2b Or Not 2b? When American Caramel Charted a New Course for the Flying Dutchman

In my May 2020 article on Jimmie Foxx’s 1935 Diamond Stars card (as well as Jason Schwartz’s exacting look at that set overall), my comparison of Foxx’s versatility to that of Honus Wagner proves ironic in light of the fact that National Chicle’s presumed update of Foxx’s position change on his card was a tactic “scooped” by American Caramel a full twenty years earlier (albeit without the spectacle of Foxx portrayed at his new position): Wagner’s E106 card, issued in 1915 (both the “batting” and “throwing” versions), denotes the Flying Dutchman as a second baseman, making the card something of a novelty for the aged Pirate. Long baseball’s most celebrated shortstop, Wagner had not put in an inning at second base since 1910, so there would be no reason for the “2b” on the front of his card—except that Honus began the 1915 season as Pittsburgh’s second sacker and played his first dozen games in the field there.

The loss of Mike Mowrey to Pittsburgh’s Federal League Rebels before the 1915 season left manager Fred Clarke in a pinch for a third baseman. (Mowrey had, in fact, been reported in the January 15, 1914, edition of The Sporting News to have decided to jump to the Baltimore Terrapins for that season—a decision on which he didn’t follow through, as Mowrey opened the season as a Pirate and played 79 games through August.) But with Mowrey now gone for real and, according to the March 4, 1915, Sporting News, the entire starting nine outside of the battery in flux, Clarke tinkered with all sorts of infield combinations during spring training, ultimately reshuffling his basemen. Despite the fact that the 41-year-old Wagner had ranked among the National League’s best-fielding shortstops in 1914, a late-season lag indicated that a shift to a less taxing position would behoove him. Second baseman Jim Viox replaced the departed Mowrey at the hot corner, and rookie Wally Gerber took Honus’s post at shortstop. But it soon became apparent that Gerber couldn’t handle major league pitching and Clarke restored Wagner and Viox to their normal positions on May 2, having already inserted rookie Doug Baird at third base several games earlier.

Unlike reports that Jimmie Foxx had re-signed with Philadelphia to become the A’s catcher for the 1935 season—very likely giving National Chicle a substantial heads-up on his switch to backstop—the situation for the Pirates in 1915 was one of uncertainty and conjecture. As late as March 25, as The Sporting News reported, Fred Clarke did not know—or would not state—where Honus would start the season. (It is difficult to determine with any certainty whether or when The Sporting News reported that Wagner would be moving to second base; the Sporting News archive does not contain any regular-season articles mentioning “Wagner” until July, although that probably indicates missing issues rather than an extremely unlikely 4-month silence on Honus.)

Coming to something of a rescue, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asserted on April 9 that Wagner was loaded and locked as Pittsburgh’s second baseman (also calling his replacement, Wally Gerber, “another Wagner in the short field, as far as fielding goes”). So, it does appear, at first glance, that American Caramel may have based its position change for Wagner on preseason reports.

Potentially complicating the issue, however, is that the same E106 set includes Cardinals infielder Dots Miller, who had been swapped to St. Louis in 1913 in an eight-player deal that brought Mike Mowrey to Pittsburgh. Similarly to Wagner, Miller is denoted as a second baseman (with the same, or very similar, artwork used as in the “sunset variation” of his earlier American Caramel cards). The hitch here is that Dots—though a second baseman when he was a Pirate (and when his earlier American Caramel cards were issued)—had played just 11 games at second base in 1914 (and none either in 1912 or ’13, having switched primarily to first base). So, questions essentially converse to Jimmie Foxx’s Diamond Stars card arise: Did American Caramel not account for Miller’s move to first base? Did it simply retouch one of its cards from several years earlier without knowing about, or bothering to update, his current position? Or was it responding to Dots’ early season appearances of 1915?

This last scenario is unlikely, because although Dots returned to second base for 63 games in 1915, he played two-thirds of the season at first base, not making a single appearance at second base until May 20 and none in any quantity until early June—rather late in the season to not have issued cards from a set that, totaling just 48, likely was not released in series.

So, whereas it appears that American Caramel’s denoting of Honus Wagner as a second baseman was a direct reaction to his 12 games spent there in April 1915, the same cannot logically be said for Dots Miller—unless American Caramel released the E106 set substantially well into the 1915 season (which, ironically enough, would have been after Wagner had returned to shortstop).

Even so, the deeper question surrounding all American Caramel cards remains: Was American Caramel candy any good? Producing its sweets from the late 19th century until 1928—sporadically accompanied by cards from 1908 to 1927—anyone who could testify to American Caramel’s quality is either long dead or long without teeth and functioning taste buds. It’s doubtful that even a famished Elaine Benes, known for satisfying her sweet tooth with 62-year-old wedding cake served at the marriage of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, would dare try century-old caramel, if ever any were found. (And don’t look at me—just because I crunched my way through piles of stale bubble gum after buying unopened boxes of Topps and O-Pee-Chees several years after they were issued, I’m not about to turn my gastrointestinal tract into a mad scientist’s laboratory.) So, this is likely an answer whose time has passed…

2 thoughts on “2b Or Not 2b? When American Caramel Charted a New Course for the Flying Dutchman”

    1. Initially, I didn’t find anything more revealing in Pittsburgh papers, but wider search revealed some info from a St. Louis paper. The article has been updated.

      Like

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