As a player postcard aficionado, it has always bothered me that some checklists have fallen into broad-based categories such as ranges of year or types (usually based on uniform, printing styles, etc.). And to be fair, most of these items were issued haphazardly, even by the teams themselves- poses were repeated, “sets” were sold that amounted to mongrels of past issues, and many of the cards lacked basic indicia.
Recently, a contributor to Trading Card Database (TCDB) started a list called “1950-80 JD McCarthy St. Louis Cardinals Postcards,” which I felt was much too broad, given the specific nature of most of the checklists that comprise the site. JD McCarthy, the Michigan-based prolific baseball postcard producer (as well some football, hockey, and horse racing) published over 2000 items during his career, of all teams, not just the Cardinals.
So that got my juices flowing.
Fortunately, I’m friends with Bob Thing of Maine, a legendary collector who’s always had a soft spot for team-issued postcards and photos. I visited Bob in June of 2020 with my scanner, and took photos of his entire collection, which is short only a handful of known cards. Perhaps more importantly, he showed me three checklists of McCarthy postcards which were done in the 1960s by another legend, Charles “Buck” Barker of St. Louis, of which I had not been previously aware. That, combined with the massive list done by Rich Suen of California (aided by the late Dan Even of Dubuque, IA) would form the foundation of my new project- associating years with these cards.
Barker’s lists were done in May of 1963, June of 1964, and December of 1966. While not perfect, they figured to give me some guidelines as to what was done when, at least from the early 1950s to 1966. Coupled with some baseball knowledge, other images from TCDB.com, my copy of Marc Okkonen’s Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, and some common sense, I figured I could at least come up with good guesstimates for most of what was out there.
After the cards were scanned, I started grouping cards by era and approximate year. Working on the premise that McCarthy probably didn’t make many special trips (especially outside of going to Tiger Stadium) for the sake of taking photos of one player, I began to see similarities in pose locations and photo exposures. Using players who only played for one season with a team helped me connect veterans to certain years.
The St. Louis Cardinals players were not big customers of Mac’s, likely because the team issued photocards regularly during this era. The version of the Suen Checklist that I’ve been using lists 42 cards, and Thing had 37 of them, minus a Ken Boyer, a Ray Sadecki, a Curt Simmons, and two variations of Dick Groat.
Seven players played only one season with the Cardinals, making them easy to date- Al Cicotte (1961), Gino Cimoli (1959), Vic Davalillo (1969), Leon Durham (1980), Minnie Minoso (1962), Jerry Morales (1978) but with two different cards, and Carl Taylor (1970).
I was intrigued by Hall of Famer Steve Carlton’s card, which looked to be taken at Wrigley Field. He’s wearing a pullover away jersey, and according to Okkonen’s book, the first year the Cards wore them was 1971, Lefty’s last year with the team. Lou Brock’s card, also taken at Wrigley, fit as a match in terms of pose location and uniform.
Nelson Briles looked to me as if it were taken at the same time as the Carl Taylor, so I attributed it to 1970, which turned out to be Briles’ last year in St. Louis.
Curt Flood had a long run with Cardinals, of course, so he might be difficult. Here’s where Barker’s lists came in handy. There is no mention of Flood’s card in any of them. Therefore, there’s a good chance that the card is from 1967-1969. I posted it as a 1967.
The photo of Bob Gibson is a pretty popular one. I’ve seen it on color 8x10s over the years, and I believe it’s one of the postcards that was reproduced plentifully in the 1980s when hobbyists got hold of McCarthy’s printing plates. Because Barker’s lists do not mention any Gibson cards and because he’s wearing a button up uniform, the (original) postcard can be connected with a 1967-70 time frame. I posted it, too, as a 1967, for lack of any other clues. Maybe someone can use his sideburns to further specify a date?
There are 13 cards which are from the late 1970s to 1980. For most of them, tossing a coin could just as easily determine the year from one to the next. Because Jim Kaat’s career in St. Louis started in 1980 and because it seems McCarthy’s work was diminishing by then, I assigned 1980 to the left-hander’s card.
As his career was winding down, Darold Knowles spent 1979 and 1980 with the Birds. He has two different cards, and I felt the one with his hands on his knees was a sibling of the Kaat. That meant the other pose was 1979, given the unlikely chance that he ordered more than one batch of postcards from Mac a year.
Acquired in the winter of 1975, Pete Falcone went on to pitch three seasons in St. Louis. However, judging from team-issued photos, it looks like he had a beard in the spring of 1976. Therefore, I assigned 1977 to this less-hirsute postcard.
Tom Herr got 10 at-bats with the club in 1979. Logic dictates that he probably didn’t have enough of a firm footing in the big leagues to orders postcards until the following year. I decided to piggyback two other cards with Herr, based on looks- Dane Iorg and Mark Littell. Could I be off a year on those two? Absolutely.
Catcher Terry Kennedy got into 10 games in 1978 as a September call-up and 33 games in 1979 as a spare part from June to September before the 1980 season, when he participated in 84 contests. Since he was traded following that campaign, I figured 1980 was the best fit for this postcard.
Tom Bruno was acquired on March 18, 1978 from Toronto and spent the next two seasons on the Cardinals staff before being released at the end of Spring Training, 1980. Two days after Bruno was released, the Redbirds parted ways with veteran OF-PH Roger Freed. Neither would ever play in the Majors again. Since it is also unlikely that, two weeks before the end of 1978 spring training, McCarthy would have been in St. Petersburg to shoot Bruno and that either would have produced cards after being given their walking papers, I’m attaching 1979 to both. Maybe Freed is off by a year, as he spent 1977-79 on the roster.
This is the part where the hand-banging and nit-picking begin. Here’s three-quarters of the Cardinals infield at the end of the 1970s- Keith Hernandez (first base), Mike Tyson (second base), and Garry Templeton (shortstop). Tyson was gone after 1979. I decided to categorize them as 1979, only because it seems other players with similar photos were taken that year.
Dick Groat joined the Cardinals in 1963 and played three seasons before being dealt to the Phillies. Buck Barker’s second list has Groat as the lone addition from St. Louis to his update. Over time, five versions of the card have been reported. Check out the placement of the JM logo in each of the cards to the left- white lettered logo to the left, white lettered log left and black lettered logo right on the same card, and black lettered right- each with cropping differences. For now, they are all classified as 1963s until someone can help differentiate by year.
With one year player Gino Cimoli as the guide, I grouped together under 1959 these three players based on poses, facsimile autographs, and service time with the club- Ken Boyer, Gene Green, and Ray Jablonski.
Similarly, I took the same approach with these three, which I considered from 1960- Ken Boyer, Ronnie Kline (whose first year with St. Louis was 1960), and Curt Simmons (who also debuted with that year.) Interestingly, the Simmons card is an ad back for a hotel he co-owned in Wildwood Crest, NJ with Philadelphia Eagles running back Pete Retzlaff.
No mention of utilityman Phil Gagliano in Barker’s lists, so that starts the guessing at 1967, and he was with them until 1970. I’ll call it 1967.
Which brings us to the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan “The Man” Musial. Surprising, no mention of it among Barker’s checklists. Interesting, considering the top player postcard collectors of the day were after these cards. In addition to Barker and Even, hobbyists Bob Solon and Elwood Scharf contributed to the lists. All four had strong Midwest connections.
St. Louis wore that uniform style from 1958-61. However, the cards I’ve catalogued as 1959 and 1960 were made from photos that were signed in felt marker of some kind, and this one is free of signature. Of course, Musial was a big enough star that McCarthy would make a special trip solely to take photos of him if requested.
If I operate on the premise that the card wasn’t published until 1967 because it doesn’t appear on Barker’s list, what would explain its existence? Was it done at behest of Musial post-retirement? The name in the white box might suggest mid-1960s in terms of publication.
For now, in deference to Barker and his compatriots, I’m listing it as a 1967 until I can be convinced otherwise.
I hope that seeing this article inspires anyone with a collection of McCarthy postcards to check out the backs for possible postmarks. I’m no expert in philately, but it seems that it became rare to have these cards used traditionally after the mid-1960s. Presumably, the player stuck the card in an envelope and sent it on its way. Those postmarks can be valuable when it comes to dating these pieces, especially when looking at older players.
Additionally, maybe there is someone who knows “the code,” if one does, in fact, exist. I am operating under the belief that there was no rhyme or reason to the type of back McCarthy used, the location and color of his JM logo, or the style of name plate used. But what do I know? I can use all the detective help I can get- including using uniform history when possible.
The one advantage we have nowadays is the scanner. So much time and effort was devoted by Barker and Suen to try to describe the cards succinctly using abbreviations and codes.
Now, we can see what we’re dealing with- it’s just time to date them.