Like many Chicago kids of the 1960s and 1970s, Ed Hartig owes much of his baseball love to WGN-TV broadcasts of afternoon Cubs games from Wrigley Field. When his older siblings were at school, he would sit in front of the television with his baseball cards spread out in front of him arranged in the line-ups for each team. When his siblings got home from school, mom would kick them all out of the house. So Ed would grab his glove and play ball in the backyard while listening to the rest of the Cubs game on WGN-Radio. Little did he know at that point that he would someday help prepare an All-Century Team card set commemorating the ultimate Cubs roster for the 20th century.
Hartig began working for the Cubs as a freelance writer on special projects in 1988 and was a regular contributor to the Cubs’ Vine Line magazine by 1996. Shortly after the 1998 season ended, the team’s marketing and publications departments met to pitch story ideas and promotions for the coming year (perhaps a few of which may have involved the home run chase from the previous season). One of those ideas was selecting a Cubs all-century team in either 1999 or 2000. However, once Major League Baseball decided to run their All-Century promotion during the 1999 season, the Cubs decided to follow suit.
Hartig was tasked with compiling a ballot of the best Cubs players and managers whose careers took place in the 1900s and—crucial for our story—was told that the finalized team would be memorialized with a baseball card set. Hartig carefully put together a slate of the 40 most deserving individuals and got approval from the marketing and publications departments. The final ballot included 26 position players, 10 pitchers, and four managers.
The selection of the Cubs’ All-Century Team was then turned over to the fans. Voting began during spring training and ran through mid-April, which gave the team time to produce the first set of cards for a scheduled giveaway on May 15. Votes were accepted either by mailing in a paper ballot from the newspaper or on-line through Metromix.com, an entertainment-based division of the Chicago Tribune. The ballot was divided into position players, pitchers, and managers; however, fans were asked to simply select their favorite 20 Cubs with no special instructions for picking so many per category or position. The promotion was sponsored by Old Style beer and voters were automatically entered into a contest to win tickets and the chance to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game later that season.
In total, Cubs fans cast over 120,000 votes and the All-Century Team was announced in early May. The final team consisted of 21 individuals, instead of the 20 originally planned, after a decision was made to add Frank Chance as the manager.
The baseball card fronts and backs included a handsome Wrigley Field marquee motif done by the Vine Line staff. Photos of older players were selected from the George Brace Collection and the more recent photos were those taken by Cubs team photographer Steve Green. Hartig prepared the card backs using the materials he had researched during the initial ballot construction and he separately authored full-page articles for the Vine Line’s All-Century Team. Unlike a number of the Cubs’ team-issued card sets, the Old Style All-Century Team cards were produced in the standard 2½” x 3 ½” size.
The set was distributed in seven-card packs across three home dates on May 15, June 26, and August 3. Because the card set was sponsored by Old Style, the cards were only handed out to the first 20,000 fans at each game who were 21 years of age or older. Accordingly, it is not easy to determine how many of these cards survived.
The living All-Century Team members—including current Cubs Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa—were honored at the September 25, 1999 game and the retired players serenaded the crowd of 39,000 with their rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
Although there was some apparent recency bias in the fans’ voting, Hartig was generally satisfied with the results. If he had to pick one slight, however, it would have been 1940s outfielder Bill “Swish” Nicholson, “what a great slugger and an even nicer person!” Ed also wished that he had thought to honor a trainer (Andy Lotshaw), equipment manager (Yosh Kawano), and traveling secretary (Bob Lewis) on the All-Century team photo after the fan’s selections were tallied.
As for his All-Century starting lineup, Ed would have gone with this squad:
- Manager – Frank Chance
- Starting Pitcher – Mordecai Brown
- Relief Pitcher – Bruce Sutter
- Catcher – Gabby Hartnett
- LF – Billy Williams
- CF – Hack Wilson
- RF – Sammy Sosa
- 1B – Mark Grace
- 2B – Ryne Sandberg
- 3B – Ron Santo
- SS – Ernie Banks
Also, please check out this fantastic video of Cubs All-Century Team member interviews by Chicago SABR’s own Tom Shaer.
1999 Old Style Cubs All-Century Team Checklist
(Cards are unnumbered, list presented in alphabetical order)
- Grover Alexander
- Ernie Banks (Vine Line’s “Player of the Century”)
- Mordecai Brown
- Phil Cavarretta
- Frank Chance
- Andre Dawson
- Mark Grace
- Charlie Grimm
- Stan Hack
- Gabby Hartnett
- Billy Herman
- Fergie Jenkins
- Andy Pafko
- Ryne Sandberg
- Ron Santo
- Lee Smith
- Sammy Sosa
- Bruce Sutter
- Joe Tinker
- Billy Williams
- Hack Wilson
Special thanks to Chicago Cubs team historian and Chicago SABR member Ed Hartig for all of the behind-the-scenes information into how he helped the Cubs create this beautiful card set.
Ed Hartig interview with author, April 26, 2023.
Chicago Tribune, April 14, 1999: 148.
2 thoughts on “The All-Time Greatest Baseball Card Set of the (20th) Century”
My Great Grandfather, Jim Johnstone, umpire with Bill Klem at the most famous game in Cubs history. October 8, 1908. One game playoff vs NY Giants due to rookie mistake by Fred Merkle. Johnstone was born in Illinois but lived in Newark, NJ.
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Love baseball history!! Met Cliff Kachline HOF Librarian late 70s on Thanksgiving Friday while researching Umpire Johnstone.