Imagine yourself a young card collector in early 1935. Okay, fine. I’ll help you.
“What’s the point? Maybe I’ll just throw all these away…” you think to yourself as you rifle through the sack of Goudey cards you dutifully collected over the last couple years. Let’s face it, the 1935 four-in-one design just isn’t doing it for you. Compared to the cards of years past, the (often recycled) pictures are tiny, you loathe the extra work of cutting them yourself, and the puzzle backs don’t even seem to go together!
A couple friends in the neighborhood tried to get you into National Chicle Diamond Stars in 1934, but you declared yourself a Goudey loyalist, at least outwardly. The truth is you just didn’t have the spare change to start collecting multiple sets. And even if you did, why chance where that slippery slope could lead?
Still, you had to admit the cards were attractive….and the baseball tips just might help your game, which wasn’t exactly attracting the attention of Pittsburgh brass!
It was a small set too. Only 24 cards in 1934, with Lloyd Waner the only Pirate. Maybe you should have made the move from Goudey. Then again, the Diamond Stars set appears to have been a one-and-done in your part of town. You try asking the man behind the counter if the new Diamond Stars are in only to receive a blank star in return.
So yes, what’s the point of even collecting anymore? You hate the four-in-ones, but they appear to be the only game in town. Shouldn’t it be possible to follow your hometown Pirates without the need for a stack of cards at your side? Plus, you’d read their Goudey card backs so many times you pretty much had them memorized. Arky Vaughan? Bats left handed but throws right. Weighs 175 pounds. Bill Swift? “One of the main reasons why the Pirates win ball games!”
And then Blanton-mania struck. As SABR biographer Gregory Wolftells it, “Cy Blanton broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in a blaze of glory.” What kind of blaze? Think Jake deGrom. And no, I’m not talking about rookie deGrom. I’m talking about present day deGrom.
Jake deGrom (thru July 1): 14 starts, 1 CG, 85 IP, 0.95 ERA
“The hard-throwing right-hander with an array of screwballs, curves, and sinkers” (SABR Bio) became your new obsession, completely surpassing your love for Big Poison and Little Poison. When pops fished out his T206 Wagner, declaring Hans the greatest Pirate of them all, you muttered “…until Blanton” under your breath before puzzling for a moment as to why a grown man would even own a baseball card.
Plus, if baseball cards were so great, why was there no Blanton card?
The thought was interrupted by the screech of bike tires followed by banging on the front door. Was someone dying? Was the world coming to an end? Why such urgency from little Jackie who was usually quite reserved?
“Look who I got! Look who I got!”
“Wait, what?!” There really is a Blanton card? But how could that be? He didn’t even play last year, did he? [Author’s note: He did, but just one game.]
“Lemme see! Lemme see!” you demand, practically ripping the card out of Jackie’s hand to admire it. That quick, your love of cards not only returned to you but completely consumed you. You need this card more than you need air and water. If we’re being honest, you need this card more than you need your friend Jackie, am I right?
After offering your entire collection, which included all four 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards, for the Blanton, a deal Jackie refuses due to A) Blanton-mania, and B) brand loyalty, you beg, borrow, and steal from your folks until you have more money in your pocket than you’ve ever had in your entire life: nine cents.
Eight packs in, you have a mouthful of gum but little else to show for the small fortune you arrived with: Stan Hack, Billy Urbanski, Cliff Bolton, Buck Jordan, Glenn Myatt, Billy Werber, Fred Frankhouse, and an oddball card of Jimmie Foxx as a catcher! But then, like a pre-Hobbsian Roy Hobbs (movie version, not book), you come through with a monster rip in the ninth.
For reasons unknown, even later in life, your mind raced to an exciting World of Tomorrow where humans could not only propel themselves to the moon but digital currencies as well, and card collectors communicated with each other by electromagnet technology so small it could fit in their pockets. Without understanding the means or the mechanism, you imagined yourself “sharing” your pull with friends even two or three towns away, along with the rhetorical, unorthodoxly capitalized, and interrobanged phrase that would unwittingly become standard only 85 years later—
“I’ve never had a kid faint from a pack of baseball cards. You’re lucky I had my smelling salts handy.” [Author’s note: I too fainted from a pack of baseball cards. 1981 Fleer, “C” Nettles error.]
Yeah, fainting was weird, but you didn’t have time to dwell. The Blanton! Where’s the Blanton!
Grabbing it off the floor you turn it over to read the back, a feat made difficult by lingering dizziness.
Eventually, the card comes into focus.
It was official. May 29, 1935, was the best day of your entire life. No less and authority than Austen Lake, right there on the back of your Blanton card, told you to “save your best stuff for the pinches” and you did. Ninth pack, Darrell E. Blanton, ’nuff said.
Little did you know that this phenom hurler was about to surrender 16 earned runs across his next four games, more than doubling his ERA from 1.00 to 2.01. He would still finish the season with a league-topping 2.58 to go with 18 victories, but like many phenoms he would pursue the shadow of his rookie campaign unsuccessfully for the rest of his career. Even still, your Blanton hording only grew, particularly when word hit the neighborhood that he had a Goudey also! (If memory serves, you traded your dad’s prized Wagner card for it.)
When the 1940 season began sans Blanton [Author’s note: He joined the Phils in May], you looked back at your paper-clipped stacks of his rookie card, shaking your head in much the same way 1990s collectors looked back on their screw-down holders of Kevin Maas and Todd Van Poppel or modern collectors may someday view their PSA slabbed cards (if they ever ship) of Akil Baddoo and Wander Franco.
Of course the thing about baseball cards is that it may not matter what a card is worth later on. What matters most is that immediate and magical feeling of thinking you have something really special and therefore are something really special. There may be healthier and more sustainable paths to self worth, but for nine cents…this is a helluva deal!
* * * * * * * * *
In other news, happy birthday to Cy Blanton, who would be 113 today were he still around. And for the Diamond Star junkies out there, here is what may be an interesting tidbit from the back of his card.
You may already know that the Diamond Stars set was issued over three years, according to this release schedule:
The Blanton card, numbered 57 in the set, was part of the 1935 release. The above decoder ring aside, you can note his complete 1934 (International League) record at the bottom of the bio, along with a 1935 copyright date.
However, the portion of the bio I’ve highlighted in red tells us that this card would not have been out at the start of the season. I would imagine it would have been at least early May before anyone would seriously include Blanton among “the most effective pitchers in the major leagues.” Add however long it takes to print, slice, pack, and truck the cards to retailers, and I can’t imagine this card hitting the shelves before June 1935.
Was this the case with the entire 1935 issue, only the new additions (25-84), or some even smaller subset? For those who enjoy these things, I suspect there is some fun to be had in checking the backs of all the 1935—if not 1934 and 1936—Diamond Stars for clues. This is something I did earlier this year ad (hopefully not yours) nauseam with the 1933 and 1934 Goudey sets, so perhaps it’s something I’ll take on with Diamond Stars. In the meantime here is some additional reading on the set.
Here is a collecting goal virtually nobody has, whether because the club includes some ridiculously expensive cards or because it includes so many players of near zero interest to the modern fan. At the time I type these words, the club currently has 925 players plus one active player, Jackie Bradley, Jr., sitting on 99. [UPDATE: He did it!]
Of course, that’s if we’re talking about today’s collector in 2021. How would the 100 HR Club look to a collectors from days of yore?
T206 and the 100 HR Club
We’ll start in 1911, which is the final year of the famous 1909-11 America Tobacco Company “monster” known as T206. We were still firmly in the Deadball era, but the 100 HR Club already had eight members.
Interestingly, none of the players were still active during the span of the set’s release. Fortunately, the 100 HR Club collector wouldn’t strike out entirely, thanks to Hugh Duffy’s inclusion as White Sox manager in the set.
Even better, you as the reader now know the answer to a trivia question that will stump your friends: “Which of the subjects in the T206 set had the most career home runs at the time of the set’s release?”
1933 Goudey and the 100 HR Club
Time travel back to 1933, and the club becomes much more interesting. By season’s end, the club has swelled to 48 members, more than half (26) still active at the time of the set’s release.
Ignoring the fact that the set included multiple cards of certain players, let’s take a look at which 100 HR Club members a 1933 Goudey collector could attain that year.
Of the top 11 names on the list, all nine active players were present in the 1933 Goudey set. The only absences were Cy and Ken Williams, who were a few years removed from their Major League playing careers.
Making our way through slots 12-25 on the list, only five of the players were still active in 1933. Of these, four had cards in the set: Ott, Hartnett, Herman, and Terry. Chick Hafey was not only still active but an (inaugural) All-Star that year. Still, he did not appear in a Goudey set until 1934. (If you’re looking for more trivia, he and Oral Hildebrand are the only 1933 All-Stars not present in 1933 Goudey.)
The next four players on the HR list, Tillie Walker, Jimmy Ryan, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker were all retired for either 5, 10, or 20 years. However, Speaker landed a card in the Goudey set as a part owner of the American Association’s Kansas City Blues. (And of course die-hard Goudey fans could nab the Cobb from the Sport Kings set.)
Following Speaker, the next seven players in the 100 HR Club were all active in 1933. However, Don Hurst would have to wait until the 1934 set for a Goudey card.
Continuing down the list we hit a streak of old-timers (Brouthers, Meusel, Duffy, Tiernan) before landing on a run of three straight 1933 Goudey cards.
Of the final five members of the 100 HR Club, the two still active in 1933 each had cards in the set.
By the way, can I right now declare Berger’s 1933 Tattoo Orbit card a work of art?
Adding an angle I’ll develop more fully in my treatment of 1952 Topps, I’ll note that there were five Negro League players with 100+ home runs by 1933: Oscar Charleston, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, and John Beckwith. All five were still active in 1933, but none appear in the Goudey set.
1952 Topps and the 100 HR Club
By 1952 the home run was most definitely “a thing” so it’s not surprising that the 100 HR club more than doubled it ranks from 48 members less than two decades earlier to a robust 116. Here are the 27 who were still active in 1952.
Collectors with knowledge of the 1952 Topps set will recognize right away at least a couple of players who definitely were not in the set: Ted Williams and Stan Musial. The same would be true of Ralph Kiner and Charlie Keller, leaving the Topps set with 23 of the 27 players listed.
However, the 1952 Topps set also included 6 managers and 11 coaches, two of whom (sort of) were 100 HR Club members.
The more famous 100 HR Club member-coach in the set, 30th on the list with 202 home runs, was Bill Dickey of the Yankees.
Then it’s up to you if you want to count the other. Checking in at 39th on the list is Sam Chapman, with 180 home runs. Strictly speaking, he does not make the set’s checklist. However, his photograph was the source of Cincinnati coach Ben Chapman’s card. (And if the name is familiar, Ben Chapman was the manager that was a total a-hole to Jackie Robinson in 42, not to mention real life.)
For completeness, I also checked to ensure that 100 HR Club members who retired in 1950 or 1951 (e.g., Joe DiMaggio) did not somehow eke out a spot in the set, which they did not.
As I eagerly await the inclusion of Negro League records and statistics into the MLB record book, I’ll simply note that Seamheads currently shows nine players with 100+ home runs from 1920-48, the period MLB will be recognizing. I haven’t done the extra work to examine whether or not all of these home runs “will count.” That said, none of these nine players were included in the 1952 Topps set.
Nonetheless, the inclusion of Negro League records does appear to add a player. By the end of the 1952 season, Monte Irvin had 43 National League homers and (per Seamheads) 61 Negro League homers for a total of 104.
There are also two players who come very close. Luke Easter lands at 97, counting 11 Negro League roundtrippers, and Jackie Robinson lands at 96, counting 4 taters from his days as a Monarch.
1989 Upper Deck and the 100 HR Club
Though it sometimes feels wrong to type, I regard the 1989 Upper Deck set as the fourth iconic baseball card set of the 20th century, so this is where I’ll conduct my final analysis.
The 100 HR Club has now swelled to 442 (!) members, a gigantic number compared to 1952 but still less than half the club’s size today. Of this number, 56 were active in 1989. As the Upper Deck set, counting its high series, had 800 cards, I will simply assume for now that all 56 of these players were represented in the set. (Let me know in the comments if you know of any exceptions.)
Still, this would not be the whole story for the 1989 Upper Deck set. For example, Dave Winfield did not play in 1989 but nonetheless registered a card. Fittingly, the card shows him just chillin’.
“Career cappers” were also in vogue by 1989, so I also took a look at player’s who retired following the 1988 season. One such player in the set was Don Baylor, whose card back appears provides a fitting farewell to a great career.
Ditto Larry Parrish who seems to be handing over the reins to new 100 HR Club member Mark McGwire.
And finally, Ted Simmons and Bob Horner, who are each shown on the team more commonly associated with the other.
Of the four sets profiled, the 1933 Goudey set featured the largest percentage of 100 HR Club members. Officially (at the time I type this), it included 25 of 48 100 HR clubbers, or 52%. Including Negro League records (though my data may not ultimately match what MLB recognizes), the numbers change to 25 out of 53, or 47%.
Naturally, the question crossed my mind whether this figure–either one–represented a pinnacle across all sets. In a very boring way the answer is no, since a cabinet set from 1890 included a Harry Stovey when he was the sole member of the club. As such, that set included 100% of all 100 HR Club members. To allow for more interesting answers I’ll re-ask the question but use the “Modern Era” as a qualifier. I’ll also restrict the sets in question to ones mainly featuring active players as opposed to all-time greats tribute sets.
Either way, for the moment I do not know the answer but expect it will still be circa 1933, probably a tad earlier. (The 1931 W517 set is a strong candidate.)
Forgetting about baseball cards at the moment and not yet incorporating Negro League data, it’s easy using Stathead to look at the percentage of active 100 HR Club members over time. I’ve done this from 1900 to 2020, in 10 year increments and the results seem to confirm 1930 or so as when the greatest percentage of 100 HR Club members were active.
One thing clear from the data is the percentage of active 100 HR clubbers is only trending downward at this point. Were I to compute the data year by year rather than in ten year increments, we might see the occasional upward blip, but what’s certain is the days of a new release capturing anywhere near 50% of baseball’s “elite” 100 HR club are completely behind us. At this point, even 5% may live entirely in Baseball’s rear-view mirror.
Trading Card Database for checklists and card images
I have a few cards, some that are worth slightly more than the cardboard they’re printed on, and many more that hold a good deal of sentimental value to me and nobody else. But in the context of the readers of this blog, I don’t merit the use of the term. I’ve never completed a set, never paid more than pocket money for a card, never gone to any remarkable lengths to acquire anything rare, or valuable, or particularly noteworthy. I still have all the cards I amassed as a kid, and I buy new hanger packs when I see them, and on the rare occasion that a wax pack drifts into my field of vision, I snap it up. I’ve made a habit of buying packs for my kids, and we make a little ceremony of opening them together. On Opening Day, or the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting, I sneak packs into their school lunches, and they come home and tell me what players they found inside.
But I haven’t done any of those things I identify as serious collector behavior. I’ve bought maybe a half-dozen cards on eBay, for example, and I haven’t attended a show since I was about fourteen years old. I’ll never own a Mantle, Ruth, Mays, Clemente, or Aaron.
Baseball cards are, for me, not an investment, and not an abiding obsession, but something adjacent to baseball that I love for that proximity. They remind me of the game. Their look, and feel, and smell are memory triggers, and for that reason I treasure them.
And yet, with all that said, I recently bought a 1934 Frank O’Rourke card. It’s No. 43 in the Canadian-printed World Wide Gum Co. series, which reused the 1933 Goudey design, updating the salient facts for 1934, and repeating the biographical info on the back in French. In keeping with my longstanding tightfisted ethos, I paid more in shipping than I did for the card itself. It’s ungraded, with soft, smushed corners where crisp, sharp edges should be. There are minor creases. This card is anything but pristine.
Frank O’Rourke was a nobody. Well, that’s not quite fair. He’s in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, after all. Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1891, he was an infielder who eked out fourteen seasons of big-league ball for Boston’s NL club, the Robins, Senators, Red Sox, Tigers, and Browns. By the time his portrait was rendered for the ’33 Goudey set he’d seen his last major league action, hanging on with the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers. The ’34 card that I now own dates to his single season with the Montreal Royals of the IL. He dropped down a few rungs to the Piedmont League in ’35, then held on for four seasons as a player-manager for the El Dorado (AR) Lions of the class ‘C’ Cotton States League. He later managed one more year in the Gulf Coast League, and in retirement he served as a scout for the Yankees.
As a big-league player, O’Rourke managed a career bWAR of -2.0 and amassed a .254/.315/.333 slash line, and a .947 combined fielding percentage at third, short, and second (with a handful of games at first, and a couple patrolling the grass). As a minor-league manager he piled up a lifetime record of 551-580 across four levels of pro ball. Add all of that up and you get a slightly below-average baseball long-hauler, which is not to say there was nothing quietly heroic about Frank O’Rourke; longevity requires its own superpowers.
But unlike some of its in-set brethren, selling this card wouldn’t allow me to pay off the mortgage, or retire to somewhere hot, sandy, and tax-free. Instead, my appreciation for this card is twofold: the first is purely and unapologetically aesthetic; the second is its implicit historical value.
The Goudey cards are notoriously easy on the eyes, rendered with a stab at artistry that’s not generally present in modern cards. Holding a Goudey next to a 2021 Topps card makes for a stark contrast. The latter assaults with hyper-sharp photography and whizbang graphics that are intended, I can only guess, to suggest futurity, and motion, and, I don’t know, the internet? The Goudeys are Renaissance paintings on discrete panels of olive wood meant to be inlaid in elaborate polyptychs framing alters in out-of-the-way country churches, reverent celebrations of the beauty and purity of God’s favorite game. The backgrounds are solid fields of color—green in O’Rourke’s case, but elsewhere blue (as in Gehrig), yellow (Jimmie Foxx), red (Dazzy Vance). All the better to focus on the player. O’Rourke’s depicted from the chest up, like a Roman bust, in classic baseball togs: a white (or off-white) cap, logo-free, and a matching jersey with sun collar and orange-brown soutache piping. The pose is adapted from a photo of him in a St. Louis Browns uniform, from 1931 at the latest, that the Goudey (or World Wide Gum) people didn’t bother to retouch, though they were clear to indicate that he was, by 1934, a member of the Montreal Royals and thus in the habit of donning a blue-trimmed uniform.
The portrait is so classically, absurdly, tragically handsome that if you hold it up to your ear it sings Protestant hymns interspersed with staticky ’30s radio calls of games won with moxie and heart. Even if you aren’t up to speed on his biography, the portrait makes clear that this is a baseball lifer, a man rolled in chalk and infield dirt and baked beneath a thousand midday suns.
Since I first gazed on O’Rourke’s cardboard face I’ve gone looking for baseball card corollaries, but I came up short until I widened my scope, and then I found Piero della Francesca’s portrait of an Augustinian friar (possibly St. Leonard). Consider the similarities: the subtle intimations of age around the eyes and mouth, the weariness, and yet the slight bemusement, the wry off-center stare. Neither the friar nor Frank are too jaded to enjoy a good joke. Though separated by half a millennium, you get the sense they’d find some common ground. But beneath it all there’s something unmistakably ecclesiastical about both men’s depictions, the not-quite-visible result of a lifetime’s devotion to their respective callings. It’s behind the eyes, I think, or maybe just below the skin. Wherever it is, Piero managed to capture it, as did Elmer E. Crowell, the man responsible for O’Rourke’s likeness.
The second half of my appreciation for this card has to do with its age: almost ninety years have passed since it was printed. I haven’t handled enough really old cards for the wonder of that to have diminished. Eighty-six years ago someone—a child, a nostalgic adult—bought a pack of gum and out tumbled this card.
The US domestic GDP was in recovery after the New Deal slammed the brakes on negative growth and pumped cash into the economy. Hitler was chancellor of Germany, already in the process of consolidating his power and assuming the title of Führer. The first camps opened. The Prime Minister of Canada was RB Bennett, a safety match magnate who bungled the response to the Depression but had the foresight to establish the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In China, where my grandfather was a brakeman on a streetcar in Shanghai, tensions with Japan were ratcheting up in the wake of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the uneasy resolution to the “January 28th Incident.” The globe, inexorably, marched toward war.
In the Bronx, Ruth was in his last season as a Yankee, and Gehrig, five years from retiring in the face of the rapid advance of his illness, was assuming outright leadership of the team. The Gashouse Gang took the Tigers in seven games in that fall’s Series. Detroit’s Mickey Cochrane was voted the AL’s best player, and in Commerce, Oklahoma, zinc miner Mutt Mantle’s kid, named for Cochrane, turned three years old.
Frank O’Rourke was not directly connected to any of this as he toiled away in Montreal, and his card—a 2-3/8″ by 2-7/8″ piece of thick paper—has nothing whatsoever to do with those events. It was not present for any of them; it was not in all likelihood possessed or handled by any of the players in the aforementioned dramas. But it is for me touched by a temporal proximity, sprinkled with a residue which, though slight, constitutes enough of a reason for me to own it.
If a Ruth Goudey—or a Sweet Caporal Wagner, or a ’52 Topps Mantle—is the seventh game of the World Series, then my Frank O’Rourke World Wide Gum is a non-consequential Thursday afternoon getaway game played before an announced crowd of twelve thousand. And while I love the screw-tightening intensity of a big game, what I treasure most about baseball is the sweet everydayness of it, the companionship of the radio announcer’s familiar voice for six months, the long, comforting trough of a regular season. And for all the superstars, the game’s lifeblood is its rank and file, guys like O’Rourke, doing the yeoman work of showing up every single day and taking his cuts, scooping up ground balls, and making throws across the diamond from whichever position he’s assigned.
In that way, this O’Rourke card is perfectly emblematic both of Frank’s life and career, and most of ours. I won’t be in any literal or figurative Hall of Fame, and chances are neither will you. That’s okay. Something as beautiful as this Frank O’Rourke card exists to quietly and stubbornly insist that regardless of that, there’s still a hell of a lot of dignity inherent in our efforts, and the legacies thereof.
Editor’s note: Andrew’s newest book is now availablefor pre-order.If you can judge a book by it’s cover, this one will not disappoint!
A decade of tumult, the 1930s saw the United States, and the world, in flux. Numerous European economies continued their struggle to survive in the wake of the Great War—a struggle that finally reached America’s shores in October 1929, as the Wall Street Crash heralded the Great Depression. The map of the world, itself, was in flux, as newly minted despots gobbled up sovereign states to add to their burgeoning empires, while their demagoguery inspired millions to visit the darkest depths of the human soul.
In short, there was little in the 1930s on which to depend. Even names were in flux.
Warren Ogden, a descendant of Ogdens who had crossed the Atlantic with William Penn and whose surname became the eponym of the Pennsylvania town in which Warren was born, pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators in the mid-1920s. (Warren’s older brother, Jack, also pitched in the majors, though his yo-yo career up and down from the bushes spanned 1918 to 1932.) Not much of an asset to Connie Mack, Warren was put on waivers in May 1924, eventually being picked up by Washington. His 9-5 record and excellent 2.58 ERA over the remainder of the season helped Washington clinch its first pennant. A surprise starter in Game 7 of the World Series, Ogden struck out leadoff hitter Freddie Lindstrom, walked Frankie Frisch, and then was pulled for southpaw George Mogridge, in a successful ploy by manager Bucky Harris to lure John McGraw into altering his batting order to the right-handed Ogden. (Washington won in the bottom of the 12th inning to claim its only World Series championship.) Ogden remained with the Senators through July 1926, his major league record set at 18-19.
But we’re talking about the tumultuous, undependable 1930s, aren’t we? So, why bring up Warren Ogden, whose major league career ended well before that decade arrived? Because Goudey, well known for including minor leaguers in its 1933 set, did just that: Card No. 174 shows Warren as a Montréal Royal. (Ditto for big-brother Jack [“John”] Ogden, whose major league career ended in 1932 but received a card as a Baltimore Oriole in 1933. On a weird side note, the only other vintage card on which either brother apparently appeared, the 1928 W461 Exhibit, is a card of John yet shows a several-year-old photo of Warren, in his Senators uniform.)
As you can see, Goudey parenthetically included Warren’s nickname, “Curley.” However, the common spelling of said nickname has always been “Curly.” In fact, his name is sans “e” in virtually all resources, including Baseball Reference, SABR, Baseball Almanac, and MLB.com.
One might be inclined to think this was a Goudey thing—after all, the company wasn’t spelled Goudy.
However, as stated above, such inconsistency seems to have been symptomatic of the chaotic 1930s, where it clearly plagued the Three Stooges as well.
Yet whereas Columbia Pictures seems to have permanently abandoned the “e” by late in the decade, the sheer paucity of vintage Warren Ogden cards allowed this oversight to go unaddressed until 1975—long after Warren Ogden’s death—when TCMA’s team set honoring the 1924-1925 Senators finally conformed the spelling of his nickname to standard.
Every baseball player thrills to seeing himself on a baseball card for the first time, so God only knows how many times over the years his 1933 Goudey caused Ogden to wipe his hands vertically across his face in Curly Howard–like exasperation or maniacally spin himself 360° while lying on the floor knowing that he’d likely take “Curley” to the grave.
Alas, like his more famous namesake, Curly Ogden was a victim of soycumstance.
I expect fellow author-collector Dylan has really started something with his post on the subject a couple weeks back. The topic is one just begging for the pen of each of our members, even as the idea of choosing “just four?!” often feels impossible.
1934-36 Diamond stars
I’ll lead off with a set that Dylan included on his Mt. Rushmore, the “Diamond Stars” issued by National Chicle from 1934-36. Like Dylan, it’s the look of the cards that hooks me in.
The color palette jumps off the cardboard like ink off a comic book page, but I am also a big fan of the baseball scenes depicted in so many of the card backgrounds. I’ve already written about these scenes coming more from the imaginations of the artists than real life, but for me that’s a feature, not a bug.
From a purely visual standpoint, Diamond Stars is my favorite set of the 1930s and perhaps my favorite set of all-time. Where it falls short with many collectors is in its player selection. Conspicuously absent from the set are Yankee greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. For the budget set collector, this is yet another bug-turned-feature.
If you’ve read a few of my pieces already, you also know I enjoy sets with some novelty and mystery. Diamond Stars definitely fits the bill, not only for its various quirks but also offers early instances (though by no means the earliest) of “Traded” cards.
If I had to choose one thing I dislike about this set, it’s the repetition of 12 players at the end of the set’s 108-card checklist. Particularly as these final cards are more scarce than the first 96, the duplication introduces disproportionate pain for set collectors forced to pay a premium for cards they already have.
Here is another set I’ve written about quite a bit and the set under whose shadow all other sets of the era reside.
While the set’s iconic status goes hand in hand with its trademark “Big League Chewing Gum” banner along so many of the card bottoms, my favorite cards come from the set’s final three releases (e.g., Morrissey, Root, and Herman above).
Where Diamond Stars lacked Ruth and Gehrig, Goudey brought these players on steroids, combining for six cards across the set’s 240-card checklist. Counting the Napoleon Lajoie card issued the following year, the set includes 66 cards of Hall of Famers and all but two players who competed in the season’s inaugural All-Star Game.
Were I to find fault with this set, it would be in a flaw common to all other baseball sets issued in the United States around this time. The set included players from the National League, American League, Pacific Coast League, International League, Southern Association, and American Association but no players from the Negro National League or other Black baseball leagues.
Kudos to my bud Scott Hodges who is filling some big holes in the 1933 Goudey set and others with his own digital card creations.
I’ve attempted similar in analog fashion though I’ve been less faithful to the history. Here is Buck Leonard on the Grays a year before he joined the team.
I will definitely treat the absence of Black stars as a bug, not a feature, but if there’s a silver lining it’s that there is no chance I could afford a 1933 Goudey Josh Gibson, and its absence from my collection would absolutely torment me daily.
1911 T205 Gold Borders
Like Dylan I had to include a tobacco set on my list. The T206 set, which initially did little for me, has grown on me immensely over the past couple years. Still, it would have to gain a lot more ground to surpass its gilded sequel.
The set features three different designs: one for National Leaguers, one for American Leaguers, and one for Minor Leaguers.
I absolutely love the NL and Minor League designs and am somewhat ho hum about the AL one, so I’m fortunate to be a Brooklyn collector.
As brilliant as the card fronts are, the T205 card backs are not to be ignored. While some feature brief biographies and one of several tobacco brands, others include…stats!
As with the two sets covered thus far, you will not find a single Black player in this set. You might suppose no card set from 1911 included Black athletes, but this was not the case. For example, here is Jack Johnson from the 1911 Turkey Red Cabinets (mostly baseball) set.
Once again then there is the knowledge in collecting T205 that you’re not collecting the very best players of the era. But again, did I mention I was a Brooklyn collector?!
Here’s where it always gets tough. I probably have ten or more sets I’m considering, but the rules are that I can only choose one. Though I love the cardboard of the 1930s (and earlier!) so much, my favorite era of baseball is the early 1950s. Though integration was slow, it was at least happening, and the mix of new talent and old talent was simply off the charts.
That said, the number of baseball card sets that managed to include all the top stars of the period was practically zero. Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Jackie Robinson in the same (playing era) set? Your choices are already fairly limited:
1947 Bond Bread
1948 Blue Tint
1950 All-Star Pinups
1950 R423 Strip Cards
1952 Berk Ross
Add Stan Musial and Bob Feller and the list shrinks further:
1947 Bond Bread
1950 R423 Strip Cards
1952 Berk Ross
Add Mantle and Mays and the list boils down to one: 1952 Berk Ross.
With a selection of players that also includes Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Duke Snider, Monte Irvin, and an awesome Johnny Mize “in action” card, could this set be the winner?
As much as I love the checklist, the answer has to be no. Most of the images are too dark, too light, or too weird for my taste, and the simple design borders on the boring. Still, what could have been!
The key then is to find a set with beautiful cards and almost all these same players, and–if we add a few more years–Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Ernie Banks.
As much as it pains me to give up Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial, it’s hard for me not to land on 1956 Topps. The beautiful portraits, the Kreindleresque action shots, and the awesome cartoon backs offer my favorite overall design of the Golden Age of Baseball, and the absence of Bowman meant nearly every active star was included in the set.
Unlike 1952 Berk Ross, with only 72 cards, 1956 Topps included 342 cards (counting un-numbered checklists), hence was large enough to assign a card to nearly everyone, not just a couple stars per team.
If I have any bitterness toward this set, it’s only the sour grapes of waiting way too long to collect it. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that sometimes to collect your Rushmore you need to…rush more! Luckily, I do have all 24 Brooklyn cards from the set, and hey, did I mention I’m a Brooklyn collector?
How about you? Which vintage (or modern!) sets make your Mt Rushmore? We look forward to your article!
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.
No ages or other in-season clues. This could be a very short article!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2636 or whatever.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Here are the sheet averages when restricted to the bottom twelve cards per sheet. There is virtually no change to the data.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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, 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 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.
None of the 24 players on Sheet 9 changed teams during the season, so there are no clues as to chronology.
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
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.