Author’s note: This is the eighth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic brands.This installment focuses on some of the more mysterious relics associated with the 1933 set.
While the famous Napoleon Lajoie card 106 is traditionally regarded as the set’s rarest card, there are a handful of cards even more rare. One such rarity even bears the same number, 106.
Wait, WHAT?! Isn’t Durocher supposed to be card 147?
The “Keith Olbermann” Durocher, believed to be a 1/1 in the Hobby, is what’s known as a proof card from the set. Provided the card’s name is suggestive of its origin, we should imagine this card was part of a pre-production test run of the printing sheet Durocher was ultimately a part of, specifically Sheet 6. (Any speculation that the card might have been produced much earlier, for instance as part of a test run of the entire set, can be quashed by noting Durocher here is already with St. Louis, reflecting a trade that did not happen until May 7.)
An alternative explanation for Durocher 106 has been put forth, claiming it was not a pre-production proof or pre-anything but instead created by hobbyists post-1933 as a means of helping die-hard collectors complete their sets. Ignoring what would seem to be the prohibitive costs of producing a single card to this level of quality, there are at least two reasons to doubt such a hypothesis.
Duplicating a card already in the set, numbering aside, seems like the least satisfying way in the world to complete the set. I get it that maybe these guys weren’t artists, but even a newspaper picture of Hank Greenberg would seem an upgrade over the second Durocher.
Even more compelling, however, is the existence of other proof cards from the set, none of which would render any comparable service to collectors since their numbers are not 106.
Here is the most complete list of 1933 Goudey proofs I’m able to assemble.
The numbering of the proof cards is interesting in that it’s hardly a random collection of numbers from 1-240. Rather, we see that all eight proof cards are clustered between the numbers 106 and 128. The numbers take on even greater significance if we consider the state of the Goudey checklist just prior to the release of the set’s sixth sheet.
Remarkably, each of the proof cards fills an existing gap in the set’s skip numbering. Were we to imagine there were once 24 such proof cards (i.e., an entire sheet), we might suppose their numbering would have been as follows. (I’ve used magenta here for the eight known proofs and a lighter pink for the remaining 16.)
Of course, Goudey’s actual Sheet 6 did not fill the gaps in the manner indicated. Instead, it left nearly all of them in place. (And we’ll return soon to the fact that only 23 new numbers are highlighted.)
Were the new numbers for all eight proof cards to be found along this blue band, the story of Sheet 6 would be a simple one: the cards were simply renumbered late in the production process to leave rather than fill gaps.
As for why this occurred, I suppose there are a couple of reasons we could ascribe. Perhaps someone simply forgot that the set employed skip numbering as a means of conning kids into buying more and more packs. Or perhaps Goudey really did intend to close out the set earlier (i.e., at 144 cards rather than 240) but shelved such plans at the eleventh hour.
Of course, as with much about this set, the answer would not be so simple. While five of the proof cards remained on Sheet 6 with new numbering, three of the proof cards (Russell, Goslin, Thomas) landed at 167-169 and would not be seen again until Sheet 7, which included cards 166-189.
Admitting some speculation here, the picture that emerges of the set’s sixth sheet is this:
Proof version: 24 cards that filled the set’s existing gaps, namely 97-99, 106-114, 121-129, and 142-144.
Final version: Renumbering of all cards, including the demotion (or promotion if you like) of at least three cards to the next release.
Now let’s take a quick look at Sheet 6 as it was actually produced.
There are at least two key features that distinguish this sheet from all five of its predecessors.
It has two of the exact same card, Babe Ruth’s iconic card 144. (This explains how the sheet only managed to check off 23 numbers earlier.)
It repeats (with new numbering and a new color in one case) the Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth cards from earlier releases.
These contrasts are particularly notable as Sheets 1-5 contained no repeats at all, either within or across sheets. Prior to Sheet 6, the Goudey set consisted of 120 distinct players, each appearing in the set exactly once. From this perspective, we might regard five of the cards on Sheet 6 to be anomalies:
Ruth 144 (first instance)
Ruth 144 (second instance)
Already knowing that at least three cards (Russell, Goslin, Thomas) were bumped from Sheet 6 between the proof and production stages, it’s intriguing to consider whether five cards may have been bumped, transforming the sheet from a fairly standard collection of 24 new players to the spectacular, mega-star studded, triple Ruth sheet we know it as today.
If so, this would constitute the biggest (and most lopsided) blockbuster trade ever made!
Sheet 7 gets Jack Russell, Goose Goslin, Al Thomas, and two players to be named later?
If this is indeed what happened, the next question to ask is why.
Why turn Sheet 6 from a standard sheet to a super sheet? If Goudey had figured out more stars meant more money, what a curious choice to then follow up with six minor leaguers on Sheet 7!
Why number two of the Ruth cards 144? Conventional wisdom in the Hobby is that Goudey needed the duplicate numbering in order to ensure a (near) permanent hole in the checklist, thereby causing kids to keep buying packs in futile pursuit of card 106. (I question this theory at the end of my first article.)
Returning to a theme prevalent throughout this series, the 1933 Goudey set holds and will continue to hold mysteries, no matter how much over-analysis we apply. Fortunately, at least in my view, this is precisely what makes the set so fascinating!
* * * * *
I’ll close this article with a few additional notes on the 1933 Goudey proof cards that may be of interest.
According to hobby lore, most or all of the proofs came from a single partial sheet obtained by hobby pioneer Woody Gelman directly from a source at Goudey.
While the most salient feature of the proof cards is their numbering, some also exhibit small differences in artwork or typesetting. For example, notice the placement of “AL THOMAS” on these two cards.
The Goslin proof card is an interesting one in that its number 110 was ultimately used by Goudey (probably just coincidentally) for Goslin’s other card in the set, his World Series card from Sheet 10. I’ve drawn goose eggs in my search for an image of the Goslin proof, but the Standard Catalog notes his name breaks onto two lines rather than the single line shown on his standard card.
Author’s note: If you are aware of other 1933 Goudey proofs with numbers that differed from their final printing, please let me know.
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.
Here, Part 2 continues this absolutely uncomprehensive, and extremely random, list of baseball card errors (see Part 1 here).
1911 T201 Mecca Double Folder Lefty Leifield (backed with Mike Simon): Unlike other pitchers in the set, the stats for this talented Pirates southpaw feature batting and fielding records—Lefty’s pitching ledger for the previous season has been mysteriously replaced by his work with the glove. Yet it’s not even Lefty’s statistics. Card-mate and battery mate Mike Simon—whose statistics are completely absent under his own name—appears at first glance to have his statistics erroneously replacing Leifield’s field work (note the inclusion of passed balls). However, the lack of quality control on Mecca’s part is even more out of control than this: Beyond problematic typesetting, the statistics listed are wildly incongruent with Simon’s (as well as all other NL catchers’) performance in 1910—none more so than his alleged .536 fielding percentage—a number that couldn’t keep a catcher on a sandlot field. Just as egregious is his 64 passed balls. In actuality, Simon was not charged with either a single error or passed ball during the previous season. Who knows how these numbers were conjured—the lowest fielding percentage registered by any catcher in the majors in 1910 was .875, and after the rule changes of the 1890s, no catcher had let more than 27 balls past him since the turn of the century. If some supercentenarian is still manning the phones at Mecca Cigarettes, somebody should call to get the lowdown—pronto.
1912 T207 Germany Schaefer: It’s common knowledge that Jim Delahanty’s T207 contains multiple misspellings of his surname (“Delehanty”) on the back (though the front is correct), but that spelling miscue also appears on the back of Germany Schaefer’s T207 (the two were swapped for each other, along with Red Killefer, in 1909, accounting for the mutual mentions). Schaefer’s bio also contains a more personal blunder, stating that, “Since arriving at the Capital he has played first, second, short and third….” However, the utilitarian Schaefer never took the field as a shortstop after his days in Detroit. As a macabre aside, Schaefer, a renowned baseball prankster, died of tuberculosis in the same New York village where Christy Mathewson succumbed to the disease six years later. (It may have even been the same sanatorium; I’m not certain.)
1954 Topps Vern Law (#235): Vern’s “Year” line denotes that he spent the previous season “IN MILITARY SERVICE,” yet “IN” is missing the “I.” I’m not familiar with an Idaho accent, but perhaps Topps was writing in Vern’s native vernacular. (I’ve largely avoided minor points in these lists, but to spotlight Topps’ sloppiness, in the right-hand cartoon mentioning Bing Crosby, “Pirate’s” is incorrectly singular possessive; it doesn’t need an apostrophe at all, but if one is used, it should follow the “s” to be plural possessive. Misuse of the apostrophe is one of the most pervasive marks of ignorance found in print.)
1933 Goudey Tony Lazzeri (#31): Goudey took “Poosh ‘Em Up”’s games played in 1932 and pooshed ‘em down, stating that he played 141 games—Lazzeri actually suited up for 142 games in 1932. Perhaps unfairly, his bio begins that “coming to the bat in his first world series with bases filled, struck out.” This is a necessarily incomplete, almost Twitter-like, reference to Lazzeri’s inning-ending whiff at the hands of Grover Cleveland Alexander in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, of course. To be fair, it was actually the fourth time in the Series that Lazzeri came to the plate with the bases full. Twice, he delivered important sacrifice flies, including the eventual game-winning run in the top of the 10th in Game 5—without which the Series might never have gone to a seventh game and given baseball that gilded moment.
1933 Goudey Burleigh Grimes (#64): Burleigh’s bio declares that he “[b]roke into baseball in 1913 with Ottumwa in the Central Association.” With apologies to Radar O’Reilly, who was born right about the time that this card hit the shelves in his native Ottumwa, Burleigh was no rookie in 1913, having pitched in 9 games for the Class D Eau Claire Commissioners of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League in 1912. Had Radar been old enough to watch Ol’ Stubblebeard on the mound, he might have remarked, “Uh-oh, spitters!”
1933 Goudey Earl Averill (#194): More inaccuracy than error—and much like Lefty Gomez’s cards mentioned in Part 1—virtually all of Earl Averill’s cards denote his birth year as 1903, whereas all official sources, including his headstone, report it as 1902.
1949 Bowman Bob Lemon (#238): Bob was anything but a lemon as a pitcher, seven times reaching the 20-win circle and earning a place in the Hall of Fame; however, his cards are a strange and recurring saga of geographical ineptitude on the part of multiple manufacturers. Beginning with his rookie card, Bowman misspelled his birthplace of San Bernardino, California, as “San Bernadino.” (Incorporated in 1869, the city’s spelling had been officially established for 80 years by the time Bowman inked Lemon to a contract.) For most of Bowman’s existence, it repeated this error. One might attribute this to the same biographical information being used rotely over the next 6 years—except that Bowman got the spelling correct in 1951 and 1952, then inexplicably reverted to the original error for the remainder of its run. So, defying any semblance of logic, Bowman printed “Bernadino” in 1949 and 1950, changed correctly to “Bernardino” in 1951 and 1952, and then went back to its mistake in 1953, 1954, and 1955. If that weren’t bizarre enough, all three of Lemon’s Red Man Tobacco cards (1953-’55) also misspelled his birthplace as “Bernadino.” (I don’t know if Red Man, which had long been only a tobacco company, made some kind of deal with Bowman for its baseball information when deciding to issue its own cards—some of their bios read similarly in places—but blame would still fall on Red Man Tobacco for not at least proofreading its product.) In contrast, none of Topps’ cards that list a birthplace erred on this spelling, and Lemon’s 1954 Red Heart and Dan-Dee cards also are correct.
1960 Leaf Jim Coates (#35): A double-dip for Jim. “Binghampton” is a misspelling. Hold the “p,” Leaf. A bigger blooper is that Leaf was under the impression that Coates had never pitched in the majors before 1959—his “Past Year” totals are identical to his “Lifetime” totals. However, Jim appeared in 2 games for the Pinstripes way back in 1956, making the majority of those lifetime statistics incorrect.
1960 Leaf Al Spangler (#38): Al’s home is listed as “Maple Glenn, Pa.” Leaf apparently turned over a new leaf and gave Spangler’s home an extra “n”—the town is spelled Maple Glen. To my knowledge, it never went by “Glenn.”
Rife with typos, Topps’ 1964 Giants subset contains more than its share. Among them:
1964 Topps Giants Orlando Cepeda (#55): Cepeda is denoted as having laced 38 triples as a rookie in 1958. This is diamond hogwash. Did Topps think third-base coach Herman Franks waved a red cape every time Cepeda rounded first so that the Baby Bull came raging uncontrollably into third? Owen Wilson’s 36 triples in 1912 has never been bested, and, in fact, no player has legged out more than 26 ever since. Cepeda, of course, ripped 38 doubles, not 38 triples.
1964 Topps Giants Billy Williams (#52): Topps really shortchanged Billy by stating that he clubbed “20 two-baggers” for the Ponca City Cubs in 1957. The sweet-swinging Williams swatted twice that many in pacing the Sooner State League in doubles.
1964 Topps Giants Carl Yastrzemski (#48): In the right-hand column, Carl was cited to have “wrecked havoc” on opposing pitchers. This is a malaprop—the term is, of course, “wreaked havoc.” At least Topps spelled his surname correctly.
1964 Topps Giants Harmon Killebrew (#38): Deceptive text, even if inadvertent, is a no-no to an editor, so I’m calling out Topps for Killer’s headline, KILLEBREW WINS 2ND HOMER CROWN. As evidenced early in his bio, “For the second consecutive season, the Minnesota Twins’ slugger was the American League home run champion.” This is certainly accurate, Harmon having claimed the crown in 1962 and ’63. However, the headline implies very strongly that these were his only two homer titles to that point—yet Killebrew had also topped the AL in 1959, meaning, of course, that he’d nabbed his third homer crown in 1963, not his second. If I didn’t call this out, I’d be negligent in my long-time occupation as an editor.
If the 1964 Topps Giants subset is something of an editor’s treasure trove, the 1960 and 1961 Fleer sets are a gold rush. Some of the most problematic assemblages of cards out there, they have often caused me to wonder if the company headquartered in my hometown ever employed a fact checker or proofreader. Many’s the time I fantasized about going back in time to be hired as Fleer’s text editor. With a primo job like that, how could a young Ann-Margret not date me?
1960 Fleer Christy Mathewson (#2): Fleer failed to list that Christy also pitched for Cincinnati. Some may say “Big deal—he pitched only 1 game for the Reds.” Well, it was a big deal. That final game—a victory—ultimately allowed Mathewson to tie Grover Cleveland Alexander for most victories by a National League pitcher (even though his true victory total wasn’t discovered until many years after his death). Fleer rectified this oversight—sort of—in its 1961 set, stating that he pitched all of his games “except one” for New York, without specifying that other team. However, Fleer did picture Matty in a Cincinnati uniform—although neither is this definitely, because Christy was better known in red as Cincinnati’s manager for several seasons, which Fleer references.
1960 Fleer Joe Medwick (#22): Fleer anointed Medwick with an RBI total of 1949—which, at that time, would have put Ducky fourth on the all-time list, a handful ahead of Ty Cobb. Now, Medwick was an excellent run producer and, in fact, stands as one of the few National Leaguers to top the Senior Circuit in RBI for 3 consecutive seasons, but the actual total of runs he drove across the plate was a far less robust 1383. Remarkably, Fleer repeated this huge blunder on Joe’s 1961 card (#61).
1961 Fleer Rogers Hornsby (#43): The Rajah’s home run total is incorrectly listed as 302 (he hit 301); his triples total is also inaccurate: 168, though he actually hit 169. His hit total is correct, so I wonder, if among all of the other revisions to old-timers’ statistics, one of Hornsby’s round-trippers was downgraded to a three-base hit. (301 was, as long as I can recall, his established home run total, as can be seen on his 1976 Topps All-Time All-Star card—which is almost certainly from where I first learned the total.)
1961 Fleer Ty Cobb (#14): One of the biggest statistical oversights I’ve seen occurs in Cobb’s bio, as Fleer denotes Ty as having led the AL six times in hitting. As any moderately informed baseball fan knows, Cobb snared an incredible 11 batting crowns (or 12, depending on which source you consult—the Hall of Fame still claims the latter). Regardless of which you consider the true count, Cobb’s run of double-digit batting crowns was, even then, long regarded as one of the most amazing feats in sports annals—and an inexcusable gaffe by Fleer, especially considering that his 1960 Fleer card denotes Cobb as capturing 12 batting titles.
1961 Fleer Grover Cleveland Alexander (#2): Fleer goofs again, misspelling “immortal” in the opening line of Alex’s bio (and fails to include a period as well).
1961 Fleer George Sisler (#78): George’s bio is almost cruelly ironic in its boast that he “played in six World Series.” Sisler, of course, is renowned among the game’s greats who never played in the Fall Classic. (George worked for Brooklyn and Pittsburgh as a scout and batting instructor in later years, but this certainly does not equate with playing in a World Series, and his attachment to pennant-winning teams in either of these capacities fell far short of six anyway.) How could such a false statement be written—and, worse, approved? Perhaps more than any other card in Fleer’s 1960 and ’61 sets, this colossal blunder indicates a shameful lack of commitment to its product and the consumer.
1975 TCMA Red Russell: Typos among “quasi-professional” sets such as TCMA are plentiful. One example is from TCMA’s 1975 issue spotlighting the 1919 White Sox squad. Breaking in with the Southsiders in 1913, Russell crafted one of the best—and most overlooked—rookie seasons by a pitcher, winning 22 games for the 5th-place Sox. By 1919, his arm was gone, facing just 2 batters all season, in a June loss to Boston, which ended his pitching career at a fine 80-59 mark. Soon after this final appearance, Russell went to the Double-A Minneapolis Millers and reinvented himself as an outfielder. He returned to the majors in 1922 and put in a pair of partial seasons for the Pirates, thwacking 21 home runs in 511 at-bats. TCMA’s goof lay in labeling him “Red” Russell. Born in postbellum Mississippi and raised in Texas, he was well known as “Reb” Russell for his obvious Southern heritage. Even so, mild kudos to TCMA for including in the set the member who played least on the roster during the season (there are a few White Sox who played more than Russell yet were not included).
1954 Red Heart Stan Musial: Stan’s bio claims that he has played in “9 All Star games as a Cardinal outfielder.” Through the end of the 1953 campaign, Musial had played in 10 All-Star Games. Yet even if this statement is taken literally—that is, counting his participation only as an outfielder, regardless of how silly it would be for Red Heart to ignore his other appearances in the Midsummer Classic—Musial had, to that time, participated once as a first baseman and once as a pinch-hitter, so the count strictly as an outfielder was 8—which still did not jibe with Red Heart’s claim. It’s also interesting to note that Red Heart, as late as 1954, referred to the Fall Classic as the “World’s Series”—an antiquated spelling that had essentially died out by the 1930s.
And just for good measure, I’m throwing in several hockey card errors:
1957-58 Topps Jean Guy Gendron (#52): Between this entry and the following one, you will see that Gendron appears to have been the target of a systematic process of sloppiness and inconsistency, the likes of which the sports card industry has never seen. In the English bio of this, Gendron’s rookie card, Topps heretically refers to the Montreal club as the “Canadians.” Frankly, Topps should consider itself lucky that Montreal fans didn’t fly into a bleu, blanc, et rage, bus down to Brooklyn, and burn the plant to the ground. Despite being Gendron’s official rookie card, this also establishes a long and winding road of instability concerning his first name. Gendron’s first name appears to officially have been spelled with a hyphen, “Jean-Guy,” as evidenced by several official sources as well as the back of his true rookie card, the 1952 Juniors Blue Tint. Yet from 1957 to 1963, Topps always denoted him simply as Guy Gendron (although, as you can see, the reverse of his rookie card is “Jean G.” Gendron). He then became “Jean Guy” on his 1968 card (shown for a different reason in the following entry), was amended to “Jean-Guy” in 1969, then was stripped of the hyphen in 1970 and 1971, and enjoyed a restored hyphen for his final card, in 1972. (Gendron’s 1970 Dad’s Cookies card and 1970 Esso stamp also feature the hyphen.)
1968 OPC Jean Guy Gendron (#185): The statistical record claims that Gendron was “Not in N.H.L.” during the 1967-68 season. Although the long-time NHL veteran had been dispatched to the AHL’s Quebec Aces in 1964 and remained there for 4 seasons, Gendron did suit up for 1 game with the phledgling Philadelphia Flyers—even picking up an assist—during his final year with Quebec. (Gendron would go on to play 4 seasons with the Orange and Black, becoming one of the team’s best forwards in its early years.) Furthermore, though not an outright error, Gendron’s bio begins that he, Andre Lacroix, and Simon Nolet “are counted heavily on this year by Coach Courtney.” This is a strange reference to Philadelphia’s inaugural head coach, Keith Allen, whose given name was Courtney. I’m inclined to believe that OPC mistook “Courtney” as his surname, because it’s difficult to believe that OPC was on an overly casual first-name basis with the little-known skipper of a barely established expansion club.
1979 OPC J. Bob Kelly (#306): This is likely well known to all except the young’uns. Rather obviously—at least it should be—the player depicted is not J. Bob Kelly—better known in rinks as “Battleship” Kelly—but long-time Broad Street Bully, Bob “the Hound” Kelly. (The pictured Bob Kelly has his own OPC and Topps cards that year; J. Bob Kelly has no Topps counterpart.) As an aside (though not an error itself), OPC denotes that Kelly was “Now with Oilers”; however, Kelly’s last skate in the NHL occurred during the previous season’s quarterfinals as the New York Islanders swept Kelly’s Chicago Black Hawks. Battleship did split 4 games between the Cincinnati Stingers and the Houston Apollos of the Central Hockey League during the 1979-80 season, but he never played for Edmonton, despite the Oilers drafting Kelly from Chicago in the 1979 NHL Expansion Draft.
1969-70 Topps (#59) and OPC (#59) Carl Brewer: Perhaps it’s something of an honor to be incorrect in two countries, as both Topps and OPC were in listing Carl’s home of Muskegon, Michigan, which is misspelled as “Muskegan” on both cards.
1971-72 OPC (#156) and 1972-73 OPC (#100) Rogatien Vachon: Errors north of the border get a little more complex with this pair of Rogie Vachon cards. Each errantly refers to Vachon as “Roggie”—the first card twice in the bio and the latter card in the cartoon. OPC then wised up and never again made this misspelling (the reverse of Topps/OPC 1978-79 cards, which feature the player’s autograph, confirm the spelling in Vachon’s own hand, as if confirmation were needed). OPC dropped the puck a second time on his 1972-73 card, botching Vachon’s first name as “Ragatien.” (Topps got the spelling right but featured the same erroneous cartoon.) A former coworker who is a cousin of Vachon responded to my request for Rogie’s comments on this with, “Jesus, Randy, I’m busy. Leave me alone!”
Author’s Note: This is the first in a multi-part series that will explore the legal backstories that have shaped (and continue to shape) the baseball card industry. Once considered mere ephemera used to induce children to buy penny confections (or cigarettes!), the industry has been inundated by costly legal battles waged in the name of baseball card supremacy. Punctuated by the recent announcement that Fanatics has agreed to acquire Topps’ trading card business, the players in the industry have endured nearly constant cannibalism, infighting, and subterfuge. Thank goodness for us, right? — John Racanelli
A Very Brief History of the Right of Privacy
Although perhaps difficult to believe, individuals were once without legal recourse if their names or likenesses were used commercially without permission. The “right of privacy” was essentially without basis at common law in the United States before 1902. Emerging privacy rights, however, would eventually become a central battleground as trading card makers fought to secure the pocket change of (mostly) American boys after World War II. The resulting litigation would shape the baseball card industry and provide Topps with nearly unassailable baseball card dominance by the 1960s. The story starts, however, at the turn of the twentieth century with a teenaged girl’s surprising discovery in a Vermont tavern.
As an 18-year-old from Rochester, New York, Abigail Roberson visited an “out-of-the-way tavern” in Vermont while on vacation. There she discovered an advertisement for Franklin Mills flour prominently featuring her photograph. The shocking discovery made Roberson physically ill—Franklin Mills had used the photograph without her knowledge or consent and refused to disclose how they obtained the image.
Roberson was humiliated by use of the photo (although admittedly flattering) and learned that some 25,000 copies of the advertisement had been distributed to stores, warehouses, saloons, and other public places. She sued to prevent the further distribution of the poster and asked for $15,000 in damages (approximately $475,0000 today). The trial court found in Roberson’s favor and the appellate division affirmed.
The case went up to New York’s highest court, however, where Chief Judge Alton Parker wrote for the 4-3 majority that Roberson had failed to state a cause of action because her complaint did not allege defendants acted maliciously or published a defamatory photo. They held that Franklin Mills was lawfully able to use Roberson’s photograph for its advertising without having to ask or compensate her.
Not surprisingly, a wave of public outrage followed Roberson’s loss. In the wake, the New York legislature enacted laws to codify the right of privacy, which allowed an aggrieved party to seek court intervention to enjoin use and sue for monetary damages if a photograph was used intentionally without consent.
A Bat Fight: Hanna Manufacturing Company v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co.
The baseball world would first see a battle over privacy rights in 1935, when Louisville Slugger sued the Hanna Manufacturing Company alleging Hanna was infringing on its trademarks by selling bats bearing the names of players under exclusive contract to Louisville Slugger, such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
The bats at issue retailed “for as much as $2.50 each” (approximately $28.00 today) and were bought by customers who were “careful and well-informed.” Louisville Slugger took pride in crafting bats of the size, shape, and balance that each major league player preferred and for a small (undisclosed) consideration, these players gave Louisville Slugger the exclusive right to use the player’s name, autograph, and photograph in connection with the sales of baseball bats for a lengthy term, typically 20 to 25 years. The contract signed by the players did not require them to use Louisville Slugger bats, however. In fact, Lou Gehrig had used Hanna bats for two years despite having signed with Louisville Slugger.
Hanna countered that the bats it sold bearing the names of “Babe Ruth” and “Lou Gehrig” were not sold based on the player’s name having been stamped on the bat, but because the purchasers (often college teams) wanted bats of that player’s particular shape and style. The district court found for Louisville Slugger, “baseball players, like any other individuals, have a property right to their names that has been assigned by certain players to Louisville Slugger, and Louisville Slugger used and advertised such right and has such right exclusively, irrespective of any trademark or unfair competition law.”
The appellate court reversed, however, remarking that there were some “interesting discussions as to a ‘right of privacy’” ongoing but that a “public man waives his right so that the public becomes entitled to his likeness.” The court continued, “fame is not merchandise. It would help neither sportsmanship nor business to uphold the sale of a famous name to the highest bidder as property.” [Wow is this shortsighted when viewed in the modern athlete endorsement landscape!]
The court was further convinced that the “name on the bat” was commonly understood to refer only to the model or style of the bat and implied no endorsement by the player. The court specifically ruled that Hanna could market bats bearing players’ names as long as the descriptive mark included the words “style” or “shape” conspicuously, such that a Hanna bat marked “Babe Ruth style” would be acceptable. Ultimately, those Louisville Slugger contracts operated only to prevent the ballplayers from objecting to Louisville Sluggers’ use of their names and likenesses.
“No matter what may be said about the habits and nature of ball players, they are not naïve.” It would not be long before “right of privacy” claims would invade the baseball card industry.
The Big Cat Takes a Swipe
On August 26, 1941, Johnny Mize went 4-for-8 with a double and home run as his Cardinals split a Tuesday doubleheader against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That same day, Mize’s attorneys filed a right of privacy lawsuit against Gum Products, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts alleging that it had used photos of Mize in its Double Play Gum baseball card set without his permission.
In what appears to be the first baseball card-related lawsuit, Mize asked the court for a restraining order and damages commensurate with his appearance on some 140,000 cards issued by Gum Products. On September 5, the court issued a temporary injunction that prevented Gum Products from using Mize’s name or picture further in connection with the sale of gum. Mize’s “right of privacy” victory was short lived, however.
At a subsequent hearing on June 25, 1942, Gum Products admitted it had not directly obtained Mize’s permission, but had done so through the purchase of the picture from an agency. The defense also argued that as “a leading ballplayer of the country,” Mize had no right of privacy in connection to the publication of his name or photograph. On June 28, Judge Francis Good dismissed the case “without comment.” Despite their ultimate victory, Gum Products never produced another set of baseball trading cards.
Leaf: Blown Away
In 1949, Bowman Gum Company and a number of individual players, including Warren Spahn, sued Chicago-based Leaf Brands, Inc. and several east coast gum wholesalers for distributing cards featuring pictures of ballplayers under contract with Bowman. The lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia, where Bowman was based, and a friendly hometown judge issued a temporary restraining order that prohibited Leaf from selling cards with its gum anywhere in the United States (straining the bounds of enforceability).
Leaf took the defeat seriously and reached a settlement with Bowman in which Leaf agreed to withdraw from the baseball card business until at least 1951. Leaf tried in vain to work out arrangements with Topps to share printing rights, but Topps was not interested.
Bowman v. Topps: Birth of the Right of Privacy
Topps first dipped its toe in the baseball card market with its Magic Cards release in 1948. The 19-card baseball series was part of a much larger modern Allen & Ginter-like set that also included cards of football players, boxers, movie stars, famous explorers, and dogs. The tiny cards (roughly 1” x 1½”) featured sepia-toned photos that would appear on the card when exposed to sunlight. The baseball checklist consisted of highlight cards from the 1948 Cleveland-Boston World Series and individual cards of Indians player/manager Lou Boudreau and Braves 3B Bob Elliott. The balance of the baseball checklist was comprised of retired greats such as Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Tinker/Johnny Evers.
In 1951, Topps issued a set of baseball cards featuring current players in direct competition with Bowman, who had produced “Play Ball” sets from 1939-1941 and their own branded sets starting in 1948. To create their set (commonly referred to as “red backs”), Topps licensed rights to the players’ names, photos, and biographical information from a third-party company, Players Enterprises, Inc. This initial set of 52 cards was designed like a deck of cards and was intended to be played as a game. The cards were distributed in a rather nondescript box of “’Doubles’ Baseball Playing Cards” that identified Topps cryptically (and perhaps by design) only by “T.C.G. Brooklyn 32, N.Y.” on the bottom of the box and wrappers. When Players Enterprises merged with Russell Publishing Company in April 1951, Topps was given an additional stable of players under contract that allowed them to distribute a second series of 52 cards (“blue backs”) sold in a redesigned box as “Baseball Trading Card Candy.”
Unhappy with the competition, Bowman sued Topps following their release of the red/blue back cards claiming trademark infringement, unfair competition, and impairment of contract rights. They sought to prevent Topps from selling any product having the appearance of gum with the word “baseball” connected to it.
Topps argued that they had lawfully obtained rights from Players Enterprises to use the names, pictures, and biographical data shown on the cards; denied there was any confusion with Bowman’s products; and claimed that the contracts Topps had with the players constituted a waiver of the player’s right to privacy—but conveyed no rights on Bowman to sue Topps. Topps also argued that it had not infringed on Bowman’s contracts with players because it had inserted a caramel candy—not gum—with its cards.
The evidence established that Bowman had contracted with 340 baseball players through Art Flynn Associates for the right to use the name, signature, photograph, and descriptive biological sketch of each. In exchange, Bowman paid $100 and provided a wristwatch to each player for 1951. (The 1951 contract included the word “confections” for the first time, which seemingly presaged knowledge Topps was intending to issue a baseball card set with candy.) The players were also eligible to complete for the Jack Singer Annual Good Sportsmanship awards sponsored by Bowman.
Topps proved it had contracts with 248 active major league players through the rights acquired by Players Enterprises and Russell. These contracts gave Topps the right to use players’ names, pictures, and biographical data in connection with the sale of candy in 1951 and candy andchewing gum for 1952.
Following a bench trial, Judge Clarence Galston ruled in Topps’ favor and dismissed the case. He found it significant that there was no player biographical data on the reverse side of the 1951 Topps cards; the packaging between Bowman and Topps was different; and there was no record of any confusion between purchasers of the two products.
More importantly, the court (in reliance on § 51 of New York’s Civil Rights Law enacted in the wake of Roberson) held that the contracts Bowman made with the players conveyed no rights on Bowman to sue a third-party, such as Topps. Accordingly, only the individual ballplayer would have a cause of action for an injury to his person. No “right of privacy” was applicable to a business.
Bowman v. Topps: The Appeal and Establishment of the “Right of Publicity”
Bowman took the matter up on appeal to the Second Circuit claiming their contracts were exclusive for use in connection with the sale of gum and that Topps deliberately induced the ballplayers to sign contracts giving Topps the same rights. Topps continued to argue that even if Bowman proved its case, there was no actionable wrong because any contract between Bowman and a ballplayer did not convey any right on Bowman to enforce those rights as to third parties.
Just prior to the start of the 1953 season, the appellate court formally established the “right of publicity” by way of recognizing an enforceable property right in each player’s name and likeness. This was huge. Accordingly, the ballplayers could grant exclusive rights to their pictures that could be enforced by third parties, such as Bowman. “For it is common knowledge that many prominent persons (especially actors and ballplayers), far from having their feelings bruised through public exposure of their likenesses, would feel sorely deprived if they no longer received money for authorizing advertisements, popularizing their countenances, displayed in newspapers, magazines, busses, trains and subways. This right of publicity would usually yield them no money unless it could be made the subject of an exclusive grant which barred any other advertiser from using their pictures.” That the appellate court recognized the right of publicity was an unprecedented hallmark for ballplayers’ ability to control (and cash in) on their names and likenesses.
The case was sent back to Judge Galston to determine if Topps had knowingly used photographs of players under contract with Bowman. This was a complicated case-by-case task in that up to six separate contracts were now at issue for players who appeared in any of the 1951, 1952 and 1953 sets issued by Bowman and Topps.
By May 1953, both Topps and Bowman had continued to issue sets of fluctuating sizes as their competition to ink players to contracts intensified. In fact, Topps pulled six cards from its 1953 set due to the ongoing litigation. The court also required Topps to remove the cards of players it was enjoined from using from stacks of cards printed but not yet wrapped, which allowed Topps to distribute any offending cards that had already been packaged. (Unfortunately, identification of these particular cards is not immediately discernable from the published decision.)
Bowman v. Topps: The Aftermath
The litigation continued, however, and on May 10, 1955 Judge Galston remanded the case to the New York state courts. This litigation was expensive for Bowman, which spent in excess of $110,000 in legal fees ($1.12 million today); it cost Topps only slightly less. Bowman had been losing money each year since 1952, culminating with a net loss in 1954 of $224,000 (approximately $2.3 million today).
In April 1955, Bowman was merged into cardboard box manufacturer Connelly Container Corporation. Connelly’s stewardship of the Bowman gum and trading card brand was fleeting, however, as it looked to shed the gum/baseball card line, which had averaged between 15% to 30% of total sales. On January 20, 1956, Topps settled the litigation with Connelly by acquiring Bowman’s gum-producing facilities, baseball player picture rights, and an agreement on the part of Connelly not to manufacture gum or picture card products for five years in exchange for $200,000 (approximately $2 million today). [Connelly was apparently much more interested in Bowman’s other business pursuits at the time of the merger, including an all-nylon squeeze bottle in development.]
All the while, Leaf wanted to get back into the baseball card business. After the Bowman litigation settled, Leaf again approached Topps with a proposal to share player rights. With main competitor Bowman eliminated, Topps had no interest in making any arrangement with Leaf. In fact, Topps sent a letter to the player representative of each ballclub on August 14, 1956, indicating it was not going to be sharing its baseball card picture rights with any other companies.
By 1959, Topps was the largest manufacturer of bubblegum in the United States with total sales of $14 million annually (approximately $133 million today). Leaf would eventually get back into the baseball card business in 1960 when it produced a black and white 144-card set that was sold with marbles.
Fleer Stirs the Pot
At the end of 1958, the Frank H. Fleer Corporation launched an offensive against Topps for control of the baseball card market by offering ballplayers contracts that would become effective upon the expiration any existing contracts with Topps. This started with a mail solicitation in December and followed up with visits at training camps in 1959 by ten of its sales and marketing personnel. Fleer was even able to enlist representatives who were active players on teams such as Charlie Lau and Chuck Cottier.
The Fleer contracts paid players $5 as initial consideration and $125 upon reaching the major leagues. Further, Fleer offered a monetary gift or reward for players who provided Fleer with copies of their Topps contracts. After learning of this practice, Topps stopped sending copies of its contracts to the players (but would provide information regarding the terms of the contract upon request). Topps was flooded with requests once they started offering $75 for the players to sign extensions.
Fleer successfully lured Ted Williams and produced an 80-card set of the mercurial slugger in 1959. The Williams set accounted for $250,000 in sales (approximately $2.4 million today), which was just a fraction of the $3.8 million (approximately $36 million today) worth of Topps baseball cards sold in 1959.
During the 1960 and 1961 seasons, Fleer issued sets featuring “Baseball Greats,” each of which featured Ted Williams and a cast of retired Hall of Famers and stars. Sales of these sets again paled in comparison to Topps’ baseball offerings. Leaf also issued a small set of current player cards in 1960, sold along with marbles. The 1960 Leaf contract paid the players $50 and provided for rights when distributed in combination with “marbles or other non-edible novelties such as charms made of plastic or metal.”
The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Topps on January 30, 1962—with Fleer’s enthusiastic support—alleging that Topps violated § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which made illegal “unfair methods of competition in commerce and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce.” This section also outlawed business practices that were “unscrupulous, oppressive, exploitative, or otherwise indefensible.” The FTC alleged further that Topps created a monopoly in the manufacture and distribution of baseball picture cards “contrary to public policy” and “to the detriment of free and open competition.” The Hearing Examiner made sure to emphasize that “[m]onopoly is condemned without qualification,” somewhat ironic considering that Major League Baseball enjoys the protections of a legally sanctioned monopoly.
At the heart of the complaint was the allegation Topps had completely foreclosed Fleer from the baseball card market by entering exclusive contracts with almost all major league baseball players and practically all minor league players with major league potential. It was further alleged that Topps had the power to impose tie-in requirements and imposed retail price control on vendors because it “wanted to know about anybody who was not selling the cards at six for a nickel.” On the heels of the FTC filing, Fleer bombarded college coaches with correspondence attacking Topps’ contracts and accusing Topps of monopolistic practices that were under investigation by the FTC.
Taking a page from their prior battle with Bowman, Topps began drafting their contracts to give themselves broader rights and further restrict the players from contracting with others. In 1957, the Topps contract gave exclusive rights to cards associated with gum and candy; in 1958, Topps added “confections” to the list; in 1959, the Topps’ contract extended to cards sold without gum in bulk vending boxes (despite the fact that vending boxes were an exceedingly small part of its total sales); and in 1960, the Topps contract included an agreement by the player not to enter into any other contracts while under contract with Topps. By May 1961, Fleer had contracted with only five major league ballplayers who had not contracted with Topps.
At the time the FTC got involved, Topps had exclusive rights with 95% of major league baseball players and contracts with more than 6500 ballplayers in both the major leagues in minor leagues. Topps first approached players in the minor leagues with a payment of $5 to sign a contract that would pay the player $125 per year for five years if he were promoted to Major League Baseball. Those players who reached the big leagues were paid regardless of whether Topps issued a card of the individual. (Topps would not have to pay if it decided not to market a complete series of cards, except they had to pay the Yankees either way.) Topps’ network included “agents” such as scouts, managers and players who were compensated as much as $100 a year, plus five dollars for each ballplayer signed, or other “gifts, tips or small payments” upon delivery of signed contracts.
Fleer claimed their representatives were physically excluded or intimidated from soliciting players at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ and Detroit Tigers’ training camps “by goon or similar methods.” In the face of Topps’ established network, Fleer had signed only 20 major league players by 1962 and 27 by 1963. Undeterred, Fleer issued a 66-card set (plus an unnumbered checklist) of active major league players in 1963, dwarfed by the 576-card set issued by Topps that year.
The FTC hearing examiner also considered evidence that Topps actively sought to impose market restrictions on other food and beverage manufacturers who used baseball picture cards as promotional devices. General Foods included baseball cards on packages of Post Cereal from 1961 to 1963 and Jell-O from 1962 to 1963. Topps took issue with the Post Cereal promotion that offered a sheet of ten cards (not attached to a cereal box) for two box tops and ten cents, alleging this was an infringement on their rights to sell cards individually. Topps subsequently entered into agreement that Post would pay a license and royalty fees in connection with its distribution of cards alone under the offer. Topps also objected to the set issued in 1958 by Hires Root Beer. Ultimately, Hires made a deal that allowed them to use photos of the players without having to pay Topps, but never issued another set.
The Topps “Monopoly”
Generally speaking, a monopoly is the control of “an economically meaningful market.” In the FTC matter, all that needed to be established was that baseball cards were economically meaningful, and that Topps controlled the market. There was no need to establish that Topps intended to monopolize; nor was it necessary to show Topps exercised its monopoly power.
Hearing Examiner Herman Tocker issued his initial decision on August 7, 1964, after a full evidentiary hearing. He found that Topps had “monopolized the sale of current baseball card picture cards both as separate articles of commerce and as a promotional device for the sale of confectionery products,” in violation of § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission act—even though Topps’ exclusive contracts and other practices were not unfair when viewed separately. Although it had not actually done so, Topps could have controlled the baseball trading card market and “had the power to increase or decrease at will the price when sold alone or when in packages of gum and cards.” Tocker found further that Topps was in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act—a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $50,000 or imprisonment.
Topps was ordered to cease and desist from entering or extending exclusive contacts with ballplayers, coaches, and managers for terms in excess of two years and enforcing any contracts in effect after October 31, 1966, along with an order to provide copies of the contracts to the ballplayers. Tocker also opined “[o]bviously, a single picture card, in and of itself, has little value” and “last year’s cards without current statistical content are about as valuable as yesterday’s newspaper,” observations that have not aged well.
The FTC Appeal
Both sides appealed the Hearing Examiner’s decision and order. FTC Commissioner Philip Elman thoroughly reviewed the evidence on record and reversed, holding Topps did not have a monopoly in the production of baseball cards because they lacked economic significance and alone were not “meaningful in terms of trade realities.”
Elman specifically decided that Topps’ control over baseball picture cards used to promote confectioneries was not detrimental to fair competition and that baseball cards were not so unique and indispensable a promotional technique that other bubblegum manufacturers could not compete on fair and equal terms with Topps. Elman cited several examples of successful promotional trading card series such as football players, retired baseball players, and non-sport sets featuring the Beatles and “Spook Theatre.” Moreover, but for the fact that Topps was the largest seller of bubblegum, there was no proof of any correlation between its superior market share and the sale of baseball picture cards.
Ultimately, Topps’ business model—tirelessly signing as many minor-league players as possible with hopes they would become big leaguers—was not an unfair or monopolistic practice. Because no monopoly was proven, the complaint was dismissed on appeal.
Fleer in the late 1960s
Despite its failure to break Topps’ hold over “current baseball picture cards,” Fleer remained the second largest manufacturer of bubblegum in the United States. Before the 1966 season started, Fleer announced it would be issuing a 66-card set dedicated to Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale and had a representative, Bob Quinn, continuing to visit Florida training camps looking to sign players to contracts.
The “Drysdale set” Fleer issued in 1966, however, was actually the “All Star Match Baseball” game, with each of the game cards including a black and white puzzle piece of Drysdale on the reverse, such that all 66 cards were necessary to complete the puzzle.
Fleer had also tried to get the jump on Topps by sending contracts and $25 checks to all players chosen in the newly implemented draft, which upset some college coaches who feared their players could jeopardize their amateur status by cashing those checks.
Despite Fleer’s continued efforts to erode Topps’ market stranglehold, Fleer ultimately acquiesced and subsequently sold all of its baseball contracts to Topps in 1966 for $385,000 (approximately $3.4 million today). This would not be the last we would hear from Fleer at the courthouse, however.
Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., 171 N. Y. 538, 541, 64 N. E. 442 (N.Y. 1902). This right of privacy is generally attributed to this article in the 1890 Harvard Law Journal by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis.
Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200, 42 S.Ct. 465, 66 L.Ed. 898, 26 A.L.R. 357 (1922). Major League Baseball has a legal monopoly, “[t]he business is giving exhibitions of baseball, which are purely state affairs. It is true that in order to attain for these exhibitions the great popularity that they have achieved, competitions must be arranged between clubs from different cities and States. But the fact that in order to give the exhibitions the Leagues must induce free persons to cross state lines and must arrange and pay for their doing so is not enough to change the character of the business.”
Hanna Mfg. Co. v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 101 A.L.R. 484, 78 F.2d 763 (5th Cir. 1935). Defendant Hillerich & Bradsby Co. will be referred to as “Louisville Slugger,” its more widely used tradename today.
Bowman Gum, Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 103 F. Supp. 944 (E.D.N.Y. 1952). Topps also issued 9-card set of team photos in 1951 (Boston Red Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, New York Giants, Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators) and Major League All-Stars/Connie Mack All-Stars. These sets do not appear to have been subject of the litigation between Topps and Bowman.
Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, 202 F.2d 866 (2nd Cir. 1953). In April 1952, Bowman Gum shareholders approved the change of the company name to Haelan Laboratories. Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1952: 4. Accordingly, the ensuing litigation lists Haelan—and not Bowman—as a party.
Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, 131 F. Supp. 262 (E.D.N.Y. 1955).
In re Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 67 F.T.C. 744 (1965). Baseball card sales in 1960: Topps $3,638,000 (approx. $34 million today), Fleer $300,000 (approx. $2.8 million today), and Leaf $100,000 (approx. $934,000 today); in 1961: Topps $3,475,000 (approx. $32 million today) and Fleer $355,506 (approx. $3.3 million today). The second series of Fleer’s 1961 Baseball Greats accounted for an additional $85,000 in sales (approx. $778,000 today) for 1962. Though distributed under the company name “Sports Novelties Inc.,” the 1960 Leaf issue is referred to in the hobby as “Leaf” and is referred to similarly herein. The FTC hearing examiner described the Beatles as “a group of singing troubadours imported from England”. Additionally, for football cards, the contract was made with the league and not the individual players. The players received no direct compensation—all money was channeled to league pension funds.
“The Week in a Busy World,” Atlanta Constitution, May 5, 1901: 42.
“Chewing Gum Stuck with Suit by Mize,” Daily News (New York), August 27, 1941: 284.
“Johnny Mize Asks Damages from Cambridge Gum Firm,” Boston Globe, June 25, 1942: 11. Mize appeared on two cards in the set: Nos. 39/40 with Enos Slaughter and Nos. 99/100 with Dan Litwhiler. It is unclear how many of each comprised the total.
“Mize of Cardinals Wins Court Test on Use of Name,” Boston Globe, September 5, 1941: 23.
“Mize Suit Against Gum Firm Dismissed,” Des Moines Register, June 28, 1942: 16.
“Spahn, Five Others Take Action in Gum Distribution Controversy, Boston Globe, May 4, 1949: 23. Although this case attracted little press, that Warren Spahn was involved is not surprising based on the battle he would have in the future regarding the publication of the “Warren Spahn Story,” which he contended painted him in a false (but positive) light and was published without his consent.
“A’s Stars Get Writ to Bar Use of Pictures on Gum,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 7, 1949: 16.
“Haelan Merged into Connelly,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 1955: 30.
Bob Rathgeber, “Young Bob Quinn: Bubble Gum Exec,” Bradenton (Florida) Herald, March 17, 1966: 14.
Wayne Shufelt, “’Gummed’ Up,” Tampa Times, April 2, 1966: 10.
Paul Bedard, “Bubble May Burst in Baseball Card Suit,” Washington Post, June 20, 1979.
A reply to a recent SABR Baseball Cards social media post led me to think about the baseball players more famous for their baseball cards than for any of their on or off the field exploits. Here are ten who I believe fit the bill.
Ripken lasted twelve years in the big leagues as an infielder, including an all-star caliber season in 1990. Today he is a frequent co-host on MLB Network. His brother is baseball’s ultimate Iron Man and one of the greatest shortstops in history. And still, say the name Billy Ripken and card collectors think only of one thing: his 1989 Fleer F*ck Face card.
His career on the diamond lasted only half as long as Billy Ripken’s but he spent six years as the regular second baseman for the Rangers and Cubs, topping 30 steals four times while batting a respectable .266. Like Ripken, baseball also ran in his family. Of course any kid who collected baseball cards in 1979 will know him best for this seemingly impossible cardboard trickery.
BRANDON PUFFER AND JUNG BONG
Puffer played four years in the big leagues, appearing in 85 games for the Astros, Padres, and Giants. Jung Bong played one fewer season, appearing in 48 games for the Braves and Reds. The two pitchers combined for a WAR of -1.2. Though never teammates, the duo shared Future Stars cardboard in the 2003 Topps set on card #331, known to collectors (and chronicled by David Roth) as the “Bong Puffer card.”
Legitimately one of the best hitters of his time, scouted by the legendary Buck O’Neil, and the man behind the classic line, “They don’t think it be like it is, but it do,” Oscar Gamble would be remembered fondly even if he had no baseball cards at all. Fortunately that’s a hypothetical we need not ponder long when this pure cardboard gold is right in front of us.
SHERRY MAGEE AND JOE DOYLE
Magee built a borderline Hall of Fame career from 1904-1919 that included more than 2000 hits, four RBI titles, and 59.4 WAR. Even with those credentials I suspect many readers can only hazard a guess whether his name is pronounced Maggie, McGee, or Madgee.
Doyle, on the other hand, had a completely undistinguished career, seeing limited action on the mound over five seasons at roughly replacement level.
Whatever their on-field exploits, each of these players will forever be cardboard legends, with their error cards comprising half of the T206 set’s “Big Four.”
BENNY BENGOUGHAND ANDY PAKFO
Bengough was a career backup catcher who compiled 0.3 WAR over his ten seasons in the big leagues. When the 1933 Goudey set came out, he was already out of baseball.
Pafko, on the other hand, was a four-time all-star who batted .285 over 13 seasons with a career OPS+ of 117. His 1952 season (.287/19/85) was uncannily similar to his lifetime per 162 slash line of .285/19/85, and his midseason move from the Cubs to the Dodgers the prior year was one of the season’s biggest trades.
While neither player would top any list of all-time greats, each player topped many stacks of baseball cards, thanks to being numbered one in the 1933 Goudey and 1952 Topps sets respectively. Until the Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie card came along in 1989, I suspect these two players were the Hobby’s most famous set starters. Certainly both cards, in reasonable shape, carried a premium comparable to lesser Hall of Famers due to rubber banding, spills, and the myriad other ways stack toppers suffered disproportionate damage in collections prior to the advent of plastic sheets.
I’ll end the article with what may be my most contentious selection. Without a doubt, Wagner is a top shelf baseball immortal, considered by many to be the greatest shortstop of all-time if not the single greatest player of the Deadball Era. (In both cases, Pop Lloyd deserves consideration as well.) To an audience well versed in baseball history, therefore, Wagner is most famous for his tremendous playing career, even if most fans still pronounce his name wrong.
Yet whatever his accomplishments on the diamond, I suspect the Flying Dutchman is best known today, whether in the collecting world or the general public, for a single, transcendently pricey cardboard rectangle, our Hobby’s Mona Lisa.
Who else would you nominate for this elite club where ERR trumps WAR and even backup catchers can be number one? Sound off in the Comments!
When researching the 1934-36 National Chicle “Batter Up” set I came across the curious fact the set’s first series, cards 1-80, included no Chicago Cubs. At first this seemed like a quirk unique to the set. However, further research revealed that the lack of Cubs was fairly common among the gum and candy cards of the era. Here is a chronology of the major sets from 1933-49 along with the status of their Cubs cards or lack thereof.
The 240-card set in 1933 included 17 Cubs cards, including at least one in each of its first 9 series, which is about what you’d expect. I’ve mainly included this set because A) it’s THE gum set of the 1930s, and B) it’s the last set before things got weird.
The 96-card follow-up set in 1934 included 6 Cubs cards, which by itself doesn’t suggest anything anomalous. However, the distribution of Cubs in the set is worth a quick note. Series one included three Cubs, but all were repeated from the 1933 set, artwork and all. (This was true of all 24 cards in 1934 series one.)
When the set did issue its first series of new players, none were Cubs. It wasn’t until the set’s third series that new Cubs (Lynn Nelson, Lyle Tinning) finally appeared. (The fourth series brought back another Cub, Kiki Cuyler, from the 1933 set but with new artwork. And as Matthew notes in the comments, the twelve “Chuck Klein says” cards also add to the Cubs fourth series presence.)
The 1935 Goudey set primarily relied on recycled artwork and players from their 1933 and 1934 releases. Of the 144 “cards” (really, quarters of cards) in the set, there are only 11 new players. None are Cubs. Overall, the Cubs are tied with the Phillies for fewest cards in the set: either one or four, depending how you choose to count.
The small 25-card set in 1936 included one Cubs player, Chuck Klein.
Subsequent Goudey sets seemed to be fairly normal with respect to Cubs players.
National Chicle debuted two significant multi-year sets in 1934. One was the Batter Up set, whose 80 cards that year have already been noted to have avoided the Cubs entirely. The other set, Diamond Stars, was equally devoid of Cubs among its 24-card offering that year.
Diamond Stars continued in 1935 with 60 new players, and this time there were three Cubs, two of whom were repeated with identical artwork in the 1936 release.
Meanwhile, series two of Batter Up, which I place entirely in 1936, exploded from zero to 11 Cubs among the final 112 cards in the set.
Gum, Inc., is best known to collectors for two different offerings: Play Ball (1939-41) and Bowman (1948-55). The three years of Play Ball cards included 473 different cards. Believe it or not, none were active Cubs players! The 161-card 1939 set and 72-card 1941 set included no Cubs at all while the 240-card 1940 set included three retired greats and one coach card.
The Gum, Inc., shutout continued into their debut Bowman offering that included 48 cards but no Cubs. Beginning in 1949, however, the Bowman sets had about the number of Cubs cards one would expect.
This set included 65 cards. None were Cubs.
1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Up
This 40-card set had no Cubs, but it’s a bit of a special case as only American League teams were represented.
1941 Double Play
This set had 75 cards (150 if cut in half) including five (or ten) Cubs cards, among them the first card (or two cards) in the set.
1948 Swell “Sport Thrills”
This highlights set included only 20 cards, none of which were Cubs. Then again, there were five other teams that didn’t make the checklist either. Still, you’re gonna tell me this was a bigger thrill than the Homer in the Gloamin?’
Chicago-based Leaf Candy introduced a 98-card set (likely intended to be larger) in 1949, and 11 of the cards were Cubs.
* * * * *
I posted some key elements of this article to the SABR Baseball Cards readers on Twitter as well as the collectors on the Net54 Baseball forum. Leading theories on the omission or delayed inclusion of Cubs in the various sets tended to relate to the Cubs being owned by the Wrigley family. Why help the competition, right?
Of course Cubs did ultimately crack the checklists, even if it took ten years in the case of Gum, Inc. One wonders, therefore, what made the difference. Did the rival gum and candy makers make P.K. Wrigley an offer he couldn’t refuse? Did the players break from official or unofficial team policy to sign with rival confectioneries? Did Wrigley ultimately decide that Cub-less baseball card sets would hurt the popularity of his franchise?
Whatever prompted the return of Cubs cards, I can’t even imagine being a Cubs fan from 1939-41, buying pack after pack of Play Ball, and not pulling a single Cubs player. I guess the closest I can come is being a Dodger fan in 2021 and not finding packs to open at all.
White Sox slugger Zeke Bonura has one of the more unusual baseball cards of the 1930s, courtesy of the 1936-37 World Wide Gum (V355) set sometimes known as Canadian Goudey.
Notably, the dapper Bonura is sporting a tie and vest ensemble rather than any baseball-related garb. (Oddly enough, the very next card on the checklist is of a fellow White Sox infielder, dressed almost identically.)
One might initially assume the two teammates were photographed at the same event, perhaps a banquet or the opera. Or might they have joined this man, dressed to conduct an orchestra or star in a Dracula movie, for a simple night on the town?
No? Okay, any chance Bonura, if not all three of these debonair gentlemen, were en route to this September 1935 watermelon eating contest?
Getting warmer but that’s still not it. If we’re gonna solve this mystery we’ll need one very important clue.
When Zeke wasn’t playing ball with the White Sox, he was often back home in New Orleans where according to this January 20, 1935, article (Nebraska State Journal) he “wrestles crates of produce, takes orders and makes himself generally handy around his father’s produce store.”
As it turns out, Bonura not only spent his winter months neck deep in fruits and vegetables but many springs as well. “Mentioning that Bonura is a holdout is about the same as saying that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning,” observed the Sporting News (January 14, 1937). Two years earlier, the same publication had Bonura “[speaking] up from the recesses of his father’s market in New Orleans” regarding his 1935 contract holdout. Bonura’s SABR bio has him holding out four straight years from 1935-38.
My understanding is that the fruitless negotiations went something like this:
SOX: “Hey, Zeke, are you gonna PRODUCE RUNS or RUN PRODUCE!” ZEKE: “Either way I’m gonna get my cabbage!” SOX: “…or just upset the apple cart.” ZEKE: “You really think I give a fig?” SOX: “How’d we end up with such a lemon?” ZEKE: “Actually the nickname’s Banana Nose.” SOX: “More like gone bananas! You’re really gonna turn down a plum job…” ZEKE: “I have a plum job!” SOX: “Apples and oranges.” ZEKE: “That too!” SOX: “What is this, Who’s On First?“ ZEKE: “Anyone but me if you don’t pay up!”
But lettuce at last return to the baseball card that began this article. If you haven’t guessed it already, it’s this other job—Bonura as fruit merchant—that the card depicts. Look carefully at the backdrop behind Bonura and you’ll spot various crates of produce. To the left of his forehead are the letters “TAIN,” which I suspect come from one of the many fruit crates of the period with “MOUNTAIN” on the label. Similarly, the “ON U.S.” by his chin is likely a fragment of “WASHINGTON U.S.A.” or “OREGON U.S.A.,” two states known for their produce. Look closely and you may recognize other words as well.
Though it’s possible the World Wide Gum card’s photograph was taken during the winter months, my sense is it’s more likely to be a spring photo since that’s when Zeke as fruit merchant would have been more newsworthy. If so, I have to imagine the 1936-37 WWG Bonura card is the first (and probably only) baseball card of a player actively holding out for more money.
How do you like them apples? 😊
Author’s Note: I believe the site of the baseball card and newspaper photos would have been at Bonura Wholesale Produce (and/or John Bonura & Company), located at 200 Poydras Street in the New Orleans French Quarter. While the business no longer stands today, there is a Gordon Biersch brewery and restaurant where you can raise a glass (or enjoy some seasonal vegetables!) in Zeke’s honor.
George Costanza is woven deep into the fabric of America’s national pastime. Assiduously converting a nebulous, unrealistic desire to become either the general manager of a baseball team or a sports announcer while holding no experience in either endeavor, he eventually rose to assistant to the traveling secretary of baseball’s most prestigious franchise, the New York Yankees. So versatile was Costanza in this capacity that, in addition to his expert booking of the team in Ramada hotels during road trips, he imparted invaluable batting tips to Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter before the 1997 season. It’s no coincidence that Williams, a .305 hitter in 1996, saw his batting average jump to .328 after Costanza’s unraveling of hitting’s simple physics (velocity/[trajectory × gravity]), then earn the American League batting crown in 1998 with a .339 mark.
By 1999, both Williams and Jeter pumped their averages into the .340s—making Costanza probably the best de facto hitting coach the franchise ever had.
And as for Jeter’s fragile defense that the Bronx Bombers had just won the 1996 World Series and thus didn’t warrant Costanza’s unsolicited batting tutelage, it’s even less of a coincidence that New York proceeded to sweep the 1998 and 1999 World Series and lose only one game in the 2000 Fall Classic—thus dropping a lone contest over three Costanza-influenced World Series championships.
So much for winning in six, Derek.
An ardent Yankees supporter long before he joined the payroll, Costanza introduced the revolutionary concept of naming a newborn after the uniform number of one’s favorite player—in George’s case, Mickey Mantle. Alas, this electrifying idea was stolen by his fiancé’s cousin, but George can be proud that somewhere walks a young man or woman with the wonderfully novel appellation of “Seven”—a name with cachet up the yin-yang!
Whether George was freeing the New York Yankees from the shackles of the past by wearing Babe Ruth’s priceless uniform while eating syrupy strawberries or dragging its hard-won World Series trophy around the parking lot to free himself from the shackles of the Yankees so he could accept an offer to become the New York Mets head scout, George Costanza proved himself an integral element of baseball—even if 1979 National League co-MVP Keith Hernandez thinks he’s a chucker.
If George owns a regrettable moment during his baseball career, it’s his brief, star-crossed encounter while doing volunteer work with senior citizens. While Elaine Benes devoted time to Mrs. Oliver, the goitered ex-lover of Mahatma Gandhi, and Jerry attempted to provide companionship for the irascible Mr. Fields while simultaneously allowing Kramer and Newman to loot the old man’s valuable record collection, George found himself partnered with the carefree Ben Cantwell, as they attempted to enjoy a lunch together.
Though this lunch occurred previous to his employment with the Yankees, it is curious that an ardent baseball fan such as George failed to realize that the man sitting opposite him in the booth of the coffee shop may well have been former major league pitcher, Ben Cantwell, a man who was a teammate of Babe Ruth, himself. True, Mr. Cantwell claimed to be 85 years old, which would make his birth year either 1907 or 1908, whereas all official sources list the Boston Braves hurler as having been born in 1902. However, birth records from such remote years have been known to be inaccurate; as well, people, in their vanity, have been known to shave years off their birthdate either to feel younger or keep themselves relevant. Ben Cantwell might simply have been the Joan Rivers of the major leagues.
George’s potential knowledge of Cantwell’s history surely would have provided for a more amiable and rewarding conversation. What stories Mr. Cantwell could have spun: playing with and against the titans of the 1920s and ‘30s; being a 20-game winner in 1933; being a member of the worst National League squad of the 20th century; recollections of the Babe. Mr. Cantwell was a veritable treasure trove of baseball history waiting to be gleaned.
Rather than pecking obsessively at the fact that the wizened Cantwell could meet his maker at any moment, George could have discussed how Cantwell dealt with going a horrid 4-25 for the inept Boston Braves in 1935. Judging by Mr. Cantwell’s insouciance about his advanced age, it’s a good bet he comported himself in the same graceful manner while his teammates barely lifted a bat to help him—a life lesson that would have well served the anxiety-plagued, hypochondriacal George.
Instead, George insists on pressing the issue of Ben Cantwell’s ostensible nearness to oblivion, eventually driving away his elderly company. A precious opportunity lost (after which, George adds insult to injury by crassly expecting this sufferer of the Great Depression to pay for the soup).
Okay, it might be a little much to expect George to have recognized a man who may have been a semi-obscure pitcher six decades earlier. But considering George’s extensive interest in baseball, as well as growing up under the yoke of a father who also possesses a passion for the sport—as evidenced by Frank Costanza’s grilling of George Steinbrenner both for the Boss’s lamentable trade of Jay Buhner and a $12 million contract handed to Hideki Irabu*—one is left wondering how George could have no inkling of his lunch guest’s possible identity.
* For the Irabu comment, see transcripts from the Fourth District County Court, Latham, Massachusetts v. Seinfeld et al; Article 223-7 of the Latham County Penal Code (the Good Samaritan Law); Honorable Judge Arthur Vandelay presiding.
Still, getting fired from a volunteer job may have been a moot point: George Costanza was, by his own admission, a great quitter who came from a long line of quitters. He was raised to give up—making his termination as Ben Cantwell’s youthful companion inevitable one way or the other. In essence, George Costanza was the 1935 Boston Braves of caring for senior citizens.
As detailed in my prior articles (listed below), the 1934-36 Diamond Stars release from National Chicle started slowly in 1934, picked up speed in 1935, and then unceremoniously fell off a cliff in 1936.
Were one to extrapolate to the larger goings on at National Chicle, the image wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. After all, the company filed for bankruptcy in early 1937. At the same time—and I mean literally at the same time, from 1934-36—another National Chicle baseball card set brings to mind the “not dead yet” scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Evidently, there were a lot of new cards coming out of National Chicle that year, just not Diamond Stars.
1934-36 NATIONAL CHICLE “BATTER UP”
Like Diamond Stars, the Batter Up set was produced by National Chicle from 1934-36 and consisted entirely of baseball subjects. A typical card in the set is this one of Dodger legend Hack Wilson, numbered 73 in the lower right corner. The most distinct feature of the set is the die cut around Wilson’s upper body, which allows for turning each card into a self-standing version of itself.
If you thought this card looked familiar but remembered it a different color, there’s a good reason for that. Six different colors (or “tints”) were used in the “Batter Up” set, with each card coming in either four or six different tints, though only four of the six were used for Wilson. (More on this later.)
As for the self-standing feature of the set, the pictures below, courtesy of David at Cigar Box Cards, shows how these cards looked when folded as intended. Though it may be Hobby heresy to say so, I’ll die on the hill that these cards look better folded than mint!
Notably, three cards in the set featured more than one player, something uncommon though hardly unprecedented at the time.
Separate from these multi-player cards, there are also 35 players who appear twice in the set. A typical example is Ben Chapman of the Yankees, and a very atypical example is White Sox pitcher Clint Brown.
In comparison to the Diamond Stars set, which features colorful artwork, updated statistics, playing tips, and biographical information, the Batter Up set can come across as a mere novelty or oddball offering. On the other hand, the sheer size of the Batter Up set casts doubt on such an impression. Ignoring color variations, the set is nearly twice the size of Diamond Stars (192 vs 108), and counting color variations there are 848 different cards!
SERIES ONE VS SERIES TWO
Virtually all documentation organizes the set’s cards into two series, differing in multiple ways including the physical size of the cards:
Series One: Cards 1-80, measuring 2-3/8″ by 3-1/4.” The first 40 of these cards are available in six tints (black, red, brown, blue, purple and green) while the second 40 are available in only four (black, brown, blue, purple).
Series Two: Cards 81-192, measuring 2-3/8″ x 3″ (a quarter inch shorter) and available in four tints (black, brown, blue, and green)
Recall I mentioned earlier that Clint Brown presented an unusual—really the unusual—example of a player with repeated cards in the set. Of the 35 repeats, 34 have their first card in Series One and their second card in Series Two. For whatever reason, Brown has both his cards in Series Two. (Offer up a theory in the comments if you have one!)
No uncut Batter Up sheets are known, but the shift in color schemes has led to speculation that Series One cards were printed in sheets of 40, with Series Two cards possibly printed in sheets of 56. Certainly another possibility, even with the card sizes changing, is that all sheets had 40 cards but double-prints occupied the 8 surplus slots left over from a 192-card set.
The key detail I have not yet shared about the Batter Up set is which cards came out when. To my knowledge this information is currently unknown or at least unpublished. The question then is whether it’s even possible to assign a specific year to the various cards in the set. For example, is there any way to determine whether this Goose Goslin card is from 1934 vs 1935 vs 1936?
As it turns out, I believe the answer is yes!
“BATTER UP” RELEASE SCHEDULE BY YEAR
When I began my analysis of this set, I presumed the release schedule would look something like this:
1934: Cards 1-40
1935: Cards 41-80 (plus possible repeats from 1934)
1936: Cards 81-192
Or maybe this:
1934: Cards 1-80 1935: Cards 81-136 1936: Cards 137-92 (plus possible repeats from 1935)
However, I now believe no new cards were released in 1935 and that the release schedule for the set was quite simply the following:
1934: Cards 1-80 (i.e., Series One)
1936: Cards 81-192 (i.e., Series Two)
If correct, the 112 brand new cards issued in 1936 suggest a company that was still putting the pedal to the metal on baseball cards in 1936, even as it slammed the brakes on its contemporaneous Diamond Stars release.
The teams that players in a set appear with offer important clues to the timing of its cards. For example, a card of Dick Allen on the Dodgers would likely be from around 1971 and certainly would not pre-date his October 5, 1970, trade from St. Louis to Los Angeles.
More relevant to set at hand, take the example of John Irving “Jack” Burns, whose Batter Up card shows him with the Tigers.
Burns did not become a Tiger until April 30, 1936, thus we can conclude his Batter Up card was produced no earlier than this date. As such, we know the card dates to 1936 rather than 1934 or 1935.
There are nine players in Series One who changed teams during the 1934 season or 1934-35 offseason. Where we see such players with their original teams, we should suppose their cards were issued in 1934 rather than 1935. Likewise, if we see these players on their new teams, we can conclude their cards were produced after the relevant transaction date and possibly as late as 1935.
The first player on the Series One checklist to be involved in a trade is Wes Ferrell, whose card #12 shows him with Cleveland. Because Ferrell was traded from the Indians to the Red Sox on May 25, 1934, this card most likely dates to 1934, probably even early 1934, rather than 1935.
Of course with a low position on the checklist like #12, you probably already assumed Ferrell’s card was from 1934. But what of Chick Fullis, on the other end of the Series One checklist with card #74? His card shows him on the Phillies, who traded him to the Cardinals on June 15, 1934. Once again then, the card likely dates to 1934.
If card #74 is indeed from 1934, there is only one barrier to concluding that all 80 Series One cards are from 1934. What if Series One employed skip numbering where various card numbers, presumably an entire sheet’s worth, were left vacant in 1934 to be filled in 1935? If so, then we could have Ferrell and Fullis date to 1934 while still having some haphazard subset of Series One date to 1935.
However, were some significant number of Series One cards not produced until 1935, we would expect to see some of these cards show players on new teams. Instead, here is what we find.
Notably, all nine players are shown with their original teams, suggesting a 1934 issue since a 1935 issue would in all likelihood featured updated teams (and exclude Heving and Cissell altogether).
Another thing we might have expected to see, had some Series One cards, not been produced until 1935, would be a handful of players who made their Major League debuts in 1935. In fact there are none. In contrast, Series One does include three players who debuted in 1934: Cookie Lavagetto (#51, MLB debut: April 17, 1934), Ollie Bejma (#55, MLB debut: April 24, 1934), and Zeke Bonura (#65, MLB debut: April 17, 1934).
Is this enough to conclude that all 80 Series One cards were issued in 1934? By itself probably not. For example, here are two players who didn’t change teams at all. What prevents these two cards from having been issued in 1935?
Had cards been produced individually, I would not have an argument. However, we should keep in mind that the cards were almost certainly produced in sheets, with perhaps 40 cards to a sheet. Because there are none of the things we should expect a full 1935 sheet to include (i.e., at least one team update or debut), my conclusion is that there was no 1935 Series One sheet, hence no 1935 Series One cards.
I’ll begin my look at Series Two team changes with a team change that wasn’t really a team change, best demonstrated by Wally Berger’s two cards in the Batter Up set.
Wally Berger was with the Boston N.L. franchise continuously from 1930 to 1937, but you’ll note a small difference in how his team is noted on each of his two cards. On card #1 he is with the Braves while on card #172 he is with the Bees. (Something similar happens in the Diamond Stars set between Berger’s card #25 and card #108.)
As the change of the franchise nickname was not announced until January 31, 1936, the use of “Bees” on Berger’s second card tells us the card was issued in 1936, though perhaps you would have assumed that anyway from the card’s high number. However, Berger was not the only Bee in the set. Here are the other four:
Unlike Berger, these Bees have relatively low numbers (83, 96, 99, 107) within Series Two, yet still date to 1936 based on the Bees nickname on the cards. The immediate implication, barring a skip numbering scheme, is that all or nearly all of Series Two came in 1936. (And when I say nearly all I really mean it since the only Series Two card numbers lower than 83 are 81 and 82.)
Before addressing skip numbering, let me first kill off the possibility that cards 81 and 82 (but not 83-192) could have been released separately, for example in 1935 or even 1934. I think the strongest evidence against such a possibility is that the Series Two cards are different sizes than their Series One predecessors. Imagine then, either in 1934 or 1935 producing 80 of the 82 cards one size but two another size. That just seems bizarre, even to someone like me with a huge appetite for bizarre.
Now what about skip numbering? Could National Chicle have released some subset of Series Two but left gaps in numbering that would not be filled in until 1936? Anything is possible, but I do think this is unlikely. After all, imagine that there were a significant release of Series Two cards in 1935. There are two things I would expect such a release to have.
Boston N.L. players on the Braves (not Bees)
Players on their 1935 rather than 1936 teams, assuming the two differed
However, as we examine the Series Two cards themselves, there are no Boston Braves. (In contrast, cards 1, 2, 37, 47, 59, and 75 from Series One are Braves.) Similarly, when we look at players whose 1935 and 1936 teams differed, we again see a rather one-sided pattern.
Here are the players who changed teams between 1935 and 1936, either during the 1935 season or during the 1935-36 offseason. The table is sorted by transaction date and uses boldface to indicate the team each player appears on in Series Two.
Among the 16 cards listed, 14 show the player with his new team. Of the two that don’t, the first is card 107 of Ed Brandt, which still shows him with his 1935 team, Boston. However, Brandt’s card uses the Bees nickname, hence cannot be from 1935.
This leaves only John Babich, whose card 167 still shows him with Brooklyn. One interpretation is that this card, hence an entire sheet of Series Two cards, genuinely dates to 1935. However, I don’t think the numbers are there to support this. (Where are the Braves cards? Where are the other players still on their 1935 teams?) The alternative I favor, therefore, is that of Babich simply being missed somewhere in the editorial process. If not for this exception, I would bet the house that no Series Two cards date to 1935. The Babich card compels me to maintain the same opinion but with less certainty.
Combining my analysis of Series One and Series Two, I believe the most likely release schedule for the set is the following:
1934: Cards 1-80 (i.e., all of Series One)
1935: No new cards
1936: Cards 81-192 (i.e., all of Series Two)
It’s an unexpected result and one that lends itself to plenty of head scratching. Still, it appears to be the direction the clues have taken us.
STILL TO COME?
At the moment I don’t have any good ideas, but I someday hope to come back to this set with some ideas around the various sub-releases or printing sheets that comprised what today we know as Series One and Series Two. Stay tuned.
Thank you to David at Cigar Box Cards for the photos from his collection, and as always a huge thank you to Trading Card Database for the checklists, images, and other resources that make my research possible.
As the quotes in the title suggest, there was no 1937 Diamond Stars release. However, an uncut printing sheet found many years later (1980 or 1981, I believe) fueled speculation that a 1937 offering may have been in the works at National Chicle.
Popular dealer, Den’s Collectors Den, used the images from the sheet to create a 12-card 1937 Diamond Stars “Extension Set” in 1981. I find the set to be particularly well done, including the bios on the back, which read nearly identically to the Austen Lake bios from the original set. Christopher Benjamin, who authored the card backs, signed his name as Christy Benjamin, no doubt in homage to Christy Walsh (see 1934 Goudey, cards 25-96).
In this article I will provide additional information about the cards and player on the sheet in hopes of determining not only its year but potentially a bit more.
As the back of the sheet was blank, there are fewer clues than usual to consider. However, we can still look at the following:
Players who changed teams around the period in question
Status of National Chicle and Diamonds Stars set around the period in question
TEAM CHANGES, PART ONE
Though I’m currently unable to track down the source, I’ve read at least one article or post that called out certain team changes as relevant to dating the sheet. For example, these three player-team combinations guarantee that the sheet could not have been produced before or during the 1935 season.
Roger Cramer is shown on the Red Sox, the team he played with from 1936-40.
Gene Moore is shown with the Braves/Bees, the team he played with from 1936-38.
Jim Bottomley is shown with the Browns, the team he played with from 1936-37.
Of course, these same cards leave the door open to 1936 or 1937 as the date of the sheet. If we had nothing further to go by, I’d place a small wager on 1936 for the simple reason that it’s when cards of these players would have been the most exciting for collectors, i.e., right when they joined their new teams.
However, there is still more evidence to consider.
TEAM CHANGES, PART TWO
Three relevant team changes occurred following the 1936 season.
Rip Collins (not to be confused with the other Rip Collins, but more on that later) was traded from the Cardinals to the Cubs on October 8, 1936.
Lon Warneke was traded from the Cubs to the Cardinals in that same trade.
Linus “Lonny” Frey was traded from the Dodgers to the Cubs on December 5, 1936.
We can see clearly from the uniforms of Collins and Frey that they are still with their original teams. As the trades occurred well in advance of the 1937 baseball season, it’s hard to imagine that National Chicle would have used this artwork for a 1937 release. (See this article for an example of how National Chicle handled team changes.)
As for Warneke’s card, though we see no team-specific markings, the blue cap matches what the Cubs wore in the 1930s while the Cardinals wore white caps with red trim.
Another notable team change belongs to Benny Frey (no relation to Lonny), who was with the Reds through the end of the 1936 season but did not play at all in 1937. (There is a sad story here, starting with Frey’s April 16 release by Cincinnati and ending with his suicide later in the year.)
Because Frey was still with Cincinnati in the 1937 preseason (though he saw zero action), his Reds card is compatible with a 1936 or an early 1937 release.
We know National Chicle was actively producing baseball cards in 1936. Furthermore, we know the company’s 1936 release included only 12 new players, a staggeringly low number for a set of cards intended to include “240 major league players,” not to mention a significant drop-off from the 60 new players introduced the year before. This signals (to me, at least) that something happened during (not after) the 1936 season that led National Chicle to stop making new cards. If so, pulling the plug even while twelve new cards were making their way to completion would be an unfortunate but not altogether unlikely outcome.
Alternatively, we can entertain the notion that our uncut sheet was simply the first (or one of the first) sheets put together for an ultimately ill-fated 1937 release. However, with National Chicle filing for bankruptcy “around March 1937,” the window for such a thing would have been tight, and I at least imagine company execs would have seen the writing on the wall enough to avoid unnecessary expenses such as baseball cards of Benny and Lonny Frey.
As our sheet is blank-backed, about the only remaining timing clues will come from the card images themselves. For example, were the sheet to include an image based on a 1937 photograph, we could completely rule out 1936 for the sheet’s production. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t find this.)
While I have been able to locate source photos for more than half the cards on the uncut sheet, none has provided any definitive evidence for 1936 over 1937 (or vice versa). Still, because the image overlays look cool, I’ll share my findings regardless.
The first example is Benny Frey, whose card image uses a cropped portion of his 1934 Butterfinger photo.
The second source image I found is for Mel Harder’s card. The same photo was used on his 1936 Leather Finish (R311) premium card.
The third source image I found is for Goose Goslin’s card, which matches a 1935 Detroit Tigers team issue photo.
The fourth source image I found is for Roger Creamer’s card, which “matches” his 1935-36 Diamond Matchbook. (Note the team change, however.)
The fifth source image I found is for the Lefty Gomez card, which matches his 1934 Butterfinger photo.
The sixth source image I found is a fun one. First off, can we agree Pete Fox’s card does look a bit odd? There is a twisting of his torso that suggests having misjudged the ball a bit or…
Hey, wait a minute, this picture looks a little too familiar!
Sure enough, the Diamond Stars artwork comes from a batting image of Pete Fox, one that was also used on his 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premium.
The final source image I found is the one corresponding to the set’s most unique card, the Bottomley/Hornsby combo card. Notes on the back date the photograph to late March 1936, probably between March 24 and March 28.
As with the other six source images, the dating of the Bottomley/Hornsby photo does not provide any definitive guidance as to dating the card or sheet. On the other hand, I’ll go back to my earlier point about when such a card would have been coolest to find in a pack. The Bottomley/Hornsby reunion (from their earlier stint as teammates with the Cardinals) was notable and exciting in 1936 but definitely old news by 1937.
I never did find the source photo for Phil Cavarretta, but I did find a second card (probably) produced from the same photo, at the same time learning there was a 1953 Parkhurst “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” set!
I also failed to find the Rip Collins source photo, but I did discover something odd with his card. As background, there were two players named Rip Collins who played in the 1930s.
James Anthony Collins (often “Ripper” but sometimes “Rip”), a first baseman, played from 1931-38 and 1941 with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates
In all likelihood, the Rip Collins shown on the Diamond Stars sheet was supposed to be the second of these two players. For one thing, the other Rip had been retired 5+ years. For another, he is wearing a Cardinals uniform.
Nonetheless, if we compare the baseball card of Rip of photographs of both Rips, there is a much stronger resemblance to Rip 1.0.
This is neither here nor there in attempting to date the Diamond Stars uncut sheet, but I thought it was still worth mentioning. The implication, of course, is that had the sheet of cards gone through production, young gum chewers might have ripped the wrong Rip.
As with most of the analysis I do, I can’t say there is a definite conclusion here. However, I do think the majority of the clues I’ve reviewed point to 1936 as significantly more likely than 1937. The strongest evidence, in my opinion, comes from the artwork used for Rip Collins, Lonny Frey, and Lon Warneke, which depicts players in uniforms that would have been outdated by the start of the 1937 baseball season.
If we accept 1936 as the year for the sheet, there is still the question of when in 1936. The likeliest spot for a sheet of cards that was never finished would be following the cards that were finished. Then its unfinished state could be easily explained by running out of money or time. If I had to make a guess, this would be it.
Were the sheet produced earlier than that, we would be left wondering why these twelve truly new cards were scrapped while comparatively stale reissues were greenlit for production. The simplest answer is always money, but was the cost of finishing this sheet really that different from reissuing an older series of cards?
After all, even the reissued cards were updated with new stats and in some cases revised artwork, biographical information, and card numbers, so this was not a situation where excess inventory from the year before was simply loaded onto trucks. One could argue that if the uncut sheet cards already had bios (which they might have, even if the lone surviving relic was blank-backed), the cost of sending them to production would be the same as moving ahead with reissues. So no, barring horribly expensive, slow, or unavailable bios still needed, I don’t imagine National Chicle would have halted these cards to crank out filler.
Another theory occasionally advanced and unrelated to money is that these cards were scrapped due to the artwork itself, with some National Chicle exec presumably hating the shift from stadium and city scape backgrounds (left, below) to geometric ones (right, below). My personal feeling is that yes, the old backgrounds were better, but no, nobody would choose this as their hill to die on.
My takeaway, therefore, is that the “1937 release” was in fact a relic from 1936, and was probably created after the various series of cards that genuinely made it into packs and onto shelves. In this sense, the twelve cards on the sheet may well be the final baseball cards National Chicle (almost) ever made, a swansong barely heard among the packing of equipment, shredding of papers, and closing of doors that would come soon enough, or too soon if you ask me.
Related reading: My friend Matthew Glidden discusses the possibility that National Chicle may have had its hands in yet another baseball set before being gobbled up by Goudey.
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” – Satchel Paige
My last three articles have examined the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set with the goal of establishing a more refined (e.g., monthly) release schedule for each year’s cards than anything previously documented. Having had success (apart from a “Rabbit hole”) in applying a particular technique to the 24 cards from 1934, I will now apply the same technique to the 60 new cards from 1935 and 12 new cards from 1936.
Specifically, a key to understanding the 1934 release involved associating each player’s age from his bio with the time interval where that age would have been accurate.
The question, then, is whether a similar analysis of the new cards from 1935 and 1936 will yield similar dividends, either in supporting or challenging my original timetables for each of these releases.
Careful readers may have noted the word new a few times already, and my use of it is intentional. The 1935 release included 84 cards, and I’m only looking at 60 of them. Similarly, the 1936 release included 48 cards, and I’m only looking at 12 of them. Why such an intentionally narrow lens?
Reasonably enough, when a player appeared in consecutive years, National Chicle simply bumped his age up by one from one year to the next. For example, the 1934 Al Simmons card presented his age as 31.
On cue, the Al Simmons cards from 1935 (left) and 1936 (right) present his age as 32 and 33 respectively.
This formulaic approach means that card ages for repeated players are simply perfunctory and not influenced by the specific timing of a card’s release beyond year. As such, they would only add clutter to an analysis that will already be messy enough without them.
For the 1935 release this means we should ignore cards 1-24, which were reissued from the prior year, and consider only 25-84. Following earlier hypotheses that the cards were released in series of 12 or multiples thereof, we’ll examine the cards twelve at a time.
Here are the first twelve (new) cards in the 1935 release, sorted by when each player would attain his “card age.” As Pepper Martin was born on February 29, I used March 1 for 1935 and noted the date with an asterisk.
As was the case in our 1934 analysis, there are a number of dates that make no sense for a 1935 set of baseball cards. Row, Rice, and Traynor, for example, would have “aged out” the year before the cards came out, while Berger and Rolfe would not hit their card ages until after the World Series. However, this initial table is based on the Baseball-Reference birthdates for each player, which we’ve seen don’t always match the birthdates assumed at the time these cards were produced. A review of more contemporary sources offers three corrections:
Rowe’s 1939 Play Ball card suggests 1912 rather than 1910 for his birth year.
Rice’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1892 rather than 1890 for his birth year.
Traynor’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1899 rather than 1898 for his birth year.
We can now update our table to reflect these changes.
In my main article on the 1935 release, I conjectured that these cards would have been issued in late April or so. The age data here do not reflect that. While the first eight cards are compatible with a release anywhere from April 6 to May 20, the last four cards list ages pointing to much later in the year (i.e., July 20 or afterward). In fact there is no single window where all 12 ages would be correct.
I have no firm conclusion to draw here and will instead list some possible explanations for these results.
Someone goofed, either in their math or their typesetting
Austen Lake/National Chicle used reference materials showing different birth years than what I can find
Ages on the backs of cards are notoriously unreliable, so what do you expect!
The last four cards really were released much later than the first eight
Before moving on to the next dozen cards, I’ll simply note a commonality among the last four cards listed, though I don’t believe it to be significant.
You may recall that the 1936 release included the reissue of 24 cards from near the beginning of the set, twelve that retained their numbering (shown in orange) and twelve that were renumbered 97-108.
In passing I noted earlier that these 24 cards disproportionately consisted of cards requiring team-related or other biographical updates. For what it’s worth, the last four cards from my table were all among these reissues. 🤷
The good news here is there are three players with no ages given, hence we have three fewer things that can go wrong! The bad news is we once again have data largely incompatible with the late-April release window speculated earlier.
This time I am able to replace two Baseball-Reference birthdays with more contemporary sources.
Ryan’s 1934 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.
Ferrell’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1906 rather than 1905 for his birth year.
Still, as before, we are left with multiple entries that poorly fit a late April release.
The case of Jo Jo White is most interesting to me. Yes, I suppose one could argue that Hubbell, Dykes, and the four outliers from the previous dozen were part of some postseason release, thereby making their ages correct. However, it’s hard to stretch that theory far enough to encompass White, whose age only becomes correct in June 1936!
This next table is our messiest one yet, though I do believe Hank Greenberg’s age of 34 on his card was simply a typo and intended to be 24.
As before, we can update a few birthdates based on contemporary sources.
Melillo’s 1933 George C. Miller card suggests 1902 rather than 1899 for his birth year.
Ruffing’s 1933 Goudey card suggests 1904 rather than 1905 for his birth year.
With the Greenberg typo corrected, the data now include only one rogue conflicting with the “mid-June or so” estimate from my earlier article.
I’ll take a very quick detour here that has zero to do with my main effort. Notice two of the names on the list for whom no age was given: John Whitehead and Cy Blanton. Both were rookies in 1935 who got off to very fast starts.
Blanton through 10 games: 7-2 with 1.00 ERA, 2 shutouts, 9 complete games, and a save
Whitehead through 8 games: 8-0 with 2.86 ERA, 1 shutout, and 7 complete games
You can almost hear the National Chicle execs yelling at the editors: “We don’t have time to find their ages. Just get those damn cards out stat!” Of course you’re now wondering if Glenn Myatt got off to a similarly sensational start. He did not.
The initial data for the next twelve cards again has some curveballs.
This time I can only make one “correction.”
Owen’s 1938 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.
The result is seven cards compatible with my speculative “late July or so” release but four players very definitely in conflict.
I’ll take yet another detour to note that two of the names in yellow had what then would have been considered prodigious rookie seasons with respect to the long ball. (A third name, Wally Berger, was in the 1935 release as well but way back at card 25.)
We at last come to the final series of the year, one that I’d originally pegged as early September or so. The first player listed clashes considerably with that, but all others seem to match up well.
Happily, DeLancey’s 1936 World Wide Gum card suggests 1912 rather than 1911 for his birth year.
With DeLancey’s information updated, we now have a set of twelve card ages that would have all been correct from September 15 until October 14. Hallelujah!
This concludes our look at the 60 new cards from the 1935 release. As I noted at the top of the article, there may be no compelling conclusions to draw thus far. Across the 60 cards, a full dozen conflict with previously speculated release windows, and one, Jo Jo White, is incompatible with any 1935 release window. I will still offer one full-on conspiracy theory on this “dirty dozen” at the very end of this article, but it’s not one I take seriously.
While the 1936 release included 48 cards in all, only twelve, cards 85-96, represented new players. A full 24 were reissues of previous cards that retained their original card numbers, and twelve others were reissues that adopted new numbering from 97-108.
Here are my initial data using Baseball-Reference as my source for dates of birth. Right off the bat, the first 3-4 players appear problematic for a 1936 release.
Fortunately, this is a group of cards that cleans up nicely.
Appling’s 1937 Goudey card suggests 1911 rather than 1907 for his birth year.
Crowder’s (first) 1933 Goudey card suggests 1901 rather than 1899 for his birth year.
Moose’s 1938 Goudey card suggests 1908 rather than 1906 for his birth year.
Hayworth’s 1939 Play Ball card suggests 1905 rather than 1904 for his birth year.
The revised table now has no conflicts at all with my previously speculated “early May 1936” release. However, a closer look reveals something else.
The full window when all card ages are correct is much broader, extending from April 2 through October 3. This is more or less the entire baseball season! So yes, the card ages support my supposed release window, but they would equally support just about any release window!
The first question you might ask is whether this outcome was intentional. Was it by design that all players would remain their “card ages” for the entire baseball season? Were the folks at National Chicle suddenly such perfectionists that they couldn’t chance a “card age” being wrong even briefly? Or were the birthdays of the players in question simply coincidence, even if the probability of nine randomly selected players having offseason birthdays is roughly…1 in 500?!
To follow this train of though to its conclusion, we should also look at the 36 reissued cards this same year. Do these cards show evidence of great care with respect to ages or are they largely haphazard? It took a while, but I checked it out.
This block is the one I originally theorized as leading off the 1936 release. As we’ve already seen, the window where all ages were correct ran from September 15-October 14. This brings up two possibilities:
National Chicle got the ages right and this series was a late-season rather than early-season release.
National Chicle didn’t worry about whether these ages were correct.
This block corresponds to the twelve cards from the early part of the checklist that were reissued with numbering intact. With Al Simmons (#2) “aging out” on May 22 and Jimmie Wilson (#22) not reaching his card age until July 23, there is no single window when all twelve players would have been their card ages. (Throw away Simmons and there is a brief window from July 23 through August 30.)
This block corresponds to the twelve cards from the early part of the checklist that were reissued with new numbering. With Earl Averill (#100) aging out on May 21 and Red Rolfe (#104) not reaching his card age until October 17, there is again no single window when all twelve players would have been their card ages. (Throw away Averill and there is a brief window from October 17 through November 11.)
I am not at the moment an adherent to the idea that the driving force behind the 1936 release was ensuring correct player ages. However, it’s still at least mathematically interesting to me that Diamond Stars could have batted 46 for 48 by releasing the four series according to this schedule:
One footnote I’ll add to this discussion is that the release schedule above wouldn’t only produce incorrect ages for Simmons and Rolfe but it would also result in an incorrect team (artwork and bio) for Irving Burns (#75), who went from the Browns to the Tigers on April 30. Otherwise, whether by coincidence or design, it holds up remarkably well, too well if you ask me.
RETHINKING THE “DIRTY DOZEN“
I promised I’d put forth at least some explanation for the twelve problematic card ages encountered in the 1935 set. While it feels most plausible, sensible, etc., to me to simply deem the card ages wrong, let’s at least consider the possibility that they’re correct (or at least all correct except Jo Jo White) and see where that takes us.
Offhand, the simplest way for these ages to be correct would be if they were not released in the series originally theorized but instead part of a late season sheet all their own. Such an approach would leave gaps in the earlier series, but we know from the 1933 Goudey set and others that leaving gaps could be an intentional tactic to boost sales, i.e., keep kids buying packs in hopes of finishing a run that can’t (yet) be finished.
The main reason I’m not sold on such a theory here is that only a very late release date for the “filler series” would solve the card age issues we’re attempting to solve here. If we include Jo Jo White, we would require a release date of June 1, 1936, or later, which creates more problems than it solves. White notwithstanding, we would still be looking at a release date of November 24, 1935, or later.
I also believe such a scheme would now be detectable on the PSA population report, probably in two ways.
Non-star players among these twelve cards would have similar populations to each other.
The earlier series would likely exhibit evidence of double-prints.
Checking the report, I don’t see either of these occurences.
I’ll also note that the sheet fragment we looked at in my 1935 article does cycle through all card numbers from 61-72 rather than exclude Foxx, Bonura, Medwick, and Trosky.
This sort of work isn’t an exact science but rather an arena where some clues point one way, some point another, and some point nowhere. When I began this article, I had some hope that an age analysis would either support or refute earlier assumptions about the 1935 and 1936 release schedules. Instead, I’ll liken the situation to a replay in MLB after a close play is challenged. Under the best of circumstances the review provides clear evidence that the original call was either correct or incorrect. Quite often, however, there is insufficient evidence and the call simply stands while not being confirmed. I think that’s where we are right now with Diamond Stars, at least absent any new angles not yet reviewed.
As always, let me know in the Comments what your own theories might be and especially if you know of information I’ve failed to consider.