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.
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.
In my previous post I provided not only an overview of the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set but a deep dive into the cards that came out in 1935. Unless you are already an expert in Diamond Stars I recommend that you read that article or at least its introduction before jumping into this one.
My goal in this second article is to examine the 1936 Diamond Stars release, which consisted of cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108. Here is the checklist depicted graphically.
Particularly if you already know the very tidy subsets of cards that comprised the 1934 and 1935 releases, this listing of cards will appear quite haphazard at first glance. 73-108, that makes sense, but what’s with the random looking run of cards at the beginning?
That’s a question I’m very interested in attacking here, but before I do I should toss in a curveball. Going back to the run of cards 73-108, I’d like to split it into three groups, with the third one proving the most mysterious.
Cards 97-108: Renumbering of earlier cards in the set
Bill Dickey’s card #103 in 1936 is a good example of this third category as a nearly identical card numbered 11 was part of the 1934 and 1935 releases.
Now that you know the final twelve cards are renumbered repeats of earlier cards, you probably want to know which earlier cards. Here you go! The blue cells in the first four rows are the original versions of the twelve cards in the final row.
We now have a second way, though more imprecise than we’d like, to describe the 1936 release.
Largely a repeat of cards 1-36, though twelve are renumbered 97-108
Total repeat of cards 73-84
Twelve brand new cards, 85-96
If you’re like me that first bullet bothers you. What’s with card 46? And why not just repeat all of 1-36, or since 24 cards were selected, 1-24?
I’ll start with a partial answer to the second question. Card #7 is an example of one that is not recycled for 1936. It belongs to Lew Fonseca.
For more detail on Fonseca’s 1934 and 1935 cards, see my previous article. At present, suffice it to say that Fonseca’s final game as a player was way back in 1933 and even his managing stint only lasted until May 8, 1934. Therefore, a card in 1936 would be an odd thing indeed.
I suppose my same logic would dictate that a Fonseca card in 1935, which definitely did happen, was nearly as odd. However, that Fonseca card was fait accompli once the plan was made to recycle the entire 1934 issue in 1935.
But hey, if it’s 1936 and the plan is to not re-release the whole stack, Fonseca’s is an absolutely perfect candidate to exclude. So do all the “blanks” from that first run of 36 cards have a similar story? Unfortunately, the very first omission, card #1, provides an answer in the negative. Shazbot!
If there’s a story to the skipped cards in the early part of the checklist, it looks like it will be a complicated one. I’ll return to the matter at the very end of this article, but for now let’s look at the other oddity in the early part of the checklist.
Recall that card #46 was recycled (as card #106) seemingly out of the blue. Though you might anticipate the card to be a “must have” superstar, it actually belongs to Red Lucas. Hmm, that’s random.
Or is it?
Something you may remember from my previous article is that the Red Lucas card from 1935 had an uncorrected error. Despite being a member of the Pirates since the start of the 1934 season, the Lucas bio still had him with Cincinnati.
A-ha! Then the new card of Red was to correct the error? That makes sense! But…
The part of me that likes to believe there is order in the baseball card universe might imagine that Lucas was included in 1936 to correct the error, only someone goofed and forgot to do it. Of course, readers who prefer to abide by Occam’s Razor and other such advances in post-Medieval thought are welcome to regard the selection of Lucas as arbitrary.
We’ll come back to all of this soon enough, but for now let’s abandon these detours in favor of the main questions I took on for the 1935 cards and hope to repeat for 1936.
Were all the cards released at the same time?
Roughly when during the year were the various cards released?
As before, I’ll look at four categories of clues.
Structure of uncut sheets
Al Simmons (#2) went from the White Sox to the Tigers on December 10, 1935, so his Diamond Stars cards from 1934 and 1935 showed him with Chicago naturally enough. For the 1936 release National Chicle took the trouble of removing “SOX” from Al’s jersey. (If you’re interested I have a separate article on all such uniform variants across the set. There are five or six in all, depending how you count.)
This jersey update tells us the Simmons card was finalized after December 10, not exactly big news but still something tangible that supports what we might have otherwise merely assumed.
This next player, based on the date involved, becomes much more exciting. The St. Louis Browns selected Roy Mahaffey (#10) after he was waived by the Philadelphia Athletics on January 29, 1936. The removal of the “A” logo from Mahaffey’s jersey on his 1936 card tells us the card was finalized after January 29.
We looked at Dixie Walker’s card #12 in my 1935 article, but we can now look at it again based on his May 1, 1936 move from the Yankees to the White Sox. His 1936 card (far right) never identifies a team. However, the references to his daunting destiny of having to replace Babe Ruth on the Yankees have been removed.
Whether the text was removed because the Yankees waived him or simply because George Selkirk emerged as Ruth’s true replacement in 1935 is something we can’t say for sure, but I find the latter to be more likely. Had the card’s production followed the team change, I’d expect some reference to it on the card (i.e., “former Yankee” or “new Chicago outfielder”).
Heinie Manush (#30) left the Senators for the Red Sox on December 17, 1935. Again National Chicle responded with a jersey update, omitting the “W” from Heinie’s sleeve.
Kiki Cuyler (#31) changed teams midway through the 1935 season (waived by Cubs on July 3, signed by Reds on July 5), which would normally be outside the window of interest for the 1936 release. I’ll include his card here nonetheless since his 1936 version captured the team update. (I’ll also speculate later that a possible reason for his inclusion in the 1936 series was to make this update.)
Irving Burns (#75) went from the Browns to the Tigers on April 30, 1936. However, his (very cool!) 1936 card—like his 1935 card—portrayed him as a Brown. (See cap logo and first sentence of bio.) We can infer, therefore, that his 1936 card was likely finalized before April 30.
John Babich (#82) went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Bees on February 6, 1936, and we see the change reflected in his uniform. We can also conclude that his card was finalized after February 6.
Ethan Allen (#92) went from the Phillies to the Cubs on May 21, 1936. However, his 1936 Diamond Stars card portrays him with Philadelphia. (See cap logo and first line of bio.) We can infer, therefore, that his 1936 card was likely finalized before May 21.
Al Lopez (#97, originally #28) went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Bees on December 12, 1935. As no logos or team names appeared on his Dodger card, only his card back was updated to reflect the change (see last sentence of bio, “Al Lopez, of the Bees…”).
This completes our study of team changes. Since there were so many players involved, I’ll do a quick summary before moving on.
Repeated cards from early part of checklist
Simmons (#2) – Finalized after December 10
Mahaffey #10) – Finalized after January 29
Dixie Walker (#12) – No conclusion
Heinie Manush (#30) – Finalized after December 17
Repeated cards from end of 1935 release
Irving Burns (#75) – Finalized before April 30
John Babich (#82) – Finalized after February 6
Brand new cards for 1936
Ethan Allen (#92) – Finalized before May 21
Renumbered cards from earlier releases
Al Lopez (#97) – Finalized after December 12
Ultimately, this feels like a case where a lot of information doesn’t (yet) add up to anything. In particular, the data above are perfectly consistent with the entire 1936 release occurring as one big clump of 48 cards around Opening Day but equally consistent with a staggered release of some kind. Finally, even for a staggered release, we have no clues to suggest the order of the groupings.
Still, so we don’t walk away feeling totally empty-handed, I’ll update my graphical depiction of the checklist, using bold red to indicate cards where a significant update was made, either a team change or the revamped Walker bio. What emerges, if only barely, is a possible logic to the selection of the early repeats on the checklist.
On the other hand, there were six players in the 1935 set whose later team changes would have made them excellent candidates for 1936. However, none cracked the set.
I am aware of one uncut sheet from the 1936 release. It includes cards 85-96, corresponding to the set’s new players.
My main takeaway from the sheet, as was the case in 1935, was that cards were produced in groups of twelve.
CLUES IN BIOS
Beyond what already came up under “Team Updates” I went 0 for 19 in hunting for clues in the set’s first 19 bios. This next card takes me to 0 for 20 but it’s worthy of sharing nonetheless. You may recall the Chiozza card from my 1935 article where I noted his bio incorrectly billed the second year player as “new to the major leagues this year.”
Well, here he is in 1936 with that very same write-up. Louis Chiozza, the eternal rookie! Perhaps like Red Lucas his card was included specifically so it could be corrected…only it wasn’t. In other news, if I’m looking at the picture right, it looks like the batter has managed a rare 9-3 ground out.
Worth mention is card 87, Steve O’Neill. As he had not played since 1928, he was in the set purely as Cleveland’s manager. There were clearly more accomplished managers who could have been included in his place, so O’Neill’s is not a card I would have expected to fill one of only 12 new slots in the set. Then again, he did replace Walter Johnson, as the bio notes, and his card provided a means for documenting this within the set. (Note that Bucky Harris is another long retired player included in this portion of the set as a manager.)
There is also a small bread crumb pertaining to timing at the very end of his bio, essentially a prediction for the coming season. (Spoiler alert: The Guardians finished in fifth place, 22.5 games behind the Yankees.) More than likely such text signals a bio that was written either before the season started or before it was much underway.
The next card in the set, George Selkirk (#88), again offers no help with our timing questions but does provide a nice bookend for the Dixie Walker card back trilogy.
The Joe Stripp (#89) bio references a 1932 trade that included Tony Cuccinello, “now with the Braves.” As Cuccinello was traded to the Braves on December 12, 1935, we know Stripp’s card was finalized after that date.
As with the O’Neill card, the card of Ray Hayworth (#90) offers a small clue as to timing. Notably the last sentence tells us “the Tigers are favored to repeat in the 1936 pennant race.”
Though the team rebounded to a respectable second place finish, the Tigers started the year poorly and were as low as sixth place 60 games into the season. This suggests to me that the bio was written before the season or very near the beginning rather than any sizable number of games into it.
We’ve already looked at the Al Lopez card, but I’ll now call attention to a detail not previously discussed.
The second to last sentence in the bio refers collectors to a different card in the set, card 9, to learn more about catching. As you might imagine, young collectors in 1936 would have been justifiably frustrated if there were no way to obtain that card from packs. Thankfully, card 9 (Mickey Cochrane) was in packs, as one of the “random” repeats from the early part of the checklist.
There is one last card I’ll bring up in this section, and it’s one that could easily be the subject of its own article.
A funny thing happened to Wally Berger between card 25 (1935) and card 108 (1936). The “BRAVES” lettering on his jersey disappeared. Had Berger changed teams before or during the 1936 season this would make sense. However, Berger was with Boston all the way through June 15, 1937.
Ah, but here’s what did change. On January 31 a new name for the team was announced and the Braves became the Bees. Though an opportunity was missed to update the team name in Berger’s bio, I believe the jersey redo was a result of the team’s decision to jettison the Braves nickname.
Once again, a lot of hunting landed very little in the way of clues, but we can now update our previous summary with at least a modicum of new information, shown in italics.
Repeated cards from early part of checklist
Simmons (#2) – Finalized after December 10
Mahaffey #10) – Finalized after January 29
Dixie Walker (#12) – No conclusion
Heinie Manush (#30) – Finalized after December 17
Repeated cards from end of 1935 release
Irving Burns (#75) – Finalized before April 30
John Babich (#82) – Finalized after February 6
Brand new cards for 1936
Steve O’Neill (#87) – Probably finalized before season
Joe Stripp (#89) – Finalized after December 12
Ethan Allen (#92) – Finalized before May 21
Ray Hayworth (#90) – Probably finalized before season
Renumbered cards from earlier releases
Al Lopez (#97) – Finalized after December 12
Wally Berger (#108) – Finalized after January 31
As before, we do not yet have enough information to draw any interesting conclusions. Thus far nothing precludes a single, early season 48-card release, nor does anything suggest it.
PSA POPULATION REPORT
Happily, the PSA population report seems to tell us a lot.
Before interpreting the rest of the data, we’ll focus on the very tiny bar for card 12 (Dixie Walker) so it doesn’t bias our broader read of the data. For whatever reason, Walker’s 1936 card didn’t report his 1935 stats at the bottom, as would have been typical for other 1936 cards. As a result, PSA has misidentified many of Walker’s 1936 cards as 1935, even though the blue ink and other biographical clues clearly distinguish the card as 1936.
Ignoring the anomalous Walker bar, along with the “spikes” corresponding to more frequently graded star players, we see at least three groupings of cards evident in the graph.
Cards 2-84 (i.e., the “random repeats” and the 12 repeats from the end of 1935)
Cards 85-96 (i.e., the brand new cards in the 1936 set)
Cards 97-108 (i.e., the renumbered repeats from 1935)
I furthermore believe there is enough differentiation in that first grouping to arrive at four distinct groupings.
Though none of our earlier analysis even hinted at the nature of the 1936 release, I think this graph provides everything we need to conclude the 1936 Diamond Stars set was issued as four separate series. I think there is more we can say as well. What follows is an admittedly speculative narrative but one that seems to make sense empirically and logically.
The very low populations of cards 73-84 can suggest a series that was available only briefly. Recalling that the best way to ensure cards by Opening Day is to go with cards you already have, I suspect this series kicked off the 1936 release right around Opening Day, buying National Chicle a bit of time to prepare cards 85-96, which featured all new players for 1936. The gap between the two series wouldn’t have been long at all, with 85-96 likely hitting shelves by early May.
At some point the brand new cards ran their course, and one would normally assume another all new series would take its place. Clearly there were still numerous players available, so I have to assume there were business decisions that dictated otherwise.
Rather than throw in the towel entirely, National Chicle opted for the more economical path of simply recycling their cards from the early part of the 1935 release. These cards hadn’t been in packs for a while and they even featured some important team and bio updates. Unfortunately, as the population report suggests, collectors more or less yawned at the reissues.
Not ready to give up just yet but also unwilling or unable to pay the higher price of legitimately new cards, this is where National Chicle resorted to some trickery. Renumbering their next series as 97-108 seems to have provided a decent bump to sales but not enough of one to continue the strategy. After all, even recycled cards carry printing and distribution costs, not to mention opportunity costs. Whether there was more bang for the buck elsewhere or simply no more bucks to bang, the Diamond Stars set that was originally to have included 240 players came to an end after 96 players and 108 cards.
I suspect other storylines are possible, but this is the one that makes the most sense to me. It’s also one that allows me to return to the original question of why the 1936 repeats at the top of the checklist appear so haphazard.
Viewing the set as completed according to plan, the skips and randomness beg explanation. However, if we view the set as something abandoned while still in progress, then the skips make sense. The question is no longer why Lefty Grove was omitted. We might simply infer that his card was destined for a later grouping. From the looks of things, perhaps all of 1-36, 1-48, or even 1-72 was destined for reissue.
As for why a non-consecutive approach prevailed, this is something we also saw with the 1933 Goudey set. Missing cards 1, 3, 6, and 7, for example, keep their unwitting customers buying packs in desperate search for cards they have no idea aren’t there. Provided all the blanks are eventually filled in, no harm done, and I do think this was the original plan. So yes to Lefty Grove, and what the heck…yes to Lew Fonseca also!
Of course, none of this was to be, thereby ending one of my favorite sets of all time not with a proverbial bang but a whimper, notwithstanding the actual banging on the boardroom door by a defiant creative director.
I suggested in my previous post that I might dig in a bit more on the release schedule for 1934-36 Diamond Stars. Rather than go in order, I’ll start in the middle with 1935 since the Cy Blanton card is already fresh in my mind.
You may already know that the Diamond Stars set was released over a three-year period, according to the following sequence.
You’ll quickly notice that there is overlap across the three years, with cards 1-24 from 1934 repeated in 1935 and 24 more haphazardly numbered cards from 1935 repeated in 1936. Among other things, this led to a handful of cards (2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, and 22) being released all three years.
Buddy Myer is one such example and his card backs offer the opportunity to show that even the repeated (or three-peated) cards nonetheless changed from year to year. The most prominent and documented change comes in the updated stat lines. For example, the 1934 version notes Myer’s 1933 batting average while the 1935 version notes Myer’s 1934 batting average. Additionally, Myer’s age is updated from card to card to card. There is also variation in copyright lines, though it’s not as straightforward as 1934 to 1935 to 1936.
Beyond what’s evident from the numbering schemes, there is a second category of repeated players in the set. The final dozen cards from 1936, numbered 97-108, are virtual repeats of earlier cards from the first two years, though new numbers on the back render them a different class of repeats from those already noted. Bill Dickey, whose card was numbered 11 in 1934 and 1935, returns to the set in 1936 as card 103. (There is probably a story to this, but you won’t get it here.)
Now that we’ve covered the basic structure of the three-year release, we are ready to take a close look at the 84 cards that make up the 1935 series. These 84 cards fall quite naturally into two subsets: 1-24, which debuted in 1934, and 25-84, which reflected 60 brand new players.
Absent further scrutiny, I’m tempted to view 1-24 in the same way I view cards 1-24 of the 1934 Goudey set, which you may recall were repeats right down to the artwork of their 1933 Goudey counterparts. How better to put new packs on shelves pronto than to update some stats and ages but otherwise go with what you’ve already got? My conjecture, therefore, is that cards 1-24 came out together, presumably at the beginning of the season, ahead of the rest of the set.
One question then is whether there is evidence for this. Another question is how the remaining cards would have been released. For instance were all 60 issued together, or did they comprise multiple, smaller releases?
Following my approach with the Goudey sets, I’ll rely primarily on small bread crumbs in attempting to answer these questions. As such, I’ll state in advance that my results are truly speculative and should not be viewed as airtight. As for the categories of bread crumbs at my disposal, they primarily fall into four categories:
Structure of uncut sheets
Population reports (optional)
My very first article on the Diamond Stars set focused on players who changed teams across the set’s three-year release. As my current focus is the 1935 series, the players of greatest interest are those who changed teams in 1934 or 1935.
Among the first 24 cards on the checklist, the first relevant team change was George Blaeholder, who went from the Browns to the Athletics on May 21, 1935. That Blaeholder’s 1935 card (below) still has him with St. Louis suggests that the card was finalized before May 21.
The next card to reflect a team change is that of Dick Bartell, card 15 in the set. Bartell moved from the Phillies to the Giants on November 1, 1934, and his 1935 card reflects this by removing the Philadelphia logo from his jersey and cap. In terms of a release schedule, Bartell’s card only indicates finalization after November 1.
While not a team change per se Lew Fonseca went from team to no team in early 1934. He entered that season’s Spring Training as not only Sox manager but a contender for the starting first baseman’s job, only to hang up his playing spikes for good before the season began. While he did continue as manager, his stint lasted only 15 games before Lou Comiskey gave him the axe.
Fonseca’s 1934 Diamond Stars card identifies him as “first baseman and manager of the Chicago White Sox,” whereas his 1935 card identifies him as “formerly first baseman of the Chicago White Sox.” Of course, since the status change was so far back in the past, all it really tells us is that Fonseca’s 1935 card was finalized sometime after May 8, 1934, the day Fonseca was let go.
A final card to include in this grouping is that of Dixie Walker, card 12 in the set. In truth, Walker remained a Yankee throughout the entire 1935 season. However, it’s a different player’s team change that will interest us here.
Walker’s 1934 bio establishes him (no pressure!) as “the man who is expected to fill Babe Ruth’s shoes when the great Yankee slugger retires.” However, his 1935 card modifies the language to read “the man who is expected to fill the gap left by Babe Ruth moving to Boston (Braves).” We can put a date to the Bambino’s move (February 26) that also serves as the earliest date Walker’s 1935 card could have been finalized.
Among the block of cards from 25-84, the first player on the checklist to change teams during 1934-1935 was Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler, who was released by the Cubs on July 3 and signed by the Reds on July 5. While Cuyler’s 1936 Diamond Stars card places him on the Reds, his 1935 card still has him with Chicago (See final sentence of bio.) We can therefore infer that his card was likely finalized before July 3.
The next team change belongs to Blondy Ryan (card 40), who moved from the Phillies to the Yankees on August 6, 1935. As Ryan’s 1935 card keeps him with the Phillies, we might assume it was finalized prior to August 6.
The case of Red Lucas (card 46) is an odd one in that Lucas began the 1934 season with the Pirates but was nonetheless depicted on his 1935 (and 1936!) cards with the Reds. I simply regard this as an error rather than any clue to the card’s release date.
Card 53 in the set belongs to Oscar Melillo, who went from the Browns to the Red Sox on May 27, 1935. His card, one of my favorites in the set, depicts him with St. Louis, suggesting finalization prior to May 27.
The situation is similar with Glenn Myatt, card 58 in the set. Though he moved from the Indians to the Giants on May 26, 1935, his card—another beauty—still shows him with the former.
So far then we have seen nothing that conflicts with my theory of the 1935 release. However, we have also seen nothing conflicting with the idea that all 84 cards might have come out all at once at the beginning of the season. If there’s a bread crumb to point us elsewhere we haven’t found it yet.
That all changes with this next card, number 72, of Tony Piet who moved from the Reds to the White Sox on June 4, 1935. (His card bio notes he is “now with Chicago White Sox” though it curiously ignores his tenure with Cincinnati.) Because Piet enters the set with the White Sox we can infer rather positively that his card was finalized after June 4. This is exciting to someone like me!
As no other team changes occurred during the period of interest, we are left for now with the following conclusions.
Some of the 1935 cards were likely finalized early in the season.
At least one of the 1935 cards was finalized after June 4.
CLUES FROM UNCUT SHEETS
In contrast with the Goudey sets, there appears to be only one uncut sheet of Diamond Stars upon which to base any research, and even then it’s front is blank! On the bright side, it does come from our year of interest, 1935.
Rather than have you get out your magnifying glass, I’ll simply list the numbers:
Though there are 30 cards on the sheet, it’s worth noting that only 12 different cards are shown, specifically cards 61-72. Rows 4 and 5 are simply repeats of rows 1 and 2, while columns 5 and 6 are repeats of columns 1 and 2.
Again, this is not airtight, but my inference from this sheet, because it includes the Tony Piet card, is that this entire grouping of twelve cards was finalized after June 4.
Though less supported by any evidence, I would further suppose similar for cards 73-84 since they at least numerically come after the cards on this sheet.
UPDATE: Not sure how I missed it earlier, but here is another uncut sheet. As it’s from the 1936 issue we won’t dwell on details beyond noting that it includes twelve different cards.
CY BLANTON AND OTHER ASSORTED CLUES
The card that sparked my interest in the 1935 Diamond Stars release schedule was that of Pirates hurler Cy Blanton, card 57 in the set.
As noted in my previous article, his bio establishes him as among “the most effective pitchers in the major leagues” despite having almost no major league services prior to 1935. We can infer from the bio that Blanton’s card was finalized during rather than before the 1935 season and specifically late enough in the year for his hot start to register as more than a fluke.
If we assume Blanton would have need to pitch at least three good games to warrant such a write-up we conclude that his card would have been finalized after April 28. If we further assume Blanton’s card would have been part of a sequentially numbered sheet of 12 (plus repeats) we can then conclude cards 49-60 were similarly finalized after April 28. Notably, this sheet would have included two players we examined already, Oscar Melillo (53) and Glenn Myatt (58), whose cards we inferred were finalized before May 27 and May 26 respectively. The suggestion, therefore, is that this sheet was finalized between April 29 and May 26.
A player with a somewhat similar story to Blanton’s is John Whitehead, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He did not make his big league debut until April 19, 1935, yet is described on his card as “the sensational White Sox pitching find.” While this could be based solely on his strong record in the Texas League or an impressive spring training, I’m more inclined to believe the moniker came from his remarkable start to the 1935 season. His record after 8 games? 8 wins, no losses, and nary even a no decision!
Of course the only place to go from there is downhill, and downhill Whitehead went! Following his undefeated April and May, he went winless in June, losing all six games he pitched and posting an ERA of 4.41.
As with Blanton, I’ll assume it would have taken at least three games to achieve “sensational” status. If so, Whitehead’s card would have been finalized after April 28. This is the same date noted for Blanton, and the two cards are on the same sheet. In my book this is another bread crumb supporting cards 48-59 having been finalized between the end of April and late May 1935.
Fellow SABR Baseball Cards author Randy Robbins dedicated a full article to the Diamond Stars Jimmie Foxx card in May 2020, owing to its unusual depiction of Foxx as a catcher and the bio’s citing of his split time behind the plate and at first base “since Micky [sic] Cochrane became manager of Detroit.”
Randy noted in his article that Foxx did not catch at all in 1934, Cochrane’s first year with the Tigers, but did begin the 1935 season at catcher. In fact, Foxx was the starting catcher in 24 of the team’s first 26 games before reassuming the reigns at first base. This led Randy to speculate that Foxx’s card was issued sometime during the 1935 season, a theory that I fully endorse.
From what I can tell, the decision to have Foxx catch in 1935 was announced well ahead of the start of the season. Here is the October 2, 1934, Rutland (Vermont) Daily Herald, for example.
Therefore it’s certainly possible the Foxx bio could have included the information about catching in anticipation of the coming season. However, it seems more likely that the text would have been written after Foxx had caught some number of games in 1935. If we assume Foxx had at least three games under his belt, then we’re looking at April 20 or later.
As the Foxx card is number 64 in the set, it was part of the uncut sheet seen previously that also included the Tony Piet card. We have already established the Piet card, hence likely all cards from 61-72, as being finalized after June 4, a window that makes the Foxx bio even more apt. (By June 4, Foxx had started 12 games at first base to go with his 24 starts at catcher and two starts at third base.)
The bio for Lou Chiozza, card 80 in the set, reads as though 1935 was his debut season. On the contrary, he played 134 games in 1934, suggesting his bio is simply in error or was written the year before.
At the moment I’ll simply regard this card as an oddity and avoid any inferences as to the set’s 1935 release schedule.
In order to synthesize all of this information into a coherent release schedule, a couple assumptions are helpful.
Cards were finalized and released in groups of 12 or multiples of 12 such as 24 or 36.
Groups were finalized and released in order.
Earliest group of cards
Our look at Dixie Walker’s card (#12) and its Babe Ruth reference established that his card (hence cards 1-12 at least) were finalized after February 26 while our look at George Blaeholder (#13) suggested that cards 13-24 were finalized before May 21. In other words, the door is wide open to having all these cards ready by Opening Day, even if the late change to the Walker card might have created a bit of a hurry-up.
It’s possible that cards 25-36 if not 25-48 fall into this same grouping since all we saw is that Kiki Cuyler (#31) and Blondy Ryan (#40) were likely finalized before July 3 and August 6 respectively.
Based on the Oscar Melillo (#53) and Glenn Myatt (#58) cards, we concluded cards 49-60 were likely finalized before May 26. On the other hand, the Cy Blanton (#57) and John Whitehead (#51) cards suggested finalization after April 29. Give or take a couple days, we can infer that cards 49-60 were finalized sometime in May, hence likely to have hit shelves either in late May or sometime in June.
There is no evidence to refute any of the cards from 1-48 from landing in this grouping. However, I’ll stick to my guns that 1-24 would have been on shelves by Opening Day, leaving only 25-48 uncertain.
June and beyond
The Tony Piet (#72) card required that cards 61-72 be finalized after June 4, a fact supported by the Jimmie Foxx (#64) card as well. This means cards 73-84 would have been finalized after June 4 as well, either with cards 61-72 or afterward.
Something I haven’t touched on yet is that cards 1-72 from 1935 feature green ink on the back while cards 73-84 can be found with green or blue ink.
My takeaway from this is that cards 61-84 were not produced together and that cards 73-84 formed their own final release.
Obviously there is significant guesswork throughout my analysis, so my conclusions may well be incorrect. Nonetheless I’ll sum up my speculative release schedule as follows.
By Opening Day – Cards 1-24
Probably later – Cards 25-48
Late May or June release – Cards 49-60
Late June or later release – Cards 61-72
After that – Cards 73-84
As always I’m happy to hear in the Comments if you have information that either supports or casts doubt on my findings. Down the road I’ll take a largely similar approach to the 1934 and 1936 Diamond Stars releases.
EXTRA FOR DIE-HARDS
While it’s often (correctly) said that population reports neither reflect true population nor scarcity, I’m a believer that certain inferences from population reports are nonetheless valid, including what I’m about to apply to the Diamond Stars release.
With apologies to those viewing on their phones, here is the PSA population report for 1935 Diamond Stars.
One thing that’s easy to spot is that the graph has numerous spikes, i.e., bars that are much taller than their neighbors. Card 44 is one such example, as are 50 and 64. Not surprisingly these anomalies in the data represent Hall of Famers and stars more likely to be graded than commons from the set. If you like, the three cards noted are Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, and Jimmie Foxx. Conversely, the graph has other bars that are about the same height as other bars in their neighborhood. Cards 55-58 are good examples of this and correspond to Tony Cuccinello, Gus Suhr, Cy Blanton, and Glenn Myatt.
If we train our eyes on the graph and ignore the spikes, an interesting pattern emerges. The graph begins with a neighborhood of low bars, and it corresponds precisely to cards 1-24. The graph then progresses through a set of significantly taller bars. This occurs precisely from cards 25-48. Following that, the bars continue at an intermediate height, which you can either associate with cards 49-84 or perhaps segment into two groupings: 49-72 (slightly taller) and 73-84 (slightly shorter).
I’ve added vertical red bars and horizontal pink bars to the graph to illustrate these neighborhoods.
You’ll recall from my initial analysis that there was some uncertainty as to whether cards 25-48 were released with cards 1-24 or comprised all or part of a later release. I believe the population graph now makes this clear, while perhaps also suggesting the set’s initial 24 cards were offered only briefly as if to buy time to get the new cards ready.
You’ll also recall from my initial analysis that cards 49-60 and 61-72 were presumed to have been finalized at different times. However, the graph is fairly flat across the entire interval from 49-72. There are a few ways this apparent discrepancy can be reconciled.
While the cards may have been finalized in distinct batches of 12, the two batches certainly could have been released at the same time.
The two batches could have been released separately but simply in similar quantities to one another.
While difficult to discern visually there is in fact a small but not necessarily significant difference in the bar heights with 61-72 being slightly taller than 49-60.
Were I to refine my original and highly speculative release schedule based on the population report data, I’d probably end up with something like this.
Cards 1-24: Early April ahead of Opening Day
Cards 25-48: Late April, after Opening Day
Cards 49-60: Mid-June or so, with much longer delay than from first release to second release.
Cards 61-72: Late July or so
Cards 73-84: Early September or so
If you made it this far, I have good news! The fun continues in my next article with a similar analysis of the 1936 release.
Imagine yourself a young card collector in early 1935. Okay, fine. I’ll help you.
“What’s the point? Maybe I’ll just throw all these away…” you think to yourself as you rifle through the sack of Goudey cards you dutifully collected over the last couple years. Let’s face it, the 1935 four-in-one design just isn’t doing it for you. Compared to the cards of years past, the (often recycled) pictures are tiny, you loathe the extra work of cutting them yourself, and the puzzle backs don’t even seem to go together!
A couple friends in the neighborhood tried to get you into National Chicle Diamond Stars in 1934, but you declared yourself a Goudey loyalist, at least outwardly. The truth is you just didn’t have the spare change to start collecting multiple sets. And even if you did, why chance where that slippery slope could lead?
Still, you had to admit the cards were attractive….and the baseball tips just might help your game, which wasn’t exactly attracting the attention of Pittsburgh brass!
It was a small set too. Only 24 cards in 1934, with Lloyd Waner the only Pirate. Maybe you should have made the move from Goudey. Then again, the Diamond Stars set appears to have been a one-and-done in your part of town. You try asking the man behind the counter if the new Diamond Stars are in only to receive a blank star in return.
So yes, what’s the point of even collecting anymore? You hate the four-in-ones, but they appear to be the only game in town. Shouldn’t it be possible to follow your hometown Pirates without the need for a stack of cards at your side? Plus, you’d read their Goudey card backs so many times you pretty much had them memorized. Arky Vaughan? Bats left handed but throws right. Weighs 175 pounds. Bill Swift? “One of the main reasons why the Pirates win ball games!”
And then Blanton-mania struck. As SABR biographer Gregory Wolftells it, “Cy Blanton broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in a blaze of glory.” What kind of blaze? Think Jake deGrom. And no, I’m not talking about rookie deGrom. I’m talking about present day deGrom.
Jake deGrom (thru July 1): 14 starts, 1 CG, 85 IP, 0.95 ERA
“The hard-throwing right-hander with an array of screwballs, curves, and sinkers” (SABR Bio) became your new obsession, completely surpassing your love for Big Poison and Little Poison. When pops fished out his T206 Wagner, declaring Hans the greatest Pirate of them all, you muttered “…until Blanton” under your breath before puzzling for a moment as to why a grown man would even own a baseball card.
Plus, if baseball cards were so great, why was there no Blanton card?
The thought was interrupted by the screech of bike tires followed by banging on the front door. Was someone dying? Was the world coming to an end? Why such urgency from little Jackie who was usually quite reserved?
“Look who I got! Look who I got!”
“Wait, what?!” There really is a Blanton card? But how could that be? He didn’t even play last year, did he? [Author’s note: He did, but just one game.]
“Lemme see! Lemme see!” you demand, practically ripping the card out of Jackie’s hand to admire it. That quick, your love of cards not only returned to you but completely consumed you. You need this card more than you need air and water. If we’re being honest, you need this card more than you need your friend Jackie, am I right?
After offering your entire collection, which included all four 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards, for the Blanton, a deal Jackie refuses due to A) Blanton-mania, and B) brand loyalty, you beg, borrow, and steal from your folks until you have more money in your pocket than you’ve ever had in your entire life: nine cents.
Eight packs in, you have a mouthful of gum but little else to show for the small fortune you arrived with: Stan Hack, Billy Urbanski, Cliff Bolton, Buck Jordan, Glenn Myatt, Billy Werber, Fred Frankhouse, and an oddball card of Jimmie Foxx as a catcher! But then, like a pre-Hobbsian Roy Hobbs (movie version, not book), you come through with a monster rip in the ninth.
For reasons unknown, even later in life, your mind raced to an exciting World of Tomorrow where humans could not only propel themselves to the moon but digital currencies as well, and card collectors communicated with each other by electromagnet technology so small it could fit in their pockets. Without understanding the means or the mechanism, you imagined yourself “sharing” your pull with friends even two or three towns away, along with the rhetorical, unorthodoxly capitalized, and interrobanged phrase that would unwittingly become standard only 85 years later—
“I’ve never had a kid faint from a pack of baseball cards. You’re lucky I had my smelling salts handy.” [Author’s note: I too fainted from a pack of baseball cards. 1981 Fleer, “C” Nettles error.]
Yeah, fainting was weird, but you didn’t have time to dwell. The Blanton! Where’s the Blanton!
Grabbing it off the floor you turn it over to read the back, a feat made difficult by lingering dizziness.
Eventually, the card comes into focus.
It was official. May 29, 1935, was the best day of your entire life. No less and authority than Austen Lake, right there on the back of your Blanton card, told you to “save your best stuff for the pinches” and you did. Ninth pack, Darrell E. Blanton, ’nuff said.
Little did you know that this phenom hurler was about to surrender 16 earned runs across his next four games, more than doubling his ERA from 1.00 to 2.01. He would still finish the season with a league-topping 2.58 to go with 18 victories, but like many phenoms he would pursue the shadow of his rookie campaign unsuccessfully for the rest of his career. Even still, your Blanton hording only grew, particularly when word hit the neighborhood that he had a Goudey also! (If memory serves, you traded your dad’s prized Wagner card for it.)
When the 1940 season began sans Blanton [Author’s note: He joined the Phils in May], you looked back at your paper-clipped stacks of his rookie card, shaking your head in much the same way 1990s collectors looked back on their screw-down holders of Kevin Maas and Todd Van Poppel or modern collectors may someday view their PSA slabbed cards (if they ever ship) of Akil Baddoo and Wander Franco.
Of course the thing about baseball cards is that it may not matter what a card is worth later on. What matters most is that immediate and magical feeling of thinking you have something really special and therefore are something really special. There may be healthier and more sustainable paths to self worth, but for nine cents…this is a helluva deal!
* * * * * * * * *
In other news, happy birthday to Cy Blanton, who would be 113 today were he still around. And for the Diamond Star junkies out there, here is what may be an interesting tidbit from the back of his card.
You may already know that the Diamond Stars set was issued over three years, according to this release schedule:
The Blanton card, numbered 57 in the set, was part of the 1935 release. The above decoder ring aside, you can note his complete 1934 (International League) record at the bottom of the bio, along with a 1935 copyright date.
However, the portion of the bio I’ve highlighted in red tells us that this card would not have been out at the start of the season. I would imagine it would have been at least early May before anyone would seriously include Blanton among “the most effective pitchers in the major leagues.” Add however long it takes to print, slice, pack, and truck the cards to retailers, and I can’t imagine this card hitting the shelves before June 1935.
Was this the case with the entire 1935 issue, only the new additions (25-84), or some even smaller subset? For those who enjoy these things, I suspect there is some fun to be had in checking the backs of all the 1935—if not 1934 and 1936—Diamond Stars for clues. This is something I did earlier this year ad (hopefully not yours) nauseam with the 1933 and 1934 Goudey sets, so perhaps it’s something I’ll take on with Diamond Stars. In the meantime here is some additional reading on the set.
This summer I’ve been fortunate to be part of—okay, co-organizer along with Mr. Shake of—the very cool Josh Gibson MVP “Card Art” tournament. The tournament includes more than 70 artists from five countries and was created to help make the case for naming MLB’s (nameless since 2020) MVP trophies after Josh.
Many of this blog’s readers no doubt roll their eyes at the concept of “Card Art” and prefer to stick to “real cards” thank you very much, but here’s the thing. These are real cards. I don’t mean this in any philosophical sense either. The majority of the cards in the tournament are being produced with the support the Josh Gibson Foundation, which not only approves the cards but has provided certificates of authenticity.
The result is that Josh Gibson, whose sky-high profile among baseball’s pantheon received a serious boost last week from Baseball-Reference, now has several dozen new, independently produced, licensed trading cards, many of which are downright stunning, to go along with the recent Topps Project 70 offerings from artists Efdot and Chuck Styles.
The tournament, hosted by the Negro Leagues Baseball Marketplace, began May 10 and is expected to run through July 12. The first phase of the tournament consisted of a series of weekly competitions, with weekly winners determined by a combination of Twitter engagement and website voting. (Feel free to follow the tournament at the NLB Marketplace twitter account.)
Ultimately the overall winner will be selected through a Tournament of Champions, itself consisting of two phases. The first will be an NCAA Tournament-like bracket to determine the Final Four. From there, a panel of celebrity judges ranging from MLB All-Star Al Oliver to Dodger EVP Janet Marie Smith to a who’s who panel of top artists and entertainers will crown a champion.
As a participant in the tournament, a practitioner and collector of Card Art, and a super-fan of Josh Gibson, yes, I’m biased, but I tend to think the Josh Gibson MVP Card Art set is hands down the set of the year. One could quibble with whether the 70+ cards truly form a set since every card has a different design and has been produced by a different artist/studio. Additionally, I should note that a few of the cards are not being released in physical form, such as this 1988 Score-inspired, HTML/CSS-generated rainbow from Baseball-Reference savant Adam Darowski, making the full tournament set an impossibility to complete.
For cards that have been made available to collectors, distribution has generally ranged from 10-50 cards per artist, based on agreements between individual artists and the Josh Gibson Foundation. To my knowledge the card with the highest production run, 100, is card #12 from Montreal-based artist Josée Tellier. Notwithstanding print runs of zero, the lowest print runs are attached to various handcrafted 1/1 cards such as this stained glass piece from Indiana artist Joel Hofmann.
…and this original pencil drawing (!) from Manitoba-based artist Robb Scott.
The set’s most recent weekly winner, from accomplished Topps artist Josh Trout, will be another very challenging card for collectors to add. It will only be available as a 1/1 card as part of the 2021 Topps Canvas Collection.
The tournament was open to all interested artists, and some used the Tournament to make their (at least public) debut into the world of Card Art.
“Having a seat at the table of trying to incorporate Negro League history into the baseball mainstream,” is what motivated Arizona-based Roger Nusbaum to join the tournament, citing his participation in the Josh Gibson MVP campaign as “an honor and a purposeful endeavor, a chance to try to achieve something important.”
Other artists, such as SABR member Mike Bryan (aka Obi-Wan Jabroni) of Tallahassee, connected with the Josh Gibson MVP campaign on an even more personal level, cherishing the “opportunity to be involved in such a worthy movement and show my own interracial daughter that for every crazy look she gets when we’re out in public, there is someone willing to stand up and fight for what’s right.”
Mike is far from the only SABR member with a card in the set. Andrew Wooley of Millburg Trading Cards, who was also the official card artist of the late Dick Allen, put out this fantastic card week one.
SABR Chicago member John Racanelli has one of the few cards released through the first seven weeks that is not already sold out. (In case you’re wondering a $10 donation to the Josh Gibson Foundation is all it takes to add this card to your collection, while supplies last.)
That same week of the tournament also featured SABR members Adam Korengold, who paints directly onto existing baseball cards, and Donna Muscarella, who combines cut Allen & Ginter cards with her own original photography.
SABR member and water color artist Michael Lewis (aka Mighty Lark) had an entry back in week three of the tournament.
This will be a big week for the Josh Gibson MVP Card Art set as nearly 20 new cards will drop, setting the table for next week’s Tournament of Champions. Winning the tournament will undoubtedly mean a lot to whichever artist takes home the trophy, but a common theme among the artists is that they are much more teammates than rivals. The real prize, if it happens, will be seeing Josh Gibson’s name on Baseball’s MVP trophies.
“I can be quite competitive, but to be honest, its been nothing but an honor to be a part of this tournament,” says Daniel Kearsey of Sixty-First Street Cards. “I was up against some amazing artists the week I submitted my art. It was so awesome to see everyone’s work. It didn’t matter if I won or lost. What mattered is getting Josh the recognition he deserves.”
As Dom Czepiga (aka DINK), a card artist who has collaborated with Orioles star Trey Mancini puts it, “My vision was for a highly respectful simple yet regal feel befitting one of the best baseball players in the history of the sport. It had to be exceptional as it will take its place in history as part of the campaign to rename the MVP Award the Josh Gibson Memorial MVP Award.”
The card art entry from Atlanta-based pop artist Scott Hodges, produced one of the tournament’s most memorable images, one of Josh the Basher “breaking through the barriers of the past” as a Joker-like Commissioner Landis looks on.
However, the last word on the MVP campaign goes to Sean Gibson, whose hand-signed statement accompanies the back of John Racanelli’s special edition card 1/50. This, more than anything else, is the goal of the set and the tournament.
Here is the Project #JG20MVP set’s complete checklist of 75 cards, not including SP and SSP variants, along with a pic of the cards I’ve managed to collect so far. (UPDATE: You can now see all 75 cards thanks to this video!)
There are so many different ways to collect baseball cards, and no single way is the right way. On the contrary, “collect what you like!” is the advice most commonly given to new collectors who ask. I’m not here to discredit such advice, but I am here to augment it. After all, part of collecting what you like involves knowing what’s out there and what the options are.
My focus in this article is on what is known in the Hobby these days as “player collecting,” i.e., collecting cards of specific players. Our blog already includes Player Collection Spotlights on Tim Jordan, Jim Gantner, Brooks Robinson, Keith Hernandez, and Ozzie Smith, and I’m hopeful that other SABR members who collect specific players will submit additional articles.
Before jumping into the state of the modern Hobby, I’ll back up a bit to around 1981 when things were much simpler but card shows were frequent enough that I was able to collect far more than what was on the shelves of my local 7-Eleven. Favorite players at the time were Steve Garvey, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, and George Brett, all of whom were well represented in contemporary sets but also had cards that pre-dated my own entry into the Hobby.
The way I approached collecting these players matches what I’ve found to be the understanding of others around my age who have recently re-entered the Hobby. For example, someone hoping to start a Roberto Clemente collection might initially presume a checklist of 19 Topps cards, one per year from 1955-1973. Perhaps they’d also remember that the Great One might have graced some All-Star or League Leader cards–maybe even a food issue or two. What they wouldn’t expect would be the nearly 6000 (!) cards they’d see when looking up Clemente on Trading Card Database.
Yikes!! How the Hobby has changed since 1981! And with these changes, two questions arise?
Is it even possible to collect all of my favorite player’s card?
Is there any point to collecting my favorite player’s cards?
Assuming the favorite player is a popular Hall of Famer, the answer to the first question is almost always no. Taking Clemente as an example, he had 20 different 1/1 (“one of one,” meaning only one such card was ever produced) cards from last year’s Topps Project 2020 alone. Were you lucky enough to find one, good chance its price tag would be several thousand dollars or more. Good luck picking up all twenty!
I am fortunate in that Hank Aaron “only” has 5,335 cards, but of course this number goes up (by a lot!) every single year. Do I plan to do what the old boxes and wrappers said and “COLLECT THEM ALL?” Not a chance, and I call myself a Hank Aaron collector?!
Still, as collectors there is something in our DNA that compels us to complete sets. Were we to acquire the aforementioned Roberto Clemente Topps run of 1955-1973 with the exception of a single card, we’d spend more time agonizing over the missing than enjoying the 18 in front of us. We are programmed to be “completists,” meaning there are only two ways to go when we figure out we can’t be:
Make a new plan.
I’ll focus on the second of these strategies.
Keep it Simple?
In the face of an overwhelming and seemingly infinite checklist, an approach many collectors take is to focus solely on Topps base cards from each year’s main (“flagship”) set. This is the approach Dave wrote about when he first shared his Jim Gantner collection with us. Of course most of us in the Comments completely lost our sh*t: “Only Topps?! What? Not even Fleer and Donruss????”
Really, though, this is a fantastic option for collectors. Not only is it (typically) easiest on the wallet but it also provides (for most players of the Topps era) a year-by-year record of the player’s career that collectively tells the story of the player in baseball card form. What teams did he play for? How did he look when he was young? How did he look when he was old? What position was he most known for each year?
Barring an expensive rookie card (e.g., Clemente) or demands for gem mint, the above approach is generally tenable, which is a good thing until it isn’t. For weeks, maybe months, or maybe even years, the mission was to collect the whole set, and now all of a sudden it sucks to be done! Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar calls this the Arrival Fallacy, the belief that when we attain a certain goal we’ll be happy when in reality we feel let down and lost.
Fortunately, there are often some simple ways to extend a player collection without (yet!) sliding down the slippery slope to completism. One of the most standard ways is to stay within Topps flagship but add other cards that feature the player prominently:
Record Breaker or Highlights cards
In the case of Hank Aaron, cards like this become additions to the checklist.
Another Topps flagship card many star players–particularly from the 1950s and 1960s–might have is what Trading Card Database calls a CPC (“combination player card”). In the case of Aaron, there are several. Here are two of my favorites.
Other simple extensions to the player collection focus, still within Topps flagship, are League Leader cards and Team Cards. Personally, I don’t chase these cards for my Aaron collection, but many player collectors do.
An extreme case I’ve been asked about but not encountered personally is collecting the generic set checklists within flagship, provided the player’s name appears. Does this really look like a Hank Aaron card to you? (But if it does, go for it!)
Up to now I’ve covered most (but still not all) of the ways one might define a player collection within Topps flagship. While my example has been Hank Aaron, the picture isn’t tremendously different for other Hall of Famers of the Topps era.
Sticking with Topps
Most years, Topps issued more than just its popular flagship set. Examples that showcase the variety of such offerings are 1955 Topps Double Headers, 1965 Topps Embossed, 1975 Topps Minis, and 1985 Topps Traded. Go much later than the 1980s and be prepared to encounter an absolutely seismic increase in number.
Of the non-flagship offerings, I consider Traded/Update sets to be the most essential. This doesn’t impact my Hank Aaron collection, but it does, for example, demand that the 1984 Topps Traded Dwight Gooden card be part of my Gooden collection. My standard temptation in this realm is to want everything. However, many of the Topps releases were “test issues” with very limited production and distribution, hence very pricey.
Two such examples in my Hank Aaron collection are the 1969 Topps Super test issue and the 1974 Topps Deckle Edge test issue. I am glad I have these cards today, but I’m not glad enough to pursue other Aaron test issues such as his 1974 Topps Puzzle. My advice to collectors here is first to learn what’s out there, which is easy to do thanks to the PSA Registry or Trading Card Database, and then next to get a sense of prices. From there you can decide whether you want all, some, or none. “Some” is of course a spot most collectors hate. All I can say is it’s my current spot, and I’m learning to live with it more and more.
Another point I’ll add that may factor into which cards the player collector chooses to pursue is that many non-flagship sets are unusually sized, either much larger, smaller, or rounder than standard baseball cards. If an important goal for your player collection is to display it, size and shape can be important considerations. Of my tougher Aaron cards, I love that my 1958 Hires Root Beer, 1960 Lake to Lake Dairy, and 1969 Topps Super cards all fit my 50-card Pennzoni display case. Conversely, I hate that my 1974 Deckle Edge is much too large for it.
Defining the Era
If your player collection involves a retired player, one of the most important decisions to make is whether you’re interested in cards from any year or solely from his playing (and/or managing/coaching) career. My approach tends toward the latter, though it’s still occasionally fun for me to pick up a low priced modern card of the retired players I collect.
For example, I am thrilled to have this 1961 Topps card of Roy Campanella and this 2021 Topps card of Hank Aaron. What I’m not looking to do is chase every post-career card of these players that comes out. There are a few reasons.
On one hand, it’s the post-career cards of most retired greats that multiply their player collector checklists tenfold if not more. Second, so many of the cards are extraordinarily expensive due to their manufactured scarcity–e.g., intentional print runs of 1 or 5 or 10. Finally, when you produce dozens if not hundreds of Hank Aaron cards each year, it’s just basic math that a whole bunch will be ugly.
Collecting more than just Topps cards is a decision I’d encourage for most player collectors. However, the numbers do multiply quickly, particularly once you hit the late 1980s when it seems like everybody and their cousin were issuing baseball card sets.
Keeping my focus on the Topps era (1951-present), I’ll offer that most non-Topps cards thru about 1990 fell into these convenient categories–
Bowman (1951-55 and…shoot, if you insist…1989-1990)
*Referring here to the premium U.S. issue, not the Canadian Donruss releases of the mid-1980s
That last category is extraordinarily large and some would argue it’s where the most fun is. However, from a completeness perspective, I tend to view it as less essential than the first six categories. For example, Hank Aaron’s 1955 Bowman card was a “must have” for me, as would have been the case were there cards of him in 1960 Leaf or 1963 Fleer. Though I do have several O-Pee-Chee Aaron cards and many, many oddballs, I’m not sure I’d regard any as essential to my collection.
Again, my advice is to learn what’s out there, get a sense of prices, and choose accordingly. For the top players, the oddball category proves too large to collect everything. Of course, there are so many great cards in it that collecting nothing doesn’t feel very good either.
Order from Chaos
Though it’s where I’ve landed with my own player collections, I’ll be the first to admit there’s something icky about pursuing a largely amorphous checklist. How satisfying it would be to say “I’m collecting all of Hank Aaron’s cards” or even “I’m collecting all of Hank Aaron’s cards from his playing career” as opposed to “I’m collecting Hank Aaron’s Topps/Bowman flagship playing career base cards, most of his Topps playing career non-base cards, some of his playing career Topps non-flagship, some of his playing career oddballs, and a pretty random mix of his modern stuff.” Of course, the cost of a simpler sentence might be triple, and there is little chance the joy of collecting would be commensurate.
The important thing, again going back to collector DNA, is not so much what’s on your list but that you have a list, even if it ultimately evolves. Your list may defy any simple explanation beyond “the cards of Player X that I want.” Though it’s subjective and won’t necessarily match the list of any other collector, it’s still a list that enables you to pursue a goal, check things off, and someday “collect them all!”
It’s also where I believe we are forced in the modern Hobby, where new offerings are too plentiful to keep up with and older cards quickly leave many collectors priced out.
Overall then, my guide to player collecting is simple:
Learn what’s out there
Get a sense of prices if not sizes
Create your own checklist, in stages if you like
Modify as needed, but be thoughtful
Before wrapping up, I’ll elaborate on that final point. Once you complete your checklist, of course you’ll want to add more cards to it. Almost always, the cards you add in latter phases aren’t as “must have” as the ones from earlier phases, but they often cost just as much if not more. As I grapple with adding on to my Hank Aaron collection, I’m very conscious of the fact that what I spend for the 110th through 120th Hank Aaron cards I want could probably fund an entire Topps run of Frank Robinson or Ernie Banks!
My final advice is to look beyond the what and why of your player collection to the how. Whatever cards you collect will almost certainly be more enjoyable if they build relationships in the Hobby. Share your goals with the collecting community, post the occasional pickup, and be willing to spend a couple bucks more if it means buying from a “real person” as opposed to an anonymous eBay seller. In the end, the collection is just cardboard, but the relationships and memories can be gold.