Boston Unions

Much like the Baltimore Unions, Boston’s Union Association entry was one of the league’s more stable. Of the five Union Association clubs that completed their full schedule, only Cincinnati and St. Louis used fewer players than Boston’s 25. The Boston Unions (not the Reds as the history books say) officially joined the Union Association in March 1884, making them the last of the original eight clubs to join the UA. This makes it all the more remarkable that the club finished with a 58-51 record. For comparison, Altoona joined in February and finished a disastrous 6-17 before folding at the end of May.

The efforts to bring Union Association baseball to Boston were led by a triumvirate of Boston baseball legends, George Wright, pitcher Tommy Bond, and first baseman Tim Murnane. Wright’s involvement with the Unions has more or less been forgotten, but it is clear from contemporary accounts that Wright was the driving force behind the Boston Unions. The 33-year-old Murnane, a National Association and National League vet, who last played major league baseball in 1878, was slated to be the club’s first baseman and manager. The veteran pitcher Bond, once the best young pitcher in baseball, but now 4 years removed from his last injury free season. Amazingly pitching 3359 innings by the age of 24 is not good for the arm. Bond is the patron saint of gifted twirlers felled by crippling arm troubles.

Unlike most of the Union Association, Boston fielded its club with promising young players, rather than trying to poach players from established clubs. Thanks to Wright and Murnane’s scouting and a strong amateur baseball scene in the Boston area, the club was filled with young talent. Murnane was the club’s only regular above aged 26, while Bond was the only member of the pitching staff over 25. (As an aside, 19-game-winner James Burke’s birth date remains unknown). Among the talent, future major league regulars included 17-year-old outfielder Mike Slattery, 20-year-old pitcher/outfielder and future Hall of Famer Tommy McCarthy, 22-year-old third baseman John Irwin, and 22-year-old outfielder/pitcher Ed “Cannonball” Crane.

Despite raves from the Boston press, the Unions were not able to overtake the National League’s Red Stockings in the hearts and minds of the Boston faithful and drew poorly. After an opening day crowd of 3000 on April 30, just a few days later on May 5, they drew a crowd reported to be under 100. For a league whose admission prices were 25 cents and who promised a $75 guarantee to the road team, showings like these were a death knell. It seems apparent that George Wright was footing the bill for the team’s expenses. Indeed, Wright’s sporting goods empire, Wright & Ditson, published the official Union Association guide, so he was clearly a booster of the rebel league.

After a promising start, the 28-year-old Bond faltered as the club’s ace earning his release in June. The club landed disgruntled Detroit lefthander Dupee Shaw in mid-July, a coup for the Union Association, which was desperate to pluck major league talent from the rival National League and American Association. Shaw was dominant for the Boston, striking out a staggering 309 batters in 315.2 innings, while posting a 1.77 ERA (good for a 170 ERA+). His 451 strikeouts for the year (including 144 with Detroit) are the fourth best mark of all time.

Despite a dominant hitting season by catcher/outfielder “Cannonball” Ed Crane, the team’s offense was a weak point and prevented them from challenging for a higher position in the standings. Crane batted .285/.308/.451 with 12 home runs (good for second place in the league) and a 152 OPS+ (good for fifth in the league).

The club was dragged down by the poor hitting of Mike Slattery, 23 year old Kid Butler, and Tommy McCarthy. The teenaged Slattery hit just .208/.216/.232 good for a 51 OPS+. Of the 28 UA regulars who qualified for the batting title, Slattery was 28th. Butler, Boston’s left fielder and utility man was even worse, hitting just .169/.206/.227 for a 46 OPS+ in 71 games. Future Baseball Hall of Famer, McCarthy, hit just .215/.237/.244 good for a 62 OPS+ in 53 games. He totalled a -1.0 offensive WAR, -0.3 defensive WAR and put up an 0-7 record in the pitcher’s box, with a 4.82 ERA and a 63 OPS+. This was good for a -1.4 WAR on the mound. So in 53 games, he put up a -2.7 total WAR. All this in what is almost universally regarded as the lowest quality major league in history. (I am not going to comment on the major league credentials of the National Association). McCarthy’s 1884 season has a reasonable case as the worst season by anyone ever. His transformation from unfathomably bad to Hall of Famer has to be one of the most remarkable metamorphoses in baseball history.

The Boston Unions representation in the Old Judge set consists of four players: McCarthy, Slattery, Crane and third baseman John Irwin.

1. Tommy McCarthy

I wrote about McCarthy in the first blog in this series. There are 13 different poses capturing McCarthy’s transformation from struggling youth with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1887 to his burgeoning stardom with the St. Louis Brown Stockings. These 13 poses also include at least 30 variations and are illustrative of how complicated and unwieldy the Old Judge (N172) set is. (As an aside, all images are sourced from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, which despite its vastness is still incomplete, hence the lack of inclusion of every pose for each player I discuss).

 

 

2. Mike “Kangaroo” Slattery

Mike “Kangaroo” Slattery was just 17 years old when he debuted for the Boston Unions in their first ever game on April 17, 1884. He is the youngest major league regular in baseball history, appearing in 106 games for the Unions. At 6 foot 2 and 210 pounds, he was one of the biggest players in the major leagues throughout his career. Unfortunately his athletic never translated into much hitting ability. After his teenage debut, Slattery spent the next few seasons in the minor leagues, before reappearing with the New York Gothams in 1888. He jumped the Players League Giants in 1890 and wrapped up his major league career with stints in Cincinnati and Washington in 1891. His post playing career including surviving a stabbing while trying to stop a shoplifter and a premature death at age 37 in 1904 due to stomach trouble.

Slattery is pictured in six poses with at least 12 known variations.

 

 

3. Ed “Cannonball” Crane

Ed “Cannonball” Crane had a very unusual and memorable career as the rare player to appear regularly both at catcher and pitcher. A powerfully built 5’9 and 215 pounds, Crane’s 1884 season was easily his best. Crane’s rookie season was split between catching, where he made a staggering 64 errors in 42 games, and the outfield. He also appeared at first base and on the mound. While his defense was dreadful, he showed tremendous power, hitting 12 home runs and 23 doubles. He also set the record for the longest throw, when he threw a baseball an estimated 405 feet (he did this on several occasions in October of that year), breaking former Cincinnati Red Stocking John Hatfield’s record of 400-402 feet. Crane hit well in limited time with Buffalo and Providence in 1885. A dreadful 1886 season with Washington in which he hit just .171, while also putting up a 1 and 7 record with a 7.20 ERA prompted a return to the minors. Pitching for the International League champion Toronto Maple Leafs, he hit .428 while winning 33 games. He returned to the majors with the New York Giants in 1888, where he pitched 12 games including the first no-hitter in New York Giants’ history, a seven inning affair on September 27 against Washington. The following week, he became the first player ever to strike out four batters in one inning. He made two starts for the Giants in that year’s World Series, going 1 and 1, helping the Giants to a 6 games to 4 win over the St. Louis Brown Stockings.

Crane joined the Giants as they toured the world with the Chicago White Stockings that off-season. Crane, who reportedly was not a drinker, quickly shifted into the life of the party on the tour. Crane dressed in fine clothes and regaling teammates and reporters alike with outlandish stories and song. He consumed wine and liquor at the seemingly endless banquets held for the touring baseballists. He missed several games due to drunkenness and hangovers. His throwing arm remained intact however, as he set an Australian record by throwing a cricket ball 384 feet and 10.5 inches in Melbourne. Somewhere along the way, he was provided with a Japanese monkey by an American sailor. The monkey terrorized passengers on-board, which Crane kept hidden in his coat pocket. At the end of the trip, Crane brought the monkey to New York, where he christened it the Giants’ new mascot.

Despite missing time due to injuries, Crane compiled a 14-11 record in 1889. The Giants won the pennant again. Crane showed flashes of his tremendous potential when he won 4 games for the Giants as they defeated the American Association’s Brooklyn Bridegrooms in that year’s World Series. Crane like most of his Giants’ teammates jumped the Players’ League in 1890. It was this season that Crane’s drinking started to takeover. His weight ballooned and in August he was arrested at a Harlem watering hole under charges of resisting arrest. He finished with a 16-19 record as the Giants’ finished a disappointing third. Crane walked a stunning 208 batters against just 116 strikeouts in 330 innings. Crane’s poor personal habits were singled out as the main cause of the club’s struggles.

Crane joined the King Kelly’s Cincinnati entry in the American Association for 1891. In doing so, he became one of the few players to appear in four different major leagues. Crane pitched well, leading the league with a 2.45 ERA with a 14-14 record, but he was criticized for his poor condition and lack of effort. The club disbanded in August and Crane jumped to the crosstown Red Stockings in the National League, as a replacement for Hall of Famer Old Hoss Radbourn. Crane went 4-8 in 15 starts.

Crane returned to the Giants in 1892, going 16-24 with 189 walks and a 3.80 ERA. His arm was faltering and his major league career ended in 1893 with dismal stints for the Giants and Brooklyn. Crane tried without success to find work as an umpire, appearing as a substitute umpire in five National League games over the next couple of seasons. He bounced around the minor leagues, drinking heavily at every stop. He reportedly committed suicide on September 19, 1896 by overdosing on a chloral hydrate prescription in Rochester, New York. He was just 34. Credit to Brian McKenna for the great SABR biography on Crane.

Crane appears in six different poses in the Old Judge set, capturing his time with both the National League and Players’ League versions of the Giants.

 

 

4. John Irwin

John Irwin lived in the shadow of his older brother Arthur Irwin. The elder Irwin was a star infielder for the Providence Grays, who in 1884 were rampaging towards the National League pennant. The previous year, Irwin was credited with inventing the fielder’s glove. John Irwin had made his major league debut in 1882 playing a single game alongside his older brother for the Worcester Grays. He spent 1883 with Bay City of the Northwestern League and from there joined the Boston Unions as their starting third baseman. Manning the hot corner, the 22 year old Irwin had a respectable rookie season. He was light hitter, but his .234/.260/.319 batting line was good for a 94 OPS+. In the field, his .780 fielding percentage was remarkably .003 points better than the UA league average for third baseman. No word on whether he used his brother’s glove. Despite his strong  blood lines, youth and promise, Irwin returned to the minors for most of the next three seasons, making brief stints in the majors with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1886 and Washington Nationals in 1887. Irwin earned modest playing time for the last-place Nationals in both 1888 and 1889 and then jumped to the Buffalo Bisons of the Players’ League in 1890. The Bisons finished in a distant last place with a record of 36-96. Irwin joined the eventual American Association pennant winning Boston Reds in 1891. The Reds were manager by his older brother Arthur. John played 19 games, but was released in July. I would hate to hear that conversation…Sorry bro, you suck.

From there, John joined the last place Louisville Colonels closing out his major league career with 14 games before being released in August. Irwin appeared for 5 different last place clubs in his major league career. Quite a record considering his career lasted just 322 games. He bounced around numerous minor league clubs until the turn of the century. He passed away at age 72 in 1934 in Boston.

Despite Irwin’s role as a part-timer on a last place club, he is featured in five different poses in the Old Judge set.

Irwin looks into his crystal ball to see what the future holds (last place probably):

 

The Baltimore Unions (not the Monumentals)

In contrast to the fragility of the ill-conceived Altoona Unions, the Baltimore Unions were one of the Union Association’s stronger and more stable franchises. The club was situated as a rival to both the American Association’s Baltimore Orioles and the Eastern League’s Baltimore Monumentals (the Baltimore UA club was exclusively referred to as the Unions, not the Monumentals as currently credited). Under the management of Baltimore baseball mogul, Bill Henderson (whose brother A. H. Henderson was president and principal owner of the UA’s Chicago franchise), they were one of just five UA franchises to complete their full schedule. The Baltimore Unions finished with a 58-47 record, good for fourth place (maybe third, depending on how you want to rate Milwaukee, who played just 12 games).

Despite the club’s relative stability and quality, the roster of the Baltimore Unions is a researcher’s nightmare. 37 different players appeared for Baltimore, including at least 3 whose first name is either unknown or in flux, as well as outfielder, Daniel Sheehan, whose appearance on August 27 is not currently credited. Sheahan played under the alias John Ryan, but is not the John Ryan who pitched for Baltimore that year.

The club lacked pitching depth and so it leaned heavily upon number one starter, 26 year old Bill Sweeney. Sweeney was member of the 1882 Philadelphia Athletics and pitched quite well as the club’s change pitcher. He spent 1883 with Peoria of the Northwestern League and was recruited by Baltimore for the 1884 season. Sweeney pitched very well for Baltimore and was one the league’s top pitchers. He started 60 games, pitched 538 innings and won 40 games. In the process, he shredded his arm and never pitched in the majors again.

Despite strong performances by future major league stars Yank Robinson and Emmett Seery, Baltimore had one of the league’s worst offenses. The biggest culprit was the club’s starting centrefielder, 39 year old Ned Cuthbert. Cuthbert appeared in the National Association’s inaugural season way back in 1871 and he is perhaps best known as the player-manager of the 1882 St. Louis Brown Stockings (thus making him the first manager in Cardinals franchise history). Some sources have him as an influential force in getting Chris von der Ahe involved in baseball. But by 1884, Cuthbert was a poor choice to playing centre field. He hit a meager .202, he compiled a staggering -1.6 WAR in 44 games.

But you’re not here to learn about the roster minutia of the Baltimore Unions, you’re here for Old Judge.

Of the 37 Baltimore Unions, a total of five appeared in the Old Judge set: Yank Robinson, Emmett Seery, Jumbo Schoeneck, Dick Phelan, and Gid Gardner. So let’s learn more about these folks.

1. William H. “Yank” Robinson

Yank Robinson made his major league debut as a 22 year old shortstop, playing 11 games for the Detroit Wolverines before washing out. As a 24 year old in 1884, he did what he did best, draw walks. His modest total of 37 led the league. Keep in mind that Union Association rules meant it took seven balls to draw a walk. Robinson put up a 123 OPS+, while playing 5 different positions including both catcher and pitcher. Thanks to his versatility, which included 75 innings of league average pitching, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called him the Union Association’s best all-around player. Robinson would join the St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1885 and serve as a vital cog in the club’s burgeoning dynasty. He led the league in walks in both 1888 and 1889 (setting major league records both years with 116 and 118 respectively), despite paltry batting averages of .231 and .208. He finished up his career with Washington in 1892, hitting just .179. Sadly, he died in 1894 at age 34 of tuberculosis, just over two years after playing his last major league game.

Robinson is pictured during his salad days with the St. Louis Brown Stockings. As a star player for one of the best teams in baseball, it is no surprise that he is pictured in six different poses in the Old Judge set.

A “sliding” Yank Robinson:

Goodwin & Company William H. “Yank” Robinson, Shortstop, St. Louis Browns, from the Old Judge series (N172) for Old Judge Cigarettes, 1888 American, Albumen photograph; sheet: 2 11/16 x 1 3/8 in. (6.9 x 3.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (63.350.215.172.1562) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/403865
Goodwin & Company
William H. “Yank” Robinson, Shortstop, St. Louis Browns, from the Old Judge series (N172) for Old Judge Cigarettes, 1888
American,
Albumen photograph; sheet: 2 11/16 x 1 3/8 in. (6.9 x 3.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (63.350.215.172.1563)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/403866
Goodwin & Company
William H. “Yank” Robinson, Shortstop, St. Louis Browns, from the Old Judge series (N172) for Old Judge Cigarettes, 1888
American,
Albumen photograph; sheet: 2 11/16 x 1 3/8 in. (6.9 x 3.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (63.350.215.172.1561)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/403864
Goodwin & Company
William H. “Yank” Robinson, Shortstop, St. Louis Browns, from the Old Judge series (N172) for Old Judge Cigarettes, 1888
American,
Albumen photograph; sheet: 2 11/16 x 1 3/8 in. (6.9 x 3.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (63.350.215.172.1564)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/403867

2. Emmett Seery

John Emmett Seery was a 23 year old left fielder for the Baltimore Unions in 1884. He was the club’s best hitter by far, posting a 142 OPS+ on the strength of a .313/.342/.411 batting line. He joined the UA champion St. Louis Maroons when they joined the National League in 1885. Seasons like Seery’s 1885 are good evidence of the disparity of play between the two leagues. In 59 games with St. Louis, he hit just .162/.220/.208. His time with the Maroons was highlighted by a brawl with his teammate, the tumultuous pitcher Charlie Sweeney. Despite his struggles with the Maroons, Seery soldiered on and became a solid major league player. His greatest strengths were his power, speed and walk rate. The Detroit Free Press wrote of his patient approach: [He was] a good enough waiter to preside at a restaurant. His strongest season was probably his 1889 season with Indianapolis where he hit .314/.401/.454 with eight home runs. He also stole over 40 bases three times, with a high of 80 in 1888 (good for second in the National League). After his career ended in 1892, he became the proprietor of a thriving orange grove in Florida. He died in Saranac Lake, New York in 1930.

Seery is pictured in four different poses during his time in 1887 with the Indianapolis Hoosiers.

Seery looking like the coolest man alive in my new favorite Old Judge:

 

 

3. Louis W. “Jumbo” Schoeneck

“Jumbo” Schoeneck was a giant for the time. At 6 foot 2, 223 pounds, he towered over most of the players in his day. Schoeneck was a 22 year old rookie first baseman in 1884. He started the season with the Chicago Unions, where he was one of the league’s strongest hitters, hitting .317/.332/.404 in 90 games. The Chicago club moved to Pittsburgh in late August and then folded on September 19. Reports in the Baltimore papers suggested that both Baltimore and Pittsburgh were under the same management (as mentioned before the Henderson brothers headed up the two clubs). When the Pittsburgh club disbanded, Baltimore signed eight players from the club including Schoeneck. In 16 games with Baltimore, Schoeneck struggled, hitting just .250. He bounced around the minor leagues for the next couple of years, before getting a couple of stints with the Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1888 and 1889. His National League career consisted of 64 games in which hit .237/.283/.260. Nonetheless, he appears in four different poses (with at least 15 known variations) from his time with the Hoosiers and the Western Association’s Chicago Maroons in 1888. He died in his native Chicago in 1930.

Schoeneck demonstrating his bocce form:

 

 

4. Gid Gardner

In a lot of ways, Franklin Washington “Gid” Gardner is the stereotypical uncouth ballplayer of the 1880’s. Amidst various suspensions for drunkenness, fights, and arrests for assaulting women and frequenting brothels, Gardner managed to forge a 12 year professional career, split among 8 different major league squads and at least 11 minor league clubs. Despite his tumultuous personal life, he was a versatile player, who appeared at six different positions in his career. His 1884 season is typical, as he began the season with the American Association’s Baltimore Orioles. After assaulting a prostitute at a brothel in St. Louis, he was put in jail and then suspended by Orioles’ manager Billy Barnie. He jumped to the Chicago Unions. When the Unions folded and merged with the Baltimore Unions, Gardner was not among the players signed. Nonetheless, Gardner found his way into one game with the Unions on September 23. Gardner was back with the Orioles in 1885 and was with Indianapolis in 1887. He was traded to Washington for baseball’s first triple crown winner Paul Hines, where he appeared in 1 game and then was traded to Philadelphia for Cupid Childs, where he appeared in another game. Amazingly, he is pictured in 3 different poses in the 1888 Old Judge set with both Washington and Philadelphia. Gardner’s pro career ended in 1891 and he bounced around local Boston semi-pro teams, never finding stable employment or transitioning to civilian life. He died in 1914. Check out Charlie Bevis’ nice SABR bio for more on Gardner’s “exploits.”

Gardner and Miah Murray in a beautifully framed horizontal card:

 

 

5. Dick Phelan

Goodwin & Company
James Dickson “Dick” Phelan, 2nd Base, Des Moines Prohibitionists, from the Old Judge series (N172) for Old Judge Cigarettes, 1889
American,
Albumen photograph; sheet: 2 11/16 x 1 3/8 in. (6.9 x 3.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (63.350.215.172.1801)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/404484

A native of Towanda, Pennsylvania, James Dickson “Dick” Phelan would enjoy a to a long professional career that lasted from 1883 to 1899. In 1884, Phelan was the rookie second baseman for the Baltimore Unions. He was a light hitter and his defensive statistics show him to be somewhat average. In 101 games, he hit .246/.268/.316 and put up -1.4 WAR. Phelan moved on to play a handful of games with the Buffalo Bisons and the St. Louis Maroons in 1885 and then became a minor league staple in multiple leagues. At age 44, he was still plugging away with Dallas/Montgomery in the Southern Association. He settled in the south and passed away in San Antonio in 1931.

He is featured with Des Moines in 1889 in four different poses in Old Judge.

Phelan pictured as the dapperest hipster alive:

Goodwin & Company
James Dickson “Dick” Phelan, 2nd Base, Des Moines Prohibitionists, from the Old Judge series (N172) for Old Judge Cigarettes, 1889
American,
Albumen photograph; sheet: 2 11/16 x 1 3/8 in. (6.9 x 3.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (63.350.215.172.1800)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/404483
Goodwin & Company
James Dickson “Dick” Phelan, 2nd Base, Des Moines Prohibitionists, from the Old Judge series (N172) for Old Judge Cigarettes, 1889
American,
Albumen photograph; sheet: 2 11/16 x 1 3/8 in. (6.9 x 3.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (63.350.215.172.1802)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/404485
Goodwin & Company
James Dickson “Dick” Phelan, 2nd Base, Des Moines Prohibitionists, from the Old Judge series (N172) for Old Judge Cigarettes, 1888–89
American,
Albumen photograph; sheet: 2 11/16 x 1 3/8 in. (6.9 x 3.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (63.350.215.172.1817)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/404487

 

Old Judge (N172) and the Union Association

I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the Union Association, baseball’s bastard major league. 

134 years after the Union Association’s single season, the league remains mysterious and enigmatic. Compared to baseball’s other former major league’s, the Union Association’s influence is scant at best.

After all, the National Association of 1871 to 1875 is baseball’s first attempt at a major league and is directly responsible for the creation of the National League. The American Association was formed in 1882. It’s legacy includes marketing baseball to the working class with beer and 25 cent tickets. The AA also gave birth to four of baseball’s greatest franchises: the Cincinnati Reds, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Players League of 1890 attempted to usurp baseball’s power structure and give players control of their careers. The Federal League of 1914-1915 directly led to the establishment of baseball’s anti-trust exemption.

Meanwhile the Union Association has no significant legacy. Esteemed thinkers such as Bill James have suggested that calling the Union Association a major league is a significant mistake.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with baseball cards. Well, one of the fascinating and frustrating aspects of researching the Union Association is the lack of visual documentation of the league’s existence. I’ve found a team photo of the Boston Unions and a few scorecards and advertisements, but otherwise photos or illustrations of Union Association players and uniforms are virtually non-existent.

There are no Union Association baseball cards.

But there is the Old Judge (N172) set. Of the 500+ players featured in the mammoth N172 set, 60 are Union Association alumni. Approximately 277 players appeared in the Union Association in 1884, spread across 13 different franchises that appeared in 14 different cities. So that means roughly 20% or the league’s players were pictured in the Old Judge set and it provides the most comprehensive visual account of the men who played in the UA.

Of those 60 Union Association alumni in the Old Judge set, only a handful were or would become star major league players. I’ll focus on what I deem the top 5 players to appear in the Union Association in this post. In future posts, I will do a team by team breakdown of Old Judge cards featuring UA alums.

1. Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap

Virtually forgotten now, Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap was arguably the best second baseman in baseball in the 1880’s. Hall of Fame second baseman Frank Grant was nicknamed “The Black Dunlap” as a tribute to the strength of his play. Dunlap was a legitimate star and one of the few great players to jump from the National League the Union Association. In each of his first four previous seasons with the Cleveland Blues, he finished in the top ten in position player WAR. As the crown jewel of the UA champion St. Louis Maroons, he led the UA in virtually every offensive category, including a .412/.448/.621 slash line and a 256 OPS+, which is the best non-Barry Bonds OPS+ in major league history. He quickly declined upon his return to the National League due to injuries, but his peak is Hall of Fame worthy and in just 965 career games he totalled 36.8 WAR (I am using baseball-reference for WAR totals).

Dunlap is pictured as captain of the Pittsburg Alleghenys, longingly remembering the 1884 season when he had the whole baseball world in his hands. ca. 1888

2. “Pebbly” Jack Glasscock

“Pebbly” Jack Glasscock was a promising shortstop for the Cleveland Blues and Dunlap’s double play partner. He famously defected from the Blues along with pitcher Jim McCormick and catcher “Fatty” Briody to join the Cincinnati Unions in August 1884. Glasscock hit .419 in 38 games for Cincinnati, as he helped the club to a second place finish. He would enjoy a long career amassing 2041 hits and establishing himself as the game’s premier defensive shortstop. With 61.5 career WAR, he has a strong case for the Hall of Fame and was named by SABR as an Overlooked 19th Century Legend in 2016.

Glasscock is pictured with the now defunct Indianapolis Hoosiers ca. 1887 to 1889, though at least one variation has him in an Indianapolis uni with a hastily added “New York” on his chest, covering his move to the New York Giants in 1890 after the John T. Brush owned Indianapolis Hoosiers folded. Brush purchased the Giants and brought former Hoosiers like Glasscock and Amos Rusie over to the Big Apple.

3. Jim McCormick

Pitcher Jim McCormick was one baseball’s best pitchers in the 1880’s. As the workhorse of the Cleveland Blues from 1879 to 1884, he led the National League in victories and innings pitched twice, while also leading the league in ERA+ and ERA in 1883. Frustrated by a heavy workload and low pay, he joined the aforementioned Glasscock and Briody in defecting from the Blues to the Cincinnati Unions. He would post a sparkling 21-3 record with a UA leading 1.54 ERA in two months of work down the stretch. He joined Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings after the UA folded and had a couple more strong seasons before retiring after the 1887 season. His 265 career wins and 75.2 career WAR are the most of any UA alum and had he pitched for better known club in his peak, he would probably be in the Hall of Fame.

The stout McCormick is pictured in his Chicago White Stockings uniform ca. 1886. This means that the photos for the Old Judge set were taken as early as 1886, though generally were not released until 1887. (He spent 1887 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, but his Old Judge cards list him without a team, and none of his Old Judge variations capture him in an Alleghenys uni.)

4. Jack Clements

Baseball’s last full-time left-handed catcher and one of the first to adopt a chest protector, Jack Clements was just 19 years old when he made his debut for the Keystones, Philadelphia’s Union Association entry. Despite his youth, he hit .275/.318/.401 with a 146 OPS+ in 41 games for the dismal Keystones. When the Keystones were on the verge of folding in early August, he was sold for $500 to the rival Philadelphia Phillies. The proceeds of the sale settled an outstanding debt for the lumber used to build the Keystones ballpark. Clements would become a key contributor for the strong Phillies clubs of the 1890’s. His .394 average in 1895 remains the all-time record for a catcher. He totalled 32.1 career WAR in 17 seasons and is one of the top catchers of the 19th century.

Clements is pictured with the Phillies, eternally waiting for the pitch to arrive ca. 1887 to 1890.

5. Tommy McCarthy

Tommy McCarthy is also the only Union Association player elected to the Hall of Fame. As a 20 year rookie, he debuted with his hometown Boston Unions as a pitcher and outfielder. He did not enjoy much success at either position, going 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA on the mound and hitting just .215 in 53 games. He has a reasonable case for being the worst regular in the Union Association. He bounced around several major league clubs before establishing himself as a star with the St. Louis Browns. He enjoyed his greatest success alongside Hugh Duffy on the Boston Beaneaters, where the duo was nicknamed “The Heavenly Twins.” McCarthy was credited with inventing the “hit and run” and was acknowledged as one of the most strategic players in the game. His 14.6 WAR is the lowest of any Hall of Famer, though it seems he was elected more his pioneering influence than his on field credentials.

A pre-stardom McCarthy is pictured with the Phillies ca. 1887 committing homicide via tag. He also appears in other variations from his time with the Brown Stockings.

 

1887 Kalamazoo Bats

The 1887 Kalamazoo Bats card set contains somewhere around 60 cards consisting of team photos, portrait style photos, outdoor photos, sliding, trees, and more sliding and trees. Since we don’t see a lot of 19th cards getting that much exposure here, I thought I’d introduce you to some of my favorite Kalamazoo Bats.

Kal1

 

Outfielder Harry Lyons is getting checked out by the trainer. What other card set would have the trainer get equal billing? Billy Taylor was probably the local vet just back from delivering a litter of puppies. “Your paw…..I mean …..your hand looks fine, probably just one broken bone. Now get out there and play.”

 

 

Kal2

This is Metropolitan pitcher Al Mays. There are several sit down portrait studio type cards in this set. All players have the same proud look on their face, and many are wearing ties. None, however are leaning into a mirror while worshiping their reflection, a la A-Rod.

 

 

Kal3

Lou Bierbauer tags out a player that might be Jim Gallagher. He is the only Gallagher, that I could find, that played baseball around 1886/1887 listed in the Baseball Encyclopedia. He played just one game with Washington, getting 1 hit, in 1886.   If it is in fact Jim Gallagher he is buried in Hyde Park Cemetery in Scranton, Pa. just 3 miles from where I sit. Like many of the Kalamazoo cards, this one featured sliding, and was taken outdoors with a canvas backdrop that included trees, lots of trees.

 

Kal4

 

More sliding, but where are the trees? I need more trees in here!!!. Charlie Bastian puts the tag on Harry Lyons. And, as in all the Kalamazoo Bats cards, the runner is clearly out. Although the umpire in the background is totally out of position to make the right call.

 

 

Kal5

Ed Andrews goes up there hacking. Baseball, apple pie, and……. suspenders.

 

 

Kal 6

Hey, this is 1887, there’s no gloves in baseball! By 1887 catchers were regularly using some type of glove to protect their hands. And yes, this hard throwing lefty was a catcher. Jack Clements caught in 1076 games, and was the last regular southpaw catcher in the game. Clements throwing style is reminiscent of my attempts to throw left-handed. Uncoordinated. His complete lack of athletic style may be the reason lefties no longer catch.

 

Kal7

 

Hmm?……there’s something wrong with this card. I can’t quite put my finger on it……oh…..I know……..Henry Larkin has his name misspelled……..No……that’s not it……..there’s not enough trees……..no…….what could it be? Jocko Milligan and Henry Larkin are clearly giving their all to sell this very close play at the plate, but the photographer has gone a different way, both artistically and mentally. The wooden beams supporting the canvas, and the concrete wall in the background, at least from my perspective, do not add to the overall baseball ambience. I wonder what Jocko and Henry said when they saw this disaster. This card has sold at auction for over $17,000.00. So maybe the photographer actually knew what he was doing.

 

Kal8

 

Do these pants make my ass look fat? This card features Jocko Milligan at catcher and Harry Stovey hitting. This photograph was obviously taken by the same photographer of the previous card. I can hear him now, “Trust me Jocko, you won’t look stupid, I am an artiste.” Harry’s just waiting for the ball to come busting through the background canvas at any second.

 

Kal9

Al Maul is clearly tagged out by Arthur Irwin. Irwin seems to be signaling Maul safe, while Maul has that look on his face that seems to say, “Can I be safe just one time?!”

 

Kal10

What a great card of a great Baseball Pioneer. I wish I owned this one.

Most of the Kalamazoo Bats cards push for you to “Smoke Kalamazoo Bats”. I’m sure the kids did just that.

 

Are CDVs and Cabinet Cards Baseball Cards? Yes, No and Maybe

This post contains assorted topics on CDVs and Cabinet Cards, baseball card proofs, a curious Honus Wagner fake,  essential tips for beginning collectors, and a common misdating caused by collector psychology.

Are CDVs and Cabinet Cards Baseball Cards? The Answer is Yes, No and Maybe

Though personal definitions may change in detail from collector to collector, the general definition of a baseball card (short for baseball trading card) is a card (look up the dictionary definition) with a baseball theme that was commercially issued, or at least intended to be commercially issued, as a collectible for the general public.  The commercial part means they were sold as a product in and of itself (such as with today’s cards), with a product (Topps and gum, T206s in packs of cigarettes) or otherwise in relationship to a product, service or similar (premiums, advertising trade cards, etc).

As you see, a baseball card is not defined just by its physical makeup, but its useage nature and intent. Even though it fits any dictionary’s definition of a physical card, no one I know considers a baseball player’s business card to be a baseball trading card. 

All this leads to baseball cartes de visite (often referred to by the acronym CDVs), cabinet cards and similar early photo cards.  These 1800s to early 1900s photo cards (a paper photograph affixed to a cardboard backing) fit the physical definition of card.   Baseball CDVs in particular look very much look like baseball cards.

The second question of the trading card equation is if CDVs and cabinet cards fit the commercial issue for general public collecting definition of a trading card.  The answer here is some do, some don’t and for many the answer is unknown and unknowable.

CDVs and cabinet cards were just standard photograph formats and were made for different purposes. Some were indeed used by tobacco and other companies as premiums or advertisements, and some were sold directly to the public as collectibles.  For these, there is the advertising right on the cards and/or we know how their distribution history.  Collecting commercially issued CDVs of celebrities, from Abraham Lincoln to Prince Albert, was a popular hobby in the Victorian era.

Old Judge Cigarettes cabinet card with advertising on front
Old Judge Cigarettes cabinet card with advertising on front

Most of the baseball CDVs and cabinet cards, however, were family or personal photos not issued to the general public.  If you find a CDV or cabinet card of a high school or college baseball player or town ball team, it was more than probably a family photo or similar.  Even many card photos of star Major League players were made for personal, private use of the player or teams.  By the trading card definition, these are not baseball cards.  Collectible and often valuable, sure, but not trading cards.

A problem for those who like things to be well defined and to fit into air tight categorizes is that for some of the

Family photo cabinet card of a young player
Family photo cabinet card of a young player

old baseball photo cards it is not know how they were issued.  They may be of a famous early team or player and made by a well known photography studio, but it is unknown if it was made for the player or team’s personal use, or as a collectible sold to the public.  Baseball card collectors tend to like clear cut answers, but, in the area of early baseball photographs and ephemera, things are often ambiguous and murky.  

This in part explains why determining what card is the first card is impossible and a never ending debate.  Beyond the debates over a card’s exact date of origin, whether or not it really depicts baseball and the fact that there are likely early photo cards yet to be uncovered, it is often impossible to know if the card was a commercially issued item for the general public or a photo made as a personal memento for the player or team.  We can make intelligent guesses, but the are still guesses.  I half-jokingly call this area of eternal debate ‘baseball card theory.’  

1869 Peck & Snider Cincinnati Reds card
1869 Peck & Snider Cincinnati Reds card

This also explains why, even though there are earlier baseball CDVs and card photographs, the Peck & Snyders are still considered by many to the first known baseball cards (emphasis on the word known, as in known to be).   Unlike earlier photo cards, it is known that the Peck & Snider Reds were used for commercial purposes and issued as general public collectibles.  Some have advertising on back and we know that some were sold through Peck & Snyder’s mail order catalog.

* * * *

Authentic Colors?

Uncolored 1874 Harper's Woodcut of the Philadelphia A's including a young Cap Anson (bottom right)
Uncolored 1874 Harper’s Woodcut of the Philadelphia A’s including a young Cap Anson (bottom right)

1800s Harper’s Woodcuts, or woodcut prints from the popular New York magazine Harper’s Weekly, are popularly collected today. The images show nineteenth century life, including sports, US Presidents and other celebrities, war, high society, nature and street life.  The woodcuts of baseball are popular with vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors due to the images of famous early players and teams, including Cap Anson, King Kelly, Billy Sunday and the 1869 Cincinnati Reds.  

Though issued in black and white, some of the prints have been hand colored over the years by the owners. As age is important to collectors, prints that were colored in the 1800s are more valuable than those colored recently.

The problem is that modern ideas lead collectors to misdate the coloring. Due to their notions about the old fashioned Victorian era, most people automatically assume that vintage 1800s coloring will be subtle, soft, pallid and conservative. However, 1800s coloring was typically bright, gaudy, bold and even tacky to modern taste. As Victorian people did not have color televisions, motion pictures or video games, and were restricted in their travel (and paint choices), they liked their images of exotic places and faraway celebrities to be colored bold and exciting. A learned forger might knowingly use historically incorrect colors, as he knows the average person today would consider authentic 1800s coloring to be fake.

The subtle, soft colors on this 1874 Harper's Woodcut are modern
The subtle, soft colors on this 1874 Harper’s Woodcut are modern

My work and research as an art and artifact scholar is in two areas: authentication and theory (psychology and philosophy of perception and interpretation, etc).  They are usually two distinctly separate areas, but this is a case where they overlap.  The misdating of the colors on these collectibles is a matter of cognitive biases.  I have used the above woodcut colors example in both collector’s guides and cognitive psychology texts.

* * * *

A Fake Honus Wagner card with an interesting history

freeman

From time to time one sees offered for sale this Freeman Cigar Co. Card depicting Honus (Hans) Wagner. Though usually sold as vintage, it is a modern fantasy card.

There are authentic early 1900s Hans Wagner cigar tobacco labels designed to be affixed to cigar boxes. The labels are rare, and come in various designs. The most expensive examples are usually offered by major auction houses or dealers.  In similar fashion to the T206 Wagner, this brand of tobacco was apparently never issued to the public. All the labels known to exist were not used.  One of the labels has a close design to this fake card.

About 1993, a manufacture of collectible tin signs (all those Ted Williams Moxie and Joe Jackson H & B reprints) made a sign based on the design of the just mentioned tobacco label. This man was selling the signs as modern collectibles, not representing themselves as vintage. The sign was not an exact copy of the label. He added the ‘5 Cent Cigar’ text at the bottom for artistic balance. He also he used a different text font in parts because he could not find a modern duplicate of the original.

A numbers of years later a man used a computer printer to reprint the tin signs as the tobacco cards, roughing and scuffing the cards to make them appear old. He sold them at flea markets to unsuspecting collectors who knew the legend of Honus Wagner and thought they had struck gold.

When shown a picture of one of the cards, the tin sign maker himself said it could not be genuine as it had his 1993 design.

* * * *

Essential Tips for Beginning Collectors of Most Anything

Pick a card, any card. They're all cheap reprints.
Pick a card, any card. They’re all cheap reprints.

While experienced collectors may already know most of the following tips, I get many inquiries from total beginners, including many who have gotten burned by buying fakes. Considering this, I think it’s a good thing to periodically bring out my age old “Essential Tips for Beginning Collectors of Most Anything.”  I’ve used this list, and variations of it, in numerous of my collecting and authentication books:

Whether it involves trading cards, celebrity autographs, movie posters, fine art prints, postcards or antique figurines, collecting can be good clean fun for boys and girls of all ages. However, all areas of collecting have problems.  The following is a brief but important list of tips that the beginner should read before jumping into a hobby with open pocketbook.

1) Start by knowing that there are reprints, counterfeits, fakes and scams out there. If you start by knowing you should be doing your homework, having healthy skepticism of sellers’ grand claims and getting second opinions, you will be infinitely better off than the beginner who assumes everything is authentic and all sellers are honest.

2) Learn all you can about material you wish to collect and the hobby in general. The more you learn and more experience you have, the better off you are. Most forgers and scammers aren’t trying to fool the knowledgeable. They’re trying to make a quick buck from the ignorant. Besides, half the fun of collecting is learning about the material and its history.

3) Realize that novices in any area of collecting are more likely to overestimate, rather than underestimate the value of items they own or are about to buy.

4) Get second opinions and seek advice when needed. This can range from a formal opinion from a top expert to input from a collecting friend. Collectors, including experienced collectors, who seek advice and input are almost always better off than those who are too proud or embarrassed to ask questions.

5) Start by buying inexpensive items. Put off the thousands dollar Babe Ruth baseball cards and Elvis Presley autographs for another day.

Without exception, all beginners make mistakes, as that is a natural part of learning. From paying too much to misjudging rarity to buying fakes or reprints. It only makes sense that a collector should want to make the inevitable beginner’s mistakes on $10 rather that $5,000 purchases.

6) Gather a list of good sellers. A good seller is someone who is knowledgeable and honest. A good seller fixes a legitimate problem when it arises and has a good authenticity guarantee and return policy.

It is fine to perfectly fine to purchase a $9 trading card or piece of memorabilia from an eBay stranger, but it is best to buy expensive and rare items online from good sellers, including those you have dealt with or those who otherwise have strong reputations.

Ask other collectors who they like.  Discover good sellers on your own by buying a few inexpensive items from an eBay seller and seeing how good are the transactions.  The seller you bought that $9 item from may be added to your list of good sellers.

7) If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

 

* * * *

When in doubt assume a baseball card is not a proof

The trading card hobby puts a premium on proof cards. Proofs are pre-production test cards the card printers use to check graphics and text before the final print run. Antique card proofs are often blank backed, sometimes on different stock than the final cards, often with hand cut borders and little pencil written crosses on the borders. Proofs sell for good money as they are rare and offer a look at the creation of the cards.

The collector should be aware that many cards resembling that proofs are not proofs. The manufacturers sometimes accidentally printed cards with blank backs and inserted them into the packs of gum or tobacco. As a kid I pulled a blank backed card from a Topps pack. These are not proofs, but printing errors.

There are also ‘cards’ that were long ago scissors cut from vintage advertising posters, tobacco albums and kids’ notebooks. As these cutouts have hand cut borders, blank backs and different than normal stocks, they are often mistakenly called proofs.

Collectors will also come across printer’s scraps, often of T206 baseball cards. These scraps came from a printer’s rejected sheet, often with

T206 scrap with printing error and handcut
T206 scrap with printing error and handcut

poorly printed images, bad color registration and other graphics problems– which is why it was rejected, or scrapped, by the printer. These rejected sheets were rescued from the trash bin by workers, often to be taken home for the kids. The individual scrap cards that we see today were hand cut from the sheets. As the cards are hand cut, often oversized and usually with printing defects, they are often mistaken for proofs. As with the above mentioned blank backed cards, scraps are simply factory mistakes.

As you can see there are lots of non-proof cards that resemble proofs. When in doubt it is best to bid on an unusual card assuming it is not a proof, because it likely is not. Scraps and other printing mistakes are collectible, but are much more plentiful and inexpensive than genuine proofs.

 

The first baseball card?

BKNAtlantics.jpg

Above is the team photo of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics, the proud Champions of Baseball. The reproduced photograph is considered by some to be the first “baseball card.”

The Atlantics formed in 1855 and were one of the founding members of the National Association Of Base Ball Players. They quickly established themselves as one of the dominant teams in the game. After winning the Championship in 1864 the Atlantics sat down for a team photo for photographer Charles Williamson. The club had the photo reproduced and gave copies away as souvenirs before each game to fans and opponents alike. This little piece of self promotion and braggadocio was backed up by a 23-0 record and another NABBP Championship.

The Championship Nine included: John Galvin-SS, Dickey Pearce-C, Fred Crane-2B, Charlie Smith-3B, Frank Norton-CF, Joe Start-1B, Jack Chapman-LF, Tom Pratt-P, Sid Smith

Is this really the first baseball card? Who cares?

My take on this card is one of complete and total awe. I would like to thank the pioneers and inventors of the art and science of photography for making this photo possible. More than 150 years ago ten men sat down for a photographer to proclaim themselves the Champions Of America. Starched collars, black ankle-high shoes and no gloves. Just one baseball, two bats and nine players.

The proud progenitors of a great game.