When researching the 1934-36 National Chicle “Batter Up” set I came across the curious fact the set’s first series, cards 1-80, included no Chicago Cubs. At first this seemed like a quirk unique to the set. However, further research revealed that the lack of Cubs was fairly common among the gum and candy cards of the era. Here is a chronology of the major sets from 1933-49 along with the status of their Cubs cards or lack thereof.
The 240-card set in 1933 included 17 Cubs cards, including at least one in each of its first 9 series, which is about what you’d expect. I’ve mainly included this set because A) it’s THE gum set of the 1930s, and B) it’s the last set before things got weird.
The 96-card follow-up set in 1934 included 6 Cubs cards, which by itself doesn’t suggest anything anomalous. However, the distribution of Cubs in the set is worth a quick note. Series one included three Cubs, but all were repeated from the 1933 set, artwork and all. (This was true of all 24 cards in 1934 series one.)
When the set did issue its first series of new players, none were Cubs. It wasn’t until the set’s third series that new Cubs (Lynn Nelson, Lyle Tinning) finally appeared. (The fourth series brought back another Cub, Kiki Cuyler, from the 1933 set but with new artwork. And as Matthew notes in the comments, the twelve “Chuck Klein says” cards also add to the Cubs fourth series presence.)
The 1935 Goudey set primarily relied on recycled artwork and players from their 1933 and 1934 releases. Of the 144 “cards” (really, quarters of cards) in the set, there are only 11 new players. None are Cubs. Overall, the Cubs are tied with the Phillies for fewest cards in the set: either one or four, depending how you choose to count.
The small 25-card set in 1936 included one Cubs player, Chuck Klein.
Subsequent Goudey sets seemed to be fairly normal with respect to Cubs players.
National Chicle debuted two significant multi-year sets in 1934. One was the Batter Up set, whose 80 cards that year have already been noted to have avoided the Cubs entirely. The other set, Diamond Stars, was equally devoid of Cubs among its 24-card offering that year.
Diamond Stars continued in 1935 with 60 new players, and this time there were three Cubs, two of whom were repeated with identical artwork in the 1936 release.
Meanwhile, series two of Batter Up, which I place entirely in 1936, exploded from zero to 11 Cubs among the final 112 cards in the set.
Gum, Inc., is best known to collectors for two different offerings: Play Ball (1939-41) and Bowman (1948-55). The three years of Play Ball cards included 473 different cards. Believe it or not, none were active Cubs players! The 161-card 1939 set and 72-card 1941 set included no Cubs at all while the 240-card 1940 set included three retired greats and one coach card.
The Gum, Inc., shutout continued into their debut Bowman offering that included 48 cards but no Cubs. Beginning in 1949, however, the Bowman sets had about the number of Cubs cards one would expect.
This set included 65 cards. None were Cubs.
1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Up
This 40-card set had no Cubs, but it’s a bit of a special case as only American League teams were represented.
1941 Double Play
This set had 75 cards (150 if cut in half) including five (or ten) Cubs cards, among them the first card (or two cards) in the set.
1948 Swell “Sport Thrills”
This highlights set included only 20 cards, none of which were Cubs. Then again, there were five other teams that didn’t make the checklist either. Still, you’re gonna tell me this was a bigger thrill than the Homer in the Gloamin?’
Chicago-based Leaf Candy introduced a 98-card set (likely intended to be larger) in 1949, and 11 of the cards were Cubs.
* * * * *
I posted some key elements of this article to the SABR Baseball Cards readers on Twitter as well as the collectors on the Net54 Baseball forum. Leading theories on the omission or delayed inclusion of Cubs in the various sets tended to relate to the Cubs being owned by the Wrigley family. Why help the competition, right?
Of course Cubs did ultimately crack the checklists, even if it took ten years in the case of Gum, Inc. One wonders, therefore, what made the difference. Did the rival gum and candy makers make P.K. Wrigley an offer he couldn’t refuse? Did the players break from official or unofficial team policy to sign with rival confectioneries? Did Wrigley ultimately decide that Cub-less baseball card sets would hurt the popularity of his franchise?
Whatever prompted the return of Cubs cards, I can’t even imagine being a Cubs fan from 1939-41, buying pack after pack of Play Ball, and not pulling a single Cubs player. I guess the closest I can come is being a Dodger fan in 2021 and not finding packs to open at all.
In my May 2020 article on Jimmie Foxx’s 1935 Diamond Stars card (as well as Jason Schwartz’s exacting look at that set overall), my comparison of Foxx’s versatility to that of Honus Wagner proves ironic in light of the fact that National Chicle’s presumed update of Foxx’s position change on his card was a tactic “scooped” by American Caramel a full twenty years earlier (albeit without the spectacle of Foxx portrayed at his new position): Wagner’s E106 card, issued in 1915 (both the “batting” and “throwing” versions), denotes the Flying Dutchman as a second baseman, making the card something of a novelty for the aged Pirate. Long baseball’s most celebrated shortstop, Wagner had not put in an inning at second base since 1910, so there would be no reason for the “2b” on the front of his card—except that Honus began the 1915 season as Pittsburgh’s second sacker and played his first dozen games in the field there.
The loss of Mike Mowrey to Pittsburgh’s Federal League Rebels before the 1915 season left manager Fred Clarke in a pinch for a third baseman. (Mowrey had, in fact, been reported in the January 15, 1914, edition of The Sporting News to have decided to jump to the Baltimore Terrapins for that season—a decision on which he didn’t follow through, as Mowrey opened the season as a Pirate and played 79 games through August.) But with Mowrey now gone for real and, according to the March 4, 1915, Sporting News, the entire starting nine outside of the battery in flux, Clarke tinkered with all sorts of infield combinations during spring training, ultimately reshuffling his basemen. Despite the fact that the 41-year-old Wagner had ranked among the National League’s best-fielding shortstops in 1914, a late-season lag indicated that a shift to a less taxing position would behoove him. Second baseman Jim Viox replaced the departed Mowrey at the hot corner, and rookie Wally Gerber took Honus’s post at shortstop. But it soon became apparent that Gerber couldn’t handle major league pitching and Clarke restored Wagner and Viox to their normal positions on May 2, having already inserted rookie Doug Baird at third base several games earlier.
Unlike reports that Jimmie Foxx had re-signed with Philadelphia to become the A’s catcher for the 1935 season—very likely giving National Chicle a substantial heads-up on his switch to backstop—the situation for the Pirates in 1915 was one of uncertainty and conjecture. As late as March 25, as The Sporting News reported, Fred Clarke did not know—or would not state—where Honus would start the season. (It is difficult to determine with any certainty whether or when The Sporting News reported that Wagner would be moving to second base; the Sporting News archive does not contain any regular-season articles mentioning “Wagner” until July, although that probably indicates missing issues rather than an extremely unlikely 4-month silence on Honus.)
Coming to something of a rescue, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asserted on April 9 that Wagner was loaded and locked as Pittsburgh’s second baseman (also calling his replacement, Wally Gerber, “another Wagner in the short field, as far as fielding goes”). So, it does appear, at first glance, that American Caramel may have based its position change for Wagner on preseason reports.
Potentially complicating the issue, however, is that the same E106 set includes Cardinals infielder Dots Miller, who had been swapped to St. Louis in 1913 in an eight-player deal that brought Mike Mowrey to Pittsburgh. Similarly to Wagner, Miller is denoted as a second baseman (with the same, or very similar, artwork used as in the “sunset variation” of his earlier American Caramel cards). The hitch here is that Dots—though a second baseman when he was a Pirate (and when his earlier American Caramel cards were issued)—had played just 11 games at second base in 1914 (and none either in 1912 or ’13, having switched primarily to first base). So, questions essentially converse to Jimmie Foxx’s Diamond Stars card arise: Did American Caramel not account for Miller’s move to first base? Did it simply retouch one of its cards from several years earlier without knowing about, or bothering to update, his current position? Or was it responding to Dots’ early season appearances of 1915?
This last scenario is unlikely, because although Dots returned to second base for 63 games in 1915, he played two-thirds of the season at first base, not making a single appearance at second base until May 20 and none in any quantity until early June—rather late in the season to not have issued cards from a set that, totaling just 48, likely was not released in series.
So, whereas it appears that American Caramel’s denoting of Honus Wagner as a second baseman was a direct reaction to his 12 games spent there in April 1915, the same cannot logically be said for Dots Miller—unless American Caramel released the E106 set substantially well into the 1915 season (which, ironically enough, would have been after Wagner had returned to shortstop).
Even so, the deeper question surrounding all American Caramel cards remains: Was American Caramel candy any good? Producing its sweets from the late 19th century until 1928—sporadically accompanied by cards from 1908 to 1927—anyone who could testify to American Caramel’s quality is either long dead or long without teeth and functioning taste buds. It’s doubtful that even a famished Elaine Benes, known for satisfying her sweet tooth with 62-year-old wedding cake served at the marriage of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, would dare try century-old caramel, if ever any were found. (And don’t look at me—just because I crunched my way through piles of stale bubble gum after buying unopened boxes of Topps and O-Pee-Chees several years after they were issued, I’m not about to turn my gastrointestinal tract into a mad scientist’s laboratory.) So, this is likely an answer whose time has passed…
For nearly 30 years, editing has brought home my bacon. It wasn’t my desired profession; I fell into it like an open manhole—and I’m still trying to climb my way out. The grammatical, punctuational, and syntactic boo-boos I fix have been mostly in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, but they’ve been pretty easy to spot in my spare time as well—which means, to a degree, on the backs, and sometimes fronts, of baseball cards.
Years ago, I began jotting down factual errors and spelling typos (punctuation issues and lack of hyphenation are so rampant that chronicling them would be a never-ending and pointless task). I do not keep abreast of baseball card commentary as vigilantly as I once did, so at least one of the following errors has been posted elsewhere, which means that others—maybe many—in this simple and hardly comprehensive multi-part list might also have been documented in that long interim.
1958 Bob Lemon (#2): The right-hand cartoon states that Bob won “200” games in seven different seasons. Well, I’m pretty certain Bob would not have had to wait 13 years and 14 elections to make the Hall of Fame had he A) won 200 games in a season, and B) racked up more than 1400 victories in his career. (However, just as mathematician Edward Kasner, through his young nephew, gave the world the unit known as the googol (10100), I suggest that Major League Baseball follow Topps’ inadvertent suggestion that a 200-win season be coined a Zeeeeeeeringg!—regardless of today’s reliance on the bullpen.)
1952 Topps Mickey Vernon (#106): In the penultimate line of Mickey’s bio, “Assists” is botched as “Asists.” This is especially shoddy work considering that the same word is correctly spelled just three words to the left.
1933 Goudey John (Jack) Ogden (#176): Similarly to Lefty Gomez, this card states than Ogden was born November 5, 1898, when, in actuality, Ogden was born on this date in 1897.
1961 Topps Billy Loes (#237): In the cartoon on the right, “Dodgers” is misspelled as “Dogers.” I’ve no idea if this was an extremely early attempt at a crypto-baseball card…
1955 Bowman Jim Piersall (#16): Across the first and second lines, Bowman botched the spelling of “American.” If an American company can’t spell “American,” it’s not going to be around much longer, eh Bowman?
1960 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops Merkle Pulls Boner (#17): This one must be well known—at least it should be thanks to its egregiousness. The year is embarrassingly incorrect in the byline—Fred Merkle’s infamous failure to touch second base in that “semi-fateful” tie between the Giants and Cubs took place in 1908, not 1928. (I say “semi-fateful” because the outcome was blown out of proportion by the media and saddled poor Fred with an unfair albatross for the rest of his life—New York beat Chicago the following day and moved into first place.) Nu-Card does have it correct on the reverse. However, to add insult to injury, it repeated the error on the Merkle card in the 1961 set (#417).
1951 Topps Dom DiMaggio (#20): Dominic’s name incorrectly possesses a “k” at the end. Topps rectified this in 1952.
Where has your “k” gone, Dom DiMaggio
Topps rationed you one, then finally got a clue
Woo, woo, woo
Lefty Gomez was born on November 26, 1908. This is according to the Baseball Hall of Fame, his SABR biography, Baseball Reference, and his own daughter, via her excellent biography of Gomez. Yet virtually all of Lefty’s cards, including his 1933 and 1936 Goudey, 1940 and ’41 Play Ball, 1941 Double Play, and 1961 Fleer, denote Lefty’s birthdate as November 26, 1910. Obviously, an erroneous year of birth circulated in an official capacity for a long time.
The 1963 Bazooka All-Time Greats set contains its share of miscues.
Nap Lajoie (#8): The final sentence refers to Nap as “the lefty swinger,” even though the famous Frenchman was one of the most celebrated right-handed hitters of his era. As well, his bio fails to mention overtly that Nap’s epochal .422 season in 1901 occurred with the Philadelphia Athletics, not the Phillies. (Additionally, his career totals of batting average and home runs, as well as his 1901 batting mark, are erroneous; however, these stem from his career totals having been revised through extended research since the card’s issuance—an unremarkable fact that likely pertains to many other vintage cards.)
Al Simmons (#22): Simmons’ bio opens, “Al played with six different major league ballteams…” and concludes by listing them. Unfortunately, the Bazooka folks failed to count his half-season with the 1939 Boston Bees, making a total of 7 teams on his major league resume. Of course, no one wants their time with the Boston Bees to be remembered, but we’ve got to own up to it…
Johnny Evers (#21): That Johnny was a part of “the famous double-play combination of Evers to Tinker to Chance” stands as technically accurate—certainly, many of those celebrated twin-kills went 4-6-3—but this description flies in the face of Franklin P. Adams’ famous poem that made household names of Evers and his Cubs compatriots. Thanks to “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” (originally published as “That Double Play Again”), the refrain “Tinker to Evers to Chance” literally entered baseball’s lexicon and has always been known in that specific order. Perhaps it’s fortunate that Adams did not live to see his most celebrated work inexplicably altered—not only does “Evers to Tinker to Chance” not possess the geometric simplicity and aesthetic superiority of Adams’ original refrain, but tinkering with classic literature is a no-no of the first magnitude. After all, mighty Casey didn’t pop up…
Mel Ott (#36): Okay, this one is very nitpicky—but it’s precisely an editor’s task to split hairs. Mel’s bio states that he “acted as playing-manager from 1942 through 1948.” Although it’s accurate that Ott piloted the Giants from right field beginning in 1942, he last performed this dual role during the 1947 season, as he put in 4 pinch-hitting appearances; Mel was New York’s manager solely from the dugout during the 1948 season (replaced after 75 games by Leo Durocher).
Walter Johnson (#12): Many totals of pre-war players have been modified by Major League Baseball over the years, so I have refrained from mentioning totals on older cards that do not jibe with present-day totals. However, Walter Johnson’s shutout record of 110 has long been celebrated and its quantity never really in doubt. Yet his 1963 Bazooka mentions that he threw 114. A shutout is not something readily miscalculated from old days to new. Even if Bazooka was including his post-season shutouts—which upped Walter’s total only to 111—it was still significantly off the mark.
Christy Mathewson (#4): Bazooka boasts that Christy won 374 games and tossed 83 shutouts. Bazooka blundered on both counts. I’m not sure how you can miscount shutouts—a pitcher either pitches the entire game or he doesn’t, and he either permits at least 1 run or he doesn’t. Neither of these conditions is subject to revision at a later date like an RBI total being amended thanks to an overlooked sacrifice fly. So, I must assume that Bazooka was including his World Series work, because Christy hurled 79 shutouts in the regular season—and it’s impossible to imagine that the text’s author was off by 4 shutouts. More significantly, 374 victories is disconcerting statistically because Christy’s official total when he retired was 372. It became a significant issue when Grover Cleveland Alexander surpassed it in August 1929, snatching the all-time National League lead from Christy. During the 1940s, an extra win was discovered that was added to Mathewson’s total, lifting him into a permanent tie with Alexander (to Ol’ Pete’s chagrin). Both have famously remained atop the NL heap ever since, at 373. Bazooka cannot be counting postseason victories here, because Christy won 5 in the Fall Classic, including the 3 shutouts in 1905 that it mentions in his bio—so “374” is pure sloppiness. Would Bazooka include World Series totals for shutouts but not for victories in the same sentence? It’s baffling. Bazooka Joe was not cut out for this job…
1928 W502 Strip Card Paul Waner (#45): I’ve never seen anyone mention this error—but I cannot be the first to realize that the player depicted is irrefutably not “Big Poison”; it’s teammate Clyde Barnhart. This same photo was used for multiple 1928 F50 issues, including Tharp’s Ice Cream, Yuengling’s Ice Cream, Harrington’s Ice Cream, and Sweetman—making the seeming dearth of awareness of this incorrect photo all the more curious.
1948 Bowman Bobby Thomson (#47): Well before Bobby became a byword for the home run, Bowman was confounding home run totals of Thomson’s former minor league team, the Jersey City Giants. Bobby’s bio declares that his 26 round-trippers in 1946 eclipsed the previous team record of 18, set in 1938. Although Thomson’s mark did, in fact, set a new team record, the mark he broke had not been 18—belted by former major league star Babe Herman that season—but by Herman’s teammate, Tom Winsett, who clubbed 20. (Additionally, Al Glossop poked 19 the following season, making Bowman’s account of the fallen record even “more” false.) Bobby’s 1949 Bowman card (#18) reiterates the same mistake, making it something of a twice-told tale.
1977 TCMA–Renata Galasso Carl Furillo (#11): As any Ebbets field denizen could tell you, the Reading Rifle was a right-handed shot. Carl must have been deliberately trying to fool the photographer, because it’s clearly not a case of the negative being reversed as Carl does his best Koufax.
That’s enough for Part 1. Part 2 will largely target several especially sloppy sets and subsets.
One of the few editorial positions we have on this blog is a very catholic stance toward what counts as a baseball card. We’ve published posts about photos, toys, games, stamps, coins, etcetera, all of which serve to flesh out and describe the way that we collected cards. We’re not interested in being gatekeepers for what cards are. We’re interested in use and how cards relate to our fandom and interest in the game itself.
All that said, the discussion about what constitutes a card is one that comes up periodically on Twitter or on here.* It’s a fun discussion to have since we all have very different ideas** which in turn impact our collections and interests. I enjoy taking part in these discussions but I really love just watching them since the criteria people bring up have turned out to all over the map.
*Probably also in the Facebook group but as I’m no longer part of that website I’m unable to confirm as much.
**Quite similar to the “what constitutes a complete set” discussion we had earlier on this blog.
We all, of course, have significant agreement on what a card is. But there are so many variables where an item can deviate from being a card™ that I found myself creating a taxonomy of card attributes. Looking at cards with these attributes in mind is something I’ve found helps me understand why my gut reacts to different products the way it does.
This post will explain my thinking and hopefully help other people put words to things their guts have already intuited. Again, this is in no way intended to be a gatekeeping thing. We all have different reactions to which attributes we care about and where on the spectrum something stops being a card. But if the Twitter conversations have taught me anything it’s that being our most interesting conversations are when we’re being positive about our definitions rather than negative about someone else’s.
We’ll start with the obvious and discuss the material of the card. Obviously the expectation is that they be made of cardboard. They are called “cards” after all.
But cards have never been limited to just that. From the silks and blankets in the pre-war era to the plastic, metal, and wood releases of the modern era we’ve always had cards that weren’t made of cardboard. We’ve had stamps, stickers (some made of cloth), rub-offs, rub-downs, and decals as well.
Even in the cardboard/paper realm there’s also a discussion with having about the thickness of the paperstock. We’ve had posts on the blog about cards printed on newsprint and cards which are almost a quarter of an inch thick.
In general tobacco-sized to 3.5″×5″ seems to have a consensus as being a card. But what about 5″×7″ or 8.5″×11″? What about minis and micros that are smaller than tobacco cards? What about posters and pin-ups?
A lot of this comes back to storage concerns and the way many of us use binders and binder pages to organize our collections. But it’s more than that too. For most of us, “card” indicates something from the business card to postcard size and anything beyond that becomes something else. Too small and the card starts to feel insignificant. Too large and it becomes something else—a photo, a poster, a flyer.
This is sort of related to size but refers to non-rectangular items like discs and diecuts but also encompasses folders, booklets, and pop-ups as well as coins, poker chips, and buttons. Many of these are binderable. Just as many lose what makes them distinct and interesting as soon as they get bindered.
The items which aren’t binderable at all are especially interesting here. Things like the 1957 Swift Meats diecut paper dolls or those Topps 3-D Baseball Stars from the 1980s are clearly intended to be like cards but do not fit into any standard card storage or presentation systems.
The question of what makes a card a card is more than just the physical description of what it’s made of and what shape it is. What it actually depicts is also important. Yes, picture on the front, stats/bio on the back is the expectation. But there are a lot of cards out there which don’t do this.
We’re not just talking about blank backs either although those are definitely relevant to this category. Backs that are advertising, common designs, or just a player name are all part of this. The same goes with fronts that depict a generic player instead of someone specific.
And for my money, all the more-recent relic, autograph, or online cards with backs that are functionally blank fit in here as well. I’ve seen way too many people refer to them as “half a card” to not mention them.
No images for this section because it’s not something that can really be depicted visually. Traditionally, cards are part of a set and are released in either packs or complete sets. Cards that exist by themselves without the context of a set or the lottery of a pack stray into a grey area. This is something that’s really been pushed into new territory with online releases and the way Topps has in many ways optimized its distribution around selling and creating individual items on demand, but the idea of one-off card releases has been around a long time.
There’s also the discussion here about what connotes a set—both in terms of size and how things are numbered. At what point does a release of cards become a “set”? If something is unnumbered or only has a weird alphanumeric code on the back does that mean that it was intended to be collected by itself?
Why do I bother thinking and categorizing different attributes? Because as I watch the discussions it seems that most of us tolerate a certain amount of variance in one or two categories as long as the others remain “standard.” So let’s dig in.
Let’s start with 1969 Topps Deckle Edge. These are pretty clearly cards but they serve as an example of something that sort of fails one of the categories because the backs are non-existent. But as you move from card size to 5″x7″ to 8″x10″, more and more people switch from treating them as cards to treating them as photos.
Or look at Broders. They’re generally “backless” but they also start to deviate from the expected release method.* They consist of small checklists and were generally not released the same way most cards are. Art cards and customs fit in this area as well. Move up a size in this area and we have things like team photo postcards. Change the paper stock and we end up in Jay Publishing land. At some point things stop being a card for a lot of people**
*There’s also something to be said about the licensing stuff but I’ve not heard anyone claim that Panini or other unlicensed logoless cards aren’t even cards.
**Although we still collect them and cover them on this blog.
The one that’s sort of stumped me in my own collection are the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball stadium giveaways from the early 1990s. Despite being letter-sized and blank-backed, because they’re cardboard and manufactured by Upper Deck they physically feel more like cards than a lot of the posters that Topps has folded up and inserted in packs over the years.
At the same time, since they were distributed via stadium giveaway and do not function as part of a set. They’re also functionally distinct from those late-60s, early-70s posters that were issued in packs and formed part of a distinct set.
But I could go on and on. As stated initially, the point of this post isn’t to provide a definitive answer or even an official opinion. Instead I hope that organizing my thoughts about the different ways we evaluate cardness is helpful to other people as I’ve found it to be for my own thinking.
Author’s note: The newly formed SABR Century Research Committee has invited SABR’s other committees to share in the celebration of all things baseball a century ago. In our case, that means the baseball cards of 1921.
As I begin typing up this post I must confess to owning no baseball cards from the year 1921. Like a lot of collectors–even vintage collectors–my collection has a 20+ year gap between the tobacco and caramel cards of the early 1910s…
…and the gum cards of the early 1930s.
Of course if past habits prove true, I may find myself trying to bridge that gap by the time I reach the end of this post. (No joke! Every card pictured above came from my stint here at the SABR Baseball Cards blog.)
I will therefore approach this article not as any authority on the subject but through the eyes of a collector window shopping the offerings of the year 1921 as if I were trying to pick out a card, which of course I just might do, though I may need to add a side hustle to find the cash.
1921 American Caramel
The first set that comes to mind when I think of 1921 is the American Caramel set known as E121. American Caramel had been making cards on and off since 1908. In fact, the leftmost card in my first image above is from their 1909-11 set known as E90-1. However, in the years leading up to 1921, American Caramel had been mostly off, with their 1915 E106 issue being their lone set produced between 1912 and 1920. Much of the absence might be attributed to World War I and the flu pandemic since almost nobody was producing baseball cards between 1917 and 1919.
Their 1921 set then perhaps came as a welcome surprise to collectors and chewers, and for those who’d saved or remembered their earlier caramel cards the new cardboard would have looked quite different.
Gone were the color paints and here for the remainder of the American Caramel decade were black and white photos. And though none would have realized it at the time, the 1921 issue was also a next step in the decidedly haphazard evolution toward standard baseball card size. A side-effect was that some collectors trimmed the sides off their 1921 cards, likely to fit with their earlier cards better.
Player selection for the set of 80 included spanned 15 of the 16 Major League franchises. Perhaps surprisingly based on their Pennsylvania headquarters the one team not represented was the Philadelphia Athletics.
Positioned at the close of the Deadball Era the checklist was a mix of small ball and long ball. (And yes, the Bambino is still sporting his Red Sox jersey!)
Other “top shelf” Hall of Famers included Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, and Walter Johnson. Absent from the set are all “Eight Men Out” despite most having played full seasons in 1920. This was consistent with most card sets of the era and even into the present, as most sets aimed to produce cards for the current season rather than the prior one.
1921-23 National Caramel
Not to be confused with American Caramel, another Pennsylvania-based caramel company put out a set. The cards had the same basic look as the American Caramel cards, and many even used the same photographs. The set is known as the E220 National Caramel set and included 120 cards over a three year period.
A comparison of the card backs between the two sets suggests a common designer or at least printer was used by both companies.
I’d wondered for a bit if they were in fact the same company, perhaps thru merger, but my brief research seems to indicate their was no business relationship beyond competitor. (Related: A group of executives from American Caramel did leave in 1925 to establish York Caramel, which put out a set of cards in 1927.)
I wish I could say no one was hurt in the making and packing of these baseball cards, but this September 2, 1921, article from the Lancaster News Journal may suggest otherwise.
Now I know you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t that the same kid who got injured in a different explosion six years earlier?”
And don’t even get me started on the murder plot! (Of course I’m serious, even dead serious you might say.)
1921 Exhibit Supply company
The year 1921 also saw the debut of a family of baseball card sets that would extend all the way to the early 1960s. Exhibit Supply Company out of Chicago began producing postcard-sized photo cards with blank backs known to collectors simply as “Exhibits.” The initial offering featured 64 players, an even four per team, and again black and white photography carried the day.
Over the years and decades the look of these Exhibits cards changed relatively little, as these examples from 1939-46 and 1962 show, though in 1962 the innovation of adding statistics to an otherwise blank back occurred.
As for star power, the top-shelf Hall of Famers in the 1921 Exhibits exactly matched that of the American Caramel set, including the key cards of Ruth and Cobb.
No need to avert your gaze if you’re a non-collector simply reading this as part of your Century Committee scholarship. These is not some “adults only” release or deck of cards to be used in strip poker. Rather, these cards get their name for being issued in long strips that candy sellers would cut for their young baseball-crazy customers.
Various issues released in 1921 went by the (later) classifications W516, W521, W551 (shown above), and W9316 and were joined by some earlier releases that remained in circulation. The most popular of the earlier releases is the 1919-21 W514 set. Among its 120 cards are a dozen White Sox, and it remains the most affordable (but not very) way to collect contemporary cards of seven of the Eight Men Out. (Can you spot who’s missing?)
Despite their relative affordability (okay, explaining their relative affordability), many collectors find strip cards to be too cartoony and unattractive for their collections. To illustrate that this sort of artwork is harder than it looks I asked my son to draw three baseball players of the era, and I think you’ll agree he was no match for the pros. Wait, check that. These are actual cards from the 1921 W9316 issue!
Though many collectors would just as soon forget strip cards ever existed, they do feature importantly in the history of the Hobby. In 1923 a new set of strip cards would emerge. The front of the cards would look just like another strip card set known as W515. However, this new set featured advertising on the back from a gum maker who would 36 years later make a bigger splash in the Hobby and 58 years later make an even bigger one.
Zeenut Pacific Coast League
While most baseball card production ground to a halt during the war and pandemic years, one set managed to renew itself annually from 1911 until 1930. The 1921 issue featured 169 blank backed cards, 1-3/4″ x 3-11/16″ in size, significantly narrower and incrementally taller than today’s baseball cards.
While the checklist includes only one Hall of Famer, Sam Crawford of the Los Angeles Angels, there is no shortage of ex-MLBers, future MLBers, and other notables.
Pictures of these cards are hard to find, so I’ll illustrate by means of a quiz some of the top players on the checklist. Their 1921 Zeenut team is in parentheses.
Holds the fourth highest career batting average among qualifying players. (San Francisco Seals)
One of eight players with over 4,000 professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Los Angeles Angels)
Has the same name as the player with the most professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Salt Lake City Bees and Sacramento Senators)
Six-time National League home run champion (Salt Lake City Bees)
Had the best relief outing of all time (San Francisco Seals)
Okay, ready for the answers? Lefty O’Doul, Jigger Statz, Peter Rose, Gavvy Cravath, Al Demaree, and Ernie Shore. Pretty fun names for a minor league set!
Though the releases described so far define 1921 to most pre-war collectors, I’ll offer that really 1921 was the “Year of the Bread Card.” Bread cards had been around for at least a decade, as evidenced by the 1910 Tip Top Bread “World’s Champions” set honoring the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Bread cards also continued well past 1921, as evidenced by Tip Top’s popular 1947 set and two from Bond Bread, one dedicated entirely to a history-making Dodgers rookie.
The years from 1980-2000 saw numerous bread issues as well, but of course those same years saw multiple cards sets from hardware stores, macaroni brands, fast food joints, toilet plungers, firearms, pacemakers, and bobby pins. (Okay, just kidding about some of those.)
What distinguished 1920 then wasn’t simply that there were bread cards, but that there were so many different ones.
1920-21 Mother’s Bread
1921 Clark’s Bread
1921 Koester Bread New York Giants/Yankees
1921 Mrs. Sherlock’s Bread Pins (shown below, and yes, I’m stretching the definition of baseball card a bit here)
1921 Standard Biscuit
1921 White’s Bakery Baltimore Orioles
1921 Wool’s American-Maid [sic] Bread
I don’t knead to tell you that’s a lot of bread! What the focaccia was going on back then? Challah if you feel my pain. Can’t stop now, I’m on a roll.
From among the many other–mostly very obscure–sets issued in 1921, I’ll close with one most collectors have never heard of that nonetheless occupies and important slot in the evolution of the Hobby and in my opinion features the best design of any set of the era. (And yes, you have seen that last Babe Ruth pose already in this article.)
As the packaging notes, kids needed only to eat 250 boxes (wait, seriously?!) of this candy to win a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. What’s more, according to my research, this seven-card set (or six plus a variation, I would argue) was the largest set to date featuring a single player.
As was the case often with Babe Ruth in 1921 the record he beat was his own since the only (!) single-player baseball card sets I could find prior to 1921 were three (slightly) different Babe Ruth “Heading Home” movie card sets of 2-3 cards each from 1920.
Though 1921 was not the turning point in Hobby history it was situated within a brief 2-3 year period that saw many notable Hobby trends: the rise of Ruth, a return to photography, the debut of Exhibits, the peak of bread/bakery cards, the resurgence of caramel cards, and the demise of the Black Sox. The once ubiquitous tobacco cards that ruled the Hobby a decade earlier had largely disappeared from the landscape and would not return (in a major release) for 30 more years with the Red Man sets of the early 1950s.
Something else we know about the cards from 1921, however much or little we think about it, is that these cards tell us the story of a segregated game. Invisible from the sets of the day were many of the era’s top players:
Oscar Charleston of the St. Louis Giants
Cristobal Torriente, Dave Malarcher, and Bingo DeMoss of the Chicago American Giants
John Donaldson, Jose Mendez, and Bullet Rogan of the Kansas City Monarchs
Louis Santop of the Philadelphia Hilldales
Cannonball Redding and Dick Lundy of the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants
Pop Lloyd of the Columbus Buckeyes
John Beckwith of the Chicago Giants
Andy Cooper and Pete Hill of the Detroit Stars
Biz Mackey of the Indianapolis ABCs
Smokey Joe Williams of the New York Lincoln Giants
The omission of these players is not surprising, but it certainly diminishes the card sets of the era, at least in this collector’s eyes.
Less significantly, mustaches were absent from 1921 baseball cards and a good 50 years away from making their comeback.
As you and I ponder this Dick Allen card, which some of you may have even obtained in a pack (!) and I will at least recognize as coming from the same decade I entered the Hobby, I’ll close with a sobering thought. This Dick Allen card is as old today as the cards from 1921 were when the Dick Allen card came out. Putting it another way, that Dick Allen represents the midpoint between these two baseball cards:
At first glance, you might be drawn to the differences between these cards. How much has changed in a hundred years! But look again, and you will also see—quite remarkably—just how much has stayed the same. Therein resides the beauty of the Hobby, if not the Game.
Editor’s note: Do you have a player you collect? We’d love to hear about it. All SABR members are eligible to write for the blog!
I’ve written about Tim Jordan once already for the blog, and it was exactly that piece that led to this one. You see, back in March I had become fascinated with Tim Jordan but had exactly zero of his cards. For that matter I had exactly zero cards from any set he was in, not even the 1990 Target Dodgers set!
It’s hard to say when exactly you go from some cards of a guy to a full-fledged “player collection,” but I’m pretty sure it requires having at least one card. That changed about a month later when I landed one of the two Tim Jordan poses in the T206 set.
The card held tremendous appeal for me aside from simply being my first ever T206 and my first Tim Jordan. For one thing, there is the sunset. It was after all the American Caramel sunset that first captured my attention. This one wasn’t nearly as spectacular, but I still loved it.
Second, the position of the hands and body. Huh? In my scouring of various newspaper articles on Jordan I learned that his swing featured the same leg lift popularized by more famous hitters such as Mel Ott and Sadaharu Oh. If you look for it on the card, you can see it.
Well that was that for a while, though I managed to pick up several other T206 Brooklyn cards of other players in the several months since. I desperately wanted the T206 Jordan portrait card and the American Caramel, only I wasn’t quite desperate enough to pay the prices asked for the very small number of cards on the market.
Uncharacteristically (but not regrettably) I added a double of my same Jordan, only with a different back (Polar Bear), simply because the price was right and the Jordan cards I really wanted just weren’t popping up. I realize it’s a stretch but one could argue this is the first card ever to feature two rookie home run champs: Tim Jordan on the front and Pete Alonso on the back.
Then the floodgates burst and I was able to add this beauty to my collection.
Granted, running the table on T206 Jordan poses doesn’t quite match the achievement of collecting all four Cobbs or–let’s face it–any two of most players, but for a collector who began the year with a Monster Number of zero it was still a huge achievement. It also took me from Tim Jordan card-haver to Tim Jordan collector.
That said, I wouldn’t be typing this post (yet) if not for the package that arrived this morning. THE Tim Jordan card that began my fascination with the Dodger slugger.
The corners are so rounded the card can practically roll, and there’s also a bit of a diamond cut to it. Still, I somehow managed a crease-free, (hopefully) unaltered Jordan for about the same price I almost paid for much, much worse looking specimens. Ah, and it’s also my first card ever from an American Caramel set.
Not counting my Polar Bear back variation, my Tim Jordan collection is now up to a whopping three cards, which puts it about 700 cards behind my Dr. K collection but on the bright side requires far less storage space.
As I think about the future of my Jordan collection, let me put it out there right now that I’ve never really been a “completist.” The three cards I have already are by far my favorite cards of his, and I have a feeling most future Jordan acquisitions, 1990 Target aside, would involve spending a lot more for cards I like a lot less.
Still, I’ll highlight four-ish cards that will at least warrant saved searches on eBay just in case. The first two are from the 1911 Turkey Red Cabinets set. If I add either, there will be display challenges due to their 5-3/4″ X 8″ size. Still, I’ve always wanted a card from this beautiful set, and I suspect I could figure something out.
UPDATE: Hey, it was my birthday! What can I say?
The final card holding an unrealistic spot on my want list is this 1912 C46 Imperial Tobacco card. Though I’m not a true “type collector” I do like the idea of adding a card from a set I don’t yet have, not to mention a very early Canadian issue. The card also feels important to my Tim Jordan collection in that Jordan enjoyed quite a career resurgence with the Maple Leafs under manager Joe Kelley (no, not him!).
UPDATE: One of my SABR Chicago buds read this post and just happened to have an extra one of these! 😱 Check one more off the list!
Ah, and did I mention that MLB Historian John Thorn was kind enough to send me an old business card featuring…
You guessed it…Tim Jordan!
And shoot, I knew window shopping can be a dangerous sport. Just added another Jordan (or Jordon if you prefer)!
Returning to the cards I still don’t have, there are two Jordan cards in the 1910-11 Sporting Life set. I wouldn’t turn down either but the Dodger/Superba fan in me certainly prefers the blue background. (The other is catalogued as “pastel background.”)
With all the cards I’ve just shown, you might be wondering what’s not on my Tim Jordan want list. Okay, not much, but you can see a fairly comprehensive list of his cards at Trading Card Database. Where some listings lack images you can usually pull them up with a Bing or Google search. Among them was one that I’ll declare a “best of.” It combined a sunset, the leg lift, his Brooklyn days, and his Toronto days all onto a single card. Why, such a card seems worthy of a museum, you might say. And indeed, that’s where you’ll find it!
How about you? Who is a player you collect, perhaps one a bit off most other collectors’ radars? How far along are you? What cards are you still looking for, and which are you willing to live without? If you haven’t written for the SABR Baseball Cards blog yet, highlighting your player collection might be a friendly way to get things started.
I’ve been selling my pre-war cards. Most of them anyway (there’s a few that I want around). In recent years my collecting has shifted, in ways that bring me great pleasure and, while it’s slightly odd selling off cards that are one of a kind in my collection (selling doubles is so much easier on the emotions), I’ve gotten enormous pleasure from the turnover.
I’m not sure why I have one 1934 Butterfinger Premium, (R310s for you scoring at home) let alone two. The Lloyd Waner made sense at the time, and in retrospect. I was looking for cards of Hall of Famers from their playing days. (Now that I have another “Little Poison,” a 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Type 1, I can let the R310 go).
Bob O’Farrell? I have no idea.
These premiums really aren’t even cards. Large, 7 ¾” X 9 ¾”, paper thin (though there are cardboard backed displays with red ad copy letting a bunch of Dead End Kids and Little Rascals of the decade know they could get their very own Lew Fonseca with the purchase of a nickel candy bar),
and fragile, they’re more like posters (which often make it into the Standard Catalog anyway). The checklist is a nice representation of the player pool, from Ruth, Gehrig and Foxx (spelled both “Fox” and “Foxx”) to Al Spohrer and Ralph Boyle.
Curtiss Candy Company Ralph Boyle, from the Butterfinger series (R310) issued by the Curtiss Candy Company to promote Butterfinger Candy Bars, 1934 American, Photolithograph; Sheet: 9 7/16 × 7 3/4 in. (24 × 19.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (Burdick 324, R310.10) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/706325
The cardboard displays are rarer, selling, according to one Standard Catalog, at four times the paper. There’s even a Canadian version, smaller in size, at 6 ½” X 8 ½”, and checklist, less than 60. (These are given a different designation, V94).
They’re nice items, perfect for team and type collectors, and not very expensive, depending, of course, on condition. A lot of them have suffered paper loss from various tuckings and gluings into albums. You can even get a low grade Al Spohrer for $10!
But the biggest mystery to me is why anyone needs a premium to buy a Butterfinger. They’re delicious and worth each of those five pennies.
The first house that an old high school buddy and his wife owned was built in 1850. Adjacent to the house was a carriage house that had been converted into a garage. Shortly after moving into the house in 1979 it was apparent that some of the support beams in the carriage house needed to be replaced.
To get at the support beams the walls in the carriage house needed to come down. Much to the surprise of my friend, behind the sparse insulation and the horse-hair was a mishmash of early 1900s Americana that included advertising signs, newspapers, pins, and tobacco cards that were also being used as insulation.
Some of the historical artifacts were carted off to the dump along with the debris from the construction. Some items, like the “Modern Women Use Crisco Instead of Whale Blubber” sign, were tossed in 2012 due to mold build up. However, for some reason my friend decided to keep the tobacco cards and the pins that he found behind the walls.
The tobacco cards and pins remained tucked away in a drawer for over 40 years until last month when he posted a couple of group shots of the items on Facebook. In the post he asked – “Does anyone know if they are worth anything?”
I immediately called him and gave him some information about the cards, pricing guides, and grading services. I also emailed him links to online sources of information that included checklists.
It was impossible to determine which tobacco cards he had from the group shots, so I asked him to email me individual photos of the front and backs of each card.
From the photos I determined that he had T205, T206, and E91 baseball cards and T-218 Champions and Prize Fighters cards.
Behind the Walls Checklist
I have listed below the cards by set that my friend found behind the walls. I have also included the photos of the individual cards that my friend sent me organized by set.
My friend also saved some assorted pins that he found, including a President McKinley pin.
My friend and his wife sold the house in 1982. When I asked my friend if he had taken down all of the garage walls. He replied – “I am not sure. It might have been only two walls.” My follow up question was – “Did you take down any of the walls in the house?” He said – “No. We just wallpapered over the walls in the house.”
My buddy and I are now planning a road trip to see the current owners of his first house. We want to see if they would be interested in some free wall demolition work on the condition that we do a 3-way split on the proceeds of any T206 Honus Wagner cards that might be found during the wall removal process.
That’s a pretty obvious way to start this, right? Pretty much anyone who has spent time in the baseball card hobby knows how that digit and that name go together, that Andy Pakfo, as a Brooklyn Dodger, was card #1 in the landmark 1952 Topps baseball card set.
I’ve often wondered why Andy Pafko, of all people, got the fabled #1 spot in that set. But did it matter in 1952 that he was card #1? When it card #1 start mattering? The earliest example of a card set with a clear numbering system was the 1909 Philadelphia Carmel set. The cards aren’t individually numbered, but rather featured a numbered listing on the back for the 25-card set, with Honus Wagner is the #1 spot. Wagner was (and is) a huge name in the sport, but given that 10 of the 25 subjects of the set are Hall-of-Famers, it’s likely that Wagner was listed first, well, just because he was listed first. The 1910 Philadelphia Carmel set had the same numbering system, this time with Athletics’ first basemen Harry Davis is the #1 spot, with the checklist arranged by team and Davis in the top spot for no obvious reason.
The first true #1 seems to be Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in the 1911 Turkey Red Cabinets set. This set, too, features a list of all subjects in the set on the backside of each card, but each card is also numbered, with “No. 1” gracing the backside of Brown’s card. The number system had a purpose – smokers could collect coupons from certain Turkey Red products and exchange them for the cards, instructed to “order by number only.” As for Brown’s place in the #1 spot, it isn’t clear whether not is was supposed to mean anything. There’s a haphazard alphabetical ordering to the set, but many of the names are out of place, including Brown’s. And while Brown was one of the biggest names in the sport at the time, the set is loaded with similarly famous names. The 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack sets were also numbered, with no clear system to their assignment. The #1 card in each (the 1915 set re-issued most of the 1914 set) was Otto Knabe of the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League. Knabe had a few good years with the Phillies of the National League, but was hardly a star in Baltimore and was out of baseball by the end of the 1916 season. Again, we find a #1 with no obvious reason behind it.
The 1933 Goudey set is a landmark in hobby history, but no one cared to memorialize this occasion with it’s opening card. The spot went to Benny Benough, a career back-up catcher who had played his final season in 1932. But in the 1934 Goudey set, Jimmie Foxx – winner of the AL MVP award in both of the previous seasons – was given the lead-off spot. This is the first obvious example of the #1 used as an honorarium. And it would be the last until 1940, when the Play Ball set devoted the first 12 spots in its 240 card checklist to the four-time defending champion New York Yankees, with the #1 spot going to reigning MVP Joe DiMaggio. But in 1941, Play Ball went with Eddie Miller as card #1. Miller was an all-star the year before but, as a member of the moribund Boston Bees, was hardly a household name.
The first two major post-war releases honored a pair of reigning MVPs with their #1 spots – 1948-49 Leaf with Joe DiMaggio and 1948 Bowman with Bob Elliot. But Bowman got a little more obscure with their 1949 #1, picking Boston Braves rookie Vern Bickford – a member of a pennant-winning club, but hardly a national stand-out. Bowman’s 1950 #1 was Mel Parnell, an all-star and a sensation on the mound in ’49, and in 1951 they opened with rookie Whitey Ford, who’d helped lead the Yankees to another World Series win. Both were stand-out players and names collectors would have known, but neither are as convincing as purposeful picks for #1 as Foxx, DiMaggio, or Elliot. For Topps’ 1951 Game release, there were a pair of #1s (for both the blue and red back sets) – Yogi Berra and Eddie Yost – who, like Parnell and Ford, don’t really indicate any obvious attempt to use the number as an honor, particularly given the small size of 1951 issue.
So that brings us to “Handy” Andy Pafko. And tells us… well, not much. Sometimes the top spot was used to pay tribute and sometimes it was just used and sometimes it’s kind of stuck in between. But after Pafko, Topps would use the #1 spot for a variety of purposes, some honorific, others utilitarian. The 1950s were a mixed bag: a jumble of superstars (Jackie Robinson in 1953, Ted Williams in 1954, 1957, and 1958), executives (AL President William Harridge in 1956 and commissioner Ford Frick in 1959), and a postseason hero (Dusty Rhodes in 1955). The 1960s featured award winners from the year before (Early Wynn in 1960, Dick Groat in 1961, Roger Maris in 1962, and Willie Mays in 1966), mixed in multi-player league leader cards and a tribute to the 1966 Baltimore Orioles World Series win. Between 1970 and 1972, the #1 card honored the World Series winner with a team photo. 1973-1976’s top spots went to Hank Aaron, honoring his chase and breaking of Babe Ruth’s home run and RBI records. But this run of #1s could have been little more than a coincidence. After Aaron’s 1974 card (which is actually his base card, the front given a unique design to commemorate the home run records that he hadn’t actually set yet) was a pure #1 honor spot. But the ones that followed fit into a pattern that Topps would mostly use for the next decade – opening the set with either Record Breakers or Highlights and ordering those cards alphabetically. A fellow named “Aaron” setting records and making highlights was bound to take those top spots. (You can find Beckett’s visual guide to Topps #1s here)
Despite an boom in card production, the 1980s would see dark times for #1 cards. Fleer and Donruss joined Topps in the baseball card market in 1981 and both companies put player base cards in their #1 spots. Fleer honored the veteran Pete Rose and Donruss led off with young shortstop Ozzie Smith, a decision that – in the context of the great work on the ’81 Donruss set by Jason in a recent post here – seems to not have been much of a decision at all, leaving their brand’s Hall of Fame leadoff man more of a coincidence than a tribute. But by 1982, all three companies had locked themselves into numbering formulas that left little room for creativity at the top. Topps went with Record Breakers or Highlights, bottoming out in the #1 game in 1983 when Tony Armas took the honors with a card commemorating him fielding 11 fly balls in a single game, breaking a five-year-old record. Donruss debuted its famed ‘Diamond Kings’ subset in 1982 and opened each set of the 1980s with it, leading to some big names at the top, but never really lining up the assignment with any big event from the prior year (only Ryne Sandberg’s #1 card in 1985 followed up on a major award win). Fleer, arranging its checklist by team, opened up each set with the previous year’s World Series winner. But with the players within each team arranged alphabetically, their #1s went to guys like Doug Blair and Keith Anderson as often as they went to stars. What’s more, Fleer goofed in 1989 and opened the set with the Oakland A’s (Don Baylor at #1), even though the Dodgers won the World Series in 1988. And just two years later, Fleer would make the same mistake, handing the A’s a premature crown for the 1990 season by leading off with catcher Troy Afenir, who had 14 at bats the year before and hadn’t played at all in the postseason. Their habit of honoring (or at least attempting to honor) the World Champions at the open of their set was dropped after that year.
The truest honorary #1 spot from the big three in the 1980s was the 1986 Topps Pete Rose. His base card – a “pure” card – was given top billing and followed by a series of career retrospective cards to commemorate his breaking of the all-time hits records in 1985. It was the first time since Willie Mays in 1965 that a player’s pure base card was given #1. 1986 also saw the debut of Sportflics, a gimmicky set, but one that took its #1 seriously. George Brett led off the set and, for the next four years, the set would always open not just with a star, but with a player sought after in the hobby. In 1988, the Major League Marketing, parent company of Sportflics, debuted the more standard Score set, which opened with Don Mattingly at #1, continuing the trend set by Sportflics and bringing it into the collecting mainstream.
1989, of course, would be the year Upper Deck changed the hobby forever, in no small part to opening up their debut set with – for the first time ever in a major release – a player who has yet to make his Major League debut. This card, of course, was the iconic Ken Griffey Jr. rookie. It would become one of the hobby’s most recognizable cards and would join the Pafko as a famed #1. But oddly enough, it didn’t really change the trajectory of #1s. In fact, Upper Deck, who owed so much to that one card, didn’t even bother putting a player in the #1 spot in 1990 or 1991 – using that spot instead for checklists. The next big deal rookie to get a #1 spot from any brand was Mark Wohlers in the 1992 Donruss set. And who remembers that?
The heart of the junk wax era saw some interesting uses of #1. In 1990 and 1991, Donruss’s new Leaf Set – among the first line of upscale releases – didn’t even have a card #1, instead opening with unnumbered card with the Leaf logo. The 1991 Bowman set opened with a tribute to Rod Carew. Intended as a fun set for kids, Donruss’s 1992 Triple Play set opened with a card of Skydome. And to showcase the classiness of its first upscale set, Topps put Dave Stewart at the 1 slot for its debut Stadium Club set – dressed in a tuxedo and a baseball cap. There were a few true head-scratchers from this era as well, such as 1993 Donruss opening with journeyman reliever Craig Lefferts. Or Bowman giving its #1 in 1993 to Glenn Davis, who was 30 games away from the end of his career (it was actually Davis’ third straight year getting a #1, as he got the spot in 1991’s Studio set and 1992’s Fleer Ultra due being the first alphabetical player for the Baltimore Orioles, the first alphabetical American League team).
By the mid-1990s, nearly all major releases – save for Fleer, who clung to their team-based numbering system that gave no attention to #1 – had taken up the practice putting a base card of a star player with hobby appeal in the top spot. That trend continues today, with Topps offering an online vote to determine who gets #1 each year, and the winning players – Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna, very much fitting that mold. So it ended up not being the legacy of Andy Pafko or Ken Griffey Jr. or Diamond Kings or broken records or hot rookies that live on as #1 in our binders today, but that of Sportflics and Score, who made things no more complicated than taking a player both talented and popular and putting him at the top of stack.
Our SABR Baseball Cards blog and the collecting blogosphere never fail to remind us that a single card can have quite a story. Even still, I was surprised by just how much story this particular card had.
The card in question comes from the 1909-11 American Caramel set known as E90-1. My own non-scholarly take on the set is that it’s what T206 would have looked like if it had one-fifth the cards and were done in watercolor.
So now that you have a feel for the set, I present to you the E90-1 card of Brooklyn’s “guardian of the initial sack,” Buck Jordan. Because his name is spelled wrong (“Jordon”) on the card, we might rightly say this is the very first ERR Jordan card!
This card first hit my radar for two reasons. One, I have a fledgling Brooklyn Superba collection that still has room for a few more cards. And two, I’m a sucker for these crazy sunsets, in real life and on cardboard.
As any astute buyer would be smart to do, I decided to learn a little more about the player before pulling the trigger on my purchase. The name “Buck Jordan” was familiar to me in a way I couldn’t place, and I soon learned why: I already had his card!
The only problem, at least if the Diamond Stars bio was to be believed, was that Buck Jordan would have been about two years old in 1909! Now I’ve heard of players starting young–Campy, Nuxhall, and Ott to name a few–but this was a level of diaper dandy that left even me dubious.
Well, just a little more research was enough to solve the riddle. The player on the E90-1 card was not Buck Jordan at all, as the PSA flip indicated. (Readers skilled at navigating the PSA customer service labyrinth are welcome to report the error.)
UPDATE: SGC also gets it wrong.
This was Tim Jordan, a totally different player who (from what my research could turn up) was never once known as Buck. Interestingly, I did find several articles that used the nicknames “Big Tim Jordan” or “Big City.” Here is one of the more notable ones, from the March 16, 1908, Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
As another quick aside, I’ll mention that there really was a “Buck Jordan” card right around the time the American Caramel card was issued. Card 45 in the 1911 Turkey Red Cabinets (T3) set featured none other than Charles “Buck” Herzog and Tim Jordan, hence could correctly be deemed the very first true Buck/Jordan card.
Now are you ready for another error? I don’t claim to know which player is which on that Buck/Jordan card, but there’s nobody I trust more than Baseball Researcher to get these things right. As you can see by his caption, he has Jordan as the fielder and Herzog as the runner.
If you have good eyes (and feel free to head here for a bigger picture), you might notice that the fielder has his glove on his left hand, i.e., throws right handed. However, Baseball Reference lists Jordan as a lefty. Ditto Wikipedia. (UPDATE: Both sites have now been updated!)
Might the photo simply be reversed? Or less likely, could Baseball Researcher have it wrong? Jordan’s solo card in the same set offers a clue. And once again, Jordan looks to be a right-hander.
Could we have yet another reversed negative? This Paul Thompson photo of Jordan provides a definitive answer. Again, Jordan appears right-handed, and the lettering on his jersey rules out any reversed image. A scouting report from the March 25, 1906, Detroit Free Press (paywall) also notes, “He is a right hand thrower, but bats left handed.”
If you’re keeping score at home that already makes three errors: one by American Caramel (“Jordon”), one by PSA (“Buck”), and one by Baseball Reference/Wikipedia (throws left)!
Enough about errors though! It was time to find out who Tim Jordan really was. For his time at least, he was a low batting average guy who hit a bunch of homers and struck out a lot—a “Deadball Kingman” of sorts. (Feel free to substitute Gorman Thomas, Rob Deer, or almost anyone from any of today’s lineups.)
Lest you think Jordan’s homers were chiefly inside-the-park and the Kingman comparison is off-base, I present one of (very) many articles (New York Herald, March 30, 1919) attesting to Jordan’s power.
Jordan’s tremendous proclivity for the long ball was even remembered two decades after his final big league heimlauf by no less than Pirates magnate and Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfuss, who will very shortly make a second appearance in this story. The scene was the 1930 equivalent of the Winter Meetings, and virtually everybody who was anybody was gathered in New York to discuss the state of the game, including the recent home run epidemic.
“The ball is too lively in my opinon,” Dreyfuss said. “In the two years prior to 1929 only two balls were hit over the right field fence in Pittsburgh for homers. They were hit by Outfielder Stenzel and Tim Jordan of Brooklyn. Now they hit two or three over in a single game.” (Incidentally, homering over the right field fence in Pittsburgh wasn’t the only thing the burly Jake Stenzel, shown below, had in common with Jordan. We’ll come back to this near the end.)
Just one more aside…I thought it would be fun to find a record of Jordan’s moonshot. Thanks to some great reporting the next day by the Pittsburgh Press (July 23, 1908), I not only found a description of Jordan’s big fly but an apparent record of all such dongs. (No mention of “Outfielder Stenzel” though. In fact, all twelve of Stenzel’s home runs in Pittsburgh were of the inside-the-park variety.)
Further justifying the comparison to the modern power hitter, Jordan is one of only five rookies in MLB history to win the home run crown as a rookie. The other four are Ralph Kiner, Mark McGwire, Aaron Judge, and Pete Alonso. (Another comparison: per the June 9, 1946, Brooklyn Eagle, Jordan “anticipated Mel Ott by a number of years. He lifted that mighty right leg of his when he pointed to the fence at the tee-off.”)
Glance at Jordan’s stat sheet, and you’ll see that Jordan played very little of the 1910 season with Brooklyn. As the season approached there was uncertainty whether Jordan would man first base for Brooklyn or whether newcomer Jake Daubert might land the job. It was not until Opening Day when manager Bill Dahlen wrote Daubert into the lineup that either man learned his status, Daubert as the everyday player and Jordan as pinch-hitter.
Many newspaper articles of the era credit Jordan with a rather dramatic end to his career, a three-run, pinch-hit homer in his final at-bat, but Jordan in fact played in one more game six days later, making the penultimate out in a May 2 contest against the Giants. The game was notable in that the official scorer’s controversial decision to credit Pryor McElveen with a single in the eighth denied a certain Hall of Fame hurler what would have been his third and final no-hitter.
After a disappointing and abrupt end to his big league career, Jordan enjoyed a resurgence in the International League, not only continuing to “punish the sphere” but “wielding his willow” for high averages as well. (See “The Player” tab on this page for some of his numbers.)
Jordan’s strong play with Toronto not only earned him a card in the 1912 Imperial Tobacco (Canada) set but also prompted Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss to offer the team $10,000 (or “simoleons” in the article) to make Jordan a Pirate. The deal never materialized, with Jordan’s own skipper Joe Kelley claiming it would be baseball suicide to part with his prized fence buster. (Source: Buffalo Courier, February 14, 1912.)
By 1915 Jordan was back in New York where he continued to hit the ball hard for the Binghamton nine and generate now amusing headlines like this one.
I’m not sure the pay compared with that of Brooklyn, but this clipping from the June 9, 1916, edition of the Press and Sun (Binghamton, NY) shows at least the benefits “suited” him.
As some readers know, Jordan was more than a ballplayer and kind letter writer. He was also the inventor of the Tim J. Jordan card game.
While some players look ahead at what they might do after their playing days are over, as the 1914 date on the PSA label might suggest, Jordan was looking for things to do instead of playing baseball, as demonstrated by these clippings from 1909, five full years earlier. (Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 1, article and April 13, advertisement.)
Knowing that Jordan did play for Brooklyn in 1909, you might assume the game was a bust. Not so, says the September 4, 1909, edition of the York (Pennsylvania) Dispatch!
I mentioned earlier that Tim Jordan and Jake Stenzel had more in common than allegedly clearing right field in Pittsburgh. Now that you know about Jordan’s side hustle selling card games, here is Stenzel the entrepreneur selling “rooter buttons” to fans of the Cincinnati nine. (Source: Robert Edward Auctions.)
Readers of this blog know I could probably go on and on (and on!) about Mr. Jordan, but I’ll simply end with one last error. Here is Jordan’s obituary from the September 16, 1949, edition of the New York Daily News. It didn’t quite make sense to me when I first read it, and then I realized the second and third lines from the end were flip-flopped.
So there you have it! ERR Jordan all the way till the end, even in death! Ah, but rest easy, Tim. Readers of the SABR Baseball Cards blog know who you were and what you did, and your “knock the cover off the ball” approach to hitting is more than alive and well in the game today.