Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part seven

Author’s note: This is the seventh in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment takes another detour to the set’s 1934 sequel.

If you are just now jumping into this series, this post will probably stand on its own. However, you may wish to skim the second, third, and sixth installments first in order to have a richer context.

Briefly, we have already covered the 1934 Goudey set as a 96-card set printed as follows–

  • Sheet 1 – Cards 1-24 in order, featuring repeated players and artwork from the 1933 set.
  • Sheet 2 – Cards 25-48 in order, with almost entirely new players.
  • Sheet 3 – Cards 49-72 in order, with almost entirely new players.
  • Sheet 4 – Cards 73-96, with almost entirely new players, and the “1933” Napoleon Lajoie card

I have spilled a ton of ink examining the chronology of the 1933 release but none thus far on the timing of its sequel. Were all 96 cards simply released all at once? Were the cards released in sets of 24 (or perhaps 48), from the start of the baseball season to the end? Or were these 96 cards all released fairly early in the season, with potential future releases halted due to poor sales or other business reasons?

Recalling our exploration of the 1933 set, there were several different sets of clues that either directly or tangentially—if not always reliably—suggested a timetable for the set:

  • First-hand accounts of contemporary collectors
  • Team designations for players who changed teams just before or during the season
  • Publication dates from the US Copyright office
  • Clues in the player biographies such as player ages or events that occurred during the season

To maintain continuity from my previous article, my focus in this article will be on the fourth of these. Plus, reading the card backs is by far the most fun of the various research methods involved. I’ll return to at least two of the others before my series of Goudey articles concludes.

PLAYER BIO CLUES

While approximately one-third of 1933 Goudey card included player ages on the backs, this was far less the case with the 1934 set.

Sheet 1

No ages or other in-season clues. This could be a very short article!

Sheet 2

The first card to include a player age or any clue at all is that of Julius Solters, card 30 in the set, which indicates his age as 25. According to Baseball-Reference, Solters was born on March 22, 1906, which clashes considerably with the information on his Goudey card back.

However, we see from the 1938 set that Goudey may have regarded his birth year as 1908.

This would make Solters his 1934 Goudey age from March 22, 1933 until March 21, 1934. Therefore, if the biography were current when it was finalized, the card points to the pre-season.

Immediately after Solters in the set was card 31, Baxter Jordan, who Goudey lists as 27 years old. (Side note: Also known as “Buck,” Baxter Jordan plays a bit part in my “ERR Jordan” article from 2019.) According to Baseball-Reference, Jordan was born on January 16, 1907, which would have made him 27 for the entire 1934 baseball season. As such, his age and birthdate offer no useful hint as to when cards 25-48 were released other than simply “January or later.”

Sheet 3

The first card of interest on the third sheet is that of Wesley Schulmerich, whose card back notes a recent trade from the Phillies to the Reds. According to Baseball-Reference, the trade occurred on May 16. This tells us that Schulmerich’s card was finalized after May 16 and—if the word “recently” is to be believed—only shortly after that date.

The first card on the third sheet to indicate an age is that of Mark Koenig, who Goudey lists as 29 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Koenig was born on July 19, 1904, which would have made him 29 until July 18, 1934. Therefore, if we take the age information to be reliable, we might infer that the third sheet was finalized prior to that date.

Three cards after Koenig in the set was card 59, Joe Mowry, whose card gives us two clues. First, he is listed as 24 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Mowry was born on April 6, 1908, which meant his Goudey age was not correct at any point during the 1934 baseball season, much less calendar year.

I was unable to locate any other cards of Mowry that indicated an age or birth year. However, I was able to track down a newspaper article on Mowry from July 16, 1931, that indicated his age at the end. “And here’s three little items, girls: He’s 21, unmarried, and his name isn’t Mike. Is that interesting?” 😊

Based on this article, we can infer a 1910 birth year for Mowry, which would then make his Goudey age correct from April 6, 1934 through April 5, 1935.

The card offers us a second hint as to timing. The last line of the bio tells us that “in May, 1934, Mowry was transferred to the Albany Team of the International League.” This occurred on May 24, telling us Mowry’s card was finalized in late May at the very earliest.

Six cards after Mowry in the set was card 65, Cliff Bolton, who Goudey lists as 26 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Bolton was born on April 10, 1907, which would have made him 26 only until April 9, 1934. In other words, either the card was finalized quite early or the age was incorrect at the time the card was finalized.

Two cards after Bolton in the set was card 67, Bob Weiland, who Goudey lists as 27 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Weiland was born on December 14, 1905, which was entirely inconsistent with his Goudey age. However, his card back contains other timing information.

The final sentence of Weiland’s bio reads, “In May 1934, Weiland was transferred to the Cleveland Indians.” Eureka! We now know this card, hence the sheet, was not finalized until at least May. Researching the transaction further, we learn it did not occur until May 25. This further places finalization in very late May at the earliest.

Two cards later we get another age, this time John Marcum who Goudey notes as 23. According to Baseball-Reference, Marcum had the numerologically fantastic birthdate 09-09-09, which is entirely inconsistent with his Goudey age.

No other cards of Marcum indicate a birthdate. However, this article from August 1933 affirms 1909 as Marcum’s birth year.

An event not mentioned in Marcum’s bio is his halting of Schoolboy Rowe’s 16 game winning streak on August 29, 1934. One might be tempted to take the omission as an indication that the bio was finalized before August 29, but it is more typical than atypical to omit highlights from the season in progress.

Closing out Sheet 3 is Arndt Jorgens, who Goudey notes as 27 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Jorgens was born on May 18, 1905, which was (again!) entirely inconsistent with his Goudey age.

As was the case with Solters and other players, however, a later card suggests a different birth year for Jorgens may have been used by Goudey.

Substituting 1906 as his birthyear, we have Jorgens as his presumed Goudey age until his May 18, 1934 birthday.

Sheet 4

Bob Boken’s card 74 doesn’t mention his age but does note that he “was secured by the White Sox from Washington during the present season,” a transaction that occurred on May 12. We can therefore conclude that his card and its sheet were finalized (unsurprisingly) sometime after that date.

Next up is Pinky Higgins, who Goudey notes as 24 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Higgins was born on May 27, 1909, which meant he was his Goudey age through May 26, 1934. Again we have the conundrum that the card (and sheet) were either finalized quite early, or the Goudey age was simply incorrect at the time the card was finalized.

The very next card in the set is Eddie Durham, who Goudey notes as 25 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Durham was born on August 17, 1907, meaning we have yet another birthdate wholly incompatible with the Goudey age. There is however another clue on the card back.

The end of the first paragraph notes that Eddie began the season rehabbing a “lame arm” at home in South Carolina but was “expected to be back with the White Sox before the close of the season.” (Spoiler alert: He didn’t make it back.) Pursuing this lead further, here are some notable dates relevant to Durham’s pitching status–

  • May 26 (Chicago Tribune and numerous other outlets) – Durham petitions Commissioner Landis to be placed on the voluntary retired list.
  • August 1 (Chicago Tribune) – Focus of rehab is to return for the 1935 season.

From this we might assume that Durham’s card was finalized earlier than May 26 or simply conclude that the Goudey biographers weren’t completely up on the news.

The very next card in the set is that of Marty McManus, who Goudey describes as “born in Chicago 33 years ago.” According to Baseball-Reference, McManus was born on March 14, 1900, which would have been 34 years ago at the time of the 1934 set.

Notably, McManus didn’t age a bit between 1933 (Sheet 1) and 1933 (Sheet 4) as his 1933 card also has him “born in Chicago 33 years ago.”

What of Bob Brown, who appears two cards later in the set? The second sentence of his bio reads: “He was sent to Albany this Spring by the Braves, but was returned to the Boston club because of poor control.”

Ignoring the misplaced modifier (or were the Braves simply tanking ahead of their time!), we can use game logs to help date the card. His Spring demotion evidently took place in May, and his return took place on or just ahead of July 1. At least so far, this is our first evidence (at least in this article) that Goudey was still working on its 1934 set past May.

Two cards past Brown was the card of Jim Mooney, who Goudey notes as 27 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Mooney was born on September 4, 1906, meaning he was his Goudey age through September 3, 1934. Assuming Goudey were current and correct here, we could infer Mooney’s card was finalized by that date.

Like Bob Brown’s card earlier, the card of Lloyd Johnson describes some minor leagues back and forth. “The Giants secured Johnson from the Mission Club of the Pacific Coast League, but recently sent him back to the minors.”

A review of Johnson’s 1934 record shows that he pitched only a single Major League game in 1934, which took place on April 21. (Never mind that it was for the Pirates, not the Giants.) Further research shows that Johnson’s release date was May 8, meaning his card was finalized on or after that date. The word “recently” suggests May or June as a likely timeframe.

We get another demotion card in the person of Homer Peel, card 88 in the set. (And in case you’re wondering, Peel lived up to his name exactly twice in his career.)

According to the card’s final paragraph, “[Peel] was recently released to Nashville.” According to Baseball-Reference, Peel’s last game with the Giants was June 25. Were the release truly recent, we might suppose Peel’s card was finalized in July or August, if not the very end of June.

Card 89 in the set belongs to switch-hitting Lonny Frey, who Goudey lists as 21 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Frey was born on August 23, 1910, which makes his Goudey age an impossibility in 1934.

Resolving the conflict is Frey’s 1939 Play Ball card, which lists a birth year of 1913. If we assume Goudey had similar on file, then Frey would have attained his Goudey age on August 23, 1934.

Dolph Camilli’s card 91 has two clues worthy of pursuit. The first is that “during the present season he was traded to the Phillies,” a transaction that occurred June 11.

The second clue is Dolph’s age, given as 26 on the card. If we use his Baseball-Reference age of April 23, 1907, we hit something of an impasse as Camilli would have been 27, not 26, by the time he joined the Phillies. However, other somewhat contemporary sources use 1908 as Camilli’s birth year, potentially resolving the issue.

Next is Fred Ostermueller, who Goudey lists as 26 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, Ostermueller was born on September 15, 1907, making him his Goudey age through September 14, 1934, or very nearly the entire baseball season.

Our penultimate player of interest is Myril Hoag. Goudey leads off his biography with the fact that Hoag took the place of Babe Ruth “on a number of occasions this season.” This happened for the first time on June 6, and Hoag certainly rose to the occasion, going 6 for 6 at the plate in game one of a doubleheader against Boston. By June 9, Hoag had replaced Ruth three times, which I’ll non-scientifically take as the minimum threshold for “a number of occasions.” As such, I believe we can point to Hoag’s card being finalized no earlier than mid-June.

Last up is Yankee pitcher Jim DeShong, who Goudey lists as 23 years old. According to Baseball-Reference, DeShong was born on November 30, 1909, a birthdate incompatible with his Goudey age.

Once again, however, we see that birthdates today aren’t what they used to be. Here is James Brooklyn (!) De Shong born in 1910, which affirms his Goudey age throughout the entirety of the 1934 baseball season.

Summary

The table below, taken with a grain of salt, summarizes the information presented in the article.

When dates are based on descriptions of transactions or events that occurred during the season, the data are reliable. Where dates are based on ages, reliability becomes much more fuzzy.

Starting with Sheet 2, our data suggest the cards were finalized between early January and late March. However, we would be wise not to bet too much on this seeing as we have only two pieces of data, both based on ages. While we have no data at all for Sheet 1, an assumption that sheets were produced sequentially would then have Sheet 1 complete by late March as well. Where that leaves us is with fairly dodgy evidence that the first 48 cards in the set were finalized prior to the start of the season. At the very least, we have no evidence to the contrary, at least not yet.

Conversely, we have very solid evidence in the form of three transactions that Sheet 3 was finalized after the season began. The Weiland card puts finalization of the sheet no earlier than May 25 and more realistically somewhere into June. The age data for the sheet conflicts with this conclusion, which only serves to remind us that our age data are frequently unreliable.

Nearly all of the Sheet 4 transaction data points to the cards being finalized after July 1. The Durham card presents a potential challenge, but it is plausible enough that Goudey writers were unaware of Durham’s application for retirement. (There is another possibility that I’ll touch on at the very end of this article.) Age data alone would put the range for Sheet 4 between August 23 and May 26, reminding us again that we can’t take the age data too seriously.

If all there was to go by was the information in the player bios we might suppose (but not bet the house on) a finalization schedule for the set looked something like this–

  • Sheets 1 and 2 – Preseason
  • Sheet 3 – June or after
  • Sheet 4 – July or after

That said, this entire analysis relies on an implicit assumption that may not be true at all. I have approached this article and earlier ones on the 1933 set as if the cards were prepared one sheet at at time—i.e., these 24 cards were created and finalized, then these 24 were, then these 24 were, etc. In reality, we have no guarantee that particular sheets weren’t built from cards that were finalized at very disparate points from each other.

In a future article we will look at other sources of information that help confirm, refute, or refine the 1934 set’s chronology, at which point we’ll be in a better position to revisit the assumption above as well.

I hope you enjoyed the article. Tune in next time for the eighth installment in the series where I provide further clues at the chronology of the 1934 set.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part six

Author’s note: This is the sixth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment returns to the timing of the set’s various releases.

Toward the end of my third article, covering the 1933 Goudey set’s release schedule, I hinted at the fact that more information was yet to come. My quick spoiler alert is that the overall impact of the information is negligible. Still, we’re here for overanalysis, so the main requirement of these posts is not relevance but length. 😊

I’ll use Carl Hubbell’s two cards in the set to give a preview of what’s to come. First, here is his Sheet 9 card, one of the most picturesque of the entire set.

Of course, it’s the card’s reverse that’s more germane to our study.

That scoreless innings record from July 13-August 1 is from the (then) current year, 1933! In truth, this tidbit tells us fairly little about the Sheet 9 release since none of our earlier estimates pointed to the finalization of these cards before August 1. The larger point is that player bios offer at least a potential source of information beyond what was previously examined.

Case in point, Carl Hubbell’s other card in the set, his World Series card from Sheet 10. In particular, read the first sentence of the bio.

In our earlier analysis, we treated the end of the World Series, October 7, as the earliest finalization date for Sheet 10. However, Hubbell’s card now extends that marker by at least 3 days since the results of the 1933 NL MVP vote were not announced until October 10.

Fellow National League ace Dizzy Dean also offers some timing clues in his bio. Here is his “looker” from Sheet 9.

It’s a bit hard to read, but the first paragraph ends with “set a modern league strikeout record when he fanned 17 Cubs in a game on July 30, 1933.” As with the Sheet 9 Hubbell card, this fact fails to move the needle beyond simply affirming Sheet 9 as one that was finalized pretty late in the season. Still, great job, Goudey, staying current like that!

Ah, but there is one more clue on the card, a much more mundane one but the type of clue we will find across nearly a third of the set. At the end of the second paragraph we learn that Dean is 22 years old.

Given that Dean was born on January 16, 1910, this statement now strikes us as incorrect regardless of when Sheet 9 came out. However, the statement makes more sense when we consider the birthdate Goudey had on file for Dean, as evidenced by his card the next year.

If you aren’t yet dizzy from the data, you may now be thinking, “So what!” And you’d be correct. However, some birthdays are more interesting than others.

Of particular note is the card of Bluege, who has two cards in the set. The first is from Sheet 6 and notes his age as 32. The second is from Sheet 10 and notes his age as 33.

A plausible assumption, therefore, is that Bluege must have turned 33 sometime after his Sheet 6 card was drafted (or slated for release) but before his Sheet 10 card was finalized. Interestingly, his birthday was October 24.

Let’s pause for a second and see where we are.

  • We’ve long known Sheet 10 was finalized after the World Series, hence no earlier than October 7.
  • The Hubbell MVP card further adjusts this date to October 10.
  • The Bluege card may suggest cards were still being finalized through at least October 24!

Now may is italicized for a couple reasons. One, we’ll see soon enough that ages and birthdays aren’t totally reliable in the Goudey set. Two, perhaps the bio writers completed their work by October 10 but simply took into account that cards would still take a few weeks to land on shelves. I sure won’t counter either of these points, but I will note that a finalization date for the sheet after October 24 makes the US Copyright Office publication date of December 23 look a lot less crazy.

Are there more?

By my count, there are 75 cards in the set that state the subject’s age and a handful more that–like Hubbell and Dean–reference 1933 events we can date precisely. As you can tell from the position of the scroll bar, I reviewed every single one.

Much to my chagrin but probably not your surprise, a lot of the ages were very wrong, and some might say so wrong as to make the entire endeavor an exercise in futility.

For example, here is Leo Mangum (Sheet 6), who Goudey portrays as 32 years old. With an actual birthday of May 24, 1896, Mangum would have turned 32 in 1928!

On the other end of the spectrum, here is Gus Mancuso (Sheet 10), who Goudey portrays as 33 years old. With an actual birthday of December 5, 1905, Mancuso wouldn’t turn 33 until 1938!

With Mancuso being one of the 18 repeated players on the World Series sheet, we don’t have to look far to see what birthday Goudey had on file for him. Here is his card 41 (Sheet 3), which shows…1905 also! Perhaps math wasn’t the strong suit of these Goudey biographers!

I wish I could say Mangum and Mancuso were exceptions in my data, but such was hardly the case. In all, about two dozen players had an age in their bio that was completely incompatible with their Baseball Reference date of birth. (See Appendix.)

How many of these discrepancies were the result of Goudey having the wrong year to begin with, like Dizzy Dean, is unknown to me. One of these days I hope to settle the question with an old 1930s baseball guide, but for now I’ll just omit these players from my sample.

Sheet 1

After discarding bad data, I’m left with five Sheet 1 cards featuring ages. The table below, whose format I’ll reuse nine more times, provides the age indicated on the card back along with the timeframe were that age would have been correct. For example, Hughie Critz is listed as 32 on the back of his card, and he actually was 32 from September 17, 1932 – September 16, 1933.

Naturally enough, the five cards lead to five different date ranges. However, there is a single range of dates when all five ages would have been correct at the same time: March 21 – September 16, 1933. (Pro tip: You can always get this by using my last “From” and my first “Until.”)

Obviously that range is quite broad and by itself perhaps far less useful than any of the release schedule clues looked at in our earlier article. The right questions are whether it tells us anything and whether that anything is anything new or interesting.

I think it depends.

In looking at the ages printed on the card backs, a significant unknown is whether the age applied at the time of drafting the bio (or drafting the bio’s source material) vs whether the age involved some looking ahead to when cards would be on shelves. And with (probably) multiple biographers and multiple releases, the answer could certainly involve a mix of the two.

In the case of the former, I’d say YES, this is new and interesting that Sheet 1 cards were still being finalized in late March. After all, our earlier clues all pointed to a mid-April or so release for the first two sheets, suggesting if nothing else fairly rapid production and distribution.

In the case of the latter, then I’d say NO, we get nothing new at all. That the publication of Sheet 1 occurred (or was projected) between March and September is simply affirmation here that we’re talking about baseball cards vs football or hockey.

Sheet 2

The second sheet in the set was even richer than the first when it came to including ages is player bios. However, if we take all of it as accurate, we’re led to a logical impossibility.

There is literally no window when all of these ages could have been correct since it would need to start on or after July 23, 1933, and end by February, 22, 1933. Did I mention already this age data isn’t always trustworthy? 🤷

While the impasse here isn’t solely caused by the Roy Johnson card, it was a relief to me to learn that Roy Johnson’s (currently understood) birthdate of February 23, 1903, differed from what the baseball card makers of the day may have had on file. Here is Johnson’s Tattoo Orbit (R305) card, also from 1933, which shows 1904 for his birth year.

If we accept this “correction” to Roy Johnson’s birthday, our updated table looks like this.

The resulting window, July 23-June 5, is still impossible, but at least a little less ridiculous than before. We can hope to discover more wrong birthdays, or we can simply acknowledge that the data from Sheet 2 are of no use.

At least logically another possibility is that Goudey really didn’t care about getting these ages right. However, it’s worth remembering that the one corrected error in the entire 240-card set (coincidentally on Sheet 2!) involved correcting the age of Jimmy Dykes. Yes, they were off the first time by ten years, but still!

Sheet 3

Life gets a little more manageable with Sheet 3 but only if we ignore Burleigh Grimes.

The first four players in the table suggest a window of December 2, 1932 – April 5, 1933, which feels about right for when the cards might have been finalized. Unfortunately, the Grimes dates fall completely outside this window.

Is another wrong birthday to blame? This time probably not since the contemporaneous 1933 Tattoo Orbit card of Grimes affirms the August 18, 1893 birthdate used in my analysis. Bad math then? Time travel? The guy pitches like he’s 40 for God’s sake?! To quote Sir Isaac Newton, Hypotheses non fingo.”

Sheet 4

The next sheet in the set again causes trouble, and again the issue boils down to one player.

If we ignore Cliff Heathcote, the four other players on the sheet point to a window of April 13 – April 27, which meshes fairly well with the Sheet 4 estimates provided in my earlier article.

Obviously it’s not a rigorous thing to ignore Cliff Heathcote, or anyone at all for that matter. Still, we’ve seen instances where Goudey is off by a year, so I’m willing to believe this may be one of them.

Sheet 5

Our next sheet features two aging hurlers, whose ages coincided on only four days out of the year: July 22-25.

Interestingly the US Copyright Office publication date for Sheet 5 is July 14, which is not terribly different.

Sheet 6

Our next sheet has pretty good data aside from one player, ironically named Wright, who ruins everything.

Ignore Glenn Wright and the window for the sheet is March 16 through June 9, which sounds about (sorry) right for a sheet produced mid-season, though it notably lands out of sequence with our dates for Sheet 5. I’ll leave it to others to wonder whether this sheet might have been finalized before Sheet 5 (but released afterward) or if there’s simply a lot of wiggle in the ages and birthdays.

Incidentally, this is a great time to highlight something you may or may not already know about Babe Ruth. We know his birthday today to be February 6, 1895. However, it was known at the time–even to the Babe himself–as February 6, 1894. The result was that the Babe literally celebrated two fortieth birthdays! [Sources: Brooklyn Eagle (February 7, 1934) and Boston Globe (February 7, 1935)]

Since it reflected what Goudey biographers would have believed at the time, the 1894 birth year is what I used in my table.

Sheet 7

Not a lot of data here, but what’s here is at least plausible.

The information for these three players points to a window of August 29 through November 20, which matches up nicely with the September 1 publication date on file with the US Copyright Office.

Sheet 8

The next sheet offers no new information, only providing ages for two players who were essentially their biographical age the entire calendar year.

For most of the other players, Goudey simply outsourced the math to the reader, as was the case with this Bill Hallahan card where we simply learn that he was born in 1904…or was he?

I don’t imagine it was intentional to only provide ages for the two players who would stay the same age all year, but it at least accidentally provided Goudey with a way to maintain accurate card backs all season long, at least if they’d stuck with it.

Sheet 9

Seven ages hit card backs on Sheet 9, including Dizzy Dean whose birthday already came up earlier in the article. I’ve used his “Goudey birthday” (1911) rather than the one generally accepted today (1910).

Another player of note is Chuck Klein. While his true birthday was in 1904, his 1934 Goudey card suggests Goudey had a 1905 date on file, which I’ve used here.

The six players listed would all be their baseball card ages from June 21 – October 6, a window that is probably too broad to be useful beyond perhaps affirming the cards were finalizing prior to season’s end.

Sheet 10

We got a sneak preview of this sheet from Ossie Bluege much earlier in the article. Notably, his age isn’t the only one that suggests a bio finalized after the World Series. Joe Cronin, with an October 12 birthday, joins him as well.

Reminding us not to take our data too seriously, we have Earl Whitehill and Monte Weaver whose ages were definitely wrong by the time their cards came out, at least based on the birthdates we believe accurate for them today. It’s possible an old baseball guide will shed light on whether Goudey’s dates differed from ours.

Other events in the bios

In addition to all the cards covered thus far, there were a handful of others that alluded to in-season events. I’ll provide them here, both for completeness and because the final one adds genuinely new information to the mix.

The first sentence of Gehringer’s bio indicates that “no selection of an American League All-Star team would be complete” with him, and of course the Mechanical Man was the starter in the 1933 Midsummer Classic. That said, the wording of the sentence is such that it could have been written before or after the All-Star Game, and even a read of “after” tells us nothing we didn’t already know about the timing of Sheet 9.

Other cards (e.g., Hornsby, O’Doul, Durocher) refer to team changes during the season, and this information has of course already been used exhaustively in my previous article.

One card refers to an injury and loss of playing time, and opens the door to a bit more research.

“Has been out of the game part of 1933 season owing to injuries” most likely refers to July 5-25 when Alexander missed 19 straight games. Given that all prior estimates for Sheet 9 were well after July, this information is interesting but not useful.

The final 1933 event noted in a player bio is the long win streak boasted by Alvin Crowder from 1932-33.

Both of the General’s cards (Sheet 3, Sheet 10) reference a 15-game win streak from 1932 that was extended into the 1933 season prior to an early season loss to the Red Sox, which game logs show to be on April 17.

Unlike much of the data we’ve reviewed, I definitely treat the Crowder bio as significant and exciting. It presents our first evidence that Goudey was still working on Sheet 3 even after the season had started. It also provides at least some basis for speculation that the same was true for Sheet 4.

Conclusions

There is enough sketchiness in the age data that I will forgive most takeaways different from my own, but overall I tend to see (some of!) the ages and various key events like the Hubbell MVP and Crowder win streak as nudging but not overturning any previous understanding of the 1933 Goudey release schedule. Specifically, Sheet 3 was finalized later and Sheet 10 was finalized earlier than I’d originally imagined.

It’s also possible to treat some of the ages on the cards as confirmatory to the release schedules suggested in my prior article. However, there’s danger of accidental cherry-picking when allowing oneself to choose some but not all of the data available. It’s possible that a 1930s baseball guide might resolve enough birthdate/age discrepancies to re-open this door in the future, but that’s not something I have access to at the moment. (Yes, I realize I’m just setting myself up for someone to tell me it’s right there in the Member Resources section of the SABR website!)

As a final conclusion, and perhaps the most consequential one of all, I learned what a fun exercise it is to read the entire back of literally every card in a 240-card set. While ages and event references are what I focused on in this article, these Goudey bios were also rich in offseason hobbies, non-baseball accomplishments, and colorful turns of phrase. Many of the backs were formulaic, but none struck me as lazy. In the pre-internet, pre-“Big Mac” era, the Goudey card backs, along with other contemporary sets like DeLong and Diamond Stars, provided young collectors with otherwise elusive information on the heroes they hoped to emulate when they turned 23…or 22…or 26 36 or whatever.

Appendix

For completeness, here are the remaining cards I referenced earlier where the Goudey bio ages were wholly incompatible with the 1933 calendar year.

Like Dizzy Dean, Chuck Klein, and a couple other players cited previously, the names you see may include some bad math or even a typo but also include instances where Goudey simply had the wrong birthdate on file, as evidenced by their later cards or other contemporary cards of the era. In some cases, the answer may even be a combination of the two.

For example, here is Rube Walberg who modern records assign an 1896 birthdate to but whose birthdate is in the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set as 1899. Even with that “correction” of three years, his Goudey bio age (32 years old in 1933) still doesn’t work.

Sometimes a question has an easy answer, sometimes a question has a hard answer, and sometimes a question just gives rise to more questions. When the question pertains to 1933 Goudey and specifically which cards came out when, I believe we’re in the third category. We may never find answers, but we can still find satisfaction.

“When I reach to the edge of the universe, I do so knowing that along some paths of cosmic discovery, there are times when, at least for now, one must be content to love the questions themselves.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist

I hope you enjoyed the article that I promised would be “one for the ages!” Tune in next time for the seventh installment in this series in which I apply the analysis above to the 1934 Goudey release.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part five

Author’s note: This is the fifth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment takes a closer look at player selection.

One of the topics that fascinates me as a collector is how a set’s checklist comes to be. In particular, how are the players/subjects chosen, and how is their numbering/ordering within the set determined?

When I first started collecting in the late 1970s, it either was the case or simply appeared that way to an 8-year-old that pretty much all players were selected and that order was random, other than top players occupying cards 1, 50, 100, etc. Exceptions came in 1981 when Fleer arrived on the scene and ordered cards by team (and later alphabetically within team) and Donruss reintroduced team clumps not altogether different from the old days of 1951 Bowman and 1940 Play Ball.

For a set like 1933 Goudey, we already know the set did not include all the players. Just doing some quick math, 240 cards for 16 Major League teams would mean an average of 15 cards per team. (Because the set also includes minor leaguers, the true average per MLB team is 15. Take away repeat cards of various players and the average number of unique slots per team is more like 13-14.)

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the size of the set is therefore just about perfect for featuring the starting lineup, pitching rotation, and top 1-2 subs/relievers per team. The question you might be asking, therefore, is whether that’s how Goudey approached the set.

Rather than just show the final tally for the set, I’ll break it down chronologically as well, according to the set’s various releases.

Sheets 1-4

Through a combination of research and guesswork, I believe the set’s first 96 cards were prepared and finalized together prior to the start of the 1933 season. Overall, they don’t reflect an attempt to balance cards by team, at least in any exact way (i.e., six cards per team), but we also see there was no effort (probably for good reason!) to withhold any teams from the sets earliest releases.

I won’t go through this exercise every time, but just to give an idea what the “+” column is about, here are the extra players at each position among the set’s first four sheets worth of cards.

Chicago White Sox

Two first basemen are included, Red Kress and Lew Fonseca. Kress played a variety of positions for the White Sox in 1932, primarily outfield and shortstop. However, he took over as the Sox starting first baseman in 1933.

Fonseca, meanwhile, was at the tail end of his career but still saw limited action as a pinch-hitter and occasional backup first baseman. Based on the limited role Fonseca had already adopted in 1932, his card’s inclusion may have been more due to his role as Sox manager than erstwhile batting champion (1929).

St. Louis Browns

Two catchers are included, Benny Bengough and Muddy Ruel, though neither handled the bulk of the catching duties for the Browns in 1933. Bengough, known more for leading off the set with card #1, saw only limited action in 1932 and was off the team by 1933. Ruel, meanwhile, signed with the Browns in December 1932 but went on to serve as backstop for only 29 games in 1933.

In truth, even a set much larger than 240 cards would have been just fine without either of these players, at least for 1933, so the inclusion of both catchers begs the question of whether the set’s composition was driven at least partly by whatever photos Goudey happened to have around.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards had two second basemen, neither of whom needs any introduction, among the set’s earliest 96 cards. Frisch had been the club’s starting second baseman since 1927 and would ultimately take over as manager mid-season.

The Rajah was still an able hitter but hadn’t played a full season since 1929. When he rejoined the Cards for a second stint in 1933 he saw only limited action before departing midseason to take over the reins of the crosstown Browns, at which time Goudey saw fit to issue him a brand new trading card.

In addition to the duplication at second base, the Cardinals also had two catchers among the set’s first 96 cards.

Jimmie Wilson was the team’s primary backstop and would participate in the 1933 inaugural All-Star Game. O’Farrell, lauded on the card’s reverse more for past roles than future promise, was an able backup, seeing action behind the plate in 50 games in 1933.

None of the Above

Though I don’t imagine any of you counted up my tallies in the table, had you done it you would have found four cards unaccounted for.

Eddie Collins cracks the set as a Red Sox executive, his card identifying him as the team’s vice president and business manager. On one hand his inclusion in the set is unusual and unnecessary. On the other hand, he’s Eddie Collins.

Lafayette “Fresco” Thompson had a cup of coffee with Brooklyn in 1932 but no game action with the Bums in 1933. That said, he was with the Dodgers in Spring Training and (I believe) spent on month riding the bench with the big club before ultimately being sold off. I perhaps could have included him in my tally as a Brooklyn second baseman, though I think you’ll see soon the “big picture” of the set will hardly swing on Fresco.

Andy Cohen makes the Goudey set as a New York Giant, but in truth he had been out of the big leagues since 1929. His card back even notes that “he is playing with the Minneapolis Club in the American Association this year.” From what I can tell (paywall) Cohen had joined the Minneapolis Millers in June 1932 and was not at all expected to return to the Giants for 1933, though he was still making headlines in New York in 1933.

I lump Cohen’s inclusion in the set in with my “pictures Goudey had around” theory, though one might wonder if Goudey was looking to appeal to Jewish gum chewers the same way Baseball magnates were looking to appeal to Jewish fans. Then again, Hank Greenberg, who would enjoy a fine rookie campaign in Detroit, was nowhere to be found in packs.

Even then, why include Cohen as a Giant rather than a Minneapolis Miller, as was done with International League teammate Jess Petty? (We’ll come back to this in our study of Sheet 5.)

The final player excluded from by tally was Cliff Heathcote, whose MLB career ended in 1932.

Heathcote had been a fixture in Big League clubhouses since 1918, mainly with the Cards and Cubs. As his card back notes, “he doesn’t break down any fences with his wallops, but he’s a pretty dependable fellow to have on a ball club.” We might therefore attribute his inclusion in the set as a tribute to his dependability, or we might adopt one of two other theories. Either he was expected to continue with the Phils in 1933, or his picture just happened to be around. Take your pick!

Sheet 5

If you read the first article in this series, you may recall this sheet had two unusual properties. One was that its 24 card numbers filled the 24 gaps generated by Sheets 1-3. The other was that it included 9 minor leaguers.

The numbering of the minor leaguers (57, 68, 70, 85-90), particularly that last run of six straight, suggests these weren’t simply unexpectedly demoted major leaguers whose team names were updated at the eleventh hour. Rather, at least some if not all of these players were included intentionally as minor leaguers, perhaps to appeal to a broader geography than a pure “Big League Chewing Gum” release would have or perhaps for a reason I’ll offer in my review of Sheet 7.

At any rate, the large number of non-MLBers means our original table only adds 15 new tallies, highlighted in yellow below.

As before, the additions don’t reflect any intentional evening out of the set’s composition. However, they do fill gaps in each team’s lineup and starting rotation very nicely. This is particularly true for the Yankees where Babe Ruth joins the outfield.

Sheet 6

You may also recall from the first article in this series that the set’s first duplicate players were introduced in Sheet 6, including two new Babe Ruth cards. While an outfield of Ruth-Ruth-Ruth is hard to pass up, my tallying for this sheet and subsequent ones will omit duplicated subjects unless due to team change. (For example, Lefty O’Doul will count as an outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.) As such, only 16 new tallies are added to the table.

Here the new additions fill gaps in the team lineups much less efficiently than with Sheet 5. Nonetheless, some “rosters” are starting to fill out nicely, such as the Yankees who are now only a shortstop away from a starting lineup and full pitching rotation.

Sheet 7

For team collectors looking to fill out their lineups, Sheet 7 was anything but good news. Not only did this sheet include Goudey’s second tranche of minor leaguers–six this time, at 174-177, 180, and 182–but also five repeats (Ruth, Cronin, Manush, Walberg, Hornsby) and four ostensible major leaguers no longer playing big league ball. Add to that a non-optimal filling of holes, and the result is that only 5 of the sheet’s 24 cards made a dent in roster completion.

The four “major leaguers” who were no longer major leaguers deserve special mention.

First up is Fred Leach, gone from the league following the 1932 season but in the Goudey set as a Boston Brave. The second paragraph of Leach’s bio is notable: “Leach is not now in organized baseball, as he retired after playing with Boston in 1932.” A fair question, then, is why put him in the set? More on this later.

Next up is Johnny Schulte, who also hung up his spikes following spot duty in 1932. Interestingly, he is in the set as its lone coach! Personally I’m a huge fan of coach cards, but I must admit were I to choose even ten coaches for the set, Schulte would not have cracked my “college of coaches.”

Third up is Charlie Jamieson, whose playing career similarly ended in 1932. Not even a coach (!), though his bio does position him as something of a pinch-hitting legend. Oh, and I do love the artwork on this card.

The final mystery guest on Sheet 7 is Roscoe (Watty) Holm, also out of the big leagues after the 1932 season but in the Goudey set as a Cardinal.

Similar to Leach, the bio here lets us know that Holm “is not playing professional ball this year.”

The idea that the Goudey set would include retired players is not surprising by itself. What is interesting is the clustering of these players. My sense of this sheet (and to an extent Sheet 5 with its minor leaguers) is that Goudey ran out of “A-listers” and was essentially stuffing its set with filler material: duplicate players, former players, and minor leaguers.

“That’s ridiculous!” you say, knowing that Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, and other top stars are still unaccounted for in the set. Fair point. In my imagination (hardly a rigorous place) I imagine Goudey having built the first 70% of their set from 1-2 collections of photographs that had most but not all of the players one would ideally want to include in a set of 240.

Sheets 8 and 9

Perhaps reinforcing my speculation above, the artwork and design take an abrupt turn in the set’s next two sheets.

Along with this new look, 48 brand new major leaguers are added to the set. No repeats, no retirees, no minor leaguers…just genuine big league ballplayers.

Sheet 10

The final sheet in the set, known as the World Series sheet, consisted solely of New York Giants and Washington Senators, hence would be of little use to most team collectors still hoping to round out their rosters, least of all Tigers fans still waiting on a single outfielder!

Any suspense, therefore, was limited to questions like would the Giants finally secure a shortstop or Washington a first baseman? Well, first the bad news. Of the 24 players featured, 18 are repeats! And now the good news, at least for fans of the pennant winners…the new additions did a decent job filling gaps.

There’s even more good news for Giants fans. Though first-string shortstop Blondy Ryan never did crack the set, his card was right around the corner in the 1934 release. What’s more, Travis Jackson, somewhat arbitrarily in my tally as the club’s backup third baseman behind Johnny Vergez, is of course able to slide over to short and complete the lineup card.

Conclusion?

I’m not totally sure I have a conclusion here, other than saying, “Yep, this definitely counts as overanalysis.” Beyond that, I’ll simply note what may have been evident from my very first tally chart. Despite the set size being perfectly suited to a near-perfect representation of each team’s starting lineup, pitching rotation, and top subs, the set’s actual composition suggests neither an effort to fill out rosters nor effort to represent the 16 MLB teams equally.

What’s more, even where a team appears complete in my tally, it is often the case that tallies correspond to backup players rather than starters. The catcher slot for the St. Louis Browns is a good example, recalling that Benny Bengough and Muddy Ruel make the set while starter Merv Shea is nowhere to be found.

Overall then, what we have is a set that’s hardly optimal in terms of player selection but clearly provides better coverage of prominent players than would “240 random cards.” For my part, I tend to reconcile the intentional but imperfect effort as the set’s creators doing their best to cover the bases while relying on whatever initial photographs were at their disposal. My “cardboard crosswalk” from 2019 may provide additional support.

Fortunately for the team collectors of yesteryear, Goudey’s 1934 sequel did a great job filling the holes left by the 1933 set. Taking Detroit as an example, they entered 1933 lacking a catcher…

A first baseman…

And three outfielders.

I said THREE outfielders! Ah, but I forgot how collectors used to do things back in the day. No need for Goudey to waste a slot on the checklist when kids could make that third outfielder card on their own!

Tune in next time for the sixth installment in the series, which I truly believe will be one for the ages!

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part four

Author’s note: This is the fourth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment examines the relative scarcity of the various cards.

Unlike Topps Project 2020 or Topps Now, where print runs are published directly on the Topps website, older sets generally come with little to no information as to quantities produced. Yes, there are exceptions, such as the 1914 Cracker Jack set…

…where the card’s reverse tells us, correct or not, that “Our first issue is 10,000,000 pictures.” In most cases, however, we simply make educated guesses or leave the topic alone entirely.

In this article, I’ll share my own educated guess at the 1933 Goudey set, but perhaps more importantly I’ll “show my work” and by doing so offer a framework that collectors might find applicable to several other sets.

Population report – Fact or fiction?

Despite the various limitations and distortions inherent, I’ll begin with the PSA Population Report for 1933 Goudey, pulled on November 10, 2020. If you’re not familiar with such reports, what they show is the number of times the grading company has assigned a particular grade to a card in the set.

We can see (or not see, if you’re reading this on your phone) from the report, for example, that PSA has assigned a grade of 8 to Dazzy Vance twelve times. We can similarly see (with a little math) that PSA has graded Dazzy Vance cards 441 times in all, including half grades and qualifiers. Move down the list to Hugh Critz and we find his card graded 323 times.

We avoid the conclusion that Hugh Critz’s card (POP 323) is more scarce than Dazzy Vance (POP 441) since it is common knowledge that Hall of Famers are more likely to be submitted for grading than common players. In reality, both Critz and Vance belonged to the same printing sheet and therefore were very likely produced in identical quantities.

The question, then, is whether we can conclude anything at all from population reports, given their inclination to distort reality.

Order amid chaos

This graph shows the PSA population for each card, 1-240, in the 1933 Goudey set. Good chance you can pick out the Ruth and Gehrig cards, not to mention Napoleon Lajoie.

Here is a look at the same data, this time sorted first by sheet number and next by population. For example, the first 24 cards graphed correspond to cards 1-5, 25-35, and 45-52 (i.e., Sheet 1), and the most frequently graded subject from the sheet, Jimmie Foxx, is shown first. For lack of a better spot, I put the Lajoie card, printed in 1934, at the very end of the graph.

There are now three discernible patterns of interest.

  • Each sheet in the set includes several players whose cards are graded disproportionately often. You’d be correct to imagine Hall of Famers and stars here, along with Benny Bengough and Moe Berg.
  • Each sheet in the set includes a large number of cards (“generic players”) graded much less frequently: the Hugh Critzes, Ed Morgans, and Leo Magnums of the set.
  • Within a sheet, the population for generic players is relatively uniform.

Here is a closer look at Sheet 4, where the tall bars correspond to seven Hall of Famers and the short bars correspond to far less sought after players.

A final property of interest, true for all sheets and not just this one, is that the star player populations cover very wide range (744 – 476 = 268) while the generic player populations cover a much narrower one (334 – 283 = 51). Another measure of the same thing is that the standard deviation is 96 for the first group and 18 for the second group.

Estimating relative scarcity

We know, therefore, that while a graph like this one might be interesting it may not be telling us anything real about relative scarcity. Perhaps all it’s really showing us is which sheets have the best players.

The standard deviations corresponding to each bar (130, 100, 238, 116, 162, 293, 190, 109, 126, and 109) sound further alarms for treating our data as clean or uniform.

To arrive at data that are meaningful and useful we need to eliminate the undue impact of star players. There are many ways this can be accomplished. The one I’ve chosen is to restrict my data set to the bottom eight players per sheet. In the case of Sheet 4, that would mean the players in the orange rows below.

Examining the sheet’s entire roster, you might wonder why I limited myself to the bottom eight when even the bottom 17 would seem to have worked. The main reason is that some of the other sheets in the set have far more stars than this one. Also, 8 from 24 gave me a nice simple fraction, the bottom third, that I wouldn’t have if I’d used the bottom 9 or 10 players.

At any rate, here is what happens when we restrict our interest to the “bottom eight” on each sheet. I’ll also mention that standard deviations are now 13, 12, 18, 5, 6, 12, 10, 12, 11, and 12, which tell us the data has almost no variability within a given sheet.

Mostly just for fun, here are the two preceding graphs plotted together.

At first glance, perhaps the data aren’t all that different after all. However, there are at least a few instances where the shift from the full data set to the bottom third is instructive–

  • Sheets 1 and 2 – Our original graph suggested Sheet 1 cards were more plentiful than Sheet 2 cards. However, our new data suggests cards from each sheet are equally plentiful.
  • Sheet 6 – Our original graph suggested Sheet 6 cards were quite common. Our new data suggests Sheet 6 cards are among the more scarce in the set.

YOU REALLY TRUST THIS?

If all we had were these graphs, then it would be reasonable to worry that random variation was the biggest factor behind the differences from one bar to the next. However, the very small standard deviations associated with each data set convince me that the differences here are real. That said, I’d be either crazy or lazy (and have been accused of both!) not to corroborate my results against other sources.

SGC data

Second only to the PSA population report the next largest source of 1933 Goudey data comes from rival grader SGC’s population report. Across the Goudey set, SGC has graded between 25 and 30% as many cards as PSA, hence more than enough to be of interest. The graph below shows “bottom eight” numbers from SGC alongside the PSA numbers.

Multiplying the PSA data by 0.27 (or any number in the vicinity) puts the numbers on roughly the same scale and facilitates at-a-glance comparison.

As you can see there is very little difference between the PSA and SGC data. This is further evidence to me that the numbers are genuinely meaningful.

Other ways to remove the effects of stars

I mentioned earlier that I landed on a “bottom eight” approach to be sure I didn’t accidentally include any star players from some of the more loaded sheets. Still, it’s worth looking to see how robust the patterns in the data are against other methods.

Since the PSA and SGC data were quite consistent I’ll use this new graph that adds the two as my new baseline for comparisons against other methods.

Bottom half

Here are the sheet averages when restricted to the bottom twelve cards per sheet. There is virtually no change to the data.

Medians

Another approach that eliminates the impact of stars is to take the median. An advantage is that this approach also avoids any outliers at the bottom of each data set. As long as the number of star cards on all sheets is less than 12, it may be that the median will reflect the true card populations better than anything I’ve used thus far. Here I will revert to using PSA data only since the PSA and SGC counts are too different to produce a meaningful median. (It would often end up being the average of the least graded PSA card and the most graded SGC card.)

Again, the relative ordering of the bars remains nearly identical. A careful look will show that Sheets 5 and 6 have flip-flopped, but the differences are small enough to regard the two sheets as virtually tied under either measure.

Conclusions

While population reports can be misleading on the whole, I believe they can offer reliable data on the relative scarcity of cards in the set provided disproportionately graded cards can be removed from the analysis in a systematic way.

Where a set is issued in multiple releases or series, the “bottom third” approach offers a methodology that does not require any card-by-card judgments be made, though a global judgement that the set has enough generic players to support the approach would still be required. As has been seen, the bottom third approach could likely be replaced by a bottom half or median without impacting results unduly.

Examples of sets that should be amenable to the same approaches used here include the various Topps flagship sets from 1952-73, though care would need to be taken where a particular series is already known to be particularly tough. For example, the final series of 1967 Topps is so famously difficult that it’s easy to imagine even its common players being disproportionately graded.

While I’ve (mostly) opted for objective data over speculation in this series of articles, I’ll nonetheless close with the reasons this analysis is most interesting to me personally.

As important as the 1933 Goudey set is to the history of the Hobby, it is surrounded by unknowns. It is my hope that various high-effort-low-yield attempts to learn more about the set will ultimately fit together into a coherent and more complete narrative than what we have today.

While population information may be of interest to some collectors on its own–perhaps some of you will head to eBay and start buying up Sheet 9 cards as a result of this article!–I believe it also offers hints at other topics of interest such as the set’s chronology. For example, a conjecture of mine is that the first two sheets of the set comprised a single 48-card release. Such a conjecture is strengthened by the two sheets having nearly identical population data. Meanwhile, the likelihood that Sheets 3 and 4 formed paired releases appears unsupported by population data.

Interesting outlier

I’ll end with a mini-mystery unrelated to the “big picture” of the set but instead confined to a single card. In reviewing population numbers for literally 240 different cards there was one card that stood out. Maybe you can spot it among the PSA populations for Sheet 2.

In addition to having at least “minor star” status, Jimmy Dykes also has the only known significant variation in the set. (I’m ignoring proof cards, print defects, and copyright cards here.) In case you’re not familiar, Goudey corrected his age from 26 to 36 at the start of the third bio paragraph.

As tends to happen when an error is corrected, both the original error version and the corrected version each acquire relative rarity within the set. As such, I would expect both versions of the card to be disproportionately graded, and I would certainly expect to see a lot more Dykes cards graded than George Blaeholders!

My own conclusion is that the Dykes card is genuinely rarer than the rest of the cards on Sheet 2. Given that the cards were printed together, my personal theory is that Goudey didn’t simply swap in the new Dykes for the old one at some point but instead pulled Dykes entirely during some portion of the interim.

Of course an alternate theory is simply that Dykes no longer gets the Hobby love he once did and that the card’s variations are largely off the radar. Either way, I hope the example illustrates yet another potential use of the population data to tell a larger story about the set.

I’ve got a few more topics to cover before closing out the series, so come back soon!

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part three

Author’s note: This is the third in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment examines the chronology of the 1933 release based on three different sources.

When did the cards come out?

When did 1933 Goudey come out? On one hand, the question is like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. Lajoie card notwithstanding, isn’t the answer 1933? (Or Grant, if you’re still stuck on the other question.) Okay, but when in 1933?

I’m not aware of any exact answers to the question, but there are at least three different sources that I believe, separately or taken together, offer a richer and more complete picture of the release.

First-hand account

The November 1970 issue of “The Ballcard Collector” (great name, by the way!) featured a terrific first-person account, “Only One for a Penny? No Doubles, Please!” from Elwood Scharf, who in 1933 collected the cards at the age of 13. As we’ll see later, his memory of the release calendar had some errors, but I’d have no article (some would say “no articles PLURAL”) if rigor were my primary requirement.

Not having any back issues of “The Ballcard Collector” at my disposal, I first encountered Mr. Scharf’s article in the Net54 Baseball forum. (Net54 Baseball members can read the entire article here, but I don’t believe non-members will be able to view the scans.) The overall article, worth a read in its entirety, offered a vivid picture of what it was like to collect the Goudey cards in real time, but I’ll settle here for excerpting only the portions most pertinent to the set’s release schedule.

  • “Big League Baseball [cards] hit like a bombshell in the early spring of 1933 and was an instant success.”
  • “They were released in series of 24 cards, and the first two series, through number 48, appeared in quick order.”
  • “After that, Goudey began to get a little tricky and started to skip numbers. The third series included numbers 49 to 52, 58 to 67 and 75 to 79 and 92 to 96…”
  • “…and the fourth series jumped way up to include number 141.”
  • “The first seven series of 167 cards were distributed by early July and are easily identified by the BIG LEAGUE CHEWING GUM panel across the bottom of the picture.”
  • “There was a long wait after the early panel cards, and we began to think that our town had been passed over. The first series of the final three, numbers 190 to 213 finally arrived in mid-August…”
  • “…and was followed by the second series in September.”
  • “Another long wait ensued. The baseball season ended, the World Series became history and still those empty spaces were there. With footballs in the air we were certain that this time we had been forgotten. However, Goudey was busy that October and it wasn’t until the end of the month that the tail-enders reached our neighborhood grocery.”

Analysis

Right off the bat, this recollection challenges a tacit assumption I’d made in the first installment of this series. According to Mr. Scharf, the first two series consisted of cards 1-48. Meanwhile, we know that the first two sheets included the less orderly selection of cards shown below. (Sheet 1 shown in blue and Sheet 2 shown in yellow.)

While it’s possible that Mr. Scharf’s memory is inaccurate on this point, it’s also possible that the Goudey releases didn’t correspond exactly to the uncut sheets. For example, Goudey could have printed the first several sheets up front and then pulled from them just the ones they wanted for packs. More work, yes, but certainly possible.

Something I don’t want to ignore in this he said sheet said is that Mr. Scharf offered two distinct memories on this point. One was that the first two series ran through card 48, and the other was that the skip numbering began after the second series. Barring any new information, I’d probably put my money on Mr. Scharf having it right. However, we will see one piece of information at the end of this article that may tip the scales in the reverse direction.

Either way, let’s take “early spring,” hence late March through late April, as the window for the first 48 cards, whether this means Sheets 1-2 or a 48-card combination built from most of Sheet 1, all of Sheet 2, and some of Sheet 3.

From there we have no specific information regarding sheets 3-6, but Mr. Scharf identifies early July for the release of Sheet 7, mid-August for Sheet 8, September for Sheet 9, and the end of October for Sheet 10.

We can plot the information on this 1933 calendar, which we will add to as we examine other sources. As additional context, Opening Day was April 12, and the final game of the World Series was October 7.

While the overall picture seems logical and plausible enough, I believe there are three questions that arise.

  • Are the memories correct? If not, which ones are wrong?
  • Is any further refinement possible, particularly with Sheets 3-6?
  • Did Goudey really crank out the World Series cards that fast??

Even as we look to other hints at the set’s release schedule, there is a certain fuzziness that will be left in our answers to each of these questions. Still, I think we will know more than we do now.

Team changes

An entirely different set of chronology clues we will examine comes from players who changed teams just before or during the 1933 season. To illustrate how this approach will be useful, let’s take a quick look at the Rajah.

Hornsby’s first card comes from Sheet 4 and depicts him with the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile, his second card, from Sheet 7, depicts him with the St. Louis Browns.

As this transaction occurred on July 27, 1933, we can draw the following conclusions.

  • Sheet 7 could not have been finalized until at least July 27.
  • Assuming at least 3 more weeks to get cards on shelves, the earliest possible release would have been mid-August. (In contrast, Mr. Scharf recalled early July for this release.)

There is only one other player in the set, Lefty O’Doul, who appears on two different teams. (As a totally unrelated aside, he and Hornsby also have the two highest career batting averages among players in the set.)

Lefty’s first card comes from Sheet 3 and depicts him the Brooklyn Dodgers. His second card comes from the World Series sheet and has him with the New York Giants. The transaction took place on June 16 and ultimately tells us very little. Assuming Goudey tried its hardest to remain up to the minute on team changes, hardly an airtight assumption, all we can conclude is:

  • Sheet 3 was finalized on or before June 16.
  • Sheet 10 was finalized on or after June 16.

Neither of these findings is an eye-opener. The first probably would have been assumed absent any evidence, and the second is obvious simply by virtue of being the World Series sheet.

Coming up empty will be a common theme in examining team changes, but I’ll go through all of them for completeness. Fortunately, as with Hornsby, at least some of them will produce a payoff.

Sheet 1

Sheet 1 features two players who changed teams in 1933.

That Vance’s card shows him as a Cardinal indicates that Sheet 1 was finalized after February 8. If there’s anything to be learned here, it’s simply that Goudey hadn’t finalized the set’s early cards too far ahead of Opening Day. The McManus transaction provides us with nothing at all as there was never any doubt that Sheet 1 was released before October!

Sheet 2

Sheet 2 includes numerous players who changed teams in or just before 1933, including Fresco Thompson and Taylor Douthit who moved twice.

If we assume Goudey tried to keep cards current with team changes, then the data suggest Sheet 2 would have been finalized before April 29. Otherwise Douthit would have been shown as a Cub. This is consistent with Mr. Scharf’s reporting, which more than likely would have required the cards to be finalized a good month or more earlier than that.

Sheet 3

Sheet 3 featured several more team changes, collectively involving four players, with a takeaway similar to that of Sheet 2.

The Hoyt card on the Pirates indicates the sheet was finalized after January 21 while the Jack Quinn card on the Dodgers suggests the sheet was finalized before April 29.

Sheet 4

Sheet 4 is also rich in players who changed teams but the timing of the most of the changes offers relatively little insight.

The exception is George Uhle, who moved from the Tigers to the Giants on April 21. That his card shows him on the Tigers suggests the card was likely finalized before April 21. We’ll use this later.

Sheet 5

Sheet 5 includes only one player who changed teams, and the timing is uninteresting.

The Dodgers card of Carroll indicates the sheet was finalized after February 8, and there is no hint as to how late the sheet could have been finalized.

Sheet 6

Sheet 6 features four players who changed teams, including the first in-season transaction to be reflected in the set.

Leo the Lip began the season as a Red but moved to the Cardinals on May 7. His Goudey card not only puts him with St. Louis but even notes the move in his bio. (“Traded by Yankees to Cincinnati 3 years ago and remained with Reds until traded to St. Louis Cardinals this season.”)

This Cardinals card of Durocher guarantees Sheet 6 was finalized after May 7. Meanwhile the Dodgers card of Joe Judge suggests the sheet was finalized before July 25.

Note: Fellow Goudey enthusiast Matthew Glidden just published a piece last week in which he connects Durocher’s team change to Sheet 6’s double-printed Ruth card and ultimately the famous Lajoie card. His work is always worth a read, and you can find this particular article here.

Sheet 7

Sheet 7, the same sheet that included Hornsby’s crosstown move, reflected three other transactions that same month.

The final transaction, that of Bob Smith, pushes the finalization of this sheet four days past what we already had from the Hornsby card.

Sheet 8

Sheet 8 includes two players who changed teams in early May, both of which are shown with their new teams in the Goudey set.

Given that Sheet 7 has already taken us to the end of July, these transactions offer no new information.

Sheet 9

None of the 24 players on Sheet 9 changed teams during the season, so there are no clues as to chronology.

Sheet 10

Sheet 10 features two players who changed teams: Lefty O’Doul and Luke Sewell.

Because we already know these cards were produced after the World Series, the team changes themselves provide no new information. What I will share, however, is the fact that Luke Sewell’s World Series card, according to Sewell himself, shows Steve O’Neill!

Summary of Team Changes

We’ll use the same style of calendar as before to summarize the team change data, noting that one major difference is that now each band indicates the potential window for the finalization of a sheet as opposed to when cards would have been available in stores.

On its own, this calendar would not do much for us, but now let’s see what the calendar looks like if we further assume that the sheets were finalized in order.

The overall picture is improved but still only partially useful when attempting to answer a question such as “When did Sheet 6, the one with all those Babe Ruth cards, come out?”

Really all we know with certainty is that the cards were finalized on or after May 7 (Durocher team change), and we add to that (at our own risk) some conjecture that the cards were finalized before July 25 (Joe Judge team non-change). If correct, we still have to convert this very lengthy window for finalizing the cards into a date or window for releasing the cards.

Provided Goudey were in a rush, we might add three weeks and presume the cards hit shelves sometime between the end of May and late August. However, there is also the possibility that Goudey “sat on” the cards rather than releasing them right away, in which case our answer would be sometime between the end of May and who knows when.

Thankfully, there is at least one other set of clues to investigate.

U.S. Copyright info

One last bit of Goudey history comes to us courtesy of “copyright cards” originally filed with the U.S. Copyright Office. The one shown below corresponds to Babe Ruth’s card 53 in the set.

These copyright cards include three dates–

  • Date of Publication
  • Copies Received
  • Affidavit Received (generally same as Copies Received date)

Of these dates, the Date of Publication is of greatest interest since it refers to when the cards were made available to the public. Therefore, if the copyright cards were completed accurately, we’d be staring right at the Goudey release schedule with both certainty and precision. The question, then, is “Were these cards completed accurately?”

If I simply list the Dates of Publication for each of the 30 copyright cards I’ve seen, the result is somewhat chaotic.

However, if we sort by Sheet rather than card number, a much more orderly progression emerges. All cards (from my research sample) from the same sheet carry the same Publication Date on their copyright cards.

We’re now in a position to match up these Dates of Publications with each of the two calendars already derived in this artice.

First, here is the Scharf calendar, with “C” added to denote Copyright Office dates.

The several “C” markers that fall outside the blue bands represent incompatibilities between Mr. Scharf’s memory and the copyright cards. In general, the copyright cards suggest Mr. Scharf remembered the second half of the set coming out much earlier than it did, something the Hornsby team update reinforces.

Furthermore, the copyright cards may provide a tiebreaker on an earlier matter we looked at, namely whether the set’s first two releases corresponded to cards 1-48 or to cards 1-40 +45-52. The copyright dates for cards 44 and 49 in the table suggest the former, though it’s again important to note that this is only true if the cards were filled out correctly.

We’ll turn now to the Team Change calendar, again using “C” to signify the Copyright Office dates.

Recalling that the bands on this calendar correspond to theorized finalization (rather than release) dates for each sheet of cards, there are no conflicts in the data. At most the gaps indicate that Goudey may well have sat a bit on some releases rather than rushing them onto shelves.

So are the copyright cards correct?

I would love to offer a resounding YES! but there are a few things that give me pause–

  • The December 23 date for the World Series cards feels very late.
  • The separation between Sheet 3 (May 19) and Sheet 4 (May 24) seems odd.
  • Ditto for Sheet 7 (September 1) and Sheet 8 (September 5).

And of course, as soon as you start to doubt some of the cards, you wonder if you can trust any of them!

WHERE ARE WE?

Though we’ll see some new clues (!) in “part six” of this series of articles, the picture we’re left with from the clues reviewed so far is akin to how different witnesses might describe a car crash. The individual accounts might all have their own errors and omissions, but the accounts taken together–even when contradictory–present at least a reasonable approximation of a reality perhaps unknowable otherwise.

At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. If you’ve got a different one, put it in the comments or tell it to the judge!

In the next installment of the series, I’ll offer some methods for estimating the relative scarcity of cards in the set.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part two

Author’s note: This is the second in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment looks primarily at the set’s sequel and how the two sets might fit together.

1934 Goudey Basics

“1934? Don’t you mean 1933?” No, not a typo. Just a very long detour.

We’ll start with some basic information about the 1934 Goudey set.

  • The set included 96 cards, a significant drop in the size from the previous year’s 240-card offering.
  • While the set included two cards Lou Gehrig and single cards of several Hall of Famers, Babe Ruth is conspicuously absent from the set.
  • Cards 1-79 and 92-96 feature a blue “Lou Gehrig says…” banner while cards 80-91, all National Leaguers, feature a red “Chuck Klein says…” banner.

With that background out of the way, we’ll jump into the checklist.

1934 Goudey Checklist

Just as the 1933 set was produced on sheets of 24, the 1934 set used at least three sheets of 24 and a fourth sheet of 25. “That’s 97 cards,” you say, and indeed it is! A careful look at the sheet of 25 will reveal a card not formally considered part of the set: the “1933” Napoleon Lajoie.

I don’t know if all copies of the 1934 set’s final sheet were 5 x 5 and included the Lajoie, or if some/most copies were 6 x 4 and minus the Lajoie. (As always, let me know in the comments if you have information on this.)

Sheet 1

The first sheet in the 1934 set was by far the most star-studded, highlighted by Grove, Dean, Foxx, Hubbell, and others. In fact, 13 of the set’s 20 Hall of Fame cards live among the set’s first 24 cards.

Unlike the 1933 set, cards on Sheet 1 bear the numbers 1-24, though the numbering within the sheet is so random even I have literally zero to say about it.

The most salient (but not immediately evident) characteristic of the set’s first sheet is that every single one of the cards is recycled from the 1933 set, artwork and all.

First, here are cards 1-6 from the 1934 set…

1934 1-6.GIF

And their counterparts from 1933.

1934 origins 1-6.GIF

And here are the next six cards, 7-12, in the 1934 set…

1934 7-12.GIF

…along with their 1933 doppelgangers.

1934 origins 7-12.GIF

And finally we round things out with cards 13-24.

1934 13-24.GIF

And once again…

1934 origins 13-24.GIF

Study the artwork carefully enough and you’ll spot some changes. One of the more notable updates is the coloring of Lefty Grove’s hat to reflect his move from the A’s to the Red Sox.

Add Ruth and Gehrig and this sheet would be nothing more than “1933 Goudey’s Greatest Hits!” Care to guess how many of the next 72 cards in the 1934 set reuse their 1933 images? [Cue “Jeopardy theme” while reader thinks.] Zero! This first sheet provides the only instances in the entire set and does so by going a perfect 24 for 24.

Sheet 2

Given the star power of Sheet 1, it’s no surprise that the second sheet has far fewer luminaries. Appling, Hafey, Lombardi, and Gehrig are the sheet’s lone Hall of Famers, but oh what a Gehrig! The next sheet will feature a Gehrig as well, but this yellow one, Card 37, seems to be the one nearly everybody wants more.

Cards are numbered 25-48 but again are scrambled within the sheet in a seemingly random manner. But hey, since it’s what I do, I’ll offer at least one thing not random about the numbering. Cards 25-36 are in the top two rows and cards 37-48 are in the bottom two rows.

Feel free to read a much earlier post on 1934 Canadian Goudey for more detail, but this is as good a time as any to note that its crazy hodgepodge of a checklist corresponds exactly to this sheet (numbered more sensibly), the preceding sheet, and Sheets 4 and 5 from the 1933 U.S. set.

Sheet 3

Reminiscent of the early 1933 sheets, we finally encounter a sheet arranged by color, this time progressing from yellow to green to red to blue. We are down to only two cards of Hall of Famers, though they represent two of the three top cards in the entire set: the Hank Greenberg rookie card and the green Gehrig. This Gehrig will also be the only instance of a repeated player in the set.

Card on this third sheet are numbered 49-72 but again in no particular order. A bit of trivia is that the mini-Gehrig icon that lived in the “Lou Gehrig says…” banner on Sheets 1-2 has now been updated to a new mini-Gehrig icon. The Coleman (Sheet 2) and Bolton (Sheet 3) cards below show the change at a size you can maybe even see on your phone.

Sheet 4

I started off the post with a picture of this final sheet, which not only includes cards 73-96 but the “1933” Lajoie as well.

If every instance of Sheet 4 looked like this, then we are forced to conclude that, at least off the press, the Lajoie card was no more rare than, say, Lloyd Johnson. Of course, very few Lajoie cards (I’ve seen estimates around 100) ever made it to collectors, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that a gigantic pile of these cards were simply thrown away…either that or make for one helluva find someday.

What kind of set is it?

You’re forgiven if you’re wondering what the question even means, but let’s take a quick detour nearly 40 years ahead and I’ll explain.

The first card below is from the 1981 Topps flagship set: 726 cards issued around the start of the 1981 baseball season, and largely a redo of similar sets from previous years (e.g., 1980, 1979, …).

The next two cards are from the 1981 Topps Traded set, which was very much not a redo of the flagship set but an extension of it. Were you to imagine a world where the flagship set never came out and only the Traded set were issued, collectors would no doubt be irked. No Garvey, Bench, Reggie, Ryan, Rose…just a bunch of rookies, benchwarmers, and traded guys!

Redo sets stand on their own. Extensions do not. What extensions do well is improve upon a prior set. What they do so poorly as to not do at all is replace a prior set.

Returning to the 1934 Goudey set, I consider the first 24 cards a redo, albeit a lazy one artistically and of course a much smaller one. Had Goudey only issued those 24 cards as their 1934 offering, we’d conclude that they simply wanted to go small that year. Good set, lots of stars, updated teams and bios, a new design…only ten percent the size.

As for cards 25-96, my conclusion is just the opposite! Of these 72 cards, 64 were of players absent from the 1933 Goudey checklist, which largely meant rookies, backups, and lesser stars. Had Goudey wanted an even bigger set in 1933, these 64 cards would have fit the bill perfectly.

Now what about the other eight cards, the players repeated from the 1933 set?

Two were the Gehrig cards already identified. With Gehrig the front man for the set, his two cards make sense, even if they “ruin” the clean run of nearly all new players. The next three cards will make sense also, even if the star power is several notches turned down from the Iron Horse.

First up is Mark Koenig, whose new card shows his move from the Cubs to the Reds.

Next up is Marty McManus, whose new card shows his move from one Boston club to the other.

Finally, Adam Comorosky’s new card shows his move from the Pirates to the Reds.

What remains are three players whose card in the 1934 set feels more mysterious to me. All were stars of the era but by no means the top stars from which to choose.

Even with these multiple exceptions, I choose to believe the final three releases of the 1934 Goudey set were an extension of the 1933 release more than any sort of redo. Along these lines I do not believe the set was small for financial reasons alone. I believe it was small for the same reason the 1981 Topps Traded set was small. Coming one heels of a release that already averaged more than a dozen different subjects per (Major League) team, were there really that many more cards left to add?

Thinking about the 1934 Goudey set as we would a more modern day Traded Set answers several questions at once:

  • Why no Ruth? He didn’t get traded!
  • Why so much smaller? It’s a traded set!
  • Why so many no-names? It’s a traded set!

In reality, I believe these same questions, particularly the first two, have other answers as well. Still, I believe the notion of the 1934 set adding to or updating the 1933 set is a mostly correct and mostly useful way to understand the two sets that for most collectors are synonymous with the Goudey brand.

In the next installment of the series, following up on a question from Nick, I’ll examine the chronology of the 1933 release based on three different sources.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part one

Author’s note: This is the first in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment looks primarily at the set’s unusual numbering scheme.

Founded in 1919, the Goudey Gum Company produced baseball cards from 1933 to 1941. Much like the Wallflowers, Counting Crows, and N.W.A., nearly all their greatest hits were packed into their debut offering. For those who not only collect cards but research them and write about them as well, the 1933 Goudey set provides near endless opportunity for inspiration, speculation, and frustration, much of which I intend to share in what is about to become a very long series of very long posts, even by Jason standards.

The basics

Before plunging into the deep end, I’ll start with some basics about the set, designated as R319 in Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog.

  • The set officially includes 240 cards. Of these, 239 were produced and distributed in packs in 1933. The set’s final card, a very scarce Napoleon Lajoie, was produced in late 1934.
  • The set includes four cards of Babe Ruth, along with multiple cards of Gehrig, Foxx, and many other Hall of Famers.
  • The majority of the cards in the set are instantly recognizable from the red “Big League Chewing Gum” banner along the bottom of the card fronts. However, nearly a third of the set omits the banner, in my opinion yielding some of the most attractive trading cards ever made.
Author’s personal collection

the missing banners

The banner-less cards in the set stirred my initial interest in 1933 Goudey as an object of research. It felt odd to me that Goudey would arbitrarily omit their advertising banner at all, let alone across a random (so I thought) scattering of cards across their checklist, indicated by the yellow cells below. (The blue cell is the Lajoie card, which lives in a category all its own.)

Were the only cards missing a banner to be found at the very end of the checklist, I might have supposed Goudey simply forgot (!) the banner, ran low on red ink, or made an intentional decision that the cards looked better without a banner. But then what of these oddball occurrences like 97-99 or 142? Was I asking too much that there be some rhyme or reason to the approach?

mystery solved

I should emphasize here that for serious students of the Goudey set there never was a mystery. They already knew what I did not. Namely, the set was produced on printing sheets of 24 cards each, numbered rather haphazardly. (Source: Kevin Glew/PSA.)

For example, here is the set’s fifth production sheet, with card numbers 53-57, 68-74, and 80-91.

Those random yellow cells of banner-less cards in my table then? They simply reflect Sheets 8-10!

While we still don’t know the why we at least have a better understanding of the which.

much, much, much, much more on the sheets

If you’ve been reading my posts for long, you know there is little I love more than wholly frivolous analyses of checklist patterns. Imposing order, however forced, on randomness is kind of my thing, at least when it comes to baseball cards. (As for the rest of my life, I’m more inclined to the opposite.) Therefore, is it any surprise that the oddball numbering patterns of the Goudey sheets captured my attention immensely?

In the eleven sections that follow, I’ll offer a description of each sheet (one of them twice!), along with a mini-analysis of numbering.

Sheet 1

For veteran Goudey collectors, the first sheet is quickly identified by “leadoff man” Benny Bengough in the top left position. Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and several other Hall of Famers are easy to spot as well. The sheet also features an orderly background progression from red to yellow to green to blue, a feature that will characterize early sheets in the set but not later ones.

The chart below shows the card numbers for the 24 cards on the sheet.

About the most notable feature of the numbering here is that it’s not 1-24. The cards themselves cluster into three separate streaks of 5, 11, and 8 while leaving two sizeable gaps: one from 6-24 and one from 36-44.

My personal theory, based on separate research, is that these 24 cards were not released as a single series but released concurrently with the second sheet.

Sheet 2

The second sheet is a little lighter in star power but still pretty loaded. This is 1933 Goudey after all! Aesthetically, I particularly like the purple-brown backgrounds in the sheet’s third row.

The card numbers on the second sheet (yellow cells) completely fill one of the major gaps from the first sheet and partially fill the other gap.

Compulsive set collectors of the era, who likely had no idea the cards were produced in sheets of 24, might have found themselves buying more and more packs in hopes of landing the elusive run of cards from 41-44. And if so, they would have been disappointed, just not for long.

Sheet 3

The third sheet introduces the set’s first landscape card (top left) but more importantly includes Lou Gehrig. Retired great Eddie Collins, in the set as an executive, seems a mysterious choice for inclusion, but he will soon enough be joined by another retired great, not even counting the Nap Lajoie card that will complete the set the following year. We also have some rich dark blue backgrounds to add to our growing color palette.

Numerically, that eyesore of a gap from 41-44 is finally closed, but four new gaps are created.

Sheet 5

Yes, I skipped Sheet 4, though we will come to it soon. Sheet 5, which I wanted to show first, includes the yellow Ruth (card 53) as well as the second retired great (Tris Speaker). Perhaps surprisingly, nine minor leaguers (counting Speaker, who appears with the Kansas City Blues) are included as well.

The reason I bumped this sheet ahead of Sheet 4 is the numbering of its 24 cards. Here’s how they fall in the checklist.

Sure enough, the addition of Sheet 5 to Sheets 1-3 provides for a clean run of cards, 1-96, uninterrupted. It would be possible (and perhaps even correct!) to read nothing of significance into this fact, but I prefer to believe that this collection of cards represented a possible stopping point in the set.

Yes, the card backs from the very beginning promised 240 cards, but it was not uncommon at that time for a large set to span multiple years. Goudey’s 216-card Indian Gum set that debuted the very same year was such an example, though in fairness its card backs did not initially promise all 216 cards.

Could there have been a “Plan A” to cap the initial release at 96 cards, or was this a “Plan B” to invoke only if sales proved low? Or is the way the numbering of the fifth sheet fills the holes from the first three sheets merely interesting but insignificant? Either way, “merely interesting” is still interesting.

Sheet 4

Instead, Sheets 1-3 were followed by (of course!) Sheet 4. Whatever good news this sheet brought to young collectors was probably overshadowed by the fact that they’d now been buying gum cards for months and still hadn’t pulled a Bambino. “Could it be he wasn’t even in the set,” they might have wondered.

As preposterous a proposition that might have seemed, it applied perfectly well to several other sets of the period including 1933 DeLong, 1933 George Miller, 1934 Goudey, and 1934-36 Diamond Stars.

Still, at least for the collectors keeping count, the numbering of these new cards offered comfort that there were still more cards to come. Just look at all these gaps!

Sheet 5 (again)

I’ve already introduced this sheet once, but now I can give you its actual impact on the Goudey checklist.

I’ll also show what might have been an explicit attempt to offset collecting mutiny. “Kids, we promise! Babe Ruth is in the set. We repeat: Babe Ruth is in the set.”

Finally, I’ll point out a somewhat overlooked feature of the set’s first 120 cards (i.e., Sheets 1-5). All 120 subjects to this point are different. Though a hallmark feature of the 1933 Goudey set is its multiple cards of top stars, they would all come in the set’s second half.

Sheet 6

If Sheet 5, particularly if issued out of sequence, would have tidied up the release, Sheet 6 is the one that blew it up. Still, if there was a time to buy Goudey cards, this was sure it! Just look at the sheet’s last column: Ruth, Ruth, Foxx, and Gehrig. You’ve also no doubt spotted a third Ruth on the sheet, and perhaps you even spied that Moe Berg!

Now let’s see where these 24 cards fell on the checklist.

Much like Sheet 4, this sheet filled none of the gaps left by prior releases. The numbering for this sheet is consecutive (143-165), something we had not seen earlier though we will see it again with Sheets 7 and 8. Most notably, however, the sheet includes only 23 card numbers. The two Ruth cards in the second row are both numbered 144 and represent the set’s only double-print. Much more on this later.

As the Ruth cards make immediately evident, the Goudey set now includes multiple cards of select players.

  • Lou Gehrig – Card 160 identical to card 92 (Sheet 3)
  • Jimmie Foxx – Card 154 identical to card 29 (Sheet 1)
  • Babe Ruth – Cards 144 and 149 both different from card 53 (Sheet 5), though all three came from the same Charles Conlon image

Feel free to read a much earlier post on 1933 Canadian Goudey for more detail, but this is as good a time as any to note that its crazy hodgepodge of a checklist corresponds exactly to Sheets 1, 2, 3, and 6 from the U.S. set.

Sheet 7

It wouldn’t. Yes, there is a fourth Ruth, card 181, and yes, that is the great Charlie Berry in the lower left hand corner. And yes, we even get the set’s first “traded card” in the person of Rogers Hornsby (Cardinals infielder to Browns manager) along with new poses of star players Joe Cronin and Heinie Manush…

But we also get six cards of minor leaguers and a (barely) image variation of a player I can’t imagine kids really wanted or needed. On the left I present George Walberg’s card 145 from Sheet 6; on the right, his card 183 from Sheet 7. “Why two,” you might wonder. Fair question. (Also see Al Corwin, 1953 Bowman.)

My own guess is it was a mistake, plain and simple. The cards are similar enough to constitute an image variation of the dullest degree but different enough to require actual work. I’d even hazard a guess that the cards were made by two different artists. Plus, if this was just Goudey being lazy, why go with two different bios!

Now truth be told, Walberg was hardly the only non-superstar to earn two cards in the set. However, as we’ll see on Sheet 10, the other ones all had a very logical explanation.

As for the checklist, Sheet 7 simply picked up where Sheet 6 left off, annoying any set collectors hoping to finally rubber band the set’s first 100. Goshdarnit, Goudey! Where the heck are cards 97-99?!

Unlike Sheet 6, in which the numbering of the cards within the sheet was a bit haphazard, Sheet 7 is numbered in perfect sequence.

Sheet 7 also marked the end of one of the set’s most defining features, the Big League Chewing Gum banner. As such, the remaining cards in the set are less iconic but more attractive.

Sheet 8

Sadly I was unable to locate any images of Sheet 8, so I have done my best to reconstruct it here. As such, the order of the cards may well be incorrect. (If you have a true image, please get in touch or post a link in the comments.)

Mel Ott’s first (but not lowest numbered) card in the set appears in this release, also highlighted by Hall of Famers Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Earl Averill, and Rick Ferrell. I’m a particular fan of the card of Tigers ace Tommy Bridges, which itself is part of a Goudey mini-mystery I will return to later in this series of articles.

The Ott card, among other cards on this and later sheets, should also put to rest any theory that the “Big League Chewing Gum” banner was omitted to save on red ink.

While the new card design is easy to spot, a more overlooked property of the sheet is that all 24 players are brand new additions to the set, reversing a trend toward duplication in the prior two sheets.

Rather than fill any checklist gaps, Sheet 8 kept the foot on the gas and brought the checklist well into the 200s.

Sheet 9

The next sheet in the set brought 24 more beauties–again all new players–and the end of the regular season releases. If I had to guess, I’d also assign the lowest production run of the set to these 24 cards. Too bad.

There was still room on the checklist for this sheet to rattle off the next 24 slots. However, for the first time in a while, some early gaps were at least partially filled. For the set collectors out there, it must have been particularly satisfying to finally kill off cards 97-99 and 142.

Sheet 10

The final release of the 1933 Goudey set is known as the “World Series sheet” and features the top stars from that year’s Fall Classic between the Giants and Senators. Note that I didn’t say the previous year’s Fall Classic. This was a real-time, ToppsNow-like look at the World Series that just happened.

I can’t say I like these cards as much as the previous 48, possibly the result of some “hurry up” to get the cards out before the interests of kids moved on from baseball to other things. Though the sheet included several players already featured earlier in the set, Goudey nonetheless went the extra mile by producing genuinely new artwork for 23 of the players. The only duplication came with Joe Cronin, whose card 109 (Sheet 10) was very similar to his earlier card 189 (Sheet 7).

This final collection of 24 cards not only added new art to the set but new bios as well, updated to reflect the results of the World Series.

“Led the Senators to the American League championship in his first season as manager of the club, although his club was beaten in the World Series with the Giants…”

At this point there is little suspense as to how the final 24 cards filled the checklist. Still, here it is for completeness. Only one hole remained, card 106, along with the question of why.

chase card?

Conventional Hobby wisdom tells us that the omission of card 106, later filled by Napoleon Lajoie, was intentional, a tactic designed to keep youngsters buying gum in their futile pursuit of a complete set. In modern parlance, card 106 was a “chase card.”

My own take differs.

For one thing, the Goudey set was very large. Completing the set, even assuming no duplicates, would require averaging a pack a day from Opening Day through Christmas. I’m not sure how many kids could manage this level of collecting in Depression-era America, even ignoring the competition from other gum cards on the market. True, the more compulsive collectors out there could augment their sets by cajoling or pilfering away the cards of their friends, but I still don’t see big numbers able to go 240 or bust.

Second, at what point in the set’s release would collectors even notice that card 106 was missing? Had the cards been released in numerical order, the missing card would have been evident mid-release–i.e., when even the most complete collections out there looked like this, give or take the substantial stacks of doubles needed to get this far.

Instead, set numbering was so haphazard that the hole at 106 (or equivalently, the brick wall at 239 cards out of 240) was largely undetectable* until the release of Sheet 10, a good month or so after the World Series ended. By then, even if collectors wanted to embark upon buying sprees, it’s unclear how much longer fresh packs would keep hitting shelves.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the haphazard numbering and gaps in the set, evident from the very first release, were an intentional tactic to boost sales. I just don’t believe card 106 itself played any outsized role. Why was it there then? Much like that second Walberg card, my personal belief is it was simply an oversight.

In the next installment of the series, I’ll offer a similar sheet-by-sheet analysis of the 1934 Goudey set (thankfully much smaller!) and highlight an easily overlooked connection between the 1933 and 1934 issues.

UNCOMMON COMMON: Charlie Berry

Author’s note: This is the third post in a series highlighting “common players” with stories far richer than the value of their trading cards. The first post in the series profiled Dave Hoskins and can be found here. The second post in the series profiled Ernie Barnes and can be found here.

The 1933 Goudey set is well known for its wealth of superstars, including four cards of the Bambino, two cards of the Iron Horse, and a litany of top-shelf Hall of Famers such as Ott, Speaker, Foxx, Hornsby, Grove, and (if you count him) Lajoie.

Collectors can therefore be forgiven if they aren’t impressed when stumbling upon card 184 in the set, that of Chicago White Sox catcher Charlie Berry.

The card was issued as part of Goudey’s seventh series (of ten in all), which I estimate as having come out in late August or early September 1933. The green Ruth #181 card would have likely been the prize for most kids, the other main highlight of the series being (generously) Hornsby’s crosstown update from Cards infielder to Browns skipper.

The card front was about as generic 1933 Goudey as could be (not that this is a bad thing!), featuring a solid yellow background reminiscent of Ruth’s card 53 and a waist up batter’s follow-through common to the set.

It would require some serious pre-internet knowledge of sports history, close proximity to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, or reading the back to know there was more to Berry than batting and backstopping.

Yes, Berry was one of the “mythical eleven” in 1924, a football All American at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and (if I’m understanding how all this works) a Walter Camp first-teamer, an honor shared with gridiron legend Red Grange and among others.

Berry starred the next two seasons for the Pottsville Maroons of the fledgling National Football League, leading the league in scoring in 1925 and captaining an upset of the presumed top team in the country, an all-star team from Notre Dame that included its famed “Four Horsemen.”

Remarkably, the Pottsville squad included a second member of the 1933 Goudey set, Walter French.

Now mind you I’m by no means a football historian, but my sources (okay, source singular: Wikipedia!) tell me this was the game that put the NFL on the map. While the game catapulted the league to greater heights, Pottsville received anything but a thank you from the commissioner’s office.

On the contrary, the exhibition game was deemed a serious enough violation of league rules that Pottsville was stripped of its 1925 NFL championship and the Chicago Cardinals squad led by another 1933 Goudey alum took top honors.

Down the pecking order of consolation prizes a bit, the team did however earn a trading card set, maroon tint and all! The back of the set’s second card, “The Symbolic Shoe,” provides as strong evidence as you’ll find anywhere that Pottsvillians want that TITLE RESTORED!

This same set includes a card of Berry himself, and again the Zacko family is just not having that whole stripped title thing!

Berry collectors can also delight in knowing there was surprisingly (to me anyway!) a set produced in 1924 of the Lafayette Leopards college football team.

Sadly the set did not include Berry’s Lafayette (and future White Sox!) teammate Frank Grube, who would have to wait until 1935 to appear in the same set with Berry.

But enough about Charlie Berry the player. Let’s move on to what he did even better! For that, we’ll fast forward two decades to the 1955 Bowman set and the subset collectors love to hate.

Same guy? Yep, same guy!

In fact, if you were lucky enough to be at the Polo Grounds for “The Catch,” that first base umpire you might have booed was none other than the Pottsville Maroon legend.

Coincidentally, Berry was not the only umpire that day with cards in both the 1955 Bowman and 1933 Goudey sets. The Arkansas Hummingbird had an even better view of the catch as left field umpire that day.

Berry’s presence at the 1954 World Series was no fluke. He also worked the World Series in 1946, 1950, 1958, and 1962 for a total of 29 World Series games in all. Though I’m not exactly picketing Cooperstown or holding any bronze shoes hostage pending his enshrinement, I do think a strong Hall of Fame case could be made for Berry as an umpire.

However, Berry’s story doesn’t end there. Charlie Berry was also the Bo Jackson of officiating, racking up a borderline Hall of Fame resume working NFL games as well. His NFL head linesman resume included twelve (!) championships, highlighted by a critical call in the “Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Is it possible then that this “common player” from the 1933 Goudey set, whose card is readily found in decent shape for about $25, was perhaps the greatest sports official of all time as well as the player that put the NFL on the map? Might he even have two cases for induction, one for Cooperstown and one for Canton? And, as importantly, will the Zacko family finally donate that bronze shoe?

In the words of another Charles Berry, you never can tell!

And hey, don’t forget to check out Berry’s SABR Bio for plenty more on this Uncommon Common.

The most boring cards in the set?

I’d been sitting on the idea of this article for a while, and I finally decided to “check it off” when I saw an exchange between fellow SABR Baseball Cards blogger Matt Prigge and prewar savant Anson Whaley (with a guest appearance by Jeff Smith) on the first numbered baseball cards.

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Today the idea of numbered cards goes hand in hand with that of a (contemporaneously published) checklist. However, that was not always the case. While numerous examples abound, one famous numbered set with no checklist was 1933 Goudey. Likewise, we will encounter sets that had checklists but no numbered cards. This article will not be exhaustive, so don’t use it as a checklist. Rather, it will just highlight some of the variety attached to what in my collecting heyday was considered the most boring card in the pack.

These days

Had I written this article a year ago, I might have assumed erroneously that on-card checklists were a hobby dinosaur. After all, why waste a card in the set when it’s easy enough to post a checklist online? However, the lone pack of 2019 Topps update I bought last fall included a surprise on the back of my Albert Pujols highlights card.

Though I have to imagine the past three decades of baseball cards have more of a story to tell, I’m going to quickly jump all the way back to what otherwise was the last time I remember pulling a checklist from a pack.

Early nineties

The very last packs of cards I bought before entering my long “real life took over” hiatus were in 1992. I don’t recall buying any mainstream sets that year, but I liked the Conlons and their close cousins, the Megacards Babe Ruth set, of which I somehow still have the box and three unopened packs.

The Ruth set had no checklist, but the Conlon issue had several, much in the style of the Topps cards of my youth, right down to the checkboxes.

While there’s something to be said for the familiar, I was an even bigger fan of the checklists I pulled from packs of 1990 Leaf.

Checklists adorned with superstar players was new to my own pack opening experience. However, as with most “innovations” in the Hobby, it wasn’t truly new, as we’ll soon see.

1978-1989 Topps

This was my absolute pack-buying heyday, and it was a great time to be a checklist collector, assuming there is such a thing. Yes, we had the standard checklist cards each of those years…

…but we also got team checklists, either on the backs of manager cards…

…or on the back of team cards.

As a quick aside, I’ll note that EVERY collector I knew in 1978 sorted his cards by team and used the team card to mark progress, making the set checklists (e.g., 1-121) completely superfluous.

1974*

Though I’m skipping most years, I’ll make a quick stop at 1974 to highlight two features in particular. In addition to the standard checklists AND team photo cards without checklists, the 1974 Topps set used unnumbered team signature cards as team checklists. (Aside: Though unnumbered cards had a mile-long history in the Hobby and are hardly extinct today, I rarely ran across them as a kid apart from the 1981 Donruss checklists or the 1981 Fleer “Triple Threat” error card.)

A final note on these team checklists: they did not include late additions from the Traded set (e.g., Santo on White Sox), so a separate “Trades Checklist” was provided also.

1967-69 Topps

If I had to declare a G.O.A.T. checklist it would come from 1967-69 Topps, all possible inspirations for the 1990 Leaf card I showed earlier. (In fairness, 1984 Fleer might have played a role.)

At first glance I mistakenly thought these checklists brought more than just a bonus superstar to the mix. Take a look at entry 582 on the back of card below.

Could it be? Were we looking at the pinnacle of 1960s artificial intelligence technology: checklists with the self-awareness to check themselves off? Sadly, no. We were just looking at an abbreviation for “Checklist – 7th Series.” After all, this “smart checklist” was card 504 in the set and the ostensibly checked off card was a completely different card.

1963

While our friends at Topps were having a ho-hum year, checklist-wise, as if there’s any other kind of year to have, checklist-wise, I do want to provide recognition to the efforts at Fleer. Haters of the Keith Shore #Project 2020 designs will probably not be fans, but I’m a sucker for this cartoony, colorful approach to checklists.

Even the title, “Player Roster,” is a nice twist, don’t you think?

1961

The first appearance of numbered checklist-only cards from Topps came in 1961. Each checklist featured a baseball action scene on both the front and back of the card, and collectors can have fun trying to identify the players. (Side note: I believe these are the first ever game-action photos ever used by Topps.)

While the image on the back persisted across the set, the images on the front differed with each card. For example, here is Mr. Cub on the front of the second checklist. (Banks also appears prominently on the fifth checklist!)

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Fleer introduced its first ever checklist cards.

The series one checklist featured Home Run Baker, Ty Cobb, and Zach Wheat well past their playing days, while series two did the same for George Sisler and Pie Traynor.

Incidentally, a similar approach was used 15 years later by Mike Aronstein in the 1976 SSPC set.

While Fleer had baseball sets in 1959 and 1960 as well, neither used checklist cards. However, this was not because the concept had not yet dawned on them. On the contrary, here’s a card from one of their more notable non-sport issues way back in 1959!

Note that the card pictured is #63. Cards 16 and 64 in the set are also known to have “checklist back” variations. However, the much more common versions of these same cards simply feature humorous descriptions or jokes.

Pre-1961 Topps

I referred to the 1961 Topps cards as checklist-only because there were in fact numbered checklist cards issued in the 1960 set. The 1960 cards were the perfect (or anti-perfect) hybrid of set checklists and team cards, perhaps offering a glimpse of the “why not both!” direction Topps would ultimately adopt.

Shown below is the Braves team card, but the back is not a Braves checklist. Rather, it’s the checklist for the set’s entire fifth series!

But wait, how does that even work? The set only had seven series but there were 16 teams, right? Yes, somewhat inelegantly Topps repeated checklists on the back of multiple team cards. For example, the A’s and Pirates each had sixth series backs.

Ditto 1959 Topps…

…and 1958.

We have to go all the way back to 1957 to see checklist-only cards. Aside from being unnumbered and landscape oriented, these cards check off all the boxes of the staid checklist cards I grew up with.

The 1956 set did the same but with an unusual turn, and not just the 90-degree reorientation. While the 1957 card shown includes the first and second series, the 1956 cards included non-adjacent series. The card below is for the first and third series, while a second card has series two and four.

The 1956 checklists also featured the first (that I could find) appearance of checkboxes. As such, it wouldn’t be wrong to regard (or disregard!) all predecessors as mere lists, unworthy of the checklist title.

The crumbiest card in the set?

It may have looked like Topps was blazing new trails with their checklist cards in 1956 and 1957, but take a close look at the second card in this uncut strip from the Johnston’s Cookies set, series one.

You may need to be the judge as to whether this qualifies as an actual card in the set vs a non-card that just happens to be the same size as the other cards.

On one hand, why not? On the other, how many collectors would consider the “How to Order Trading Cards” end panel a card?

When is a checklist not a checklist?

In 1950, Chicago-based publisher B.E. Callahan released a box set featuring all 60 Hall of Famers. The set was updated annually and included 80 Hall of Famers by 1956, the last year it was issued. At the very end of the set was what appeared to be a checklist for the set, but was it?

As it turns out, the card back wasn’t so much a checklist as it was a listing of all Hall of Famers. Were it intended as a checklist, it presumably would have also listed this Hall of Fame Exterior card and perhaps even itself!

Simple logic might also suggest that a checklist would have been particularly superfluous for cards already sold as an intact set; then again, stranger things have happened.

No checklist but the next best thing?

Prior to 1956 Topps a common way to assist set collectors, though a far cry from an actual checklist, was by indicating the total number cards in the set right on the cards, as with this 1949 Bowman card. Note the top line on the card’s reverse indicates “No. 24 of a Series of 240.”

Though this was the only Bowman set to cue size, Gum, Inc., took the same approach with its Play Ball set a decade earlier. The advertised number of cards in the set proved incorrect, however, as the set was limited to 161 cards rather than 250.

Goudey too overestimated the size of its own set the year before. The first series of 24 cards seemed to suggest 288 cards total…

…while the second series indicated 312!

Add them up and you have a set of 48 cards evidently advertised as having more than six times that number. In fact, some collectors have speculated, based among other things on the similarity of card backs, that the 1938 issue was a continuation of the 1933 (!) issue. Add the new 48 to the 240 from 1933 and you get 288. Perhaps, though the number 312 remains mysterious either way.

Tobacco card collectors are no stranger to the advertised set size being way off. Consider the 1911 T205 Gold Borders set for starters. “Base Ball Series 400 Designs” implies a set nearly twice the size of the 208 cards known to collectors and perhaps hints at original plans to include Joe Jackson, Honus Wagner, and many other stars excluded from the set.

As for its even more famous cousin, the 1909-11 T206 set. How many cards are there? 150 subjects? 350 subjects? 350-460?

The return of set checklists

While I’ve just highlighted several non-examples of checklists, there are several, probably dozens, of sets pre-1956 Topps that include checklists. The most common variety involved printing the entire set’s checklist on the back of every card in the set, as with the 1933 George C. Miller card of Mel Ott shown here.

As evidenced not only by Ott’s name but also brief biographical information unique to Master Melvin, the Miller set provided a unique card back per player in the set. As we travel further back in time to examine earlier checklisting, you’ll see that a far more common approach involved applying the same card back to multiple players in the set, often by team, by series, or across the set’s entirety.

The return of team checklists

It’s been a while since we’ve seen team checklists, but some great early examples come our way from the 240-card 1922 American Caramel set.

As the small print indicates, the set included 15 players apiece from each of the 16 teams, leading to an even 240 cards. As the Ruth back suggests, all Yankees in the set had identical backs, as was the case for all team subsets within the set. Rival caramel maker Oxford Confectionary produced a much smaller set (E253) the year before and was able to fit the set’s entire 20-card roster on the back of each card.

The golden age of checklists

Though neither the T205 nor T206 sets included checklist cards, many other sets of the era did. A fun one, checklist or no checklist, is the 1912 Boston Garters set. Note the back side (of the card, not the player!) lists the 16 cards in the set. (These are VERY expensive cards by the way. For example, the card shown is easily the priciest Mathewson among his various cards without pants.)

Another such set was the 1911 Turkey Red set where, as with the 1922 American Caramel cards, every card was a checklist card (subject to back variations). Low numbered cards had a checklist for cards 1-75 or 1-76, and high numbered cards had a checklist for cards 51-126.

The 1910 Tip Top Bread set provided collectors a much kneaded set checklist and team checklist for their hard-earned dough. Of course, this was by default since all the subjects in the set were all on the same team. While the checklist suggests numbered cards, individual cards have do not include a card number as part of the design.

The 1908-1910 American Caramel E91 cards similarly provided a checklist for each year’s set and the three teams that comprised it. For example the 1910 set (E91-C) listed Pittsburg, Washington, and Boston players.

And just to show these sets weren’t flukes, there are the 1909 Philadelphia Caramel (E95), 1909 E102, 1909-1910 C.A. Briggs (E97), 1910 Standard Caramel (E93), 1910 E98, 1911 George Close Candy (E94), and 1913 Voskamp’s Coffee Pittsburgh Pirates, and various minor league issues of the era.

Size isn’t everything

Another early approach to checklists is illustrated by the 1909-1913 Sporting News supplements.

The picture backs were blank, but sales ads provided collectors with the full list of players available.

By the way, the highlighting of “SENT IN A TUBE” provides a hint that collectors even more than a century ago cared at least a little bit about condition.

Obak took this approach a step further in 1913 by including a complete checklist in every cigarette box.

Though not technically a card, one could make some argument that this Obak insert represents the very first standalone checklist packaged with cards.

I don’t know enough about this 1889 (!) checklist of Old Judge cabinet photo premiums to say whether it was inserted with the cigarettes and cards as was the Obak or lived somewhere else entirely as did the Sporting News ad.

Either way, it won’t be our oldest example of a checklist.

Where it all began…almost

There aren’t many baseball card sets older than the 1888 Goodwin Champions and 1887 Allen & Ginter World Champions issues. Ditto 1887 W.S. Kimball Champions (not pictured). Take a look at the card backs, and it becomes evident that checklists are almost as old as baseball cards themselves.

And while most of the card backs I’ve seen from these issues are rather dull, here is one specimen that makes me smile.

It’s not the easiest thing to see, but I do believe the collector crossed Kelly off the checklist…

…before running out of money, running out of ink, or just moving on like any good player collector.

Summary

As my examples demonstrate, baseball card checklists have taken on many forms, and the question of which baseball card checklist was first is one that depends on your definition of a checklist and perhaps even your definition of a baseball card.

Though it’s risky to infer motives from men long since dead, it seems reasonable that the creation and publication of baseball card checklists indicates a recognition that the cards themselves were not simply throwaway novelties but items to be collected and saved. What’s more, this was evidently the case as far back as 1887!

Note also that these checklists weren’t simply offered as courtesies. They reflected the at least an implicit assumption that set checklists were more valuable (to the seller!) than other forms of advertising that would otherwise occupy the same real estate whether the product was bread, tobacco, or candy. A standard Hobby 101 education teaches us that cards were long used to help sell the products they were packaged with. What we see here is that the allure wasn’t simply a baseball player or his likeness on cardboard but also the set of such likenesses that kept the pennies and nickels coming.

I started this article with a question. Are checklist cards the most boring cards in the set? By and large, yes, I think they are. However, that’s only true most of the time.

For with every checklist, at least those put to purpose, there is that one moment of glory, of sweetness, and of triumph when the checklist—formerly mocked and yawned at—informs collectors young and old that their springs and summers were not spent in vain but rather in pursuit of the heroic, the noble, and the—holy smokes, it’s about damn time!—DONE!

 

1: A History

  1. Andy Pafko

That’s a pretty obvious way to start this, right? Pretty much anyone who has spent time in the baseball card hobby knows how that digit and that name go together, that Andy Pakfo, as a Brooklyn Dodger, was card #1 in the landmark 1952 Topps baseball card set.

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The reverse of a 1909 Philadelphia Carmel card, perhaps the earliest example of an organized numbering system in a baseball card set. (All images courtesy tradingcardb.com)

I’ve often wondered why Andy Pafko, of all people, got the fabled #1 spot in that set. But did it matter in 1952 that he was card #1? When it card #1 start mattering? The earliest example of a card set with a clear numbering system was the 1909 Philadelphia Carmel set. The cards aren’t individually numbered, but rather featured a numbered listing on the back for the 25-card set, with Honus Wagner is the #1 spot. Wagner was (and is) a huge name in the sport, but given that 10 of the 25 subjects of the set are Hall-of-Famers, it’s likely that Wagner was listed first, well, just because he was listed first. The 1910 Philadelphia Carmel set had the same numbering system, this time with Athletics’ first basemen Harry Davis is the #1 spot, with the checklist arranged by team and Davis in the top spot for no obvious reason.

The first true #1 seems to be Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in the 1911 Turkey Red Cabinets set. This set, too, features a list of all subjects in the set on the backside of each card, but each card is also numbered, with “No. 1” gracing the backside of Brown’s card. The number system had a purpose – smokers could collect coupons from certain Turkey Red products and exchange them for the cards, instructed to “order by number only.” As for Brown’s place in the #1 spot, it isn’t clear whether not is was supposed to mean anything. There’s a haphazard alphabetical ordering to the set, but many of the names are out of place, including Brown’s. And while Brown was one of the biggest names in the sport at the time, the set is loaded with similarly famous names. The 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack sets were also numbered, with no clear system to their assignment. The #1 card in each (the 1915 set re-issued most of the 1914 set) was Otto Knabe of the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League. Knabe had a few good years with the Phillies of the National League, but was hardly a star in Baltimore and was out of baseball by the end of the 1916 season. Again, we find a #1 with no obvious reason behind it.

The 1933 Goudey set is a landmark in hobby history, but no one cared to memorialize this occasion with it’s opening card. The spot went to Benny Benough, a career back-up catcher who had played his final season in 1932. But in the 1934 Goudey set, Jimmie Foxx – winner of the AL MVP award in both of the previous seasons – was given the lead-off spot. This is the first obvious example of the #1 used as an honorarium. And it would be the last until 1940, when the Play Ball set devoted the first 12 spots in its 240 card checklist to the four-time defending champion New York Yankees, with the #1 spot going to reigning MVP Joe DiMaggio. But in 1941, Play Ball went with Eddie Miller as card #1. Miller was an all-star the year before but, as a member of the moribund Boston Bees, was hardly a household name.

The first two major post-war releases honored a pair of reigning MVPs with their #1 spots – 1948-49 Leaf with Joe DiMaggio and 1948 Bowman with Bob Elliot. But Bowman got a little more obscure with their 1949 #1, picking Boston Braves rookie Vern Bickford – a member of a pennant-winning club, but hardly a national stand-out. Bowman’s 1950 #1 was Mel Parnell, an all-star and a sensation on the mound in ’49, and in 1951 they opened with rookie Whitey Ford, who’d helped lead the Yankees to another World Series win. Both were stand-out players and names collectors would have known, but neither are as convincing as purposeful picks for #1 as Foxx, DiMaggio, or Elliot. For Topps’ 1951 Game release, there were a pair of #1s (for both the blue and red back sets) – Yogi Berra and Eddie Yost – who, like Parnell and Ford, don’t really indicate any obvious attempt to use the number as an honor, particularly given the small size of 1951 issue.

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An unlikely #1, Dusty Rhodes had his heroics made clear on this 1955 Topps card.

So that brings us to “Handy” Andy Pafko. And tells us… well, not much. Sometimes the top spot was used to pay tribute and sometimes it was just used and sometimes it’s kind of stuck in between. But after Pafko, Topps would use the #1 spot for a variety of purposes, some honorific, others utilitarian. The 1950s were a mixed bag: a jumble of superstars (Jackie Robinson in 1953, Ted Williams in 1954, 1957, and 1958), executives (AL President William Harridge in 1956 and commissioner Ford Frick in 1959), and a postseason hero (Dusty Rhodes in 1955). The 1960s featured award winners from the year before (Early Wynn in 1960, Dick Groat in 1961, Roger Maris in 1962, and Willie Mays in 1966), mixed in multi-player league leader cards and a tribute to the 1966 Baltimore Orioles World Series win. Between 1970 and 1972, the #1 card honored the World Series winner with a team photo. 1973-1976’s top spots went to Hank Aaron, honoring his chase and breaking of Babe Ruth’s home run and RBI records. But this run of #1s could have been little more than a coincidence. After Aaron’s 1974 card (which is actually his base card, the front given a unique design to commemorate the home run records that he hadn’t actually set yet) was a pure #1 honor spot. But the ones that followed fit into a pattern that Topps would mostly use for the next decade – opening the set with either Record Breakers or Highlights and ordering those cards alphabetically. A fellow named “Aaron” setting records and making highlights was bound to take those top spots. (You can find Beckett’s visual guide to Topps #1s here)

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Despite an boom in card production, the 1980s would see dark times for #1 cards. Fleer and Donruss joined Topps in the baseball card market in 1981 and both companies put player base cards in their #1 spots. Fleer honored the veteran Pete Rose and Donruss led off with young shortstop Ozzie Smith, a decision that – in the context of the great work on the ’81 Donruss set by Jason in a recent post here – seems to not have been much of a decision at all, leaving their brand’s Hall of Fame leadoff man more of a coincidence than a tribute. But by 1982, all three companies had locked themselves into numbering formulas that left little room for creativity at the top. Topps went with Record Breakers or Highlights, bottoming out in the #1 game in 1983 when Tony Armas took the honors with a card commemorating him fielding 11 fly balls in a single game, breaking a five-year-old record. Donruss debuted its famed ‘Diamond Kings’ subset in 1982 and opened each set of the 1980s with it, leading to some big names at the top, but never really lining up the assignment with any big event from the prior year (only Ryne Sandberg’s #1 card in 1985 followed up on a major award win). Fleer, arranging its checklist by team, opened up each set with the previous year’s World Series winner. But with the players within each team arranged alphabetically, their #1s went to guys like Doug Blair and Keith Anderson as often as they went to stars. What’s more, Fleer goofed in 1989 and opened the set with the Oakland A’s (Don Baylor at #1), even though the Dodgers won the World Series in 1988. And just two years later, Fleer would make the same mistake,  handing the A’s a premature crown for the 1990 season by leading off with catcher Troy Afenir, who had 14 at bats the year before and hadn’t played at all in the postseason. Their habit of honoring (or at least attempting to honor) the World Champions at the open of their set was dropped after that year.

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Sportflics took a direct approach it its #1s.

The truest honorary #1 spot from the big three in the 1980s was the 1986 Topps Pete Rose. His base card – a “pure” card – was given top billing and followed by a series of career retrospective cards to commemorate his breaking of the all-time hits records in 1985. It was the first time since Willie Mays in 1965 that a player’s pure base card was given #1. 1986 also saw the debut of Sportflics, a gimmicky set, but one that took its #1 seriously. George Brett led off the set and, for the next four years, the set would always open not just with a star, but with a player sought after in the hobby. In 1988, the Major League Marketing, parent company of Sportflics, debuted the more standard Score set, which opened with Don Mattingly at #1, continuing the trend set by Sportflics and bringing it into the collecting mainstream.

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Ken Griffey Jr’s Upper Deck was a landmark card, but didn’t change how the #1 was assigned.

1989, of course, would be the year Upper Deck changed the hobby forever, in no small part to opening up their debut set with – for the first time ever in a major release – a player who has yet to make his Major League debut. This card, of course, was the iconic Ken Griffey Jr. rookie. It would become one of the hobby’s most recognizable cards and would join the Pafko as a famed #1. But oddly enough, it didn’t really change the trajectory of #1s. In fact, Upper Deck, who owed so much to that one card, didn’t even bother putting a player in the #1 spot in 1990 or 1991 – using that spot instead for checklists. The next big deal rookie to get a #1 spot from any brand was Mark Wohlers in the 1992 Donruss set. And who remembers that?

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Perhaps the classiest #1 ever made.

The heart of the junk wax era saw some interesting uses of #1. In 1990 and 1991, Donruss’s new Leaf Set – among the first line of upscale releases – didn’t even have a card #1, instead opening with unnumbered card with the Leaf logo. The 1991 Bowman set opened with a tribute to Rod Carew. Intended as a fun set for kids, Donruss’s 1992 Triple Play set opened with a card of Skydome. And to showcase the classiness of its first upscale set, Topps put Dave Stewart at the 1 slot for its debut Stadium Club set – dressed in a tuxedo and a baseball cap. There were a few true head-scratchers from this era as well, such as 1993 Donruss opening with journeyman reliever Craig Lefferts. Or Bowman giving its #1 in 1993 to Glenn Davis, who was 30 games away from the end of his career (it was actually Davis’ third straight year getting a #1, as he got the spot in 1991’s Studio set and 1992’s Fleer Ultra due being the first alphabetical player for the Baltimore Orioles, the first alphabetical American League team).

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By the mid-90s, #1s like these had pretty much gone extinct.

By the mid-1990s, nearly all major releases – save for Fleer, who clung to their team-based numbering system that gave no attention to #1 – had taken up the practice putting a base card of a star player with hobby appeal in the top spot. That trend continues today, with Topps offering an online vote to determine who gets #1 each year, and the winning players – Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna, very much fitting that mold. So it ended up not being the legacy of Andy Pafko or Ken Griffey Jr. or Diamond Kings or broken records or hot rookies that live on as #1 in our binders today, but that of Sportflics and Score, who made things no more complicated than taking a player both talented and popular and putting him at the top of stack.

For a more complete list of #1 card, you can visit the Vintage Twins blog’s “First Cards” Page.