A closer look at the 1936 Diamond Stars release

In my previous post I provided not only an overview of the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set but a deep dive into the cards that came out in 1935. Unless you are already an expert in Diamond Stars I recommend that you read that article or at least its introduction before jumping into this one.

My goal in this second article is to examine the 1936 Diamond Stars release, which consisted of cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108. Here is the checklist depicted graphically.

Particularly if you already know the very tidy subsets of cards that comprised the 1934 and 1935 releases, this listing of cards will appear quite haphazard at first glance. 73-108, that makes sense, but what’s with the random looking run of cards at the beginning?

That’s a question I’m very interested in attacking here, but before I do I should toss in a curveball. Going back to the run of cards 73-108, I’d like to split it into three groups, with the third one proving the most mysterious.

  • Cards 73-84: Repeated cards from 1935 release
  • Cards 85-96: Brand new cards for 1936
  • Cards 97-108: Renumbering of earlier cards in the set

Bill Dickey’s card #103 in 1936 is a good example of this third category as a nearly identical card numbered 11 was part of the 1934 and 1935 releases.

Now that you know the final twelve cards are renumbered repeats of earlier cards, you probably want to know which earlier cards. Here you go! The blue cells in the first four rows are the original versions of the twelve cards in the final row.

We now have a second way, though more imprecise than we’d like, to describe the 1936 release.

  • Largely a repeat of cards 1-36, though twelve are renumbered 97-108
  • Total repeat of cards 73-84
  • Twelve brand new cards, 85-96

If you’re like me that first bullet bothers you. What’s with card 46? And why not just repeat all of 1-36, or since 24 cards were selected, 1-24?

I’ll start with a partial answer to the second question. Card #7 is an example of one that is not recycled for 1936. It belongs to Lew Fonseca.

For more detail on Fonseca’s 1934 and 1935 cards, see my previous article. At present, suffice it to say that Fonseca’s final game as a player was way back in 1933 and even his managing stint only lasted until May 8, 1934. Therefore, a card in 1936 would be an odd thing indeed.

I suppose my same logic would dictate that a Fonseca card in 1935, which definitely did happen, was nearly as odd. However, that Fonseca card was fait accompli once the plan was made to recycle the entire 1934 issue in 1935.

But hey, if it’s 1936 and the plan is to not re-release the whole stack, Fonseca’s is an absolutely perfect candidate to exclude. So do all the “blanks” from that first run of 36 cards have a similar story? Unfortunately, the very first omission, card #1, provides an answer in the negative. Shazbot!

If there’s a story to the skipped cards in the early part of the checklist, it looks like it will be a complicated one. I’ll return to the matter at the very end of this article, but for now let’s look at the other oddity in the early part of the checklist.

Recall that card #46 was recycled (as card #106) seemingly out of the blue. Though you might anticipate the card to be a “must have” superstar, it actually belongs to Red Lucas. Hmm, that’s random.

Or is it?

Something you may remember from my previous article is that the Red Lucas card from 1935 had an uncorrected error. Despite being a member of the Pirates since the start of the 1934 season, the Lucas bio still had him with Cincinnati.

A-ha! Then the new card of Red was to correct the error? That makes sense! But…

The part of me that likes to believe there is order in the baseball card universe might imagine that Lucas was included in 1936 to correct the error, only someone goofed and forgot to do it. Of course, readers who prefer to abide by Occam’s Razor and other such advances in post-Medieval thought are welcome to regard the selection of Lucas as arbitrary.

We’ll come back to all of this soon enough, but for now let’s abandon these detours in favor of the main questions I took on for the 1935 cards and hope to repeat for 1936.

  • Were all the cards released at the same time?
  • Roughly when during the year were the various cards released?

As before, I’ll look at four categories of clues.

  1. Team updates
  2. Structure of uncut sheets
  3. Biographical clues
  4. Population reports

TEAM UPDATES

Al Simmons (#2) went from the White Sox to the Tigers on December 10, 1935, so his Diamond Stars cards from 1934 and 1935 showed him with Chicago naturally enough. For the 1936 release National Chicle took the trouble of removing “SOX” from Al’s jersey. (If you’re interested I have a separate article on all such uniform variants across the set. There are five or six in all, depending how you count.)

This jersey update tells us the Simmons card was finalized after December 10, not exactly big news but still something tangible that supports what we might have otherwise merely assumed.

This next player, based on the date involved, becomes much more exciting. The St. Louis Browns selected Roy Mahaffey (#10) after he was waived by the Philadelphia Athletics on January 29, 1936. The removal of the “A” logo from Mahaffey’s jersey on his 1936 card tells us the card was finalized after January 29.

We looked at Dixie Walker’s card #12 in my 1935 article, but we can now look at it again based on his May 1, 1936 move from the Yankees to the White Sox. His 1936 card (far right) never identifies a team. However, the references to his daunting destiny of having to replace Babe Ruth on the Yankees have been removed.

Whether the text was removed because the Yankees waived him or simply because George Selkirk emerged as Ruth’s true replacement in 1935 is something we can’t say for sure, but I find the latter to be more likely. Had the card’s production followed the team change, I’d expect some reference to it on the card (i.e., “former Yankee” or “new Chicago outfielder”).

Heinie Manush (#30) left the Senators for the Red Sox on December 17, 1935. Again National Chicle responded with a jersey update, omitting the “W” from Heinie’s sleeve.

Kiki Cuyler (#31) changed teams midway through the 1935 season (waived by Cubs on July 3, signed by Reds on July 5), which would normally be outside the window of interest for the 1936 release. I’ll include his card here nonetheless since his 1936 version captured the team update. (I’ll also speculate later that a possible reason for his inclusion in the 1936 series was to make this update.)

Irving Burns (#75) went from the Browns to the Tigers on April 30, 1936. However, his (very cool!) 1936 card—like his 1935 card—portrayed him as a Brown. (See cap logo and first sentence of bio.) We can infer, therefore, that his 1936 card was likely finalized before April 30.

John Babich (#82) went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Bees on February 6, 1936, and we see the change reflected in his uniform. We can also conclude that his card was finalized after February 6.

Ethan Allen (#92) went from the Phillies to the Cubs on May 21, 1936. However, his 1936 Diamond Stars card portrays him with Philadelphia. (See cap logo and first line of bio.) We can infer, therefore, that his 1936 card was likely finalized before May 21.

Al Lopez (#97, originally #28) went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Bees on December 12, 1935. As no logos or team names appeared on his Dodger card, only his card back was updated to reflect the change (see last sentence of bio, “Al Lopez, of the Bees…”).

This completes our study of team changes. Since there were so many players involved, I’ll do a quick summary before moving on.

Repeated cards from early part of checklist

  • Simmons (#2) – Finalized after December 10
  • Mahaffey #10) – Finalized after January 29
  • Dixie Walker (#12) – No conclusion
  • Heinie Manush (#30) – Finalized after December 17

Repeated cards from end of 1935 release

  • Irving Burns (#75) – Finalized before April 30
  • John Babich (#82) – Finalized after February 6

Brand new cards for 1936

  • Ethan Allen (#92) – Finalized before May 21

Renumbered cards from earlier releases

  • Al Lopez (#97) – Finalized after December 12

Ultimately, this feels like a case where a lot of information doesn’t (yet) add up to anything. In particular, the data above are perfectly consistent with the entire 1936 release occurring as one big clump of 48 cards around Opening Day but equally consistent with a staggered release of some kind. Finally, even for a staggered release, we have no clues to suggest the order of the groupings.

Still, so we don’t walk away feeling totally empty-handed, I’ll update my graphical depiction of the checklist, using bold red to indicate cards where a significant update was made, either a team change or the revamped Walker bio. What emerges, if only barely, is a possible logic to the selection of the early repeats on the checklist.

On the other hand, there were six players in the 1935 set whose later team changes would have made them excellent candidates for 1936. However, none cracked the set.

UNCUT SHEETS

I am aware of one uncut sheet from the 1936 release. It includes cards 85-96, corresponding to the set’s new players.

My main takeaway from the sheet, as was the case in 1935, was that cards were produced in groups of twelve.

CLUES IN BIOS

Beyond what already came up under “Team Updates” I went 0 for 19 in hunting for clues in the set’s first 19 bios. This next card takes me to 0 for 20 but it’s worthy of sharing nonetheless. You may recall the Chiozza card from my 1935 article where I noted his bio incorrectly billed the second year player as “new to the major leagues this year.”

Well, here he is in 1936 with that very same write-up. Louis Chiozza, the eternal rookie! Perhaps like Red Lucas his card was included specifically so it could be corrected…only it wasn’t. In other news, if I’m looking at the picture right, it looks like the batter has managed a rare 9-3 ground out.

Worth mention is card 87, Steve O’Neill. As he had not played since 1928, he was in the set purely as Cleveland’s manager. There were clearly more accomplished managers who could have been included in his place, so O’Neill’s is not a card I would have expected to fill one of only 12 new slots in the set. Then again, he did replace Walter Johnson, as the bio notes, and his card provided a means for documenting this within the set. (Note that Bucky Harris is another long retired player included in this portion of the set as a manager.)

There is also a small bread crumb pertaining to timing at the very end of his bio, essentially a prediction for the coming season. (Spoiler alert: The Guardians finished in fifth place, 22.5 games behind the Yankees.) More than likely such text signals a bio that was written either before the season started or before it was much underway.

The next card in the set, George Selkirk (#88), again offers no help with our timing questions but does provide a nice bookend for the Dixie Walker card back trilogy.

The Joe Stripp (#89) bio references a 1932 trade that included Tony Cuccinello, “now with the Braves.” As Cuccinello was traded to the Braves on December 12, 1935, we know Stripp’s card was finalized after that date.

As with the O’Neill card, the card of Ray Hayworth (#90) offers a small clue as to timing. Notably the last sentence tells us “the Tigers are favored to repeat in the 1936 pennant race.”

Though the team rebounded to a respectable second place finish, the Tigers started the year poorly and were as low as sixth place 60 games into the season. This suggests to me that the bio was written before the season or very near the beginning rather than any sizable number of games into it.

We’ve already looked at the Al Lopez card, but I’ll now call attention to a detail not previously discussed.

The second to last sentence in the bio refers collectors to a different card in the set, card 9, to learn more about catching. As you might imagine, young collectors in 1936 would have been justifiably frustrated if there were no way to obtain that card from packs. Thankfully, card 9 (Mickey Cochrane) was in packs, as one of the “random” repeats from the early part of the checklist.

There is one last card I’ll bring up in this section, and it’s one that could easily be the subject of its own article.

A funny thing happened to Wally Berger between card 25 (1935) and card 108 (1936). The “BRAVES” lettering on his jersey disappeared. Had Berger changed teams before or during the 1936 season this would make sense. However, Berger was with Boston all the way through June 15, 1937.

Ah, but here’s what did change. On January 31 a new name for the team was announced and the Braves became the Bees. Though an opportunity was missed to update the team name in Berger’s bio, I believe the jersey redo was a result of the team’s decision to jettison the Braves nickname.

Once again, a lot of hunting landed very little in the way of clues, but we can now update our previous summary with at least a modicum of new information, shown in italics.

Repeated cards from early part of checklist

  • Simmons (#2) – Finalized after December 10
  • Mahaffey #10) – Finalized after January 29
  • Dixie Walker (#12) – No conclusion
  • Heinie Manush (#30) – Finalized after December 17

Repeated cards from end of 1935 release

  • Irving Burns (#75) – Finalized before April 30
  • John Babich (#82) – Finalized after February 6

Brand new cards for 1936

  • Steve O’Neill (#87) – Probably finalized before season
  • Joe Stripp (#89) – Finalized after December 12
  • Ethan Allen (#92) – Finalized before May 21
  • Ray Hayworth (#90) – Probably finalized before season

Renumbered cards from earlier releases

  • Al Lopez (#97) – Finalized after December 12
  • Wally Berger (#108) – Finalized after January 31

As before, we do not yet have enough information to draw any interesting conclusions. Thus far nothing precludes a single, early season 48-card release, nor does anything suggest it.

PSA POPULATION REPORT

Happily, the PSA population report seems to tell us a lot.

Before interpreting the rest of the data, we’ll focus on the very tiny bar for card 12 (Dixie Walker) so it doesn’t bias our broader read of the data. For whatever reason, Walker’s 1936 card didn’t report his 1935 stats at the bottom, as would have been typical for other 1936 cards. As a result, PSA has misidentified many of Walker’s 1936 cards as 1935, even though the blue ink and other biographical clues clearly distinguish the card as 1936.

Ignoring the anomalous Walker bar, along with the “spikes” corresponding to more frequently graded star players, we see at least three groupings of cards evident in the graph.

  • Cards 2-84 (i.e., the “random repeats” and the 12 repeats from the end of 1935)
  • Cards 85-96 (i.e., the brand new cards in the 1936 set)
  • Cards 97-108 (i.e., the renumbered repeats from 1935)

I furthermore believe there is enough differentiation in that first grouping to arrive at four distinct groupings.

Though none of our earlier analysis even hinted at the nature of the 1936 release, I think this graph provides everything we need to conclude the 1936 Diamond Stars set was issued as four separate series. I think there is more we can say as well. What follows is an admittedly speculative narrative but one that seems to make sense empirically and logically.

The very low populations of cards 73-84 can suggest a series that was available only briefly. Recalling that the best way to ensure cards by Opening Day is to go with cards you already have, I suspect this series kicked off the 1936 release right around Opening Day, buying National Chicle a bit of time to prepare cards 85-96, which featured all new players for 1936. The gap between the two series wouldn’t have been long at all, with 85-96 likely hitting shelves by early May.

At some point the brand new cards ran their course, and one would normally assume another all new series would take its place. Clearly there were still numerous players available, so I have to assume there were business decisions that dictated otherwise.

Rather than throw in the towel entirely, National Chicle opted for the more economical path of simply recycling their cards from the early part of the 1935 release. These cards hadn’t been in packs for a while and they even featured some important team and bio updates. Unfortunately, as the population report suggests, collectors more or less yawned at the reissues.

Not ready to give up just yet but also unwilling or unable to pay the higher price of legitimately new cards, this is where National Chicle resorted to some trickery. Renumbering their next series as 97-108 seems to have provided a decent bump to sales but not enough of one to continue the strategy. After all, even recycled cards carry printing and distribution costs, not to mention opportunity costs. Whether there was more bang for the buck elsewhere or simply no more bucks to bang, the Diamond Stars set that was originally to have included 240 players came to an end after 96 players and 108 cards.

I suspect other storylines are possible, but this is the one that makes the most sense to me. It’s also one that allows me to return to the original question of why the 1936 repeats at the top of the checklist appear so haphazard.

Viewing the set as completed according to plan, the skips and randomness beg explanation. However, if we view the set as something abandoned while still in progress, then the skips make sense. The question is no longer why Lefty Grove was omitted. We might simply infer that his card was destined for a later grouping. From the looks of things, perhaps all of 1-36, 1-48, or even 1-72 was destined for reissue.

As for why a non-consecutive approach prevailed, this is something we also saw with the 1933 Goudey set. Missing cards 1, 3, 6, and 7, for example, keep their unwitting customers buying packs in desperate search for cards they have no idea aren’t there. Provided all the blanks are eventually filled in, no harm done, and I do think this was the original plan. So yes to Lefty Grove, and what the heck…yes to Lew Fonseca also!

Of course, none of this was to be, thereby ending one of my favorite sets of all time not with a proverbial bang but a whimper, notwithstanding the actual banging on the boardroom door by a defiant creative director.

“But guys…guys! We’ve got some new cards ready!”

“Too late, pal. And what’s with all the crazy zig zags anyway?”

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

11 thoughts on “A closer look at the 1936 Diamond Stars release”

  1. It’d be interesting to cross-talk this set with 1934-36 Batter Up in terms of players issued by year to see what it tells us about who National Chicle signed to contracts to appear on cards. So much stuff happened in 1933-34 that a new company like Chicle might’ve found it chaotic to find their footing.

    1. Frenzy of first All-Star Game in 1933 (nee Game of the Century)
    2. Wheaties starts featuring sports champions on cereal boxes with Lou Gehrig in 1934
    3. Agent Christy Walsh signed what appeared to be exclusive gum card contracts with Goudey for the Babe (1933) and Gehrig (1934)
    4. Austen Lake might’ve retained editorial input on Diamond Stars on-card text, complicating their ability to update specific cards (“Sorry, Mr. Lake’s on vacation, Red Lucas will have to wait”)

    With Chicle approaching bankruptcy by late 1936, it makes sense they needed to limit distribution to lower-cost areas. At least some Diamond Stars inventory transferred to Goudey at their post-bankruptcy sale in 1937 and a good portion of #97-108 might’ve been discarded at that point.

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    1. Yes, the overall environment around this time was fascinating. Were I to look at 1934-36 Diamond Stars as is, I would definitely infer that the omission of certain key players was contractual (and I do believe this to be true for Ruth/Gehrig). At the same time it’s a set that gave us only 96 of the promised 240 players, meaning playerd like Dizzy Dean and Chuck Klein may have been planned but never issued. (Of course as I type this it occurs to me that Klein–like Ruth/Gehrig–was a Christy Walsh client.)

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