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.

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.

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