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.
When researching the 1934-36 National Chicle “Batter Up” set I came across the curious fact the set’s first series, cards 1-80, included no Chicago Cubs. At first this seemed like a quirk unique to the set. However, further research revealed that the lack of Cubs was fairly common among the gum and candy cards of the era. Here is a chronology of the major sets from 1933-49 along with the status of their Cubs cards or lack thereof.
The 240-card set in 1933 included 17 Cubs cards, including at least one in each of its first 9 series, which is about what you’d expect. I’ve mainly included this set because A) it’s THE gum set of the 1930s, and B) it’s the last set before things got weird.
The 96-card follow-up set in 1934 included 6 Cubs cards, which by itself doesn’t suggest anything anomalous. However, the distribution of Cubs in the set is worth a quick note. Series one included three Cubs, but all were repeated from the 1933 set, artwork and all. (This was true of all 24 cards in 1934 series one.)
When the set did issue its first series of new players, none were Cubs. It wasn’t until the set’s third series that new Cubs (Lynn Nelson, Lyle Tinning) finally appeared. (The fourth series brought back another Cub, Kiki Cuyler, from the 1933 set but with new artwork. And as Matthew notes in the comments, the twelve “Chuck Klein says” cards also add to the Cubs fourth series presence.)
The 1935 Goudey set primarily relied on recycled artwork and players from their 1933 and 1934 releases. Of the 144 “cards” (really, quarters of cards) in the set, there are only 11 new players. None are Cubs. Overall, the Cubs are tied with the Phillies for fewest cards in the set: either one or four, depending how you choose to count.
The small 25-card set in 1936 included one Cubs player, Chuck Klein.
Subsequent Goudey sets seemed to be fairly normal with respect to Cubs players.
National Chicle debuted two significant multi-year sets in 1934. One was the Batter Up set, whose 80 cards that year have already been noted to have avoided the Cubs entirely. The other set, Diamond Stars, was equally devoid of Cubs among its 24-card offering that year.
Diamond Stars continued in 1935 with 60 new players, and this time there were three Cubs, two of whom were repeated with identical artwork in the 1936 release.
Meanwhile, series two of Batter Up, which I place entirely in 1936, exploded from zero to 11 Cubs among the final 112 cards in the set.
Gum, Inc., is best known to collectors for two different offerings: Play Ball (1939-41) and Bowman (1948-55). The three years of Play Ball cards included 473 different cards. Believe it or not, none were active Cubs players! The 161-card 1939 set and 72-card 1941 set included no Cubs at all while the 240-card 1940 set included three retired greats and one coach card.
The Gum, Inc., shutout continued into their debut Bowman offering that included 48 cards but no Cubs. Beginning in 1949, however, the Bowman sets had about the number of Cubs cards one would expect.
This set included 65 cards. None were Cubs.
1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Up
This 40-card set had no Cubs, but it’s a bit of a special case as only American League teams were represented.
1941 Double Play
This set had 75 cards (150 if cut in half) including five (or ten) Cubs cards, among them the first card (or two cards) in the set.
1948 Swell “Sport Thrills”
This highlights set included only 20 cards, none of which were Cubs. Then again, there were five other teams that didn’t make the checklist either. Still, you’re gonna tell me this was a bigger thrill than the Homer in the Gloamin?’
Chicago-based Leaf Candy introduced a 98-card set (likely intended to be larger) in 1949, and 11 of the cards were Cubs.
* * * * *
I posted some key elements of this article to the SABR Baseball Cards readers on Twitter as well as the collectors on the Net54 Baseball forum. Leading theories on the omission or delayed inclusion of Cubs in the various sets tended to relate to the Cubs being owned by the Wrigley family. Why help the competition, right?
Of course Cubs did ultimately crack the checklists, even if it took ten years in the case of Gum, Inc. One wonders, therefore, what made the difference. Did the rival gum and candy makers make P.K. Wrigley an offer he couldn’t refuse? Did the players break from official or unofficial team policy to sign with rival confectioneries? Did Wrigley ultimately decide that Cub-less baseball card sets would hurt the popularity of his franchise?
Whatever prompted the return of Cubs cards, I can’t even imagine being a Cubs fan from 1939-41, buying pack after pack of Play Ball, and not pulling a single Cubs player. I guess the closest I can come is being a Dodger fan in 2021 and not finding packs to open at all.
White Sox slugger Zeke Bonura has one of the more unusual baseball cards of the 1930s, courtesy of the 1936-37 World Wide Gum (V355) set sometimes known as Canadian Goudey.
Notably, the dapper Bonura is sporting a tie and vest ensemble rather than any baseball-related garb. (Oddly enough, the very next card on the checklist is of a fellow White Sox infielder, dressed almost identically.)
One might initially assume the two teammates were photographed at the same event, perhaps a banquet or the opera. Or might they have joined this man, dressed to conduct an orchestra or star in a Dracula movie, for a simple night on the town?
No? Okay, any chance Bonura, if not all three of these debonair gentlemen, were en route to this September 1935 watermelon eating contest?
Getting warmer but that’s still not it. If we’re gonna solve this mystery we’ll need one very important clue.
When Zeke wasn’t playing ball with the White Sox, he was often back home in New Orleans where according to this January 20, 1935, article (Nebraska State Journal) he “wrestles crates of produce, takes orders and makes himself generally handy around his father’s produce store.”
As it turns out, Bonura not only spent his winter months neck deep in fruits and vegetables but many springs as well. “Mentioning that Bonura is a holdout is about the same as saying that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning,” observed the Sporting News (January 14, 1937). Two years earlier, the same publication had Bonura “[speaking] up from the recesses of his father’s market in New Orleans” regarding his 1935 contract holdout. Bonura’s SABR bio has him holding out four straight years from 1935-38.
My understanding is that the fruitless negotiations went something like this:
SOX: “Hey, Zeke, are you gonna PRODUCE RUNS or RUN PRODUCE!” ZEKE: “Either way I’m gonna get my cabbage!” SOX: “…or just upset the apple cart.” ZEKE: “You really think I give a fig?” SOX: “How’d we end up with such a lemon?” ZEKE: “Actually the nickname’s Banana Nose.” SOX: “More like gone bananas! You’re really gonna turn down a plum job…” ZEKE: “I have a plum job!” SOX: “Apples and oranges.” ZEKE: “That too!” SOX: “What is this, Who’s On First?“ ZEKE: “Anyone but me if you don’t pay up!”
But lettuce at last return to the baseball card that began this article. If you haven’t guessed it already, it’s this other job—Bonura as fruit merchant—that the card depicts. Look carefully at the backdrop behind Bonura and you’ll spot various crates of produce. To the left of his forehead are the letters “TAIN,” which I suspect come from one of the many fruit crates of the period with “MOUNTAIN” on the label. Similarly, the “ON U.S.” by his chin is likely a fragment of “WASHINGTON U.S.A.” or “OREGON U.S.A.,” two states known for their produce. Look closely and you may recognize other words as well.
Though it’s possible the World Wide Gum card’s photograph was taken during the winter months, my sense is it’s more likely to be a spring photo since that’s when Zeke as fruit merchant would have been more newsworthy. If so, I have to imagine the 1936-37 WWG Bonura card is the first (and probably only) baseball card of a player actively holding out for more money.
How do you like them apples? 😊
Author’s Note: I believe the site of the baseball card and newspaper photos would have been at Bonura Wholesale Produce (and/or John Bonura & Company), located at 200 Poydras Street in the New Orleans French Quarter. While the business no longer stands today, there is a Gordon Biersch brewery and restaurant where you can raise a glass (or enjoy some seasonal vegetables!) in Zeke’s honor.
If you’re a reader of this blog, which I’d bet a lot you are (at least today!), you’re not content simply to collect baseball cards. You enjoy learning and knowing about the cards you hold in your hand or dream about on your want list. While in many cases our research into a set turns up more mystery than history, we are occasionally lucky enough to go directly to the source and have all our questions answered.
Our latest series, “Creating the set,” features interviews with the creators directly responsible for the various cards and collectibles that comprise the Hobby. Leading off the series are the Baseball Treasure sets of officially licensed MLB coins produced in 2018 and 2019 by Boston-based florist-collector Rick Canale.
Each base set included 30 copper coins, one player per team, mounted in cardboard holders the size of standard baseball cards. Coin fronts featured a portrait of the player, along with position and team. 2018 versions also noted the year. Coin backs depicted an action pose captioned with a career highlight.
The holders changed considerably from 2018 (Perez above) to 2019 (Yelich below), evolving from a single 2.5″ x 3.5″ cardboard slab that rendered both coin sides visible to a fold-over model with a window for only the front of the coin. Fronts featured a minor re-design, omitting player name and uniform number in favor of more prominent team identifiers.
Each year of the release included special premium edition coins, such as this 2018 gold edition of the Aaron Judge coin.
With these basics out the way, let’s catch up with the set’s creator.
SABR Baseball Cards: Rick, before we jump into the Baseball Treasure sets themselves, tell us a little bit about your own background as a collector.
Rick Canale: I picked up my first cards in 1978 when I was seven years old and from 1979-86 I was completely hooked. After that I still bought a few packs a year but other interests like cars and girls took over. College too eventually. The birth of my first son in 2004 brought me back into the Hobby, and thankfully my mom did not throw out my baseball cards. While my sons never got into card collecting, they do love Fenway. As for favorites, I loved those late 1970s Red Sox teams: Fisk, Lynn, Scott, Hobson, Eck, etc. I also enjoyed the speed-power combo guys like Rickey Henderson and Cesar Cedeño, but it’s the sluggers like Greg Luzinski and Dave Kingman who really captured my heart.
SABR Baseball Cards: When did you get the idea to produce a set of your own. Was this a lifelong dream or something that just popped into your head one day?
Rick Canale: I think we all want to make our own set at some point. This was kind of something that fell in my lap. My best friend from high school was looking for something to do after selling his company. He had connections at a mint in Massachusetts and I had connections to MLB and various distributors. Our early pitches to locals were not met with much enthusiasm, but when we pitched the idea to MLB of collectors winning real silver or gold they really ran with it.
SABR Baseball Cards: What came next? How did the idea become an actual product?
Rick Canale: There were a ton of hoops to jump through. Things like getting calls back from MLB and the MLBPA did not happen overnight. I was fortunate to have some connections who helped keep things moving. I’ll add that there was a lot of secrecy, for example contract language that can’t be shared.
SABR Baseball Cards: What prompted you to decide on coins rather than cards or some other form of baseball collectible?
Rick Canale: Coins was the natural choice because of my friend’s connections to the mint. Keep in mind also that cards would not have been possible due to the exclusive licensing that Topps already had in place. In fact, many of the changes in the product between 2018 and 2019 were due to Topps regarding our initial release as too similar to baseball cards. It was a major setback for us that required us to change our packaging and mounts. Sales suffered as well.
SABR Baseball Cards: Your debut offering included one player for each of the 30 teams. How were the players selected?
Rick Canale: One player per team was how we chose to create the set. However, we definitely saw that the market is driven by a small handful of teams. For each team we focused on talent, character, and the likelihood of being traded. Drafting the list of players was fun, though finding a Marlin was tough. We actually asked MLB if we could use Don Mattingly, the team’s manager!
SABR Baseball Cards: I know Todd Radom worked with you on the Baseball Treasure logo and packaging. How did you go about getting the coins themselves created, including the artwork?
Rick Canale: Yes, the coins themselves were created by a person whose craft is coin dyes, but Todd created all the mounts and associated artwork. I cannot say enough great things about Todd. His work is incredible, and the person matches the talent. His friendship is the greatest asset I kept from the venture.
SABR Baseball Cards: If you could turn back the clock, are there changes you’d make to the sets, notwithstanding the ones forced upon you by Topps?
Rick Canale: More players from the most marketable teams as well as more star power. We also would have spent less on advertising and more on prizes (e.g., the silver and gold coins). Still, being featured on MLB Network was a thrill.
SABR Baseball Cards: What were some of the other challenges in marketing and selling these coins?
Rick Canale: First the positives. We sold great at the Hall of Fame (1000 packs the first year), on MLB.com, in hobby shops, and at ballparks. However, not being in Target and Walmart killed us. Getting our coins into people’s hands was of course key, and this was too hard to do without the two biggest guns supporting us. 7-Eleven did pick us up, but they really butchered the product. They wanted open packs, no mystery at all, which also meant no chase for silver or gold. In Boston, for example, once Betts and Benintendi were gone the box would just sit on the shelf with no sales.
SABR Baseball Cards: What was it like to hold an actual Baseball Treasure coin in your hand for the first time?
Rick Canale: It was awesome. I put one in my pocket every day that first season.
SABR Baseball Cards: Fantastic! Probably safe to say that’s a feeling most collectors can only dream of, and you made it a reality. Thanks for speaking with us, and thanks also for putting out two terrific sets of baseball coins. Anything final your like to share with SABR Baseball Cards readers?
RickCanale: We have something of a surprise for Ichiro collectors. Before we closed up shop we also produced 51 fully licensed silver coins of Ichiro that collectors may see hit the open market timed with Ichiro’s Hall of Fame induction. Be on the lookout!
At the end of the meeting Dan was gracious enough to offer up his “All Funky 1970s All-Star Team.” With Dan’s permission I am sharing his squad here on the SABR Baseball Cards blog. Each selection is illustrated with the 1970s baseball card I think best captures the player’s funkiness.
CATCHER – MANNY SANGUILLEN
FIRST BASE – DICK ALLEN
SECOND BASE – TITO FUENTES
THIRD BASE – BILL MADLOCK
SHORTSTOP – GARRY TEMPLETON
RIGHT FIELD – COBRA
CENTER FIELD – GARRY MADDOX
LEFT FIELD – JOSE CARDENAL
STARTING PITCHERS – LUIS TIANT, BILL LEE, MARK FIDRYCH, VIDA BLUE, DOCK ELLIS
BULLPEN – SPARKY LYLE (LH), DON STANHOUSE(RH)
DESIGNATED HITTER – OSCAR GAMBLE
PINCH HITTER – JOHN LOWENSTEIN
PINCH RUNNER – LARRY LINTZ
UTILITY MAN – LENNY RANDLE
MASCOT – THE CHICKEN
OWNER – BILL VEECK
Note: No 1970s baseball card of Veeck was available, so I went with one from 1980.
Check the video around the 45:23 mark to listen to Dan’s rationales and honorable mentions for this super funky squad or—even better—to catch the entire #StayHomeWithSABR presentation.
Umpire cards are practically as old as baseball cards themselves, with several appearing in the 1887-90 Old Judge (N172) set.
Umpires made it into a number of other sets over the next half century, but didn’t reappear in any major releases (apologies to Al Demaree Die-Cuts and Schutter-Johnson fans) until Dolly Stark’s inclusion in both 1939 and 1940 Play Ball.
Of course this was just prelude to the 1955 Bowman set, which dedicated an entire Baskin Robbins worth of umpires to its high numbers series.
The cards fronts followed the standard 1955 Bowman color television design, though I suspect few umps ever scored such close-ups on actual broadcasts. The card backs featured bios and a trivia question in place of stats. Umpire ancestry was often provided, which I’m sure young gum chewers appreciated quite a bit.
“What kind of name is Honochick?”
“He’s SEE-zetch, you moron! Don’t you read the backs?”
I don’t have any real theory on why Bowman went from zero umpires in its 1948-54 sets to 31 in 1955. Could the umps have been filler to replace unsuccessful player contracts? Was there a buzz in the Hobby over the 1953 Hall of Fame inductions of Bill Klem and Thomas Connolly? Was Bowman trolling collectors on its way out of business? Or were these umps just that darn interesting?
For now, let’s assume the latter, because, YES!, they were pretty darn interesting. In this article, I’ll attempt to offer the three most interesting things about each one.
First graduate of umpire school to make the big leagues
Former meat cutter
Victim of extortion attempt when men broke into a hotel room to photograph McKinley and fellow umpire Ed Runge with two women
J.A. PAPARELLA (ITALIAN)
Holds record for most games umpired during 154-game schedule (169 in 1950)
Holds record for most games umpired during 162-game schedule (176 in 1962)
Third base umpire for Eddie Gaedel game in 1951
EDDIE ROMMEL (GERMAN)
Two-time 20 game winner (1922, 1925) for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics
Card back notes that Rommel was “widely accredited as the discoverer of the knuckle ball”
First umpire to wear glasses on the field (along with Frank Umont) in 1956
LARRY NAPP (ITALIAN)
Professional boxer and boxing referee
Third base umpire for Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 World Series
Right field umpire for “The Catch” in 1954 World Series
JOHNNY STEVENS (SLOVAK)
Third base umpire for “The Catch” in 1954 World Series
College basketball referee
Godfather of retired NBA referee Steve Javie
EDWIN HURLEY (GERMAN-IRISH)
Behind the plate for Eddie Gaedel game in 1951
Appeared on “What’s My Line?” television show in 1953
Confiscated Mickey Mantle’s illegal bat in 1958…and kept it!
AL BARLICK (GERMAN-AUSTRIAN)
“He’s going to be the greatest umpire in baseball history.” — Bill Klem
First base umpire for Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers debut
Outfielder with Tigers, Reds, and Cubs from 1940-46
First base umpire for Dock Ellis no-hitter in 1970
Third base umpire when Miracle Mets won 1969 World Series
ARTIE GORE (IRISH)
Former minor league shortstop
Professional basketball referee
Left field umpire for Joe DiMaggio’s final game (1951 World Series, game six)
FRANK DASCOLI (ITALIAN)
Fired by National League president Warren Giles during 1961 season, ironically for noting Giles was not sufficiently supportive of umpires
First base umpire when Dodgers finally won World Series in 1955
“I’ll tell you how tough a job an umpire has. When I got back home that year a guy comes up to me and says, ‘Frank, you blew that call. I saw it. I was 10 feet away.’ I asked the guy how he could have been sitting 10 feet away when the box seats were at least 40 feet away? ‘I was watching on television,’ the guy says.” — Frank Dascoli on controversial safe at home call that resulted in Roy Campanella’s ejection from key game during 1951 pennant race
TOM GORMAN (IRISH)
Pitched four games for New York Giants in 1939
Home plate umpire for Bob Gibson’s record setting 17 strikeout game in 1968 World Series opener
Buried with his ball-strike counter sent to a full count
LEE BALLANFANT (BELGIAN-IRISH)
Minor league infielder from 1915-25
Third base umpire when Dodgers finally won World Series in 1955
“I can truthfully say I never did like umpiring. I stayed with it because I had to eat.” — Lee Ballanfant
DUSTY BOGGESS (SCOTCH-IRISH)
Minor league third baseman, catcher, and shortstop from 1921-33
Disqualified from high school baseball competition when it was found he was also playing professionally under the pseudonym Bogus!
Scout for Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Steelers
LON WARNEKE (NO ETHNICITY INDICATED)
Three-time 20-game winner with Chicago Cubs (1932, 1934, 1935)
One of five subjects (along with Dick Bartell, Phil Cavarretta, Charlie Grimm, and Al Lopez) with cards in 1936 World Wide Gum and 1955 Bowman
County Judge for Garland County, Arkansas, from 1963-72
BILL ENGELN (GERMAN)
Former batboy for St. Louis Browns
Attacked by two women after a controversial third strike call in contest between Portland Beavers and Seattle Rainiers
Traveled with San Francisco Seals to Hawaii for their 1946 Spring Training
JOCKO CONLAN (NO ETHNICITY INDICATED)
Outfielder, pinch-hitter, and pinch-umpire for Chicago White Sox in 1934-35
Owned flower shop in Chicago
Elected to Hall of Fame in 1974
FRANK UMONT (NO ETHNICITY INDICATED)
Guard for New York Giants (NFL) from 1943-47, teaming with fellow 1955 Bowman umpire Hank Soar from 1943-46
First umpire to wear glasses on the field (along with Eddie Rommel) in 1956
Home plate umpire for 1971 All-Star Game
BABE PINELLI (NO ETHNICITY INDICATED)
8-year major league career as infielder with Reds, Tigers, and White Sox
Finished 13th in NL MVP voting in 1924
Behind the plate for Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 World Series
HAL DIXON (NO ETHNICITY INDICATED)
Former minor league pitcher
Third base umpire for first ever National League game on West Coast (Dodgers at Giants on April 15, 1958)
Worked the first World Series game on the West Coast (1959 World Series, game three)
LARRY GOETZ (NO ETHNICITY INDICATED)
Umpire on the left in famous Norman Rockwell painting “Tough Call” (or “Bottom of the Sixth”)
Took up umpiring as hobby while working in Cincinnati post office
“When I’m right, no one remembers. When I’m wrong, no one forgets.” — Larry Goetz
A.J. DONATELLI (NO ETHNICITY INDICATED)
Held prisoner by the Nazis for 15 months
On the cover of the first Sports Illustrated with Eddie Mathews and Wes Westrum
Created the Major League Umpires Association in 1964
CAL HUBBARD (SCOTCH-IRISH)
Played in the NFL from 1927-36
Only member of Baseball and Pro Football Hall of Fames
Voted greatest NFL tackle of all-time in 1969 by Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee
BILL SUMMERS (NO ETHNICITY INDICATED)
Called Jackie Robinson safe on steal of home in 1955 World Series
Noted on card back as “gifted after-dinner story-teller”
Professional lightweight boxer
Well that’s all I got for the 31 umps of the 1955 Bowman set: 4 NFL players, two 20-game winners, a hotel room scandal, war heroes, two classic magazine covers, beer commercials, a television game show, and countless boos in some of the most famous baseball games ever.
Then again, maybe those weren’t chants of “kill the umpire” after all. Could it be the fans are really on their feet, raining bottles onto the field, hollering “collect the umpire?” Well, that’s what some guy at Bowman heard anyway, and the rest is history.
Three of my great loves in the Hobby—Fleer, Ted Williams, and crazy number patterns—all come together in the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set, 80 cards that chronicle the life and times of the Splendid Splinter, both on and off the field.
The set’s cards are refreshingly affordable with the exception of card 68 in the set, “Ted Signs for 1959,” which was pulled due to its inclusion of Bucky Harris, for whom Fleer did not have rights. Because this single card (in like condition) is typically priced higher than the rest of the set combined, many collectors opt to settle for a “79/80” set and call it a day.
Something I’d wondered about but never researched was how Fleer’s production process changed once it became necessary to pull card 68. There seemed to be two strategies available:
Continue printing all 80 cards but remove card 68 prior to collation into packs.
Omit card 68 from all subsequent printing
The first of these approaches seemed bulky, though perhaps not unprecedented. (Goudey may have done similar in 1934 with its Lajoie card.)
The second of these approaches seemed much easier. Fleer could simply replace card 68 on its printing sheet with any other card from the set. While this would create a “double-print,” a card twice as numerous as others due to its dual placement on printing sheets, it would also, at least presumably, save Fleer all kinds of work.
Again, there was precedent in an older Goudey set, though it’s unknown to collectors whether Goudey doubled up on its Ruth 144 (second row, third and sixth cards) in 1933 to replace another card or simply to print more Ruth cards. (I’m probably in the minority who would vote for the former.)
I hoped to settle the question by finding an uncut sheet with a double-print. Instead, I stumbled upon this sheet that recently sold on eBay. No double-prints, but right there in the lower left corner was card 68!
The presence of card 68 on the sheet suggested one of two possibilities:
Fleer continued to print card 68, even if it meant having to pull it over and over before collating cards into packs.
The sheet pre-dated Fleer’s decision to pull card 68.
I won’t settle that question in this article, partly because I don’t think the answer is knowable but mostly because I’m so easily distracted by oddball numbering patterns.
Here are the card numbers from the back of the sheet.
One simple pattern and two less simple ones are evident.
The numbers decrease by two in going from the first to the second column.
The numbers increase by 13 or 15 in going from the second to the third column.
The numbers increase by 15 or 17 in going from one row to the next.
The first of these patterns suggested a way to extend the table to the left and right, stopping once a new column would generate repeated numbers. Here was the result.
Two small changes I’ll now introduce are the letters A-P to label the table’s sixteen columns and a vertical divider line between column H and column I to mark the break in the pattern. If nothing else, this table suggests a nomenclature for the original sheet: GHI.
In truth, all columns except GHI are hypothetical at this point, but you can imagine I’d hardly be writing this up if there wasn’t something more happening.
For example, here is another sheet, which corresponds exactly to columns KLM in the table.
And here are two 20-card sheets, corresponding exactly to ABCD and DEFG.
In other words, the hypothetical extension of the numbering scheme does reflect something real. Having now seen ABCD, DEFG, GHI, and KLM, can we find sheets with that include J, N, O, and P to complete our set?
Definitely! Here are two different sheets, HIJ and JKL, that include column J.
Finally, here is NOP to round things out.
You might wonder if all sheets from the Ted Williams set match the table as nicely as the ones I’ve shown. From what I can tell the answer is yes. You may also be familiar with the occasional 6-card panel that appears from time to time. Sure enough, even these panels have a home in the table.
Recognizing the wide, if not universal, applicability of the numbering scheme to the set, it’s fair to wonder where such a scheme could have come from. I won’t pretend that the information below reflects any intentional thinking from Fleer or their printing house, but I’ll nonetheless offer a simple three-step algorithm that generates the entire table and demystifies it in so doing.
STEP ONE: Start with the numbers from 1-80, arranged in a 16 x 5 table.
STEP TWO: Subdivide each row into its odd and even components.
STEP THREE: Rebuild the 16 x 5 table by adding the rows from the above table in a serpentine pattern.
In other words, however complicated the “Ted Williams code” might look, it is simply the result of arranging eight straightforward “strips” of cards in a relatively straightforward manner.
HOW WERE THE CARDS PRINTED?
When I first stumbled upon the sheet of 15 cards I was surprised not only by the presence of card 68 but also the number of cards on the sheet. After all, the only ways to get to 80 cards, fifteen at a time, seemed to involve excessive double-prints. For example, six sheets of 15 will get you the set but introduce 10 double-prints along the way.
It was comforting then to discover a 20-card sheet since it opened the door to two seemingly more likely possibilities.
The set was produced in four sheets of 20 cards, with any 15-card sheets (or smaller panels) being trimmed afterward from larger sheets.
The set was produced using four sheets of 15 and one sheet of 20.
Let’s start with the first of these. Taking a look at the top edge of KLM from earlier, it feels safe to conclude that this sheet used to be at least a little larger. What’s inconclusive is whether only the border was cut off or if there used to be a fourth row of cards. In other words, we don’t know if we are looking at 99% of KLM or three-fourths of KLMN.
These next two 15-card sheets, both NOP, don’t show any evident trimming through each has thin enough edge that it’s fair to wonder if they simply reflect a much cleaner cutting job than in the previous example. If trimmed from 20-card sheets, the first would have come from MNOP, but the second presents a challenge to my numbering scheme, which doesn’t anticipate any columns after “P.”
Still, let’s assume all 15-card sheets in existence came from 20-card sheets. The simplest configuration would be ABCD, EFGH, IJKL, and MNOP shown below. Any departure would either require more than four sheets (and introduce significant double-printing) or conflict with the numbering scheme that has so far been consistent with all known examples.
Yet having already seen sheet DEFG, we know this was not how the cards were printed! Therefore, at least based on the sheets known to exist, I think we’re back to schemes involving combinations of 15 and 20 card sheets.
Assuming the cards were printed as four sheets of 15 and one sheet of 20, there are only five ways to do this that don’t leave stray remnants of 5 or 10 cards.
Here are the five solutions, represented in list form.
While the typical question to ask would be which one did Fleer use, the existence of ABCD and DEFG tell us the answer would have to be at least the first two solutions. Additionally, the existence of JKL, unique to the final entry on the list, adds a third solution to our solution set.
Okay, but isn’t this a rather crazy way to produce the cards? YES! But when I compare the known data (shown in red) with the sheets predicted by such a scheme, I have to admit the coverage is pretty strong: 9 out of 13.
Just as compelling to me are the sheets such an approach predicts would not exist:
Sure enough, none of these fourteen sheets are currently known.
My takeaway, therefore, is that Fleer most likely used combinations of 15 and 20-card sheets to produce the set and hardly adopted the simplest possible approach. Rather, of the five sensible solutions available, Fleer at various times or locations used at least three and potentially all five of them!
Admittedly, my entire chain of reasoning draws from a rather small sample size: eleven different sheets (and some duplicates) in all. A CDEF discovered in the wild is all it would take to derail half this article, and a CDEG in the wild would derail the entire article. Meanwhile, EFG, GHIJ, JKLM, or MNOP would lend even greater support to my hypothesis. As such, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments if you’re aware of sheets I’ve overlooked in my research.
Either way, can we at least agree that Ted Williams was the best &@#%! hitter who ever lived? Great! Now can anyone help me crack the code to find out what &@#%! means?
As detailed in my prior articles (listed below), the 1934-36 Diamond Stars release from National Chicle started slowly in 1934, picked up speed in 1935, and then unceremoniously fell off a cliff in 1936.
Were one to extrapolate to the larger goings on at National Chicle, the image wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. After all, the company filed for bankruptcy in early 1937. At the same time—and I mean literally at the same time, from 1934-36—another National Chicle baseball card set brings to mind the “not dead yet” scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Evidently, there were a lot of new cards coming out of National Chicle that year, just not Diamond Stars.
1934-36 NATIONAL CHICLE “BATTER UP”
Like Diamond Stars, the Batter Up set was produced by National Chicle from 1934-36 and consisted entirely of baseball subjects. A typical card in the set is this one of Dodger legend Hack Wilson, numbered 73 in the lower right corner. The most distinct feature of the set is the die cut around Wilson’s upper body, which allows for turning each card into a self-standing version of itself.
If you thought this card looked familiar but remembered it a different color, there’s a good reason for that. Six different colors (or “tints”) were used in the “Batter Up” set, with each card coming in either four or six different tints, though only four of the six were used for Wilson. (More on this later.)
As for the self-standing feature of the set, the pictures below, courtesy of David at Cigar Box Cards, shows how these cards looked when folded as intended. Though it may be Hobby heresy to say so, I’ll die on the hill that these cards look better folded than mint!
Notably, three cards in the set featured more than one player, something uncommon though hardly unprecedented at the time.
Separate from these multi-player cards, there are also 35 players who appear twice in the set. A typical example is Ben Chapman of the Yankees, and a very atypical example is White Sox pitcher Clint Brown.
In comparison to the Diamond Stars set, which features colorful artwork, updated statistics, playing tips, and biographical information, the Batter Up set can come across as a mere novelty or oddball offering. On the other hand, the sheer size of the Batter Up set casts doubt on such an impression. Ignoring color variations, the set is nearly twice the size of Diamond Stars (192 vs 108), and counting color variations there are 848 different cards!
SERIES ONE VS SERIES TWO
Virtually all documentation organizes the set’s cards into two series, differing in multiple ways including the physical size of the cards:
Series One: Cards 1-80, measuring 2-3/8″ by 3-1/4.” The first 40 of these cards are available in six tints (black, red, brown, blue, purple and green) while the second 40 are available in only four (black, brown, blue, purple).
Series Two: Cards 81-192, measuring 2-3/8″ x 3″ (a quarter inch shorter) and available in four tints (black, brown, blue, and green)
Recall I mentioned earlier that Clint Brown presented an unusual—really the unusual—example of a player with repeated cards in the set. Of the 35 repeats, 34 have their first card in Series One and their second card in Series Two. For whatever reason, Brown has both his cards in Series Two. (Offer up a theory in the comments if you have one!)
No uncut Batter Up sheets are known, but the shift in color schemes has led to speculation that Series One cards were printed in sheets of 40, with Series Two cards possibly printed in sheets of 56. Certainly another possibility, even with the card sizes changing, is that all sheets had 40 cards but double-prints occupied the 8 surplus slots left over from a 192-card set.
The key detail I have not yet shared about the Batter Up set is which cards came out when. To my knowledge this information is currently unknown or at least unpublished. The question then is whether it’s even possible to assign a specific year to the various cards in the set. For example, is there any way to determine whether this Goose Goslin card is from 1934 vs 1935 vs 1936?
As it turns out, I believe the answer is yes!
“BATTER UP” RELEASE SCHEDULE BY YEAR
When I began my analysis of this set, I presumed the release schedule would look something like this:
1934: Cards 1 through n
1935: Cards (n + 1) through k, plus possibly some repeats from 1934
1936: Cards (k + 1) through 192, plus possibly some repeats from 1934/1935
In brief, I expected some number of new cards each year. I furthermore was biased from my work with Diamond Stars to expect a Diamond Stars-like pattern of some small number of cards in 1934, some much larger number in 1935, and finally some small number in 1936. Here is an example of the sort of thing I expected to find.
1934: Cards 1-40
1935: Cards 41-160
1936: Cards 161-192
However, I now believe no new cards were released in 1935 and that the release schedule for the set was quite simply the following:
1934: Cards 1-80 (i.e., Series One)
1936: Cards 81-192 (i.e., Series Two)
If correct, the 112 brand new cards issued in 1936 suggest a company that was still putting the pedal to the metal on baseball cards in 1936, even as it slammed the brakes on its contemporaneous Diamond Stars release.
The teams that players in a set appear with offer important clues to the timing of its cards. For example, a card of Dick Allen on the Dodgers would likely be from around 1971 and certainly would not pre-date his October 5, 1970, trade from St. Louis to Los Angeles.
More relevant to set at hand, take the example of John Irving “Jack” Burns, whose Batter Up card shows him with the Tigers.
Burns did not become a Tiger until April 30, 1936, thus we can conclude his Batter Up card was produced no earlier than this date. As such, we know the card dates to 1936 rather than 1934 or 1935.
There are nine players in Series One who changed teams during the 1934 season or 1934-35 offseason. Where we see such players with their original teams, we should suppose their cards were issued in 1934 rather than 1935. Likewise, if we see these players on their new teams, we can conclude their cards were produced after the relevant transaction date and possibly as late as 1935.
The first player on the Series One checklist to be involved in a trade is Wes Ferrell, whose card #12 shows him with Cleveland. Because Ferrell was traded from the Indians to the Red Sox on May 25, 1934, this card most likely dates to 1934, probably even early 1934, rather than 1935.
Of course with a low position on the checklist like #12, you probably already assumed Ferrell’s card was from 1934. But what of Chick Fullis, on the other end of the Series One checklist with card #74? His card shows him on the Phillies, who traded him to the Cardinals on June 15, 1934. Once again then, the card likely dates to 1934.
If card #74 is indeed from 1934, there is only one barrier to concluding that all 80 Series One cards are from 1934. What if Series One employed skip numbering where various card numbers, presumably an entire sheet’s worth, were left vacant in 1934 to be filled in 1935? If so, then we could have Ferrell and Fullis date to 1934 while still having some haphazard subset of Series One date to 1935.
However, were some significant number of Series One cards not produced until 1935, we would expect to see some of these cards show players on new teams. Instead, here is what we find.
Notably, all nine players are shown with their original teams, suggesting a 1934 issue since a 1935 issue would in all likelihood featured updated teams (and exclude Heving and Cissell altogether).
Another thing we might have expected to see, had some Series One cards, not been produced until 1935, would be a handful of players who made their Major League debuts in 1935. In fact there are none. In contrast, Series One does include three players who debuted in 1934: Cookie Lavagetto (#51, MLB debut: April 17, 1934), Ollie Bejma (#55, MLB debut: April 24, 1934), and Zeke Bonura (#65, MLB debut: April 17, 1934).
Is this enough to conclude that all 80 Series One cards were issued in 1934? By itself probably not. For example, here are two players who didn’t change teams at all. What prevents these two cards from having been issued in 1935?
Had cards been produced individually, I would not have an argument. However, we should keep in mind that the cards were almost certainly produced in sheets, with perhaps 40 cards to a sheet. Because there are none of the things we should expect a full 1935 sheet to include (i.e., at least one team update or debut), my conclusion is that there was no 1935 Series One sheet, hence no 1935 Series One cards.
I’ll begin my look at Series Two team changes with a team change that wasn’t really a team change, best demonstrated by Wally Berger’s two cards in the Batter Up set.
Wally Berger was with the Boston N.L. franchise continuously from 1930 to 1937, but you’ll note a small difference in how his team is noted on each of his two cards. On card #1 he is with the Braves while on card #172 he is with the Bees. (Something similar happens in the Diamond Stars set between Berger’s card #25 and card #108.)
As the change of the franchise nickname was not announced until January 31, 1936, the use of “Bees” on Berger’s second card tells us the card was issued in 1936, though perhaps you would have assumed that anyway from the card’s high number. However, Berger was not the only Bee in the set. Here are the other four:
Unlike Berger, these Bees have relatively low numbers (83, 96, 99, 107) within Series Two, yet still date to 1936 based on the Bees nickname on the cards. The immediate implication, barring a skip numbering scheme, is that all or nearly all of Series Two came in 1936. (And when I say nearly all I really mean it since the only Series Two card numbers lower than 83 are 81 and 82.)
Before addressing skip numbering, let me first kill off the possibility that cards 81 and 82 (but not 83-192) could have been released separately, for example in 1935 or even 1934. I think the strongest evidence against such a possibility is that the Series Two cards are different sizes than their Series One predecessors. Imagine then, either in 1934 or 1935 producing 80 of the 82 cards one size but two another size. That just seems bizarre, even to someone like me with a huge appetite for bizarre.
Now what about skip numbering? Could National Chicle have released some subset of Series Two but left gaps in numbering that would not be filled in until 1936? Anything is possible, but I do think this is unlikely. After all, imagine that there were a significant release of Series Two cards in 1935. There are two things I would expect such a release to have.
Boston N.L. players on the Braves (not Bees)
Players on their 1935 rather than 1936 teams, assuming the two differed
However, as we examine the Series Two cards themselves, there are no Boston Braves. (In contrast, cards 1, 2, 37, 47, 59, and 75 from Series One are Braves.) Similarly, when we look at players whose 1935 and 1936 teams differed, we again see a rather one-sided pattern.
Here are the players who changed teams between 1935 and 1936, either during the 1935 season or during the 1935-36 offseason. The table is sorted by transaction date and uses boldface to indicate the team each player appears on in Series Two.
Among the 16 cards listed, 14 show the player with his new team. Of the two that don’t, the first is card 107 of Ed Brandt, which still shows him with his 1935 team, Boston. However, Brandt’s card uses the Bees nickname, hence cannot be from 1935.
This leaves only John Babich, whose card 167 still shows him with Brooklyn. One interpretation is that this card, hence an entire sheet of Series Two cards, genuinely dates to 1935. However, I don’t think the numbers are there to support this. (Where are the Braves cards? Where are the other players still on their 1935 teams?) The alternative I favor, therefore, is that of Babich simply being missed somewhere in the editorial process. If not for this exception, I would bet the house that no Series Two cards date to 1935. The Babich card compels me to maintain the same opinion but with less certainty.
Combining my analysis of Series One and Series Two, I believe the most likely release schedule for the set is the following:
1934: Cards 1-80 (i.e., all of Series One)
1935: No new cards
1936: Cards 81-192 (i.e., all of Series Two)
It’s an unexpected result and one that lends itself to plenty of head scratching. Still, it appears to be the direction the clues have taken us.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 1935?
While I’m fairly confident that new Batter Up cards were on hiatus in 1935, it’s entirely possible that Batter Up cards continued to be sold, either as excess inventory from the prior year or further (new) print runs of earlier 1934 cards. National Chicle reissued all 24 of their 1934 Diamond Stars cards in 1935, so why not do something similar with Batter Up?
That said, the Diamond Stars reissues had updated stats and ages (and in some cases updated teams and biographies) to distinguish them from the originals. In contrast, there are no known variations (aside from tint) among the Series One Batter Up cards. Therefore, if any of the 1934 cards were indeed reissued in 1935, no updates or changes were made to them. (This isn’t 100% true, but let’s go with it for now.)
The lack of any evident updates to the Series One cards suggests one of two approaches for any 1935 reissues that might have occurred:
Cards were reissued, perhaps all 80, without regard to accuracy. For example, a 1934 Wes Ferrell would still show him with Cleveland rather than Boston.
Only the cards that remained accurate were reissued. For example, Wes Ferrell would have been excluded due to his team information being out of date.
I’m not ready to take a stab as to which of these, if either even occurred, would have been more likely. However, I do believe a study of the PSA population report will prove useful in corroborating or refuting the second of these approaches. Stay tuned for Part Two of this series if this is something of interest to you.
Before closing I want to come back to the not quite true remark I made about any potential 1935 reissues being identical to their 1934 predecessors. From the perspective of the photos used and the text and numbering of the cards, this is a true statement. However, the door is open to one type of change that is at least a maybe.
Recall the six tints used for cards 1-40 and the four tints used for cards 41-80. It’s probably simplest to assume that all of these tints were used in 1934, in which case any reissues simply repeated one or more of them. However, it’s also possible that some subset of these tints was in fact “1935 only.” As an example, we might imagine that the 1934 versions of cards 1-40 used only black, brown, blue, and purple while the 1935 reissues of these cards used only red and green. I am not endorsing this theory but simply including the possibility to close a loophole I left open a few paragraphs ago. In all likelihood, it’s not something that I believe could ever be determined barring some miracle find of documents or uncut sheets.
Thank you to David at Cigar Box Cards for the photos from his collection, and as always a huge thank you to Trading Card Database for the checklists, images, and other resources that make my research possible.
As the quotes in the title suggest, there was no 1937 Diamond Stars release. However, an uncut printing sheet found many years later (1980 or 1981, I believe) fueled speculation that a 1937 offering may have been in the works at National Chicle.
Popular dealer, Den’s Collectors Den, used the images from the sheet to create a 12-card 1937 Diamond Stars “Extension Set” in 1981. I find the set to be particularly well done, including the bios on the back, which read nearly identically to the Austen Lake bios from the original set. Christopher Benjamin, who authored the card backs, signed his name as Christy Benjamin, no doubt in homage to Christy Walsh (see 1934 Goudey, cards 25-96).
In this article I will provide additional information about the cards and player on the sheet in hopes of determining not only its year but potentially a bit more.
As the back of the sheet was blank, there are fewer clues than usual to consider. However, we can still look at the following:
Players who changed teams around the period in question
Status of National Chicle and Diamonds Stars set around the period in question
TEAM CHANGES, PART ONE
Though I’m currently unable to track down the source, I’ve read at least one article or post that called out certain team changes as relevant to dating the sheet. For example, these three player-team combinations guarantee that the sheet could not have been produced before or during the 1935 season.
Roger Cramer is shown on the Red Sox, the team he played with from 1936-40.
Gene Moore is shown with the Braves/Bees, the team he played with from 1936-38.
Jim Bottomley is shown with the Browns, the team he played with from 1936-37.
Of course, these same cards leave the door open to 1936 or 1937 as the date of the sheet. If we had nothing further to go by, I’d place a small wager on 1936 for the simple reason that it’s when cards of these players would have been the most exciting for collectors, i.e., right when they joined their new teams.
However, there is still more evidence to consider.
TEAM CHANGES, PART TWO
Three relevant team changes occurred following the 1936 season.
Rip Collins (not to be confused with the other Rip Collins, but more on that later) was traded from the Cardinals to the Cubs on October 8, 1936.
Lon Warneke was traded from the Cubs to the Cardinals in that same trade.
Lonny Frey was traded from the Dodgers to the Cubs on December 5, 1936.
We can see clearly from the uniforms of Collins and Frey that they are still with their original teams. As the trades occurred well in advance of the 1937 baseball season, it’s hard to imagine that National Chicle would have used this artwork for a 1937 release. (See this article for an example of how National Chicle handled team changes.)
As for Warneke’s card, the uniform is much more non-descript, though it most likely shows him as a Cub based on its similarity to the uniform of sheet-mate Phil Cavarretta.
Another notable team change belongs to Benny Frey (no relation to Lonny), who was with the Reds through the end of the 1936 season but did not play at all in 1937. (There is a sad story here, starting with Frey’s April 16 release by Cincinnati and ending with his suicide later in the year.)
Because Frey was still with Cincinnati in the 1937 preseason (though he saw zero action), his Reds card is compatible with a 1936 or an early 1937 release.
We know National Chicle was actively producing baseball cards in 1936. Furthermore, we know the company’s 1936 release included only 12 new players, a staggeringly low number for a set of cards intended to include “240 major league players,” not to mention a significant drop-off from the 60 new players introduced the year before. This signals (to me, at least) that something happened during (not after) the 1936 season that led National Chicle to stop making new cards. If so, pulling the plug even while twelve new cards were making their way to completion would be an unfortunate but not altogether unlikely outcome.
Alternatively, we can entertain the notion that our uncut sheet was simply the first (or one of the first) sheets put together for an ultimately ill-fated 1937 release. However, with National Chicle filing for bankruptcy “around March 1937,” the window for such a thing would have been tight, and I at least imagine company execs would have seen the writing on the wall enough to avoid unnecessary expenses such as baseball cards of Benny and Lonny Frey.
As our sheet is blank-backed, about the only remaining timing clues will come from the card images themselves. For example, were the sheet to include an image based on a 1937 photograph, we could completely rule out 1936 for the sheet’s production. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t find this.)
While I have been able to locate source photos for more than half the cards on the uncut sheet, none has provided any definitive evidence for 1936 over 1937 (or vice versa). Still, because the image overlays look cool, I’ll share my findings regardless.
The first example is Benny Frey, whose card image uses a cropped portion of his 1934 Butterfinger photo.
The second source image I found is for Mel Harder’s card. The same photo was used on his 1936 Leather Finish (R311) premium card.
The third source image I found is for Goose Goslin’s card, which matches a 1935 Detroit Tigers team issue photo.
The fourth source image I found is for Roger Creamer’s card, which “matches” his 1935-36 Diamond Matchbook. (Note the team change, however.)
The fifth source image I found is for the Lefty Gomez card, which matches his 1934 Butterfinger photo.
The sixth source image I found is a fun one. First off, can we agree Pete Fox’s card does look a bit odd? There is a twisting of his torso that suggests having misjudged the ball a bit or…
Hey, wait a minute, this picture looks a little too familiar!
Sure enough, the Diamond Stars artwork comes from a batting image of Pete Fox, one that was also used on his 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premium.
The final source image I found is the one corresponding to the set’s most unique card, the Bottomley/Hornsby combo card. Notes on the back date the photograph to late March 1936, probably between March 24 and March 28.
As with the other six source images, the dating of the Bottomley/Hornsby photo does not provide any definitive guidance as to dating the card or sheet. On the other hand, I’ll go back to my earlier point about when such a card would have been coolest to find in a pack. The Bottomley/Hornsby reunion (from their earlier stint as teammates with the Cardinals) was notable and exciting in 1936 but definitely old news by 1937.
I never did find the source photo for Phil Cavarretta, but I did find a second card (probably) produced from the same photo, at the same time learning there was a 1953 Parkhurst “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” set!
I also failed to find the Rip Collins source photo, but I did discover something odd with his card. As background, there were two players named Rip Collins who played in the 1930s.
James Anthony Collins (often “Ripper” but sometimes “Rip”), a first baseman, played from 1931-38 and 1941 with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates
In all likelihood, the Rip Collins shown on the Diamond Stars sheet was supposed to be the second of these two players. For one thing, the other Rip had been retired 5+ years. For another, he is wearing a Cardinals uniform.
Nonetheless, if we compare the baseball card of Rip of photographs of both Rips, there is a much stronger resemblance to Rip 1.0.
This is neither here nor there in attempting to date the Diamond Stars uncut sheet, but I thought it was still worth mentioning. The implication, of course, is that had the sheet of cards gone through production, young gum chewers might have ripped the wrong Rip.
As with most of the analysis I do, I can’t say there is a definite conclusion here. However, I do think the majority of the clues I’ve reviewed point to 1936 as significantly more likely than 1937. The strongest evidence, in my opinion, comes from the artwork used for Rip Collins and Lonny Frey (add Lon Warneke if you like!), which depicts players in uniforms that would have been outdated by the start of the 1937 baseball season.
If we accept 1936 as the year for the sheet, there is still the question of when in 1936. The likeliest spot for a sheet of cards that was never finished would be following the cards that were finished. Then its unfinished state could be easily explained by running out of money or time. If I had to make a guess, this would be it.
Were the sheet produced earlier than that, we would be left wondering why these twelve truly new cards were scrapped while comparatively stale reissues were greenlit for production. The simplest answer is always money, but was the cost of finishing this sheet really that different from reissuing an older series of cards?
After all, even the reissued cards were updated with new stats and in some cases revised artwork, biographical information, and card numbers, so this was not a situation where excess inventory from the year before was simply loaded onto trucks. One could argue that if the uncut sheet cards already had bios (which they might have, even if the lone surviving relic was blank-backed), the cost of sending them to production would be the same as moving ahead with reissues. So no, barring horribly expensive, slow, or unavailable bios still needed, I don’t imagine National Chicle would have halted these cards to crank out filler.
Another theory occasionally advanced and unrelated to money is that these cards were scrapped due to the artwork itself, with some National Chicle exec presumably hating the shift from stadium and city scape backgrounds (left, below) to geometric ones (right, below). My personal feeling is that yes, the old backgrounds were better, but no, nobody would choose this as their hill to die on.
My takeaway, therefore, is that the “1937 release” was in fact a relic from 1936, and was probably created after the various series of cards that genuinely made it into packs and onto shelves. In this sense, the twelve cards on the sheet may well be the final baseball cards National Chicle (almost) ever made, a swansong barely heard among the packing of equipment, shredding of papers, and closing of doors that would come soon enough, or too soon if you ask me.
Related reading: My friend Matthew Glidden discusses the possibility that National Chicle may have had its hands in yet another baseball set before being gobbled up by Goudey.
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” – Satchel Paige
My last three articles have examined the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set with the goal of establishing a more refined (e.g., monthly) release schedule for each year’s cards than anything previously documented. Having had success (apart from a “Rabbit hole”) in applying a particular technique to the 24 cards from 1934, I will now apply the same technique to the 60 new cards from 1935 and 12 new cards from 1936.
Specifically, a key to understanding the 1934 release involved associating each player’s age from his bio with the time interval where that age would have been accurate.
The question, then, is whether a similar analysis of the new cards from 1935 and 1936 will yield similar dividends, either in supporting or challenging my original timetables for each of these releases.
Careful readers may have noted the word new a few times already, and my use of it is intentional. The 1935 release included 84 cards, and I’m only looking at 60 of them. Similarly, the 1936 release included 48 cards, and I’m only looking at 12 of them. Why such an intentionally narrow lens?
Reasonably enough, when a player appeared in consecutive years, National Chicle simply bumped his age up by one from one year to the next. For example, the 1934 Al Simmons card presented his age as 31.
On cue, the Al Simmons cards from 1935 (left) and 1936 (right) present his age as 32 and 33 respectively.
This formulaic approach means that card ages for repeated players are simply perfunctory and not influenced by the specific timing of a card’s release beyond year. As such, they would only add clutter to an analysis that will already be messy enough without them.
For the 1935 release this means we should ignore cards 1-24, which were reissued from the prior year, and consider only 25-84. Following earlier hypotheses that the cards were released in series of 12 or multiples thereof, we’ll examine the cards twelve at a time.
Here are the first twelve (new) cards in the 1935 release, sorted by when each player would attain his “card age.” As Pepper Martin was born on February 29, I used March 1 for 1935 and noted the date with an asterisk.
As was the case in our 1934 analysis, there are a number of dates that make no sense for a 1935 set of baseball cards. Row, Rice, and Traynor, for example, would have “aged out” the year before the cards came out, while Berger and Rolfe would not hit their card ages until after the World Series. However, this initial table is based on the Baseball-Reference birthdates for each player, which we’ve seen don’t always match the birthdates assumed at the time these cards were produced. A review of more contemporary sources offers three corrections:
Rowe’s 1939 Play Ball card suggests 1912 rather than 1910 for his birth year.
Rice’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1892 rather than 1890 for his birth year.
Traynor’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1899 rather than 1898 for his birth year.
We can now update our table to reflect these changes.
In my main article on the 1935 release, I conjectured that these cards would have been issued in late April or so. The age data here do not reflect that. While the first eight cards are compatible with a release anywhere from April 6 to May 20, the last four cards list ages pointing to much later in the year (i.e., July 20 or afterward). In fact there is no single window where all 12 ages would be correct.
I have no firm conclusion to draw here and will instead list some possible explanations for these results.
Someone goofed, either in their math or their typesetting
Austen Lake/National Chicle used reference materials showing different birth years than what I can find
Ages on the backs of cards are notoriously unreliable, so what do you expect!
The last four cards really were released much later than the first eight
Before moving on to the next dozen cards, I’ll simply note a commonality among the last four cards listed, though I don’t believe it to be significant.
You may recall that the 1936 release included the reissue of 24 cards from near the beginning of the set, twelve that retained their numbering (shown in orange) and twelve that were renumbered 97-108.
In passing I noted earlier that these 24 cards disproportionately consisted of cards requiring team-related or other biographical updates. For what it’s worth, the last four cards from my table were all among these reissues. 🤷
The good news here is there are three players with no ages given, hence we have three fewer things that can go wrong! The bad news is we once again have data largely incompatible with the late-April release window speculated earlier.
This time I am able to replace two Baseball-Reference birthdays with more contemporary sources.
Ryan’s 1934 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.
Ferrell’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1906 rather than 1905 for his birth year.
Still, as before, we are left with multiple entries that poorly fit a late April release.
The case of Jo Jo White is most interesting to me. Yes, I suppose one could argue that Hubbell, Dykes, and the four outliers from the previous dozen were part of some postseason release, thereby making their ages correct. However, it’s hard to stretch that theory far enough to encompass White, whose age only becomes correct in June 1936!
This next table is our messiest one yet, though I do believe Hank Greenberg’s age of 34 on his card was simply a typo and intended to be 24.
As before, we can update a few birthdates based on contemporary sources.
Melillo’s 1933 George C. Miller card suggests 1902 rather than 1899 for his birth year.
Ruffing’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1904 rather than 1905 for his birth year.
With the Greenberg typo corrected, the data now include only one rogue conflicting with the “mid-June or so” estimate from my earlier article.
I’ll take a very quick detour here that has zero to do with my main effort. Notice two of the names on the list for whom no age was given: John Whitehead and Cy Blanton. Both were rookies in 1935 who got off to very fast starts.
Blanton through 10 games: 7-2 with 1.00 ERA, 2 shutouts, 9 complete games, and a save
Whitehead through 8 games: 8-0 with 2.86 ERA, 1 shutout, and 7 complete games
You can almost hear the National Chicle execs yelling at the editors: “We don’t have time to find their ages. Just get those damn cards out stat!” Of course you’re now wondering if Glenn Myatt got off to a similarly sensational start. He did not.
The initial data for the next twelve cards again has some curveballs.
This time I can only make one “correction.”
Owen’s 1938 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.
The result is seven cards compatible with my speculative “late July or so” release but four players very definitely in conflict.
I’ll take yet another detour to note that two of the names in yellow had what then would have been considered prodigious rookie seasons with respect to the long ball. (A third name, Wally Berger, was in the 1935 release as well but way back at card 25.)
We at last come to the final series of the year, one that I’d originally pegged as early September or so. The first player listed clashes considerably with that, but all others seem to match up well.
Happily, DeLancey’s 1936 World Wide Gum card suggests 1912 rather than 1911 for his birth year.
With DeLancey’s information updated, we now have a set of twelve card ages that would have all been correct from September 15 until October 14. Hallelujah!
This concludes our look at the 60 new cards from the 1935 release. As I noted at the top of the article, there may be no compelling conclusions to draw thus far. Across the 60 cards, a full dozen conflict with previously speculated release windows, and one, Jo Jo White, is incompatible with any 1935 release window. I will still offer one full-on conspiracy theory on this “dirty dozen” at the very end of this article, but it’s not one I take seriously.
While the 1936 release included 48 cards in all, only twelve, cards 85-96, represented new players. A full 24 were reissues of previous cards that retained their original card numbers, and twelve others were reissues that adopted new numbering from 97-108.
Here are my initial data using Baseball-Reference as my source for dates of birth. Right off the bat, the first 3-4 players appear problematic for a 1936 release.
Fortunately, this is a group of cards that cleans up nicely.
Appling’s 1937 Goudey card suggests 1911 rather than 1907 for his birth year.
Crowder’s (first) 1933 Goudey card suggests 1901 rather than 1899 for his birth year.
Moose’s 1938 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.
Hayworth’s 1939 Play Ball card suggests 1905 rather than 1904 for his birth year.
The revised table now has no conflicts at all with my previously speculated “early May 1936” release. However, a closer look reveals something else.
The full window when all card ages are correct is much broader, extending from April 2 through October 3. This is more or less the entire baseball season! So yes, the card ages support my supposed release window, but they would equally support just about any release window!
The first question you might ask is whether this outcome was intentional. Was it by design that all players would remain their “card ages” for the entire baseball season? Were the folks at National Chicle suddenly such perfectionists that they couldn’t chance a “card age” being wrong even briefly? Or were the birthdays of the players in question simply coincidence, even if the probability of nine randomly selected players having offseason birthdays is roughly…1 in 500?!
To follow this train of though to its conclusion, we should also look at the 36 reissued cards this same year. Do these cards show evidence of great care with respect to ages or are they largely haphazard? It took a while, but I checked it out.
This block is the one I originally theorized as leading off the 1936 release. As we’ve already seen, the window where all ages were correct ran from September 15-October 14. This brings up two possibilities:
National Chicle got the ages right and this series was a late-season rather than early-season release.
National Chicle didn’t worry about whether these ages were correct.
This block corresponds to the twelve cards from the early part of the checklist that were reissued with numbering intact. With Al Simmons (#2) “aging out” on May 22 and Jimmie Wilson (#22) not reaching his card age until July 23, there is no single window when all twelve players would have been their card ages. (Throw away Simmons and there is a brief window from July 23 through August 30.)
This block corresponds to the twelve cards from the early part of the checklist that were reissued with new numbering. With Earl Averill (#100) aging out on May 21 and Red Rolfe (#104) not reaching his card age until October 17, there is again no single window when all twelve players would have been their card ages. (Throw away Averill and there is a brief window from October 17 through November 11.)
I am not at the moment an adherent to the idea that the driving force behind the 1936 release was ensuring correct player ages. However, it’s still at least mathematically interesting to me that Diamond Stars could have batted 46 for 48 by releasing the four series according to this schedule:
One footnote I’ll add to this discussion is that the release schedule above wouldn’t only produce incorrect ages for Simmons and Rolfe but it would also result in an incorrect team (artwork and bio) for Irving Burns (#75), who went from the Browns to the Tigers on April 30. Otherwise, whether by coincidence or design, it holds up remarkably well, too well if you ask me.
RETHINKING THE “DIRTY DOZEN“
I promised I’d put forth at least some explanation for the twelve problematic card ages encountered in the 1935 set. While it feels most plausible, sensible, etc., to me to simply deem the card ages wrong, let’s at least consider the possibility that they’re correct (or at least all correct except Jo Jo White) and see where that takes us.
Offhand, the simplest way for these ages to be correct would be if they were not released in the series originally theorized but instead part of a late season sheet all their own. Such an approach would leave gaps in the earlier series, but we know from the 1933 Goudey set and others that leaving gaps could be an intentional tactic to boost sales, i.e., keep kids buying packs in hopes of finishing a run that can’t (yet) be finished.
The main reason I’m not sold on such a theory here is that only a very late release date for the “filler series” would solve the card age issues we’re attempting to solve here. If we include Jo Jo White, we would require a release date of June 1, 1936, or later, which creates more problems than it solves. White notwithstanding, we would still be looking at a release date of November 24, 1935, or later.
I also believe such a scheme would now be detectable on the PSA population report, probably in two ways.
Non-star players among these twelve cards would have similar populations to each other.
The earlier series would likely exhibit evidence of double-prints.
Checking the report, I don’t see either of these occurences.
I’ll also note that the sheet fragment we looked at in my 1935 article does cycle through all card numbers from 61-72 rather than exclude Foxx, Bonura, Medwick, and Trosky.
This sort of work isn’t an exact science but rather an arena where some clues point one way, some point another, and some point nowhere. When I began this article, I had some hope that an age analysis would either support or refute earlier assumptions about the 1935 and 1936 release schedules. Instead, I’ll liken the situation to a replay in MLB after a close play is challenged. Under the best of circumstances the review provides clear evidence that the original call was either correct or incorrect. Quite often, however, there is insufficient evidence and the call simply stands while not being confirmed. I think that’s where we are right now with Diamond Stars, at least absent any new angles not yet reviewed.
As always, let me know in the Comments what your own theories might be and especially if you know of information I’ve failed to consider.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ditto for Bill Hallahan whose 1933 Goudey card bumps his birthday from 1902 to 1904.
The situation is similar for the Fordham Flash whose birthday moves up a year from 1897 to 1898.
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.)
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.
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.