The Conlon Project series concludes with Part 5. These stories have been based on Conlon cards selected by our writers. This week’s final installment includes stories on Conlon figures: Max Bishop by Joe Gruber; Babe Ruth by Anthony Salazar; and Rogers Hornsby by Thomas Saunders.
If missed you the incredible story of the origins of the Conlon Collection by Steve Gietschier, be sure to check out: https://sabrbaseballcards.blog/2017/11/27/the-conlon-collection-project-intro/
As we sunset this project, I am very grateful for my newfound appreciation for the players of this era, and for the brilliant photographic work of Charles M. Conlon. Baseball history is fortunate enough to have such a visionary. I would also like to thank our writers for participating in this special project:
And thank you for your comments and encouragement! Enjoy Part 5!
PLAYER: Max Bishop
CARD #: 183
AUTHOR: Joe Gruber
I had seen these cards before when they first were issued and may even have a few packs somewhere in my vast collection. They appeal to me because I have always liked learning about the history of baseball. I chose this particular card because I am a Red Sox fan and didn’t want a well-known player to write about.
Black and white photos remind me of my grandparents and that era. As I look at Max I feel like I could be looking at someone from the old neighborhood sitting on the corner talking, smoking and passing the time. My memory of men who grew up in that era is they seemed to smile about like Max is “smiling” in this picture. Even though the picture is black and white I can see the detail to the uniform and hat (less so) and would love to have a set just like them. The piping around the collar and down the front is really cool to me. It also reminds me of my first baseball uniform as an 8-year-old in 1974. I can still feel and smell that raggedy old uniform complete with real stirrup socks.
The final observation I have is the fact that Max had a nickname “Camera Eye”. It seems to have come from the fact that he had more walks than hits in 5 of 12 seasons he played. There are some contemporary players with good nicknames, but the vintage ones seem better and back then, that everyone had one. Maybe they sounded better or filled time while doing play-by-play on the radio.
PLAYER: Babe Ruth
CARD #: 145
AUTHOR: Anthony Salazar
Little things tend to bug me to no end. It’s not that I’m the obsessive type, but I have a hard time getting past incongruities. The Babe Ruth card (#145) is one of them. I don’t mean to rag on the Babe – I’m just as much of a fan as the next guy – but I’ve got major issues with this particular card that commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Red Sox 1916 World Series victory.
The #145 card depicts the Babe as a 21-year-old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, though the photo has him taking a pre-game swing at home plate. If he’s a pitcher, where’s my photo of a guy on the mound? If you say he’s a pitcher, give the guy a ball and put him 60 feet 6 inches from a batter. The Babe had a great year as a pitcher in 1916, going 23-12 with a league-leading ERA of 1.75 with 170 strikeouts. This, compared to his performance as a batter, where his average was .272 with 37 hits and 3 home runs over 67 games.
In my efforts to locate a Conlon photo of Ruth as a pitcher, I came up empty. Searching through the books, “Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon” and “The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs,” I did discover, however, that the Ruth photo used for the #145 card was not actually shot in 1916, but in 1918! For the record, he went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA and 40 strikeouts that year. Obviously not as impressive as two seasons prior.
I was rather disappointed with this discovery, which led me to believe that the card was apparently created to fit a specific narrative, rather than paint an accurate picture of the time and place. Little things tend to bug me to no end.
Though, as photo composition goes, it’s a striking piece especially when shown next to Conlon’s 1922 photo of the Babe in almost exactly the same swing in “Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon.” The card seems to depict a picture of what we might expect from the future Babe Ruth.
PLAYER: Rogers Hornsby
CARD #: 1
AUTHOR: Thomas Saunders
The look of a stoic, heroic, determined Texan…that’s the first thing I see when I look at the first card in the Conlon Collections series…card number one…Rogers Hornsby holding his bat in the Cubs dugout circa 1929. The look on his face stands out to me; his eyes glaring yet half squinted, like he is looking into the west Texas sun of his birth; his mouth with a half smirk as if he has just spied a tell in a pitcher’s delivery that he is about to exploit with a line drive back through the pitcher’s box; his hands, bare and griping his bat in anticipation, tight but not too tight as his pink finger gently rests an inch above the knob.
I grew up just 30 miles from Winters, Texas the place of Hornsby’s birth. I grew up loving baseball and, as a good Texian would, the state of my birth and its heroes and while Chicago or St. Louis might lay claim to Hornsby as theirs, living so close to his birth place I laid claim to him for Texas.
I played summer ball against teams from Winters, who’s baseball park bared Hornsby’s name. I remember asking my grandmother once, before the age of the Internet, to see if we could try locate the great Hornsby’s grave in Winters as the native son MUST have been buried there and I wanted to pay my respects. She obliged, and I fondly remember searching in vain two cemeteries looking for this legend’s final resting place so I could pay my respects, but to no avail.
The Conlon Collection always reminds me of my childhood and series one, card number one started that set and in many ways started me on the path of reading and appreciating baseball history. The card was later made into a special issued color card, one of a series issued every year which I strove to collect. Card #20 in the color card set was the same card #1 of Rogers Hornsby. Color card #21 was of Shoeless Joe Jackson who I had grown to love through the movies “Eight Men Out” and “Field of Dreams.” As a kid I thought he was wronged and as his card suggested why shouldn’t he be in the Hall of Fame.
I was 10 years old when I first discovered the Sporting News’ Conlon Collection, and I collected every set and still store them in protective three ring binders. I still strive for Jackson’s reinstatement, and I remember fondly the fruitless search with my grandmother, who died just a few years later, for Rogers Hornsby’s grave in Winters, Texas…and I still claim Hornsby as a great Texas athlete.
…and interesting aside is this…while visiting my home for the holidays back in Blackwell, Texas I found an envelope the Mega Card company. In 1995 the Mega Card factory had a special mail away where if you collected a specific number of proofs of purchases and mailed them in they would send you some rare color cards. I collected them and mailed them in, and they mailed me my limited edition cards. However, they had misspelled my name, instead of Leman Saunders they had my name down as Lee Ann Saunders…the name of my future wife…Lee Ann and I have been married for over three years now.