Author’s note: This is the fifth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic brands. This installment takes a closer look at player selection.
One of the topics that fascinates me as a collector is how a set’s checklist comes to be. In particular, how are the players/subjects chosen, and how is their numbering/ordering within the set determined?
When I first started collecting in the late 1970s, it either was the case or simply appeared that way to an 8-year-old that pretty much all players were selected and that order was random, other than top players occupying cards 1, 50, 100, etc. Exceptions came in 1981 when Fleer arrived on the scene and ordered cards by team (and later alphabetically within team) and Donruss reintroduced team clumps not altogether different from the old days of 1951 Bowman and 1940 Play Ball.
For a set like 1933 Goudey, we already know the set did not include all the players. Just doing some quick math, 240 cards for 16 Major League teams would mean an average of 15 cards per team. Because the set also includes minor leaguers and several repeated players, the true average per MLB team is more like 13-14.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the size of the set is therefore just about perfect for featuring the starting lineup, pitching rotation, and top 1-2 subs/relievers per team. The question you might be asking, therefore, is whether that’s how Goudey approached the set.
Rather than just show the final tally for the set, I’ll break it down chronologically as well, according to the set’s various releases.
Through a combination of research and guesswork, I believe the set’s first 96 cards were prepared and finalized together prior to the start of the 1933 season. Overall, they don’t reflect an attempt to balance cards by team, at least in any exact way (i.e., six cards per team), but we also see there was no effort (probably for good reason!) to withhold any teams from the sets earliest releases.
I won’t go through this exercise every time, but just to give an idea what the “+” column is about, here are the extra players at each position among the set’s first four sheets worth of cards.
Chicago White Sox
Two first basemen are included, Red Kress and Lew Fonseca. Kress played a variety of positions for the White Sox in 1932, primarily outfield and shortstop. However, he took over as the Sox starting first baseman in 1933.
Fonseca, meanwhile, was at the tail end of his career but still saw limited action as a pinch-hitter and occasional backup first baseman. Based on the limited role Fonseca had already adopted in 1932, his card’s inclusion may have been more due to his role as Sox manager than erstwhile batting champion (1929).
St. Louis Browns
Two catchers are included, Benny Bengough and Muddy Ruel, though neither handled the bulk of the catching duties for the Browns in 1933. Bengough, known more for leading off the set with card #1, saw only limited action in 1932 and was off the team by 1933. Ruel, meanwhile, signed with the Browns in December 1932 but went on to serve as backstop for only 29 games in 1933.
In truth, even a set much larger than 240 cards would have been just fine without either of these players, at least for 1933, so the inclusion of both catchers begs the question of whether the set’s composition was driven at least partly by whatever photos Goudey happened to have around.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards had two second basemen, neither of whom needs any introduction, among the set’s earliest 96 cards. Frisch had been the club’s starting second baseman since 1927 and would ultimately take over as manager mid-season.
The Rajah was still an able hitter but hadn’t played a full season since 1929. When he rejoined the Cards for a second stint in 1933 he saw only limited action before departing midseason to take over the reins of the crosstown Browns, at which time Goudey saw fit to issue him a brand new trading card.
In addition to the duplication at second base, the Cardinals also had two catchers among the set’s first 96 cards.
Jimmie Wilson was the team’s primary backstop and would participate in the 1933 inaugural All-Star Game. O’Farrell, lauded on the card’s reverse more for past roles than future promise, was an able backup, seeing action behind the plate in 50 games in 1933.
None of the Above
Though I don’t imagine any of you counted up my tallies in the table, had you done it you would have found four cards unaccounted for.
Eddie Collins cracks the set as a Red Sox executive, his card identifying him as the team’s vice president and business manager. On one hand his inclusion in the set is unusual and unnecessary. On the other hand, he’s Eddie Collins.
Lafayette “Fresco” Thompson had a cup of coffee with Brooklyn in 1932 but no game action with the Bums in 1933. That said, he was with the Dodgers in Spring Training and (I believe) spent on month riding the bench with the big club before ultimately being sold off. I perhaps could have included him in my tally as a Brooklyn second baseman, though I think you’ll see soon the “big picture” of the set will hardly swing on Fresco.
Andy Cohen makes the Goudey set as a New York Giant, but in truth he had been out of the big leagues since 1929. His card back even notes that “he is playing with the Minneapolis Club in the American Association this year.” From what I can tell (paywall) Cohen had joined the Minneapolis Millers in June 1932 and was not at all expected to return to the Giants for 1933, though he was still making headlines in New York in 1933.
I lump Cohen’s inclusion in the set in with my “pictures Goudey had around” theory, though one might wonder if Goudey was looking to appeal to Jewish gum chewers the same way Baseball magnates were looking to appeal to Jewish fans. Then again, Hank Greenberg, who would enjoy a fine rookie campaign in Detroit, was nowhere to be found in packs.
Even then, why include Cohen as a Giant rather than a Minneapolis Miller, as was done with International League teammate Jess Petty? (We’ll come back to this in our study of Sheet 5.)
The final player excluded from by tally was Cliff Heathcote, whose MLB career ended in 1932.
Heathcote had been a fixture in Big League clubhouses since 1918, mainly with the Cards and Cubs. As his card back notes, “he doesn’t break down any fences with his wallops, but he’s a pretty dependable fellow to have on a ball club.” We might therefore attribute his inclusion in the set as a tribute to his dependability, or we might adopt one of two other theories. Either he was expected to continue with the Phils in 1933, or his picture just happened to be around. Take your pick!
If you read the first article in this series, you may recall this sheet had two unusual properties. One was that its 24 card numbers filled the 24 gaps generated by Sheets 1-3. The other was that it included 9 minor leaguers.
The numbering of the minor leaguers (57, 68, 70, 85-90), particularly that last run of six straight, suggests these weren’t simply unexpectedly demoted major leaguers whose team names were updated at the eleventh hour. Rather, at least some if not all of these players were included intentionally as minor leaguers, perhaps to appeal to a broader geography than a pure “Big League Chewing Gum” release would have or perhaps for a reason I’ll offer in my review of Sheet 7.
At any rate, the large number of non-MLBers means our original table only adds 15 new tallies, highlighted in yellow below.
As before, the additions don’t reflect any intentional evening out of the set’s composition. However, they do fill gaps in each team’s lineup and starting rotation very nicely. This is particularly true for the Yankees where Babe Ruth joins the outfield.
You may also recall from the first article in this series that the set’s first duplicate players were introduced in Sheet 6, including two new Babe Ruth cards. While an outfield of Ruth-Ruth-Ruth is hard to pass up, my tallying for this sheet and subsequent ones will omit duplicated subjects unless due to team change. (For example, Lefty O’Doul will count as an outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.) As such, only 16 new tallies are added to the table.
Here the new additions fill gaps in the team lineups much less efficiently than with Sheet 5. Nonetheless, some “rosters” are starting to fill out nicely, such as the Yankees who are now only a shortstop away from a starting lineup and full pitching rotation.
For team collectors looking to fill out their lineups, Sheet 7 was anything but good news. Not only did this sheet include Goudey’s second tranche of minor leaguers–six this time, at 174-177, 180, and 182–but also five repeats (Ruth, Cronin, Manush, Walberg, Hornsby) and four ostensible major leaguers no longer playing big league ball. Add to that a non-optimal filling of holes, and the result is that only 5 of the sheet’s 24 cards made a dent in roster completion.
The four “major leaguers” who were no longer major leaguers deserve special mention.
First up is Fred Leach, gone from the league following the 1932 season but in the Goudey set as a Boston Brave. The second paragraph of Leach’s bio is notable: “Leach is not now in organized baseball, as he retired after playing with Boston in 1932.” A fair question, then, is why put him in the set? More on this later.
Next up is Johnny Schulte, who also hung up his spikes following spot duty in 1932. Interestingly, he is in the set as its lone coach! Personally I’m a huge fan of coach cards, but I must admit were I to choose even ten coaches for the set, Schulte would not have cracked my “college of coaches.”
Third up is Charlie Jamieson, whose playing career similarly ended in 1932. Not even a coach (!), though his bio does position him as something of a pinch-hitting legend. Oh, and I do love the artwork on this card.
The final mystery guest on Sheet 7 is Roscoe (Watty) Holm, also out of the big leagues after the 1932 season but in the Goudey set as a Cardinal.
Similar to Leach, the bio here lets us know that Holm “is not playing professional ball this year.”
The idea that the Goudey set would include retired players is not surprising by itself. What is interesting is the clustering of these players. My sense of this sheet (and to an extent Sheet 5 with its minor leaguers) is that Goudey ran out of “A-listers” and was essentially stuffing its set with filler material: duplicate players, former players, and minor leaguers.
“That’s ridiculous!” you say, knowing that Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, and other top stars are still unaccounted for in the set. Fair point. In my imagination (hardly a rigorous place) I imagine Goudey having built the first 70% of their set from 1-2 collections of photographs that had most but not all of the players one would ideally want to include in a set of 240.
Sheets 8 and 9
Perhaps reinforcing my speculation above, the artwork and design take an abrupt turn in the set’s next two sheets.
Along with this new look, 48 brand new major leaguers are added to the set. No repeats, no retirees, no minor leaguers…just genuine big league ballplayers.
The final sheet in the set, known as the World Series sheet, consisted solely of New York Giants and Washington Senators, hence would be of little use to most team collectors still hoping to round out their rosters, least of all Tigers fans still waiting on a single outfielder!
Any suspense, therefore, was limited to questions like would the Giants finally secure a shortstop or Washington a first baseman? Well, first the bad news. Of the 24 players featured, 18 are repeats! And now the good news, at least for fans of the pennant winners…the new additions did a decent job filling gaps.
There’s even more good news for Giants fans. Though first-string shortstop Blondy Ryan never did crack the set, his card was right around the corner in the 1934 release. What’s more, Travis Jackson, somewhat arbitrarily in my tally as the club’s backup third baseman behind Johnny Vergez, is of course able to slide over to short and complete the lineup card.
I’m not totally sure I have a conclusion here, other than saying, “Yep, this definitely counts as overanalysis.” Beyond that, I’ll simply note what may have been evident from my very first tally chart. Despite the set size being perfectly suited to a near-perfect representation of each team’s starting lineup, pitching rotation, and top subs, the set’s actual composition suggests neither an effort to fill out rosters nor effort to represent the 16 MLB teams equally.
What’s more, even where a team appears complete in my tally, it is often the case that tallies correspond to backup players rather than starters. The catcher slot for the St. Louis Browns is a good example, recalling that Benny Bengough and Muddy Ruel make the set while starter Merv Shea is nowhere to be found.
Overall then, what we have is a set that’s hardly optimal in terms of player selection but clearly provides better coverage of prominent players than would “240 random cards.” For my part, I tend to reconcile the intentional but imperfect effort as the set’s creators doing their best to cover the bases while relying on whatever initial photographs were at their disposal. My “cardboard crosswalk” from 2019 may provide additional support.
Fortunately for the team collectors of yesteryear, Goudey’s 1934 sequel did a great job filling the holes left by the 1933 set. Taking Detroit as an example, they entered 1933 lacking a catcher…
A first baseman…
And three outfielders.
I said THREE outfielders! Ah, but I forgot how collectors used to do things back in the day. No need for Goudey to waste a slot on the checklist when kids could make that third outfielder card on their own!
Tune in next time for the sixth installment in the series, which I truly believe will be one for the ages!