determine whether this Goose Goslin card is from 1934 vs 1935 vs 1936?

As it turns out, I believe the answer is yes!

“BATTER UP” RELEASE SCHEDULE BY YEAR

When I began my analysis of this set, I presumed the release schedule would look something like this:

  • 1934: Cards 1 through n
  • 1935: Cards (n + 1) through k, plus possibly some repeats from 1934
  • 1936: Cards (k + 1) through 192, plus possibly some repeats from 1934/1935

In brief, I expected some number of new cards each year. I furthermore was biased from my work with Diamond Stars to expect a Diamond Stars-like pattern of some small number of cards in 1934, some much larger number in 1935, and finally some small number in 1936. Here is an example of the sort of thing I expected to find.

  • 1934: Cards 1-40
  • 1935: Cards 41-160
  • 1936: Cards 161-192

However, I now believe no new cards were released in 1935 and that the release schedule for the set was quite simply the following:

  • 1934: Cards 1-80 (i.e., Series One)
  • 1936: Cards 81-192 (i.e., Series Two)

If correct, the 112 brand new cards issued in 1936 suggest a company that was still putting the pedal to the metal on baseball cards in 1936, even as it slammed the brakes on its contemporaneous Diamond Stars release.

TEAM CHANGES

The teams that players in a set appear with offer important clues to the timing of its cards. For example, a card of Dick Allen on the Dodgers would likely be from around 1971 and certainly would not pre-date his October 5, 1970, trade from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

More relevant to set at hand, take the example of John Irving “Jack” Burns, whose Batter Up card shows him with the Tigers.

Burns did not become a Tiger until April 30, 1936, thus we can conclude his Batter Up card was produced no earlier than this date. As such, we know the card dates to 1936 rather than 1934 or 1935.

Series One

There are nine players in Series One who changed teams during the 1934 season or 1934-35 offseason. Where we see such players with their original teams, we should suppose their cards were issued in 1934 rather than 1935. Likewise, if we see these players on their new teams, we can conclude their cards were produced after the relevant transaction date and possibly as late as 1935.

The first player on the Series One checklist to be involved in a trade is Wes Ferrell, whose card #12 shows him with Cleveland. Because Ferrell was traded from the Indians to the Red Sox on May 25, 1934, this card most likely dates to 1934, probably even early 1934, rather than 1935.

Of course with a low position on the checklist like #12, you probably already assumed Ferrell’s card was from 1934. But what of Chick Fullis, on the other end of the Series One checklist with card #74? His card shows him on the Phillies, who traded him to the Cardinals on June 15, 1934. Once again then, the card likely dates to 1934.

If card #74 is indeed from 1934, there is only one barrier to concluding that all 80 Series One cards are from 1934. What if Series One employed skip numbering where various card numbers, presumably an entire sheet’s worth, were left vacant in 1934 to be filled in 1935? If so, then we could have Ferrell and Fullis date to 1934 while still having some haphazard subset of Series One date to 1935.

However, were some significant number of Series One cards not produced until 1935, we would expect to see some of these cards show players on new teams. Instead, here is what we find.

#PlayerFromToDate
12Wes FerrellIndiansRed Sox5/25/34
74Chick FullisPhilliesCardinals6/15/34
73Hack WilsonDodgersPhillies8/10/34
43Joe HevingWhite Sox(released)10/21/34
32Joe CroninSenatorsRed Sox10/26/34
4Dick BartellPhilliesGiants11/1/34
60Ed MorganRed SoxCardinals11/22/34
56Sammy ByrdYankeesReds12/1934
13Bill CissellRed SoxPortland (PCL)2/1/35

Notably, all nine players are shown with their original teams, suggesting a 1934 issue since a 1935 issue would in all likelihood featured updated teams (and exclude Heving and Cissell altogether).

Another thing we might have expected to see, had some Series One cards, not been produced until 1935, would be a handful of players who made their Major League debuts in 1935. In fact there are none. In contrast, Series One does include three players who debuted in 1934: Cookie Lavagetto (#51, MLB debut: April 17, 1934), Ollie Bejma (#55, MLB debut: April 24, 1934), and Zeke Bonura (#65, MLB debut: April 17, 1934).

Is this enough to conclude that all 80 Series One cards were issued in 1934? By itself probably not. For example, here are two players who didn’t change teams at all. What prevents these two cards from having been issued in 1935?

Had cards been produced individually, I would not have an argument. However, we should keep in mind that the cards were almost certainly produced in sheets, with perhaps 40 cards to a sheet. Because there are none of the things we should expect a full 1935 sheet to include (i.e., at least one team update or debut), my conclusion is that there was no 1935 Series One sheet, hence no 1935 Series One cards.

Series Two

I’ll begin my look at Series Two team changes with a team change that wasn’t really a team change, best demonstrated by Wally Berger’s two cards in the Batter Up set.

Wally Berger was with the Boston N.L. franchise continuously from 1930 to 1937, but you’ll note a small difference in how his team is noted on each of his two cards. On card #1 he is with the Braves while on card #172 he is with the Bees. (Something similar happens in the Diamond Stars set between Berger’s card #25 and card #108.)

As the change of the franchise nickname was not announced until January 31, 1936, the use of “Bees” on Berger’s second card tells us the card was issued in 1936, though perhaps you would have assumed that anyway from the card’s high number. However, Berger was not the only Bee in the set. Here are the other four:

Unlike Berger, these Bees have relatively low numbers (83, 96, 99, 107) within Series Two, yet still date to 1936 based on the Bees nickname on the cards. The immediate implication, barring a skip numbering scheme, is that all or nearly all of Series Two came in 1936. (And when I say nearly all I really mean it since the only Series Two card numbers lower than 83 are 81 and 82.)

Before addressing skip numbering, let me first kill off the possibility that cards 81 and 82 (but not 83-192) could have been released separately, for example in 1935 or even 1934. I think the strongest evidence against such a possibility is that the Series Two cards are different sizes than their Series One predecessors. Imagine then, either in 1934 or 1935 producing 80 of the 82 cards one size but two another size. That just seems bizarre, even to someone like me with a huge appetite for bizarre.

Now what about skip numbering? Could National Chicle have released some subset of Series Two but left gaps in numbering that would not be filled in until 1936? Anything is possible, but I do think this is unlikely. After all, imagine that there were a significant release of Series Two cards in 1935. There are two things I would expect such a release to have.

  • Boston N.L. players on the Braves (not Bees)
  • Players on their 1935 rather than 1936 teams, assuming the two differed

However, as we examine the Series Two cards themselves, there are no Boston Braves. (In contrast, cards 1, 2, 37, 47, 59, and 75 from Series One are Braves.) Similarly, when we look at players whose 1935 and 1936 teams differed, we again see a rather one-sided pattern.

Here are the players who changed teams between 1935 and 1936, either during the 1935 season or during the 1935-36 offseason. The table is sorted by transaction date and uses boldface to indicate the team each player appears on in Series Two.

#PlayerFromToDate
151Ski MelilloBrownsRed Sox5/27/35
142Tony PietRedsWhite Sox6/4/35
163Bud HafeyWhite SoxPirates6/9/35
162Joe CascarellaAthleticsRed Sox6/30/35
92Dick CoffmanBrownsGiants11/14/35
94Roy ParmeleeGiantsCardinals12/9/35
144Jimmie FoxxAthleticsRed Sox12/10/35
99Ray BengeDodgersBraves12/12/35
107Ed Brandt[Bees*]Dodgers12/12/35
95Carl ReynoldsRed SoxSenators12/17/35
122Fred LindstromCubsDodgers1/16/36
167John BabichDodgersBees2/6/36
115Jim BottomleyRedsBrowns3/21/36
179Jim BottomleyRedsBrowns3/21/36
82Clint BrownIndiansWhite Sox4/11/36
189Clint BrownIndiansWhite Sox4/11/36

Among the 16 cards listed, 14 show the player with his new team. Of the two that don’t, the first is card 107 of Ed Brandt, which still shows him with his 1935 team, Boston. However, Brandt’s card uses the Bees nickname, hence cannot be from 1935.

This leaves only John Babich, whose card 167 still shows him with Brooklyn. One interpretation is that this card, hence an entire sheet of Series Two cards, genuinely dates to 1935. However, I don’t think the numbers are there to support this. (Where are the Braves cards? Where are the other players still on their 1935 teams?) The alternative I favor, therefore, is that of Babich simply being missed somewhere in the editorial process. If not for this exception, I would bet the house that no Series Two cards date to 1935. The Babich card compels me to maintain the same opinion but with less certainty.

Combining my analysis of Series One and Series Two, I believe the most likely release schedule for the set is the following:

  • 1934: Cards 1-80 (i.e., all of Series One)
  • 1935: No new cards
  • 1936: Cards 81-192 (i.e., all of Series Two)

It’s an unexpected result and one that lends itself to plenty of head scratching. Still, it appears to be the direction the clues have taken us.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 1935?

While I’m fairly confident that new Batter Up cards were on hiatus in 1935, it’s entirely possible that Batter Up cards continued to be sold, either as excess inventory from the prior year or further (new) print runs of earlier 1934 cards. National Chicle reissued all 24 of their 1934 Diamond Stars cards in 1935, so why not do something similar with Batter Up?

1934 Dixie Walker card with 1935 reissue

That said, the Diamond Stars reissues had updated stats and ages (and in some cases updated teams and biographies) to distinguish them from the originals. In contrast, there are no known variations (aside from tint) among the Series One Batter Up cards. Therefore, if any of the 1934 cards were indeed reissued in 1935, no updates or changes were made to them. (This isn’t 100% true, but let’s go with it for now.)

The lack of any evident updates to the Series One cards suggests one of two approaches for any 1935 reissues that might have occurred:

  • Cards were reissued, perhaps all 80, without regard to accuracy. For example, a 1934 Wes Ferrell would still show him with Cleveland rather than Boston.
  • Only the cards that remained accurate were reissued. For example, Wes Ferrell would have been excluded due to his team information being out of date.

I’m not ready to take a stab as to which of these, if either even occurred, would have been more likely. However, I do believe a study of the PSA population report will prove useful in corroborating or refuting the second of these approaches. Stay tuned for Part Two of this series if this is something of interest to you.

Before closing I want to come back to the not quite true remark I made about any potential 1935 reissues being identical to their 1934 predecessors. From the perspective of the photos used and the text and numbering of the cards, this is a true statement. However, the door is open to one type of change that is at least a maybe.

Recall the six tints used for cards 1-40 and the four tints used for cards 41-80. It’s probably simplest to assume that all of these tints were used in 1934, in which case any reissues simply repeated one or more of them. However, it’s also possible that some subset of these tints was in fact “1935 only.” As an example, we might imagine that the 1934 versions of cards 1-40 used only black, brown, blue, and purple while the 1935 reissues of these cards used only red and green. I am not endorsing this theory but simply including the possibility to close a loophole I left open a few paragraphs ago. In all likelihood, it’s not something that I believe could ever be determined barring some miracle find of documents or uncut sheets.

Thank you to David at Cigar Box Cards for the photos from his collection, and as always a huge thank you to Trading Card Database for the checklists, images, and other resources that make my research possible.

A closer look at the “1937” Diamond Stars release

As the quotes in the title suggest, there was no 1937 Diamond Stars release. However, an uncut printing sheet found many years later (1980 or 1981, I believe) fueled speculation that a 1937 offering may have been in the works at National Chicle.

Popular dealer, Den’s Collectors Den, used the images from the sheet to create a 12-card 1937 Diamond Stars “Extension Set” in 1981. I find the set to be particularly well done, including the bios on the back, which read nearly identically to the Austen Lake bios from the original set. Christopher Benjamin, who authored the card backs, signed his name as Christy Benjamin, no doubt in homage to Christy Walsh (see 1934 Goudey, cards 25-96).

You can currently buy not only the cards but a replica of the sheet itself from Larry Fritsch Cards. Note the 1937 year used in the image, which is also the year Trading Card Database assigns to the cards. (In contrast, this Beckett article by Ryan Cracknell and this SCP Auctions listing use 1936 as the date.)

In this article I will provide additional information about the cards and player on the sheet in hopes of determining not only its year but potentially a bit more.

As the back of the sheet was blank, there are fewer clues than usual to consider. However, we can still look at the following:

  • Players who changed teams around the period in question
  • Status of National Chicle and Diamonds Stars set around the period in question
  • Other clues

TEAM CHANGES, PART ONE

Though I’m currently unable to track down the source, I’ve read at least one article or post that called out certain team changes as relevant to dating the sheet. For example, these three player-team combinations guarantee that the sheet could not have been produced before or during the 1935 season.

  • Roger Cramer is shown on the Red Sox, the team he played with from 1936-40.
  • Gene Moore is shown with the Braves/Bees, the team he played with from 1936-38.
  • Jim Bottomley is shown with the Browns, the team he played with from 1936-37.

Of course, these same cards leave the door open to 1936 or 1937 as the date of the sheet. If we had nothing further to go by, I’d place a small wager on 1936 for the simple reason that it’s when cards of these players would have been the most exciting for collectors, i.e., right when they joined their new teams.

However, there is still more evidence to consider.

TEAM CHANGES, PART TWO

Three relevant team changes occurred following the 1936 season.

  • Rip Collins (not to be confused with the other Rip Collins, but more on that later) was traded from the Cardinals to the Cubs on October 8, 1936.
  • Lon Warneke was traded from the Cubs to the Cardinals in that same trade.
  • Lonny Frey was traded from the Dodgers to the Cubs on December 5, 1936.

We can see clearly from the uniforms of Collins and Frey that they are still with their original teams. As the trades occurred well in advance of the 1937 baseball season, it’s hard to imagine that National Chicle would have used this artwork for a 1937 release. (See this article for an example of how National Chicle handled team changes.)

As for Warneke’s card, the uniform is much more non-descript, though it most likely shows him as a Cub based on its similarity to the uniform of sheet-mate Phil Cavarretta.

Another notable team change belongs to Benny Frey (no relation to Lonny), who was with the Reds through the end of the 1936 season but did not play at all in 1937. (There is a sad story here, starting with Frey’s April 16 release by Cincinnati and ending with his suicide later in the year.)

Because Frey was still with Cincinnati in the 1937 preseason (though he saw zero action), his Reds card is compatible with a 1936 or an early 1937 release.

COMPANY CONTEXT

We know National Chicle was actively producing baseball cards in 1936. Furthermore, we know the company’s 1936 release included only 12 new players, a staggeringly low number for a set of cards intended to include “240 major league players,” not to mention a significant drop-off from the 60 new players introduced the year before. This signals (to me, at least) that something happened during (not after) the 1936 season that led National Chicle to stop making new cards. If so, pulling the plug even while twelve new cards were making their way to completion would be an unfortunate but not altogether unlikely outcome.

Alternatively, we can entertain the notion that our uncut sheet was simply the first (or one of the first) sheets put together for an ultimately ill-fated 1937 release. However, with National Chicle filing for bankruptcy “around March 1937,” the window for such a thing would have been tight, and I at least imagine company execs would have seen the writing on the wall enough to avoid unnecessary expenses such as baseball cards of Benny and Lonny Frey.

OTHER CLUES

As our sheet is blank-backed, about the only remaining timing clues will come from the card images themselves. For example, were the sheet to include an image based on a 1937 photograph, we could completely rule out 1936 for the sheet’s production. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t find this.)

While I have been able to locate source photos for more than half the cards on the uncut sheet, none has provided any definitive evidence for 1936 over 1937 (or vice versa). Still, because the image overlays look cool, I’ll share my findings regardless.

The first example is Benny Frey, whose card image uses a cropped portion of his 1934 Butterfinger photo.

The second source image I found is for Mel Harder’s card. The same photo was used on his 1936 Leather Finish (R311) premium card.

The third source image I found is for Goose Goslin’s card, which matches a 1935 Detroit Tigers team issue photo.

The fourth source image I found is for Roger Creamer’s card, which “matches” his 1935-36 Diamond Matchbook. (Note the team change, however.)

The fifth source image I found is for the Lefty Gomez card, which matches his 1934 Butterfinger photo.

The sixth source image I found is a fun one. First off, can we agree Pete Fox’s card does look a bit odd? There is a twisting of his torso that suggests having misjudged the ball a bit or…

Hey, wait a minute, this picture looks a little too familiar!

Sure enough, the Diamond Stars artwork comes from a batting image of Pete Fox, one that was also used on his 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premium.

The final source image I found is the one corresponding to the set’s most unique card, the Bottomley/Hornsby combo card. Notes on the back date the photograph to late March 1936, probably between March 24 and March 28.

As with the other six source images, the dating of the Bottomley/Hornsby photo does not provide any definitive guidance as to dating the card or sheet. On the other hand, I’ll go back to my earlier point about when such a card would have been coolest to find in a pack. The Bottomley/Hornsby reunion (from their earlier stint as teammates with the Cardinals) was notable and exciting in 1936 but definitely old news by 1937.

Honorable mentions

I never did find the source photo for Phil Cavarretta, but I did find a second card (probably) produced from the same photo, at the same time learning there was a 1953 Parkhurst “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” set!

I also failed to find the Rip Collins source photo, but I did discover something odd with his card. As background, there were two players named Rip Collins who played in the 1930s.

  • Harry Warren “Rip” Collins, a pitcher, played from 1920-27 and 1929-31 with the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and Browns
  • James Anthony Collins (often “Ripper” but sometimes “Rip”), a first baseman, played from 1931-38 and 1941 with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates

In all likelihood, the Rip Collins shown on the Diamond Stars sheet was supposed to be the second of these two players. For one thing, the other Rip had been retired 5+ years. For another, he is wearing a Cardinals uniform.

Nonetheless, if we compare the baseball card of Rip of photographs of both Rips, there is a much stronger resemblance to Rip 1.0.

This is neither here nor there in attempting to date the Diamond Stars uncut sheet, but I thought it was still worth mentioning. The implication, of course, is that had the sheet of cards gone through production, young gum chewers might have ripped the wrong Rip.

CONCLUSIONS

As with most of the analysis I do, I can’t say there is a definite conclusion here. However, I do think the majority of the clues I’ve reviewed point to 1936 as significantly more likely than 1937. The strongest evidence, in my opinion, comes from the artwork used for Rip Collins and Lonny Frey (add Lon Warneke if you like!), which depicts players in uniforms that would have been outdated by the start of the 1937 baseball season.

If we accept 1936 as the year for the sheet, there is still the question of when in 1936. The likeliest spot for a sheet of cards that was never finished would be following the cards that were finished. Then its unfinished state could be easily explained by running out of money or time. If I had to make a guess, this would be it.

Were the sheet produced earlier than that, we would be left wondering why these twelve truly new cards were scrapped while comparatively stale reissues were greenlit for production. The simplest answer is always money, but was the cost of finishing this sheet really that different from reissuing an older series of cards?

After all, even the reissued cards were updated with new stats and in some cases revised artwork, biographical information, and card numbers, so this was not a situation where excess inventory from the year before was simply loaded onto trucks. One could argue that if the uncut sheet cards already had bios (which they might have, even if the lone surviving relic was blank-backed), the cost of sending them to production would be the same as moving ahead with reissues. So no, barring horribly expensive, slow, or unavailable bios still needed, I don’t imagine National Chicle would have halted these cards to crank out filler.

Another theory occasionally advanced and unrelated to money is that these cards were scrapped due to the artwork itself, with some National Chicle exec presumably hating the shift from stadium and city scape backgrounds (left, below) to geometric ones (right, below). My personal feeling is that yes, the old backgrounds were better, but no, nobody would choose this as their hill to die on.

My takeaway, therefore, is that the “1937 release” was in fact a relic from 1936, and was probably created after the various series of cards that genuinely made it into packs and onto shelves. In this sense, the twelve cards on the sheet may well be the final baseball cards National Chicle (almost) ever made, a swansong barely heard among the packing of equipment, shredding of papers, and closing of doors that would come soon enough, or too soon if you ask me.

Related reading: My friend Matthew Glidden discusses the possibility that National Chicle may have had its hands in yet another baseball set before being gobbled up by Goudey.

Anatomy of a Reprint

This will be a short post but I just received a copy of the 2021 Stadium Club Will Clark reprint. It’s a striking portrait of The Thrill. In 1992 Topps treated  Clark, Matt Williams, and Kevin Mitchell all very similarly. Black jackets and a black background with just enough light to expose their faces and one other feature—glove, ball, etc.—while everything else receded into shadow.

They’re striking cards and I figured it would be fun to compare the Clark reprint with the original card that I have in my collection.

Starting off with a side-by-side pair of scans. I scanned and processed these together before splitting them into different images so the differences in color reflect actual differences between the two and not anything I introduced in post-processing the scan. In this pair, and the other pairs of images in this post, the original 1992 card is on the left and the 2021 reprint is on the right.

Two obvious differences. 1992 is a bit darker and yellower. 2021 has lower contrast and better shadow detail. First off, the yellowness extends to the white point of the paper and is very likely an effect of aging. Maybe the paper is getting old. Maybe the UV coating* is yellowing slightly. The contrast and shadow detail differences though suggest that a lot more is going on.

*UV coating is the high-gloss finish that Topps started using in 1991 Stadium Club and which took over the hobby in the 1990s. It’s called UV because it’s cured with ultraviolet light. It can yellow with age and, as many of us have found, can stick to other UV coated items as well.

Yup. Time to look closer. The print screens shows that Topps recreated the original cards and that they have, someplace, the original images that they used in 1992. How can I tell? The two different cards use different line frequencies—1992 is around 125 LPI, 2021 is around 170 LPI—and there’s no evidence of rescreening.*

*Poorly done reprints often scan and rescreen on top of the older screen and the result is often a mess.

LPI stands for lines per inch and refers to how many rows of dots occur in each inch of printing. A higher number means you have the ability to show more detail in the image but also requires better quality paper and a better press to hold that detail. Printing too fine a line screen can actually produce a darker image than expected if done incorrectly since the dots are closer together and can “plug” if the paper or press is wrong.* In the 1980s and 1990s, anything over 120 LPI was high quality. Nowadays things are routinely printed around 170 or higher.

* It’s my opinion that 1989 Upper Deck suffered a bit from this as it would completely explain why so many of the images are darker than they should be.

More importantly though, I can see in the blacks that the screen on the 2021 card is a lot more open. At the top of this pair of images, the 1992 version is almost solid black. There are occasional dots of color but it’s mostly plugged with ink. The 2021 version though is clearly a mix of inks. Not only is the linescreen much finer, Topps kept it from plugging up with ink. As a result, there’s a lot more visible detail in the cap, jacket, and even the background texture.

There’s also a lot less yellow being printed in 2021. Looking at Clark’s eye shows that even if the UV coating in the 1992 is yellowing, there’s actually a lot of yellow being printed as well. I see way fewer yellow dots in the 2021 card.

This pair of images shows off the difference in detail that we can see in the glove but what caught my eye is the way the Stadium Club logo is printed. This wasn’t clocked by most people in 1991 but in addition to the full-bleed images, glossy finish, and foil stamping, Topps also used a spot-color ink* for the first time on the front of its cards.** This continued in 1992 and in the scans here the difference between the pink stadium seats is pretty obvious.

*I’m not going to explain spot colors in much depth here since I’ve already done so elsewhere on the blog but in short, full-color printing uses four process inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) and any additional ink that’s not one of those four colors is a spot ink.

**1991 Stadium Club is the first full-color plus spot color I can think of for Topps. 1990 Leaf with the silver ink  if the first full-color plus spot color I can think of in general. Adding a spot ink to the four process inks was a serious premium step up in production.

No screening at all in 1992. Clear magenta and yellow screen patterns and even some slight misregistration in 2021. I can’t show this in images but the 1992 spot ink fluoresces under a black light as well.

I know why Topps chose not to use a spot color in 2021 since that would be a lot of extra production for an insert set that no one was really excited about anyway.* At the same time, that they didn’t strikes me as being as wrong as if they’d replaced the foil stamping with a gold color ink mix.

*Seriously, does anyone like Stadium Club inserts? I’m pretty sure we all just get Stadium Club because the base card photography is so great.

Still, it was fun to do a dive into the printing differences so I can’t complain too much. While things like Heritage or Archives often play a bit loose with adapting old designs to modern usage, a reprint is supposed to be the same and when it’s not I’m glad the differences give us a look in to how Topps’s production quality has changed and, for the most part, improved.

Further down the Rabbit hole

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” – Satchel Paige

My last three articles have examined the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set with the goal of establishing a more refined (e.g., monthly) release schedule for each year’s cards than anything previously documented. Having had success (apart from a “Rabbit hole”) in applying a particular technique to the 24 cards from 1934, I will now apply the same technique to the 60 new cards from 1935 and 12 new cards from 1936.

Specifically, a key to understanding the 1934 release involved associating each player’s age from his bio with the time interval where that age would have been accurate.

The question, then, is whether a similar analysis of the new cards from 1935 and 1936 will yield similar dividends, either in supporting or challenging my original timetables for each of these releases.

Careful readers may have noted the word new a few times already, and my use of it is intentional. The 1935 release included 84 cards, and I’m only looking at 60 of them. Similarly, the 1936 release included 48 cards, and I’m only looking at 12 of them. Why such an intentionally narrow lens?

Reasonably enough, when a player appeared in consecutive years, National Chicle simply bumped his age up by one from one year to the next. For example, the 1934 Al Simmons card presented his age as 31.

On cue, the Al Simmons cards from 1935 (left) and 1936 (right) present his age as 32 and 33 respectively.

This formulaic approach means that card ages for repeated players are simply perfunctory and not influenced by the specific timing of a card’s release beyond year. As such, they would only add clutter to an analysis that will already be messy enough without them.

1935

For the 1935 release this means we should ignore cards 1-24, which were reissued from the prior year, and consider only 25-84. Following earlier hypotheses that the cards were released in series of 12 or multiples thereof, we’ll examine the cards twelve at a time.

Cards 25-36

Here are the first twelve (new) cards in the 1935 release, sorted by when each player would attain his “card age.” As Pepper Martin was born on February 29, I used March 1 for 1935 and noted the date with an asterisk.

As was the case in our 1934 analysis, there are a number of dates that make no sense for a 1935 set of baseball cards. Row, Rice, and Traynor, for example, would have “aged out” the year before the cards came out, while Berger and Rolfe would not hit their card ages until after the World Series. However, this initial table is based on the Baseball-Reference birthdates for each player, which we’ve seen don’t always match the birthdates assumed at the time these cards were produced. A review of more contemporary sources offers three corrections:

Schoolboy Rowe

Rowe’s 1939 Play Ball card suggests 1912 rather than 1910 for his birth year.

Sam Rice

Rice’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1892 rather than 1890 for his birth year.

Pie Traynor

Traynor’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1899 rather than 1898 for his birth year.

We can now update our table to reflect these changes.

In my main article on the 1935 release, I conjectured that these cards would have been issued in late April or so. The age data here do not reflect that. While the first eight cards are compatible with a release anywhere from April 6 to May 20, the last four cards list ages pointing to much later in the year (i.e., July 20 or afterward). In fact there is no single window where all 12 ages would be correct.

I have no firm conclusion to draw here and will instead list some possible explanations for these results.

  • Someone goofed, either in their math or their typesetting
  • Austen Lake/National Chicle used reference materials showing different birth years than what I can find
  • Ages on the backs of cards are notoriously unreliable, so what do you expect!
  • The last four cards really were released much later than the first eight

Before moving on to the next dozen cards, I’ll simply note a commonality among the last four cards listed, though I don’t believe it to be significant.

You may recall that the 1936 release included the reissue of 24 cards from near the beginning of the set, twelve that retained their numbering (shown in orange) and twelve that were renumbered 97-108.

In passing I noted earlier that these 24 cards disproportionately consisted of cards requiring team-related or other biographical updates. For what it’s worth, the last four cards from my table were all among these reissues. 🤷

Cards 37-48

The good news here is there are three players with no ages given, hence we have three fewer things that can go wrong! The bad news is we once again have data largely incompatible with the late-April release window speculated earlier.

This time I am able to replace two Baseball-Reference birthdays with more contemporary sources.

Blondy Ryan

Ryan’s 1934 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.

Rick Ferrell

Ferrell’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1906 rather than 1905 for his birth year.

Still, as before, we are left with multiple entries that poorly fit a late April release.

The case of Jo Jo White is most interesting to me. Yes, I suppose one could argue that Hubbell, Dykes, and the four outliers from the previous dozen were part of some postseason release, thereby making their ages correct. However, it’s hard to stretch that theory far enough to encompass White, whose age only becomes correct in June 1936!

Cards 49-60

This next table is our messiest one yet, though I do believe Hank Greenberg’s age of 34 on his card was simply a typo and intended to be 24.

As before, we can update a few birthdates based on contemporary sources.

Oscar Melillo

Melillo’s 1933 George C. Miller card suggests 1902 rather than 1899 for his birth year.

Red Ruffing

Ruffing’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1904 rather than 1905 for his birth year.

With the Greenberg typo corrected, the data now include only one rogue conflicting with the “mid-June or so” estimate from my earlier article.

I’ll take a very quick detour here that has zero to do with my main effort. Notice two of the names on the list for whom no age was given: John Whitehead and Cy Blanton. Both were rookies in 1935 who got off to very fast starts.

  • Blanton through 10 games: 7-2 with 1.00 ERA, 2 shutouts, 9 complete games, and a save
  • Whitehead through 8 games: 8-0 with 2.86 ERA, 1 shutout, and 7 complete games

You can almost hear the National Chicle execs yelling at the editors: “We don’t have time to find their ages. Just get those damn cards out stat!” Of course you’re now wondering if Glenn Myatt got off to a similarly sensational start. He did not.

Cards 61-72

The initial data for the next twelve cards again has some curveballs.

This time I can only make one “correction.”

Marvin Owen

Owen’s 1938 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.

The result is seven cards compatible with my speculative “late July or so” release but four players very definitely in conflict.

I’ll take yet another detour to note that two of the names in yellow had what then would have been considered prodigious rookie seasons with respect to the long ball. (A third name, Wally Berger, was in the 1935 release as well but way back at card 25.)

Most HR by Rookie (pre-1935)

Cards 73-84

We at last come to the final series of the year, one that I’d originally pegged as early September or so. The first player listed clashes considerably with that, but all others seem to match up well.

Bill DeLancey

Happily, DeLancey’s 1936 World Wide Gum card suggests 1912 rather than 1911 for his birth year.

With DeLancey’s information updated, we now have a set of twelve card ages that would have all been correct from September 15 until October 14. Hallelujah!

This concludes our look at the 60 new cards from the 1935 release. As I noted at the top of the article, there may be no compelling conclusions to draw thus far. Across the 60 cards, a full dozen conflict with previously speculated release windows, and one, Jo Jo White, is incompatible with any 1935 release window. I will still offer one full-on conspiracy theory on this “dirty dozen” at the very end of this article, but it’s not one I take seriously.

1936

While the 1936 release included 48 cards in all, only twelve, cards 85-96, represented new players. A full 24 were reissues of previous cards that retained their original card numbers, and twelve others were reissues that adopted new numbering from 97-108.

Cards 85-96

Here are my initial data using Baseball-Reference as my source for dates of birth. Right off the bat, the first 3-4 players appear problematic for a 1936 release.

Fortunately, this is a group of cards that cleans up nicely.

Luke Appling

Appling’s 1937 Goudey card suggests 1911 rather than 1907 for his birth year.

Alvin Crowder

Crowder’s (first) 1933 Goudey card suggests 1901 rather than 1899 for his birth year.

Julius Solters

Moose’s 1938 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.

Ray Hayworth

Hayworth’s 1939 Play Ball card suggests 1905 rather than 1904 for his birth year.

The revised table now has no conflicts at all with my previously speculated “early May 1936” release. However, a closer look reveals something else.

The full window when all card ages are correct is much broader, extending from April 2 through October 3. This is more or less the entire baseball season! So yes, the card ages support my supposed release window, but they would equally support just about any release window!

The first question you might ask is whether this outcome was intentional. Was it by design that all players would remain their “card ages” for the entire baseball season? Were the folks at National Chicle suddenly such perfectionists that they couldn’t chance a “card age” being wrong even briefly? Or were the birthdays of the players in question simply coincidence, even if the probability of nine randomly selected players having offseason birthdays is roughly…1 in 500?!

To follow this train of though to its conclusion, we should also look at the 36 reissued cards this same year. Do these cards show evidence of great care with respect to ages or are they largely haphazard? It took a while, but I checked it out.

Cards 73-84

This block is the one I originally theorized as leading off the 1936 release. As we’ve already seen, the window where all ages were correct ran from September 15-October 14. This brings up two possibilities:

  • National Chicle got the ages right and this series was a late-season rather than early-season release.
  • National Chicle didn’t worry about whether these ages were correct.

Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, and 31

This block corresponds to the twelve cards from the early part of the checklist that were reissued with numbering intact. With Al Simmons (#2) “aging out” on May 22 and Jimmie Wilson (#22) not reaching his card age until July 23, there is no single window when all twelve players would have been their card ages. (Throw away Simmons and there is a brief window from July 23 through August 30.)

Cards 97-108 (formerly 11, 15, 19, 25, 27, 28, 29, 33, 34, 35, 36, 46)

This block corresponds to the twelve cards from the early part of the checklist that were reissued with new numbering. With Earl Averill (#100) aging out on May 21 and Red Rolfe (#104) not reaching his card age until October 17, there is again no single window when all twelve players would have been their card ages. (Throw away Averill and there is a brief window from October 17 through November 11.)

I am not at the moment an adherent to the idea that the driving force behind the 1936 release was ensuring correct player ages. However, it’s still at least mathematically interesting to me that Diamond Stars could have batted 46 for 48 by releasing the four series according to this schedule:

  • Cards 85-96: Anytime during season
  • Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31: July/August
  • Cards 73-84: September/October
  • Cards 97-108: October/November

One footnote I’ll add to this discussion is that the release schedule above wouldn’t only produce incorrect ages for Simmons and Rolfe but it would also result in an incorrect team (artwork and bio) for Irving Burns (#75), who went from the Browns to the Tigers on April 30. Otherwise, whether by coincidence or design, it holds up remarkably well, too well if you ask me.

RETHINKING THE “DIRTY DOZEN

I promised I’d put forth at least some explanation for the twelve problematic card ages encountered in the 1935 set. While it feels most plausible, sensible, etc., to me to simply deem the card ages wrong, let’s at least consider the possibility that they’re correct (or at least all correct except Jo Jo White) and see where that takes us.

Offhand, the simplest way for these ages to be correct would be if they were not released in the series originally theorized but instead part of a late season sheet all their own. Such an approach would leave gaps in the earlier series, but we know from the 1933 Goudey set and others that leaving gaps could be an intentional tactic to boost sales, i.e., keep kids buying packs in hopes of finishing a run that can’t (yet) be finished.

The main reason I’m not sold on such a theory here is that only a very late release date for the “filler series” would solve the card age issues we’re attempting to solve here. If we include Jo Jo White, we would require a release date of June 1, 1936, or later, which creates more problems than it solves. White notwithstanding, we would still be looking at a release date of November 24, 1935, or later.

I also believe such a scheme would now be detectable on the PSA population report, probably in two ways.

  1. Non-star players among these twelve cards would have similar populations to each other.
  2. The earlier series would likely exhibit evidence of double-prints.

Checking the report, I don’t see either of these occurences.

I’ll also note that the sheet fragment we looked at in my 1935 article does cycle through all card numbers from 61-72 rather than exclude Foxx, Bonura, Medwick, and Trosky.

CONCLUSION

This sort of work isn’t an exact science but rather an arena where some clues point one way, some point another, and some point nowhere. When I began this article, I had some hope that an age analysis would either support or refute earlier assumptions about the 1935 and 1936 release schedules. Instead, I’ll liken the situation to a replay in MLB after a close play is challenged. Under the best of circumstances the review provides clear evidence that the original call was either correct or incorrect. Quite often, however, there is insufficient evidence and the call simply stands while not being confirmed. I think that’s where we are right now with Diamond Stars, at least absent any new angles not yet reviewed.

As always, let me know in the Comments what your own theories might be and especially if you know of information I’ve failed to consider.

A closer look at the 1934 Diamond Stars release

Author’s note: If you’re just jumping into this series, my advice is to first read at least the introduction to my first article, detailing the 1935 set. There is some background I provide there that I’ll mostly skip here.

The initial year of the 1934-36 Diamond Stars release included only 24 cards, specifically cards 1-24 in what would ultimately be a 108-card offering. The questions I seek to answer in this article is how and when these first 24 cards were released.

  • Were all 24 cards released at the same time or were they released in separate groupings?
  • When during the 1934 season did the cards come out?

If you’ve read my 1935 or 1936 articles you know there are a handful of methods I use with varying success in attempting to answer these questions. As none will prove particularly useful when applied to the 1934 cards I will end the article with one final method that took a lot of work but produced intriguing results.

TEAM UPDATES

As usual I’ll kick things off with players who changed teams just before or during the 1934 season. The very first card in the set provides such an example. Lefty Grove as traded by the Athletics to the Red Sox on December 12, 1933. Because Grove’s card depicts him with Boston, we know it was finalized after December 12.

Ditto Max Bishop who was part of this exact same trade and portrayed with his new team.

The third and final player involved in a team change was Jimmy Wilson who was traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies on November 15, 1933. We see from this Diamond Stars card, which shows him on the Phillies, that his card was finalized after November 15. However, this is largely non-news in light of the December 12 date established by the Grove and Bishop cards.

BIO CLUES

The Rabbit Maranville (#3) card in the set doesn’t contain anything notable in the bio. However, the inclusion of the Maranville card might still be considered notable. The Braves shortstop broke his leg on March 29, 1934 and was presumed to miss at least the first 2-3 months of the season. (Spoiler alert: He missed the whole season.) This leads me to believe his card had already been selected for the set prior to the injury. Of course, if an Opening Day release was the target, the card would have been selected well before March 29!

For what it’s worth, Rabbit’s 1935 card made reference to the injury in the stat line area of the card, indicating: “out all of 1934, broken leg.”

The Lew Fonseca (#7) card from 1934 is perhaps notable in describing Lew as the “first baseman and manager of the Chicago White Sox” since he didn’t end up playing at all and in fact managed only the first 15 games of the season.

Though Fonseca didn’t play at all in 1934, he was considered a candidate for the first baseman’s job as the Sox kicked off Spring Training.

What this suggests to me is that Fonseca’s card was finalized before or during Spring Training. All evidence thus far, of which there is little, points to the possibility that all cards were finalized after December 12 but before the season began. This also feels about right for a small set of baseball cards planned for 1934. However, the paucity of clues leaves the door open to other possibilities as well. Might the 24 cards been released in two separate series of twelve, for example?

PSA POPULATION REPORT

In my 1935 and 1936 articles, the PSA population reports proved extremely useful in establishing or confirming the structure of each year’s release. Unfortunately, the report for 1934 feels less conclusive.

Ignoring the “spikes’ corresponding to the more frequently graded stars, is there any discernible difference between the set’s first and second twelve cards? To my eyes, not really. Let’s go down this “no” path for a bit.

If the populations are essentially the same, the simplest explanation would be that all 24 cards were released together. However, we can’t completely rule out the possibility that the cards were released in two separate series that just happened to generate roughly equal populations. If only we had one more set of clues to look at!

ONE MORE SET OF CLUES TO LOOK AT

Some data we’ve thus far avoided in the Diamond Stars set is that nearly every card tells us the player’s age, even going so far as to update ages from year to year for players who were part of multiple releases. For example, here is Lloyd Waner’s card from 1934, which shows him as 28 years old. Were you to pull up his 1935 reissue, you’d see Waner listed as 29 years old.

Naturally, we know when all of these players were born, so it becomes a simple matter to determine when each player would be the age shown on his card. For example, Lloyd Waner was born on March 16, 1906, meaning he would be his 1934 Diamond Stars age of 28 from March 16, 1934 – March 15, 1935. Conveniently enough, that window spans the entire 1934 baseball season.

So what happens if we compute “card age” windows for all 24 players in the set? The result is messy and includes a number of ages that don’t match up well at all for a 1934 issue. (Note: Bill Dickey’s card did not list his age, hence, the N/A in his slot.)

While we do find numerous players who were their 1934 Diamond Stars age for all or at least part of the 1934 season, we encounter several exceptions. Particularly wild is the case of Sparky Adams who attained his card age a good three years early.

If I sort by the last column rather than than the first, the data are significantly easier to parse.

In addition to Sparky Adams, we can see Bill Hallahan and Frankie Frisch would have also “aged out” well before their cards were issued, just as we can see near the bottom of the table that Rabbit Maranville and Roy Mahaffey would have reached their card age well after season’s end.

A natural reaction to seeing 5 of 23 “card ages” wholly incompatible with the set’s release schedule would be to discount the data entirely. However, there is a very important adjustment still to be made.

I relied on Baseball Reference as the source of each player’s date of birth in creating these tables. However, Baseball Reference birthdates can differ significantly from the birthdates in circulation while these players were playing. A review of other baseball cards from the era, notably ones that provide a full date of birth, can be instructive.

Sparky Adams

While Baseball Reference has Adams born on August 26, 1894, his 1933 Goudey card puts his birthday in 1896. I definitely don’t want to imply that National Chicle or Austen Lake used 1933 Goudey cards as their source. However, I do think its likely National Chicle and Goudey got their information from similar, if not identical, sources.

Bill Hallahan

Ditto for Bill Hallahan whose 1933 Goudey card bumps his birthday from 1902 to 1904.

Frankie Frisch

The situation is similar for the Fordham Flash whose birthday moves up a year from 1897 to 1898.

Rabbit Maranville

Rabbit’s (Baseball-Reference) birthday of November 11, 1891, “hops” around a bit on his cards, beginning with his 1914-15 Cracker Jack cards that indicated his birth year as 1889.

His next card that I’m aware of to provide a birthdate is his 1933 George C. Miller card, which jumps ahead three years to 1892.

This same date is repeated on Maranville’s very dapper 1936 World Wide Gum card.

By the 1950 Callahan Hall of Fame set and later 1960 and 1961 Baseball Greats sets, Rabbit’s birth year settles in at 1891, which is what we recognize today. As for which year Austen Lake and National Chicle would have used, I can’t be sure but the two cards closest to 1934 both point to 1892. (I’ll introduce one more contemporary source at the end of this article that may or may not put us right back at 1891.)

Roy Mahaffey

None of Roy Mahaffey’s contemporary cards that I could locate listed his date of birth. However, my SABR Chicago bud Bill Pearch was kind enough to check his 1969 Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, which has Mahaffey born in 1903 rather than 1904.

We can now present the same table from before, using the birthdates more likely to have been available when the Diamond Stars cards were made. I’ll start with cards 1-12.

Interestingly, there is a brief window when all players except Maranville would have been their “card ages.” This occurs between April 6, 1934 (when Mickey Cochrane turned 31), through May 21, 1934 (the day before Al Simmons turned 32). Notably, this window squares up very nicely with the targeting of an Opening Day release.

We see a similar phenomenon with cards 13-24, only with a twist.

Again there is a small window when all players would have been their “card ages.” However, this window is several months removed from Opening Day. Rather, it extends from August 4, 1934 (when Bill Hallahan turned 30), through August 25, 1934 (the day before Sparky Adams turned 38). If there was care put into the reckoning of ages in the player bios, we now have a very tight and perhaps unexpected window for when these twelve cards would have been finalized and/or released.

Even with the Rabbit Maranville card remaining a pebble in my shoe, I am now drawn toward these conclusions about the 1934 Diamond Stars release.

  • The cards were released in two separate series of 12 cards each.
  • Cards 1-12 were likely released around Opening Day.
  • Cards 13-24 were likely released sometime in August.

RABBIT REDUX

But really, what about Maranville? I decided to check one more contemporary source just in case I could pull a rabbit out of my hat.

The 1933 edition of “Who’s Who in the Major Leagues” by Harold “Speed” Johnson has everything you would have ever wanted to know about the major leaguers who were active in the early 1930s, right down to (in some cases) home addresses! Of course on my end, the grab was birthdates.

All that stood between a nagging loose end and a completely tidy age analysis was an 1890 birthdate for Maranville. Might this book be the key?

Not the result I was hoping for, but hey…mistakes happen! I’ll leave it to you do decide whether National Chicle simply erred in Rabbit’s bio or whether I’ve erred in my attempt to understand the release. As always, let me know what you think in the comments.

All “sorts” of fun in ’61

Committee note: This piece was submitted by SABR member Jamie Selko.

Back when I first started collecting, I kept my collection rubberbanded in the proverbial shoebox. I even, oh wretched child that I was, fastened some few of them to my bike frame with clothespins so that when the spokes would hit ‘em the bike would “sound” like I was riding a motorcycle. Alas, now that I am an aged and wretched recluse, I realize that even eight flapping baseball cards, while indeed somewhat louder than a non-carded bike (though not anywhere near as loud as a bike armed with fresh playing cards, which kept were much stiffer and kept their integrity much longer) is far (to the eighth order of magnitude) from the real thing (and , if you are riding a Harley, at least two orders of magnitude farther).

    Anyways, like many readers, I was not content to let my cards linger in dark boxy solitude, oh no. I felt a strange compulsion to arrange them into more orderly sets than the seemingly haphazard way they appeared when I opened a nickel pack of these rectangular beauties, and arrange them I did. Or, rather, rearrange them. I mean, sure, you could be content with the staunchly traditional and conservative yet quotidian “numerical order”. Or, you could put them in a much more reasonable, cosmically systematic order based not on a mere, random number, but rather on more rational and compelling qualities, qualities with a more real-world justification.

Cards the author seemingly received in every other pack of the 1961 Topps third series

    So, back when my entire collection amounted to a little more than two hundred cards, I set out to make sense of my new microverse. First, of course, I stacked the cards in teams, the most natural of all rearrangements. Next, also of course, I reorganized them by position, the second most natural of assignments. Then, if I remember correctly, I arranged them by age, then by height, position by height, position by weight, then circled back to position by age.  And I would do this each time I got a new pack of cards. (Of course, the constant reshuffling of my cards meant that they drifted farther and farther away from the now Holy Grail-like “mint”, but I didn’t (and wouldn’t have, even if I knew what was coming) give two hoots about that. Rearranging the cards (and the very cards themselves) filled me with a strange sense of joy and wonder. The joy remained until cards stopped being issued in series (although by then I was a certified baseball nut) but I kept on collecting them, basically because I thought it was somewhat more than a wonder that a 2.5 x 3.5 rectangle could not only tell us a person’s life story in a nutshell, but it also had a photo of the person in question and cartoons to boot.  How cool was that?

Two cards the author NEVER saw in packs and one he landed at least six of. Worked out okay.

    My own life might have been becoming more and more filled with errata, miscues, faux pas, disappointments, false starts, dead ends, passionate but unrequited crushes, insults, injuries and worse, but the cards never let me down. The first crinkle when I opened a fresh pack, the quick punch of the somewhat vaguely sarcophagal yet redolent bouquet of that pink bubble- gumly slab, the piquant, almost stinging taste of the way-too-sweet yet pleasantly biting first  explosive release of the compound sugars on my tongue (unsullied as they were by the later evils of high fructose corn syrup and aspartame) followed by the almost as rapid disappearance of any flavor at all and then the minutes spent working a quickly congealing gob with a consistency somewhere between Silly Putty® and sinusitic mucilage until your jaws got tired . . .  Man, kids of today just don’t know what they’re missin’.