I enjoy picking apart unexplained details of vintage sets to see where that journey leads. This article puts 1935’s Big League Gum baseball set, often shortened to “1935 Goudey,” under a microscope with similar aims. It looks at what’s in the set, obsesses over missing details, and considers how it fits into an important decade for baseball and our hobby.
1935 Goudey Big League Gum (Ruth at upper-left)
This set exists thanks to work by two seminal companies from Boston, Goudey Gum and National Chicle. The former ran parallel US and Canadian operations that reflected its founder’s Nova Scotia heritage. Chicle itself emerged from 1933’s trading cards explosion and lasted just long enough to give Goudey real competition. Much of what that era faced echoes in today’s hobby, including a gambling mindset among potential buyers and baseball’s push to raise fan interest during hard financial times.
Goudey Gum’s Hollywood beginnings
Our 1920s produced, for the most part, small trading cards sets with low print quality. “Bubblegum cards” didn’t exist yet because our Federal Trade Commission blocked marketing gimmicks like packing cards with candy as anti-competitive (and thus illegal). Many lawmakers believed that selling penny gum with unknown contents would start kids down the road to compulsive gambling and objected to its use, with success, on moral grounds.
Sports like baseball also shut down for several months at a time and those lengthy off-seasons made it challenging to sell product tie-ins on a consistent basis. That led Goudey to Hollywood as something more predictable. Their first set appears to be western movie postcards linked to the popular brand Oh Boy Gum.
1929 Oh Boy Gum movie cards (cataloged E282)
This made their first “sports card” a candid of western movie star Tom Mix working out with his friend (and boxing champ) Jack Dempsey. The text variation that lacks Goudey’s name implies they integrated an existing Mix/Dempsey card into this larger Oh Boy Gum set.
Goudey’s next set told “the story of chewing gum” and trumpeted their production process during 1930 sponsorship of a kid’s radio show, Big Brother’s Radio Rascals.
1930 Goudey “Story of Chewing Gum” (uncataloged)
I bet kids obtained Rainbow cards from local stores or by mail-in request to its home station, WEEI. Every Goudey marketing effort from this era pushed hard against the perception that penny gum meant “low quality.”
In January 1933, a majority decision in R.F. Keppel Brothers vs. FTC overturned the ban that applied to bubblegum cards as marketing gimmicks and freed companies to sell them. Goudey was ready for that change of fortune and launched Indian Gum in February, followed by the debut of Big League Gum cards around Opening Day.
DeLong’s 1933 Play Ball Gum set, not to be confused with Gum, Inc.’s 1939-41 sets, stopped at one series of 24 players. We might attribute its modern scarcity to one of baseball’s first agents, Christy Walsh, and the need to pay his clients or face legal trouble. See SABR’s Death and Taxes and Baseball Card Litigation series for several tales of legal wrangling over player images. (Jimmie Foxx’s 1941 case happened to go up against Harold DeLong’s next company, who produced the Double Play set.)
Sports promoter Christy Walsh (center) negotiated endorsements for Gehrig (left), Ruth (right), and several other MLB stars around this time. I suspect he turned 1933’s card boom into higher endorsement fees for each player in 1934, forcing companies to choose who they could afford.
New Yorker writer Louis Menand cited Lou’s new wife Eleanor as working with Walsh to create a pitchman persona for her husband. Goudey bet on Lou alone for 1934, linking this Big League Gum card set and their Knot Hole League customer loyalty club to his smiling mug. Walsh, always the promoter, even worked his own name onto each card with a “by arrangement with Christy Walsh” byline.
Sometime in 1933, a group of Goudey executives led by Alvin Livingstone left the company to start crosstown rival National Chicle. I think much of its creative talent followed them, based on how good their Art Deco Diamond Stars Gum (left) and die-cut Batter-Up Gum (right) sets looked in 1934.
Whether you blame competition or changing consumer tastes, later court filings show Goudey’s baseball card business suffered after 1933, dropping by 50% in 1934 and another 50% the year after, even as gum itself continued to sell well.
Goudey’s dropping card revenue and the exit of key staff to competitors reflects America’s wider business landscape for fans and collectors.
Depression impacts on Goudey and baseball
The mid-1930s proved a tough time for our pastime itself. America’s depression squeezed every entertainment dollar and attendance slacked to under 5,000 per game by 1933. Team owners threw new stuff at the wall each year to see what stuck and we can thank this era for, among other things…
1935 wrappers evoke Babe Ruth, now in his final season, and I suspect they added a date because 1934 Big League Gum’s entire first series reused images from 1933 and left a poor taste in buyer’s mouths. (“This time it’s different,” implied Goudey, before reusing many player pictures once again.)
1932 Sanella Margarine, one of many cards with this swinging pose
Goudey’s set of 36 cards and three loose ends
1935 Big League Gum put four players on each card and its selection bridged eras, from Babe Ruth to rookie phenom Cy Blanton, who led the NL in shutouts and garnered his own 2021 SABR card profile.
Collectors used the literal flip side to build six-card puzzles for individual stars like Mickey Cochrane…
…and twelve cards each for three team photos (Tigers, Indians, Senators).
Big League Gum’s 36 arrangements of four players each should equal 144, except they printed six twice (Bottomley, Brandt, Cochrane, Comorosky, Kamm, and Mancuso), for 138 different faces.
1935 Goudey Big League Gum’s two Mickey Cochrane fronts
Other hobby writers already addressed some of 1935’s puzzles and peccadilloes. I know of three more loose ends that might connect with a single thread.
First loose end: Player selection left out many big names. Even if you accept choosing between Ruth or Gehrig as your biggest star, where’s Yankees Ace Lefty Gomez? He appears on a Goudey 1935 photo premium, yet none of their Big League Gum cards.
1935 Goudey Big League Gum premium (R309-2)
Many big names went missing, like New York ace Carl Hubbell and St. Louis stars Joe Medwick, Ripper Collins, and Daffy Dean. Future HOFers Gabby Hartnett and Billy Herman led the Cubs to an NL pennant in 1935, so were also missed by Chicago fans.
At least one prominent 1935 rookie (Cy Blanton) appeared in Big League Gum, so I mocked up a card for three that didn’t, Phil Cavarretta, Rip Radcliff, and Lew Riggs. Frenchy Bordagaray gets in on the strength of his facial hair alone. Goudey’s many omissions loom large over such a small set. And speaking of things left out…
Second loose end: Goudey’s name and Big League Gum appear nowhere on the card itself. This represents a big change to their earlier, text-heavy sets. Compare 1934 bios (left) to 1935 puzzle pieces (right).
You might already know Goudey licensed portions of 1933 and 1934 Big League Gum sets to their Quebec partner, World Wide Gum, for Canadian printing and distribution. Each of those cards proclaimed its Montreal origins, just as American sets came from Boston. (I wrote more about these cross-border sets in 2019.)
1934 Big League Gum card backs, Canada (left) and USA (right)
So why leave out all this info for 1935 cards? I think the reason Goudey omitted it will sound outlandish, yet serves their goal of making money during a tough financial era. They wanted to hide the set’s country of origin and sell to fans on each side of our northern border without paying import costs.
1934-36 National Chicle Batter-Up Gum (blank back)
If this seems like a reach, remember that National Chicle published two sets in 1934 and one of them, Batter-Up Gum, also lacked attribution. Did Goudey follow their competition’s lead selling these cards in multiple countries?
American Prohibition, an era rife with border smuggling, ended in late 1933 and some no doubt continued moving other goods by land, boat, or air across our Great Lakes. MLB towns Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland all offer land or waterway routes to Canada, as do International League baseball cities Toronto and Buffalo. Obscuring a set’s origin would enable Goudey or National Chicle to print cards wherever proved cheapest and evade import costs at their eventual point of sale. (Canada’s higher dependence on exports could also be why this made sense.)
Big League Gum wrappers, 1934 Goudey (left) and
undated World Wide Gum (right)
While there are no World Wide Gum wrappers dated as 1935, this design echoes Goudey’s 1934 look without specifying a year, so could be from later. Did they wrap them around 1935 Big League Gum cards up north?
1936 Big League Gum (cataloged R322) also omits company name and country of origin, so perhaps Goudey succeeded in cutting costs and decided to keep their scheme running for another year.
To add more spice to our soup, recall that O-Pee-Chee released their debut Canadian baseball set in spring 1937, just as National Chicle declared bankruptcy.
1937 O-Pee-Chee baseball (cataloged V300)
These cards use die-cut folds along each player profile, making them close cousins to 1934-36 Batter-Up Gum. Perhaps OPC printed it first for National Chicle and then sold the set themselves when their American partner folded.
Believing that cross-border smuggling could be done differs from proving it happened. Each company would work to hide contemporary evidence of their trickiness, let alone leave a trail to follow 90 years later. These card and wrapper designs allow for intriguing monkey business, if Goudey and National Chicle wanted to reduce costs with clandestine assistance from Canadian partners.
Would you believe another mystery remains for 1935 Big League Gum?
Third loose end: These six cards, and these six alone, come with blue borders, while the remaining 30 feature red borders.
1935 Goudey Big League Gum blue border cards (uncut panel)
Advanced collectors might remember Goudey printed a second baseball-related set in 1935, tied to their Knot Hole League collector club you saw earlier. Candy stores who stocked Big League Gum boxes received a stack of these flip game cards featuring 1934’s World Series opponents (St. Louis & Detroit) with instructions to share them with buyers of Big League Gum. Fronts show game rules below a scoreboard and backs introduced the game situations also seen on black-and-white 1936 cards.
1935 Goudey Knot Hole League (front and back)
Despite its promised “series of 100,” this set stopped at #24, equal to one 4×6 print sheet of cards. Having two groups of 1935 cards with a shared border color recalls a situation two years earlier, as one series of Indian Gum used blue name banners about when Goudey’s Boston facility also produced the first sheet of their pirate-themed Sea Raider Gum.
Hobby legend says these series shared ink across two sheets. (See PSA’s set profile for details.) If Goudey printed this way again in 1935, then the existence of blue-bordered Knot Hole League could explain how six Big League Gum cards ended up the same way: it was more efficient to share colors across similar work.
If that scenario fails to convince you, how about printing cards with regional appeal? Master set collectors will know those six blue fronts come with three back puzzle variations, all of future Hall of Fame players from Great Lakes cities Chicago and Detroit. (As before, complete player puzzles require six fronts and I show uncut versions for image clarity.)
Puzzle 2, Chuck Klein, 1933 NL triple crown winner who joined the Cubs in 1934.
Puzzle 4, Mickey “Black Mike” Cochrane, traded to Detroit after 1933.
Puzzle 7, Al “Bucketfoot” Simmons, sold to the White Sox after 1932.
Perhaps Goudey produced blue Big League Gum cards with Chicago and Detroit in mind, knowing these three stars held extra appeal. Specific border color would make it easy to target their distribution.
A third scenario for these borders recalls that Goudey printed 30 different red border cards with four players each, 120 total, half the size of 1933 Big League Gum. An equal number of blue cards, another 120, would give us 240 players. If they intended to make an equal quantity of each, this implies a halt to production soon after changing ink colors.
That gives us three scenarios for 1935 Big League Gum blue borders, based on what we see today.
Efficient printing alongside Knot Hole League
Great Lakes “subset” of Chicago and Detroit star puzzles
Printing stopped before Goudey reached their planned 30 blue borders
That last option makes the most sense in retrospect. Goudey shortened sets from other years when cards stopped selling and 1935’s falling baseball revenue shows that happening.
This scuttling of additional series also answers our question about missing players, since a full complement of 30 blue border cards would add many more names to its checklist. Multiple scenarios might work together. For example, an attempt to promote stars in Chicago and Detroit could fail to meet Goudey sales expectations, so they stopped spending money on that year’s set.
Summary of what we covered
Just a few years after kids could start buying cards and gum together, these intriguing baseball sets omitted basic info about their origins during an era when people with flexible morals could profit from hiding that kind of information. One of them, 1935 Big League Gum, took the mystery further with a subset of blue borders in search of explanation. I proposed a handful of explanations, some worthy of being in a police report for smuggling to either side of America’s northern border.
Baseball sets from our past can seem prosaic now, as if printed in similar circumstances to today’s more predictable hobby. I think Goudey and National Chicle, like many Great Depression businesses, stood willing to try almost anything to stay afloat, even dodging government regulations when it helped them keep money coming in. Perhaps 1930s card creators were their company’s edgy marketers who ran hot and fizzled out fast. However things worked behind the scenes, they left intriguing puzzles to work out a century later.
Author’s note: The most detailed analysis I’ve seen on this set comes from the December 1995 edition of “The Vintage and Classic Baseball Collector” magazine, with a corresponding web version here. If you only have time for one article, I encourage you to stop reading mine and head straight to that one.
A package last year from SABR president Mark Armour sparked my interest in a set I’d previously ignored, both as a writer and a collector, even though it’s the logical sequel to two sets I’ve written about extensively.
Having recently added two of the three Dodger cards in the 1935 Goudey 4-in-1 set, I’m now feeling qualified, if not compelled, to do a deep dive. This first article will examine the basic structure of the set and highlight 11 players who have a special status on its checklist.
THE BASIC SET
The 1935 Goudey 4-in-1 (R321) set consists of 36 different unnumbered cards (ignoring back variations), some red bordered and some blue, each consisting of 4 players who are often but not always teammates.
In what I imagine was a disappointment for at least some collectors, many of the set’s images were recycled from previous Goudey issues. For example, here are the 1933 cards of Tommy Bridges and Bob O’Farrell, easily matched to their 1935 cardboard above.
In fact, most of the 1934 Goudey cards borrow all four of their images from the 1933 and 1934 sets, allowing collectors to “round the bases!”
THE MASTER SET
Adding a twist to the set is the presence of 2, 3, or 4 different backs for each of the cards in the set. For example, the Piet-Comorosky-Bottomley-Adams card below comes with four back variations, labeled by Goudey as Picture 1 card H, Picture 3 card F, Picture 4 Card F, and Picture 5 card F. (Following the VCBC article referenced earlier, I’ll use the notation 1H, 3F, 4F, and 5F from here on.)
The various card backs across the set combine to form nine puzzles in all, each with 6 or 12 pieces. Here is the Joe Cronin puzzle, also known as “Picture 5,” built from backs 5A-5F.
The full list of puzzles (pictures) is as follows. All use six pieces unless otherwise noted.
Picture 1 – Detroit Tigers (12 pieces)
Picture 2 – Chuck Klein
Picture 3 – Frankie Frisch
Picture 4 – Mickey Cochrane
Picture 5 – Joe Cronin
Picture 6 – Jimmie Foxx
Picture 7 – Al Simmons
Picture 8 – Cleveland Indians (12 pieces)
Picture 9 – Washington Senators (12 pieces)
Were one to attempt a master set, there would be 114 different cards in all. The number is a bit oddball but is the result of varying numbers of backs per card, specifically:
12 cards with two backs each = 24
6 cards with 3 backs each = 18
18 cards with 4 backs each = 72
Among the various sources available, my “go to” for the configuration of the 1935 Goudey master set (i.e., all possible front/back combinations) is Table 1 of the November 1995 VCBC article. Just note that the “Card Fronts” section of the table includes one typo (the 1J back listed for Bill Terry should be 1K), and the “Puzzle Backs” section of the table includes numerous errors.
THE SIX PANELS
Again following the naming conventions of the VCBC article, I’ll now introduce the six panels that make up the set. You can think of a panel as a group of cards whose backs generate the same set of puzzles.
The six cards in this panel correspond to six-card puzzles 3, 4, and 5 as well as the right half of 12-card puzzle 1. (That is, each of the cards shown comes with four different backs, one for each of the puzzles just named.) Interestingly, each of the six cards features a single National League team. Star power is significant, highlighted by Babe Ruth on his brand new team, the Boston Braves.
Artwork for all 24 players comes from previous Goudey sets.
The six cards in this panel correspond to six-card puzzles 2, 6, and 7 as well as the left half of 12-card puzzle 1. Five of the six cards feature American League teams, with the Cardinals being the lone National League team.
Again all artwork is from previous Goudey sets.
Panel III (blue borders)
The six cards in this panel, the only one with blue borders, correspond to six-card puzzles 2, 4, and 7. Where cards from panels I and II featured only one team each, we now see three cards that include multiple teams. Note for example Glenn Wright (White Sox) on a card with three Pirates on the second card shown.
You’d be smart to wonder if Wright’s inclusion on the Pirates card is the result of a late-breaking team change. For example, had he been a Pirate during the set’s planning stages, only to have an astute Goudey editor update his team the instant a deal went down? Well, Wright did in fact play for the Pirates, but it was from 1924-1928! 😊
Still, before we accuse (or credit!) Goudey with being completely random here, it’s worth noting that many of the photos from its 1933 set were taken years earlier. Therefore, the original photo used for Wright’s card may well have come from their Pirates stash.
On the other hand, such an explanation would not extend to the next card shown, which features Charlie Berry (Athletics), Bobby Burke (Senators), Red Kress (Senators), and Dazzy Vance (Dodgers). In this case, there is no single team for which the full quartet played.
Of added interest are two panel III players who also appear on panel I, though background colors differ: Gus Mancuso (Giants, shown below) and Ed Brandt (Braves).
I can almost hear the conversation now of young card swappers back in the day:
“Anyone have the blue Mancuso?”
“You mean blue borders and red background?”
“No! That’s the red Mancuso. I mean red borders and blue background!”
Backgrounds and very minor retouches aside, however, all artwork is again recycled from earlier Goudey sets. Stay tuned, however. This is about to change.
The six cards in this panel correspond to six-card puzzles 3, 5, and 6 as well as the right half of 12-card puzzle 1. Four of the cards are dedicated to single teams (Browns, Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies) while two feature multiple teams.
Again, we have duplicated players, this time in the form of four players we previously saw on panel I or II. Conveniently enough they appear right next to each other at the end of the bottom row: Comorosky, Bottomley, Kamm, and Cochrane.
Of particular note is the player in the bottom left position of the Phillies card: Clarence “Bubber” Jonnard, the first new player we’ve encountered thus far.
Jonnard, a coach with the Phillies in 1935 (whose later accomplishments included managing the Minneapolis Millerettes of the AAGPBL and signing Mets Ed Kranepool and Ken Singleton), literally played in one game all season, had one at-bat, and struck out in a blowout loss…a good six years after his previous major league plate appearance. Nonetheless someone at Goudey must have really wanted Bubber in the set. Not only did they find a spot for him on the checklist but they even sprung for art!
The six cards in this panel correspond to the right halves of 12-card puzzles 8 and 9. All six cards are dedicated to single teams (5 AL, 1 NL), and no players appear on any other cards.
One player you might recognize from a previous Diamond Stars article is rookie Cy Blanton (bottom row), who got off to a blazing hot, Fernandomania-like start in 1935. I doubt anyone would have been working on his card before the season started, but it wouldn’t have taken many starts before someone at Goudey decided to add Blanton to the set.
Both Blanton and his cardboard neighbor Tom Padden required new artwork. Ditto for Tigers ace Schoolboy Rowe (bottom right corner of first card).
The six cards in this panel correspond to the left halves of 12-card puzzles 8 and 9. Five of the cards are dedicated to single teams (3 AL, 2 NL), and one card includes a mix of Giants and Dodgers. Each of the 24 players makes his only appearance of the set on this panel.
Here is where we see the bulk of the set’s new artwork: Rollie Hemsley of the Browns, all four Reds (Gilly Campbell, Bill Myers, Ival Goodman, and Alex Kampouris), Zeke Bonura of the White Sox, and Bill Knickerbocker of the Indians.
All in all, the 1935 Goudey set introduced eleven new players–less than 10% of the set. Why only eleven players, and why these eleven players, I don’t know. The most intriguing theory would be that Goudey already had the artwork from a prior project (e.g., an unissued fifth series of 1934 Goudey) and saw a chance to use it here.
Unfortunately, such a theory is quickly rebutted by the specific players selected. Here is a snapshot of each player’s career from 1933-1935, using plate appearances for the position players and innings pitched for the two pitchers.
Looking at the 1934 data for Blanton, Campbell, Myers, and Goodman, it’s hard to imagine they would have been candidates for an extended 1934 Goudey set. At the same time, ten of the eleven players seem quite sensible additions to a 1935 offering, and even the one exception, Jonnard, had something of a “fun factor” going for him.
Though I’ve treated the 1935 artwork as if it was lifted directly from earlier sets, this wasn’t necessarily the case. Compare, for example, the Hank Greenberg artwork from 1934 and 1935, and you’ll see several subtle differences. (Plus, how would Goudey even execute such a thing using 1930s technology?)
Just as the 1934 Goudey set featured Gehrig but no Ruth, the 1935 set features Ruth but no Gehrig.
Youngsters successful in completing the entire 1933-35 Goudey run would probably find Joe Medwick to be the best player absent from their collections. Fortunately, Goudey managed to get its “ducks” in a row over the next three years with Medwick cards in 1936 Goudey Premiums, 1936-37 “Canadian Goudey,” 1937 Thum-Movies, and 1938 Goudey.
Ten Hall of Famers appeared in all three Goudey sets from 1933-35: Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Dizzy Dean, Chuck Klein, Paul Waner, Frank Frisch, Heinie Manush, Bill Terry, Charlie Gehringer, and Kiki Cuyler.
When I revisit this set I hope to offer some hints as to how the cards were divided into series and when each series might have been released. Oh, and more importantly, I hope to grab the final card I need for my Dodgers team set!
The 1938 Goudey issue known as “Heads Up” was an odd release in multiple ways. For one thing, card numbering begins at 241 as if a long delayed continuation of the 240-card 1933 Goudey set. For another, each of the 24 players in the set appears twice: in the first series (241-264) with a plain background and in the second series (265-288) with a cartoon background.
This article will focus on the second series and some of its more notable cartoons.
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE CAMEOS
Two of the cards in the set may hold special interest to Pacific Coast League collectors. The cards of Frank Demaree and Bobby Doerr note their tenure with the Sacramento Senators and Hollywood Stars, respectively.
The Goudey set also offers some places, big and small, of interest to collectors of particular regions or geographies.
Hank Greenberg’s scholastic bona fides also received mention.
Long before San Jose was a hotbed for dot-coms, microchips, and crypto, it earned some ink on the card of Marvin Owen.
The set also includes a “pre-rookie card” of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, not opened until the following year, though the card is hardly a cheap one! (It’s possible, however, that the phrase Hall of Fame may be intended here figuratively, as was the case on the back of Carl Hubbell’s 1933 Goudey card 230.)
Other places featured by the set include the “corn country of Iowa” (Bob Feller), the smokestacks of Pittsburgh (Julius Solters), the palm trees of Tampa (Al Lopez), and the sandlots of Cleveland (Joe Vosmik). We’ll also take a closer look at Pageland, South Carolina, toward the end of this article.
While Zeke Bonura himself has his own cards in the set, Zeke collectors (and yes, that’s a thing!) will want to note his shout-out on the card of Joe Kuhel.
Two Hall of Famers also appear in the set’s cartoons…as managers! Here are Bill Terry and Mickey Cochrane on the cards of Dick Bartell and Rudy York.
I’ll also offer, completely tongue-in-cheek, this Little Poison cameo.
Previous baseball cards had included women, dating all the way back to the 1880s. This Babe Ruth card (or others) from the previous decade may also ring a bell. But speaking of ringing a bell, here’s the 1938 Goudey card of Zeke Bonura.
More notably, 1938 Goudey is the first U.S. baseball set to include African Americans. Sadly, the depiction is just as cringeworthy as one might expect for the era.
A VERITABLE “WHO’S ZOO” OF ANIMALS
On a lighter note, a scattering of animals across the set’s cartoons comes as no surprise, particularly when we have players named Moose (Solters) and Ducky (Medwick), not to mention various Detroit Tigers. Still, how about a jackrabbit…
or Boston Bees backstop “Señor” Al Lopez as an actual bee…
or–last but not least–a freaking octopus?!
Well, that’s all, folks, at least for the moment, but ‘toon in next time for more wacky baseball card hijinks, courtesy of yours truly!
Author’s note: This is the eighth in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of facts, unknowns, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic brands.This installment focuses on some of the more mysterious relics associated with the 1933 set.
While the famous Napoleon Lajoie card 106 is traditionally regarded as the set’s rarest card, there are a handful of cards even more rare. One such rarity even bears the same number, 106.
Wait, WHAT?! Isn’t Durocher supposed to be card 147?
The “Keith Olbermann” Durocher, believed to be a 1/1 in the Hobby, is what’s known as a proof card from the set. Provided the card’s name is suggestive of its origin, we should imagine this card was part of a pre-production test run of the printing sheet Durocher was ultimately a part of, specifically Sheet 6. (Any speculation that the card might have been produced much earlier, for instance as part of a test run of the entire set, can be quashed by noting Durocher here is already with St. Louis, reflecting a trade that did not happen until May 7.)
An alternative explanation for Durocher 106 has been put forth, claiming it was not a pre-production proof or pre-anything but instead created by hobbyists post-1933 as a means of helping die-hard collectors complete their sets. Ignoring what would seem to be the prohibitive costs of producing a single card to this level of quality, there are at least two reasons to doubt such a hypothesis.
Duplicating a card already in the set, numbering aside, seems like the least satisfying way in the world to complete the set. I get it that maybe these guys weren’t artists, but even a newspaper picture of Hank Greenberg would seem an upgrade over the second Durocher.
Even more compelling, however, is the existence of other proof cards from the set, none of which would render any comparable service to collectors since their numbers are not 106.
Here is the most complete list of 1933 Goudey proofs I’m able to assemble.
The numbering of the proof cards is interesting in that it’s hardly a random collection of numbers from 1-240. Rather, we see that all eight proof cards are clustered between the numbers 106 and 128. The numbers take on even greater significance if we consider the state of the Goudey checklist just prior to the release of the set’s sixth sheet.
Remarkably, each of the proof cards fills an existing gap in the set’s skip numbering. Were we to imagine there were once 24 such proof cards (i.e., an entire sheet), we might suppose their numbering would have been as follows. (I’ve used magenta here for the eight known proofs and a lighter pink for the remaining 16.)
Of course, Goudey’s actual Sheet 6 did not fill the gaps in the manner indicated. Instead, it left nearly all of them in place. (And we’ll return soon to the fact that only 23 new numbers are highlighted.)
Were the new numbers for all eight proof cards to be found along this blue band, the story of Sheet 6 would be a simple one: the cards were simply renumbered late in the production process to leave rather than fill gaps.
As for why this occurred, I suppose there are a couple of reasons we could ascribe. Perhaps someone simply forgot that the set employed skip numbering as a means of conning kids into buying more and more packs. Or perhaps Goudey really did intend to close out the set earlier (i.e., at 144 cards rather than 240) but shelved such plans at the eleventh hour.
Of course, as with much about this set, the answer would not be so simple. While five of the proof cards remained on Sheet 6 with new numbering, three of the proof cards (Russell, Goslin, Thomas) landed at 167-169 and would not be seen again until Sheet 7, which included cards 166-189.
Admitting some speculation here, the picture that emerges of the set’s sixth sheet is this:
Proof version: 24 cards that filled the set’s existing gaps, namely 97-99, 106-114, 121-129, and 142-144.
Final version: Renumbering of all cards, including the demotion (or promotion if you like) of at least three cards to the next release.
Now let’s take a quick look at Sheet 6 as it was actually produced.
There are at least two key features that distinguish this sheet from all five of its predecessors.
It has two of the exact same card, Babe Ruth’s iconic card 144. (This explains how the sheet only managed to check off 23 numbers earlier.)
It repeats (with new numbering and a new color in one case) the Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth cards from earlier releases.
These contrasts are particularly notable as Sheets 1-5 contained no repeats at all, either within or across sheets. Prior to Sheet 6, the Goudey set consisted of 120 distinct players, each appearing in the set exactly once. From this perspective, we might regard five of the cards on Sheet 6 to be anomalies:
Ruth 144 (first instance)
Ruth 144 (second instance)
Already knowing that at least three cards (Russell, Goslin, Thomas) were bumped from Sheet 6 between the proof and production stages, it’s intriguing to consider whether five cards may have been bumped, transforming the sheet from a fairly standard collection of 24 new players to the spectacular, mega-star studded, triple Ruth sheet we know it as today.
If so, this would constitute the biggest (and most lopsided) blockbuster trade ever made!
Sheet 7 gets Jack Russell, Goose Goslin, Al Thomas, and two players to be named later?
If this is indeed what happened, the next question to ask is why.
Why turn Sheet 6 from a standard sheet to a super sheet? If Goudey had figured out more stars meant more money, what a curious choice to then follow up with six minor leaguers on Sheet 7!
Why number two of the Ruth cards 144? Conventional wisdom in the Hobby is that Goudey needed the duplicate numbering in order to ensure a (near) permanent hole in the checklist, thereby causing kids to keep buying packs in futile pursuit of card 106. (I question this theory at the end of my first article.)
Returning to a theme prevalent throughout this series, the 1933 Goudey set holds and will continue to hold mysteries, no matter how much over-analysis we apply. Fortunately, at least in my view, this is precisely what makes the set so fascinating!
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I’ll close this article with a few additional notes on the 1933 Goudey proof cards that may be of interest.
According to hobby lore, most or all of the proofs came from a single partial sheet obtained by hobby pioneer Woody Gelman directly from a source at Goudey.
While the most salient feature of the proof cards is their numbering, some also exhibit small differences in artwork or typesetting. For example, notice the placement of “AL THOMAS” on these two cards.
The Goslin proof card is an interesting one in that its number 110 was ultimately used by Goudey (probably just coincidentally) for Goslin’s other card in the set, his World Series card from Sheet 10. I’ve drawn goose eggs in my search for an image of the Goslin proof, but the Standard Catalog notes his name breaks onto two lines rather than the single line shown on his standard card.
Author’s note: If you are aware of other 1933 Goudey proofs with numbers that differed from their final printing, please let me know.
For nearly 30 years, editing has brought home my bacon. It wasn’t my desired profession; I fell into it like an open manhole—and I’m still trying to climb my way out. The grammatical, punctuational, and syntactic boo-boos I fix have been mostly in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, but they’ve been pretty easy to spot in my spare time as well—which means, to a degree, on the backs, and sometimes fronts, of baseball cards.
Years ago, I began jotting down factual errors and spelling typos (punctuation issues and lack of hyphenation are so rampant that chronicling them would be a never-ending and pointless task). I do not keep abreast of baseball card commentary as vigilantly as I once did, so at least one of the following errors has been posted elsewhere, which means that others—maybe many—in this simple and hardly comprehensive multi-part list might also have been documented in that long interim.
Here, Part 2 continues this absolutely uncomprehensive, and extremely random, list of baseball card errors (see Part 1 here).
1911 T201 Mecca Double Folder Lefty Leifield (backed with Mike Simon): Unlike other pitchers in the set, the stats for this talented Pirates southpaw feature batting and fielding records—Lefty’s pitching ledger for the previous season has been mysteriously replaced by his work with the glove. Yet it’s not even Lefty’s statistics. Card-mate and battery mate Mike Simon—whose statistics are completely absent under his own name—appears at first glance to have his statistics erroneously replacing Leifield’s field work (note the inclusion of passed balls). However, the lack of quality control on Mecca’s part is even more out of control than this: Beyond problematic typesetting, the statistics listed are wildly incongruent with Simon’s (as well as all other NL catchers’) performance in 1910—none more so than his alleged .536 fielding percentage—a number that couldn’t keep a catcher on a sandlot field. Just as egregious is his 64 passed balls. In actuality, Simon was not charged with either a single error or passed ball during the previous season. Who knows how these numbers were conjured—the lowest fielding percentage registered by any catcher in the majors in 1910 was .875, and after the rule changes of the 1890s, no catcher had let more than 27 balls past him since the turn of the century. If some supercentenarian is still manning the phones at Mecca Cigarettes, somebody should call to get the lowdown—pronto.
1912 T207 Germany Schaefer: It’s common knowledge that Jim Delahanty’s T207 contains multiple misspellings of his surname (“Delehanty”) on the back (though the front is correct), but that spelling miscue also appears on the back of Germany Schaefer’s T207 (the two were swapped for each other, along with Red Killefer, in 1909, accounting for the mutual mentions). Schaefer’s bio also contains a more personal blunder, stating that, “Since arriving at the Capital he has played first, second, short and third….” However, the utilitarian Schaefer never took the field as a shortstop after his days in Detroit. As a macabre aside, Schaefer, a renowned baseball prankster, died of tuberculosis in the same New York village where Christy Mathewson succumbed to the disease six years later. (It may have even been the same sanatorium; I’m not certain.)
1954 Topps Vern Law (#235): Vern’s “Year” line denotes that he spent the previous season “IN MILITARY SERVICE,” yet “IN” is missing the “I.” I’m not familiar with an Idaho accent, but perhaps Topps was writing in Vern’s native vernacular. (I’ve largely avoided minor points in these lists, but to spotlight Topps’ sloppiness, in the right-hand cartoon mentioning Bing Crosby, “Pirate’s” is incorrectly singular possessive; it doesn’t need an apostrophe at all, but if one is used, it should follow the “s” to be plural possessive. Misuse of the apostrophe is one of the most pervasive marks of ignorance found in print.)
1933 Goudey Tony Lazzeri (#31): Goudey took “Poosh ‘Em Up”’s games played in 1932 and pooshed ‘em down, stating that he played 141 games—Lazzeri actually suited up for 142 games in 1932. Perhaps unfairly, his bio begins that “coming to the bat in his first world series with bases filled, struck out.” This is a necessarily incomplete, almost Twitter-like, reference to Lazzeri’s inning-ending whiff at the hands of Grover Cleveland Alexander in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, of course. To be fair, it was actually the fourth time in the Series that Lazzeri came to the plate with the bases full. Twice, he delivered important sacrifice flies, including the eventual game-winning run in the top of the 10th in Game 5—without which the Series might never have gone to a seventh game and given baseball that gilded moment.
1933 Goudey Burleigh Grimes (#64): Burleigh’s bio declares that he “[b]roke into baseball in 1913 with Ottumwa in the Central Association.” With apologies to Radar O’Reilly, who was born right about the time that this card hit the shelves in his native Ottumwa, Burleigh was no rookie in 1913, having pitched in 9 games for the Class D Eau Claire Commissioners of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League in 1912. Had Radar been old enough to watch Ol’ Stubblebeard on the mound, he might have remarked, “Uh-oh, spitters!”
1933 Goudey Earl Averill (#194): More inaccuracy than error—and much like Lefty Gomez’s cards mentioned in Part 1—virtually all of Earl Averill’s cards denote his birth year as 1903, whereas all official sources, including his headstone, report it as 1902.
1949 Bowman Bob Lemon (#238): Bob was anything but a lemon as a pitcher, seven times reaching the 20-win circle and earning a place in the Hall of Fame; however, his cards are a strange and recurring saga of geographical ineptitude on the part of multiple manufacturers. Beginning with his rookie card, Bowman misspelled his birthplace of San Bernardino, California, as “San Bernadino.” (Incorporated in 1869, the city’s spelling had been officially established for 80 years by the time Bowman inked Lemon to a contract.) For most of Bowman’s existence, it repeated this error. One might attribute this to the same biographical information being used rotely over the next 6 years—except that Bowman got the spelling correct in 1951 and 1952, then inexplicably reverted to the original error for the remainder of its run. So, defying any semblance of logic, Bowman printed “Bernadino” in 1949 and 1950, changed correctly to “Bernardino” in 1951 and 1952, and then went back to its mistake in 1953, 1954, and 1955. If that weren’t bizarre enough, all three of Lemon’s Red Man Tobacco cards (1953-’55) also misspelled his birthplace as “Bernadino.” (I don’t know if Red Man, which had long been only a tobacco company, made some kind of deal with Bowman for its baseball information when deciding to issue its own cards—some of their bios read similarly in places—but blame would still fall on Red Man Tobacco for not at least proofreading its product.) In contrast, none of Topps’ cards that list a birthplace erred on this spelling, and Lemon’s 1954 Red Heart and Dan-Dee cards also are correct.
1960 Leaf Jim Coates (#35): A double-dip for Jim. “Binghampton” is a misspelling. Hold the “p,” Leaf. A bigger blooper is that Leaf was under the impression that Coates had never pitched in the majors before 1959—his “Past Year” totals are identical to his “Lifetime” totals. However, Jim appeared in 2 games for the Pinstripes way back in 1956, making the majority of those lifetime statistics incorrect.
1960 Leaf Al Spangler (#38): Al’s home is listed as “Maple Glenn, Pa.” Leaf apparently turned over a new leaf and gave Spangler’s home an extra “n”—the town is spelled Maple Glen. To my knowledge, it never went by “Glenn.”
Rife with typos, Topps’ 1964 Giants subset contains more than its share. Among them:
1964 Topps Giants Orlando Cepeda (#55): Cepeda is denoted as having laced 38 triples as a rookie in 1958. This is diamond hogwash. Did Topps think third-base coach Herman Franks waved a red cape every time Cepeda rounded first so that the Baby Bull came raging uncontrollably into third? Owen Wilson’s 36 triples in 1912 has never been bested, and, in fact, no player has legged out more than 26 ever since. Cepeda, of course, ripped 38 doubles, not 38 triples.
1964 Topps Giants Billy Williams (#52): Topps really shortchanged Billy by stating that he clubbed “20 two-baggers” for the Ponca City Cubs in 1957. The sweet-swinging Williams swatted twice that many in pacing the Sooner State League in doubles.
1964 Topps Giants Carl Yastrzemski (#48): In the right-hand column, Carl was cited to have “wrecked havoc” on opposing pitchers. This is a malaprop—the term is, of course, “wreaked havoc.” At least Topps spelled his surname correctly.
1964 Topps Giants Harmon Killebrew (#38): Deceptive text, even if inadvertent, is a no-no to an editor, so I’m calling out Topps for Killer’s headline, KILLEBREW WINS 2ND HOMER CROWN. As evidenced early in his bio, “For the second consecutive season, the Minnesota Twins’ slugger was the American League home run champion.” This is certainly accurate, Harmon having claimed the crown in 1962 and ’63. However, the headline implies very strongly that these were his only two homer titles to that point—yet Killebrew had also topped the AL in 1959, meaning, of course, that he’d nabbed his third homer crown in 1963, not his second. If I didn’t call this out, I’d be negligent in my long-time occupation as an editor.
If the 1964 Topps Giants subset is something of an editor’s treasure trove, the 1960 and 1961 Fleer sets are a gold rush. Some of the most problematic assemblages of cards out there, they have often caused me to wonder if the company headquartered in my hometown ever employed a fact checker or proofreader. Many’s the time I fantasized about going back in time to be hired as Fleer’s text editor. With a primo job like that, how could a young Ann-Margret not date me?
1960 Fleer Christy Mathewson (#2): Fleer failed to list that Christy also pitched for Cincinnati. Some may say “Big deal—he pitched only 1 game for the Reds.” Well, it was a big deal. That final game—a victory—ultimately allowed Mathewson to tie Grover Cleveland Alexander for most victories by a National League pitcher (even though his true victory total wasn’t discovered until many years after his death). Fleer rectified this oversight—sort of—in its 1961 set, stating that he pitched all of his games “except one” for New York, without specifying that other team. However, Fleer did picture Matty in a Cincinnati uniform—although neither is this definitely, because Christy was better known in red as Cincinnati’s manager for several seasons, which Fleer references.
1960 Fleer Joe Medwick (#22): Fleer anointed Medwick with an RBI total of 1949—which, at that time, would have put Ducky fourth on the all-time list, a handful ahead of Ty Cobb. Now, Medwick was an excellent run producer and, in fact, stands as one of the few National Leaguers to top the Senior Circuit in RBI for 3 consecutive seasons, but the actual total of runs he drove across the plate was a far less robust 1383. Remarkably, Fleer repeated this huge blunder on Joe’s 1961 card (#61).
1961 Fleer Rogers Hornsby (#43): The Rajah’s home run total is incorrectly listed as 302 (he hit 301); his triples total is also inaccurate: 168, though he actually hit 169. His hit total is correct, so I wonder, if among all of the other revisions to old-timers’ statistics, one of Hornsby’s round-trippers was downgraded to a three-base hit. (301 was, as long as I can recall, his established home run total, as can be seen on his 1976 Topps All-Time All-Star card—which is almost certainly from where I first learned the total.)
1961 Fleer Ty Cobb (#14): One of the biggest statistical oversights I’ve seen occurs in Cobb’s bio, as Fleer denotes Ty as having led the AL six times in hitting. As any moderately informed baseball fan knows, Cobb snared an incredible 11 batting crowns (or 12, depending on which source you consult—the Hall of Fame still claims the latter). Regardless of which you consider the true count, Cobb’s run of double-digit batting crowns was, even then, long regarded as one of the most amazing feats in sports annals—and an inexcusable gaffe by Fleer, especially considering that his 1960 Fleer card denotes Cobb as capturing 12 batting titles.
1961 Fleer Grover Cleveland Alexander (#2): Fleer goofs again, misspelling “immortal” in the opening line of Alex’s bio (and fails to include a period as well).
1961 Fleer George Sisler (#78): George’s bio is almost cruelly ironic in its boast that he “played in six World Series.” Sisler, of course, is renowned among the game’s greats who never played in the Fall Classic. (George worked for Brooklyn and Pittsburgh as a scout and batting instructor in later years, but this certainly does not equate with playing in a World Series, and his attachment to pennant-winning teams in either of these capacities fell far short of six anyway.) How could such a false statement be written—and, worse, approved? Perhaps more than any other card in Fleer’s 1960 and ’61 sets, this colossal blunder indicates a shameful lack of commitment to its product and the consumer.
1975 TCMA Red Russell: Typos among “quasi-professional” sets such as TCMA are plentiful. One example is from TCMA’s 1975 issue spotlighting the 1919 White Sox squad. Breaking in with the Southsiders in 1913, Russell crafted one of the best—and most overlooked—rookie seasons by a pitcher, winning 22 games for the 5th-place Sox. By 1919, his arm was gone, facing just 2 batters all season, in a June loss to Boston, which ended his pitching career at a fine 80-59 mark. Soon after this final appearance, Russell went to the Double-A Minneapolis Millers and reinvented himself as an outfielder. He returned to the majors in 1922 and put in a pair of partial seasons for the Pirates, thwacking 21 home runs in 511 at-bats. TCMA’s goof lay in labeling him “Red” Russell. Born in postbellum Mississippi and raised in Texas, he was well known as “Reb” Russell for his obvious Southern heritage. Even so, mild kudos to TCMA for including in the set the member who played least on the roster during the season (there are a few White Sox who played more than Russell yet were not included).
1954 Red Heart Stan Musial: Stan’s bio claims that he has played in “9 All Star games as a Cardinal outfielder.” Through the end of the 1953 campaign, Musial had played in 10 All-Star Games. Yet even if this statement is taken literally—that is, counting his participation only as an outfielder, regardless of how silly it would be for Red Heart to ignore his other appearances in the Midsummer Classic—Musial had, to that time, participated once as a first baseman and once as a pinch-hitter, so the count strictly as an outfielder was 8—which still did not jibe with Red Heart’s claim. It’s also interesting to note that Red Heart, as late as 1954, referred to the Fall Classic as the “World’s Series”—an antiquated spelling that had essentially died out by the 1930s.
And just for good measure, I’m throwing in several hockey card errors:
1957-58 Topps Jean Guy Gendron (#52): Between this entry and the following one, you will see that Gendron appears to have been the target of a systematic process of sloppiness and inconsistency, the likes of which the sports card industry has never seen. In the English bio of this, Gendron’s rookie card, Topps heretically refers to the Montreal club as the “Canadians.” Frankly, Topps should consider itself lucky that Montreal fans didn’t fly into a bleu, blanc, et rage, bus down to Brooklyn, and burn the plant to the ground. Despite being Gendron’s official rookie card, this also establishes a long and winding road of instability concerning his first name. Gendron’s first name appears to officially have been spelled with a hyphen, “Jean-Guy,” as evidenced by several official sources as well as the back of his true rookie card, the 1952 Juniors Blue Tint. Yet from 1957 to 1963, Topps always denoted him simply as Guy Gendron (although, as you can see, the reverse of his rookie card is “Jean G.” Gendron). He then became “Jean Guy” on his 1968 card (shown for a different reason in the following entry), was amended to “Jean-Guy” in 1969, then was stripped of the hyphen in 1970 and 1971, and enjoyed a restored hyphen for his final card, in 1972. (Gendron’s 1970 Dad’s Cookies card and 1970 Esso stamp also feature the hyphen.)
1968 OPC Jean Guy Gendron (#185): The statistical record claims that Gendron was “Not in N.H.L.” during the 1967-68 season. Although the long-time NHL veteran had been dispatched to the AHL’s Quebec Aces in 1964 and remained there for 4 seasons, Gendron did suit up for 1 game with the phledgling Philadelphia Flyers—even picking up an assist—during his final year with Quebec. (Gendron would go on to play 4 seasons with the Orange and Black, becoming one of the team’s best forwards in its early years.) Furthermore, though not an outright error, Gendron’s bio begins that he, Andre Lacroix, and Simon Nolet “are counted heavily on this year by Coach Courtney.” This is a strange reference to Philadelphia’s inaugural head coach, Keith Allen, whose given name was Courtney. I’m inclined to believe that OPC mistook “Courtney” as his surname, because it’s difficult to believe that OPC was on an overly casual first-name basis with the little-known skipper of a barely established expansion club.
1979 OPC J. Bob Kelly (#306): This is likely well known to all except the young’uns. Rather obviously—at least it should be—the player depicted is not J. Bob Kelly—better known in rinks as “Battleship” Kelly—but long-time Broad Street Bully, Bob “the Hound” Kelly. (The pictured Bob Kelly has his own OPC and Topps cards that year; J. Bob Kelly has no Topps counterpart.) As an aside (though not an error itself), OPC denotes that Kelly was “Now with Oilers”; however, Kelly’s last skate in the NHL occurred during the previous season’s quarterfinals as the New York Islanders swept Kelly’s Chicago Black Hawks. Battleship did split 4 games between the Cincinnati Stingers and the Houston Apollos of the Central Hockey League during the 1979-80 season, but he never played for Edmonton, despite the Oilers drafting Kelly from Chicago in the 1979 NHL Expansion Draft.
1969-70 Topps (#59) and OPC (#59) Carl Brewer: Perhaps it’s something of an honor to be incorrect in two countries, as both Topps and OPC were in listing Carl’s home of Muskegon, Michigan, which is misspelled as “Muskegan” on both cards.
1971-72 OPC (#156) and 1972-73 OPC (#100) Rogatien Vachon: Errors north of the border get a little more complex with this pair of Rogie Vachon cards. Each errantly refers to Vachon as “Roggie”—the first card twice in the bio and the latter card in the cartoon. OPC then wised up and never again made this misspelling (the reverse of Topps/OPC 1978-79 cards, which feature the player’s autograph, confirm the spelling in Vachon’s own hand, as if confirmation were needed). OPC dropped the puck a second time on his 1972-73 card, botching Vachon’s first name as “Ragatien.” (Topps got the spelling right but featured the same erroneous cartoon.) A former coworker who is a cousin of Vachon responded to my request for Rogie’s comments on this with, “Jesus, Randy, I’m busy. Leave me alone!”
Author’s Note: This is the first in a multi-part series that will explore the legal backstories that have shaped (and continue to shape) the baseball card industry. Once considered mere ephemera used to induce children to buy penny confections (or cigarettes!), the industry has been inundated by costly legal battles waged in the name of baseball card supremacy. Punctuated by the recent announcement that Fanatics has agreed to acquire Topps’ trading card business, the players in the industry have endured nearly constant cannibalism, infighting, and subterfuge. Thank goodness for us, right? — John Racanelli
A Very Brief History of the Right of Privacy
Although perhaps difficult to believe, individuals were once without legal recourse if their names or likenesses were used commercially without permission. The “right of privacy” was essentially without basis at common law in the United States before 1902. Emerging privacy rights, however, would eventually become a central battleground as trading card makers fought to secure the pocket change of (mostly) American boys after World War II. The resulting litigation would shape the baseball card industry and provide Topps with nearly unassailable baseball card dominance by the 1960s. The story starts, however, at the turn of the twentieth century with a teenaged girl’s surprising discovery in a Vermont tavern.
As an 18-year-old from Rochester, New York, Abigail Roberson visited an “out-of-the-way tavern” in Vermont while on vacation. There she discovered an advertisement for Franklin Mills flour prominently featuring her photograph. The shocking discovery made Roberson physically ill—Franklin Mills had used the photograph without her knowledge or consent and refused to disclose how they obtained the image.
Roberson was humiliated by use of the photo (although admittedly flattering) and learned that some 25,000 copies of the advertisement had been distributed to stores, warehouses, saloons, and other public places. She sued to prevent the further distribution of the poster and asked for $15,000 in damages (approximately $475,0000 today). The trial court found in Roberson’s favor and the appellate division affirmed.
The case went up to New York’s highest court, however, where Chief Judge Alton Parker wrote for the 4-3 majority that Roberson had failed to state a cause of action because her complaint did not allege defendants acted maliciously or published a defamatory photo. They held that Franklin Mills was lawfully able to use Roberson’s photograph for its advertising without having to ask or compensate her.
Not surprisingly, a wave of public outrage followed Roberson’s loss. In the wake, the New York legislature enacted laws to codify the right of privacy, which allowed an aggrieved party to seek court intervention to enjoin use and sue for monetary damages if a photograph was used intentionally without consent.
A Bat Fight: Hanna Manufacturing Company v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co.
The baseball world would first see a battle over privacy rights in 1935, when Louisville Slugger sued the Hanna Manufacturing Company alleging Hanna was infringing on its trademarks by selling bats bearing the names of players under exclusive contract to Louisville Slugger, such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
The bats at issue retailed “for as much as $2.50 each” (approximately $28.00 today) and were bought by customers who were “careful and well-informed.” Louisville Slugger took pride in crafting bats of the size, shape, and balance that each major league player preferred and for a small (undisclosed) consideration, these players gave Louisville Slugger the exclusive right to use the player’s name, autograph, and photograph in connection with the sales of baseball bats for a lengthy term, typically 20 to 25 years. The contract signed by the players did not require them to use Louisville Slugger bats, however. In fact, Lou Gehrig had used Hanna bats for two years despite having signed with Louisville Slugger.
Hanna countered that the bats it sold bearing the names of “Babe Ruth” and “Lou Gehrig” were not sold based on the player’s name having been stamped on the bat, but because the purchasers (often college teams) wanted bats of that player’s particular shape and style. The district court found for Louisville Slugger, “baseball players, like any other individuals, have a property right to their names that has been assigned by certain players to Louisville Slugger, and Louisville Slugger used and advertised such right and has such right exclusively, irrespective of any trademark or unfair competition law.”
The appellate court reversed, however, remarking that there were some “interesting discussions as to a ‘right of privacy’” ongoing but that a “public man waives his right so that the public becomes entitled to his likeness.” The court continued, “fame is not merchandise. It would help neither sportsmanship nor business to uphold the sale of a famous name to the highest bidder as property.” [Wow is this shortsighted when viewed in the modern athlete endorsement landscape!]
The court was further convinced that the “name on the bat” was commonly understood to refer only to the model or style of the bat and implied no endorsement by the player. The court specifically ruled that Hanna could market bats bearing players’ names as long as the descriptive mark included the words “style” or “shape” conspicuously, such that a Hanna bat marked “Babe Ruth style” would be acceptable. Ultimately, those Louisville Slugger contracts operated only to prevent the ballplayers from objecting to Louisville Sluggers’ use of their names and likenesses.
“No matter what may be said about the habits and nature of ball players, they are not naïve.” It would not be long before “right of privacy” claims would invade the baseball card industry.
The Big Cat Takes a Swipe
On August 26, 1941, Johnny Mize went 4-for-8 with a double and home run as his Cardinals split a Tuesday doubleheader against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That same day, Mize’s attorneys filed a right of privacy lawsuit against Gum Products, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts alleging that it had used photos of Mize in its Double Play Gum baseball card set without his permission.
In what appears to be the first baseball card-related lawsuit, Mize asked the court for a restraining order and damages commensurate with his appearance on some 140,000 cards issued by Gum Products. On September 5, the court issued a temporary injunction that prevented Gum Products from using Mize’s name or picture further in connection with the sale of gum. Mize’s “right of privacy” victory was short lived, however.
At a subsequent hearing on June 25, 1942, Gum Products admitted it had not directly obtained Mize’s permission, but had done so through the purchase of the picture from an agency. The defense also argued that as “a leading ballplayer of the country,” Mize had no right of privacy in connection to the publication of his name or photograph. On June 28, Judge Francis Good dismissed the case “without comment.” Despite their ultimate victory, Gum Products never produced another set of baseball trading cards.
Leaf: Blown Away
In 1949, Bowman Gum Company and a number of individual players, including Warren Spahn, sued Chicago-based Leaf Brands, Inc. and several east coast gum wholesalers for distributing cards featuring pictures of ballplayers under contract with Bowman. The lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia, where Bowman was based, and a friendly hometown judge issued a temporary restraining order that prohibited Leaf from selling cards with its gum anywhere in the United States (straining the bounds of enforceability).
Leaf took the defeat seriously and reached a settlement with Bowman in which Leaf agreed to withdraw from the baseball card business until at least 1951. Leaf tried in vain to work out arrangements with Topps to share printing rights, but Topps was not interested.
Bowman v. Topps: Birth of the Right of Privacy
Topps first dipped its toe in the baseball card market with its Magic Cards release in 1948. The 19-card baseball series was part of a much larger modern Allen & Ginter-like set that also included cards of football players, boxers, movie stars, famous explorers, and dogs. The tiny cards (roughly 1” x 1½”) featured sepia-toned photos that would appear on the card when exposed to sunlight. The baseball checklist consisted of highlight cards from the 1948 Cleveland-Boston World Series and individual cards of Indians player/manager Lou Boudreau and Braves 3B Bob Elliott. The balance of the baseball checklist was comprised of retired greats such as Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Tinker/Johnny Evers.
In 1951, Topps issued a set of baseball cards featuring current players in direct competition with Bowman, who had produced “Play Ball” sets from 1939-1941 and their own branded sets starting in 1948. To create their set (commonly referred to as “red backs”), Topps licensed rights to the players’ names, photos, and biographical information from a third-party company, Players Enterprises, Inc. This initial set of 52 cards was designed like a deck of cards and was intended to be played as a game. The cards were distributed in a rather nondescript box of “’Doubles’ Baseball Playing Cards” that identified Topps cryptically (and perhaps by design) only by “T.C.G. Brooklyn 32, N.Y.” on the bottom of the box and wrappers. When Players Enterprises merged with Russell Publishing Company in April 1951, Topps was given an additional stable of players under contract that allowed them to distribute a second series of 52 cards (“blue backs”) sold in a redesigned box as “Baseball Trading Card Candy.”
Unhappy with the competition, Bowman sued Topps following their release of the red/blue back cards claiming trademark infringement, unfair competition, and impairment of contract rights. They sought to prevent Topps from selling any product having the appearance of gum with the word “baseball” connected to it.
Topps argued that they had lawfully obtained rights from Players Enterprises to use the names, pictures, and biographical data shown on the cards; denied there was any confusion with Bowman’s products; and claimed that the contracts Topps had with the players constituted a waiver of the player’s right to privacy—but conveyed no rights on Bowman to sue Topps. Topps also argued that it had not infringed on Bowman’s contracts with players because it had inserted a caramel candy—not gum—with its cards.
The evidence established that Bowman had contracted with 340 baseball players through Art Flynn Associates for the right to use the name, signature, photograph, and descriptive biological sketch of each. In exchange, Bowman paid $100 and provided a wristwatch to each player for 1951. (The 1951 contract included the word “confections” for the first time, which seemingly presaged knowledge Topps was intending to issue a baseball card set with candy.) The players were also eligible to complete for the Jack Singer Annual Good Sportsmanship awards sponsored by Bowman.
Topps proved it had contracts with 248 active major league players through the rights acquired by Players Enterprises and Russell. These contracts gave Topps the right to use players’ names, pictures, and biographical data in connection with the sale of candy in 1951 and candy andchewing gum for 1952.
Following a bench trial, Judge Clarence Galston ruled in Topps’ favor and dismissed the case. He found it significant that there was no player biographical data on the reverse side of the 1951 Topps cards; the packaging between Bowman and Topps was different; and there was no record of any confusion between purchasers of the two products.
More importantly, the court (in reliance on § 51 of New York’s Civil Rights Law enacted in the wake of Roberson) held that the contracts Bowman made with the players conveyed no rights on Bowman to sue a third-party, such as Topps. Accordingly, only the individual ballplayer would have a cause of action for an injury to his person. No “right of privacy” was applicable to a business.
Bowman v. Topps: The Appeal and Establishment of the “Right of Publicity”
Bowman took the matter up on appeal to the Second Circuit claiming their contracts were exclusive for use in connection with the sale of gum and that Topps deliberately induced the ballplayers to sign contracts giving Topps the same rights. Topps continued to argue that even if Bowman proved its case, there was no actionable wrong because any contract between Bowman and a ballplayer did not convey any right on Bowman to enforce those rights as to third parties.
Just prior to the start of the 1953 season, the appellate court formally established the “right of publicity” by way of recognizing an enforceable property right in each player’s name and likeness. This was huge. Accordingly, the ballplayers could grant exclusive rights to their pictures that could be enforced by third parties, such as Bowman. “For it is common knowledge that many prominent persons (especially actors and ballplayers), far from having their feelings bruised through public exposure of their likenesses, would feel sorely deprived if they no longer received money for authorizing advertisements, popularizing their countenances, displayed in newspapers, magazines, busses, trains and subways. This right of publicity would usually yield them no money unless it could be made the subject of an exclusive grant which barred any other advertiser from using their pictures.” That the appellate court recognized the right of publicity was an unprecedented hallmark for ballplayers’ ability to control (and cash in) on their names and likenesses.
The case was sent back to Judge Galston to determine if Topps had knowingly used photographs of players under contract with Bowman. This was a complicated case-by-case task in that up to six separate contracts were now at issue for players who appeared in any of the 1951, 1952 and 1953 sets issued by Bowman and Topps.
By May 1953, both Topps and Bowman had continued to issue sets of fluctuating sizes as their competition to ink players to contracts intensified. In fact, Topps pulled six cards from its 1953 set due to the ongoing litigation. The court also required Topps to remove the cards of players it was enjoined from using from stacks of cards printed but not yet wrapped, which allowed Topps to distribute any offending cards that had already been packaged. (Unfortunately, identification of these particular cards is not immediately discernable from the published decision.)
Bowman v. Topps: The Aftermath
The litigation continued, however, and on May 10, 1955 Judge Galston remanded the case to the New York state courts. This litigation was expensive for Bowman, which spent in excess of $110,000 in legal fees ($1.12 million today); it cost Topps only slightly less. Bowman had been losing money each year since 1952, culminating with a net loss in 1954 of $224,000 (approximately $2.3 million today).
In April 1955, Bowman was merged into cardboard box manufacturer Connelly Container Corporation. Connelly’s stewardship of the Bowman gum and trading card brand was fleeting, however, as it looked to shed the gum/baseball card line, which had averaged between 15% to 30% of total sales. On January 20, 1956, Topps settled the litigation with Connelly by acquiring Bowman’s gum-producing facilities, baseball player picture rights, and an agreement on the part of Connelly not to manufacture gum or picture card products for five years in exchange for $200,000 (approximately $2 million today). [Connelly was apparently much more interested in Bowman’s other business pursuits at the time of the merger, including an all-nylon squeeze bottle in development.]
All the while, Leaf wanted to get back into the baseball card business. After the Bowman litigation settled, Leaf again approached Topps with a proposal to share player rights. With main competitor Bowman eliminated, Topps had no interest in making any arrangement with Leaf. In fact, Topps sent a letter to the player representative of each ballclub on August 14, 1956, indicating it was not going to be sharing its baseball card picture rights with any other companies.
By 1959, Topps was the largest manufacturer of bubblegum in the United States with total sales of $14 million annually (approximately $133 million today). Leaf would eventually get back into the baseball card business in 1960 when it produced a black and white 144-card set that was sold with marbles.
Fleer Stirs the Pot
At the end of 1958, the Frank H. Fleer Corporation launched an offensive against Topps for control of the baseball card market by offering ballplayers contracts that would become effective upon the expiration any existing contracts with Topps. This started with a mail solicitation in December and followed up with visits at training camps in 1959 by ten of its sales and marketing personnel. Fleer was even able to enlist representatives who were active players on teams such as Charlie Lau and Chuck Cottier.
The Fleer contracts paid players $5 as initial consideration and $125 upon reaching the major leagues. Further, Fleer offered a monetary gift or reward for players who provided Fleer with copies of their Topps contracts. After learning of this practice, Topps stopped sending copies of its contracts to the players (but would provide information regarding the terms of the contract upon request). Topps was flooded with requests once they started offering $75 for the players to sign extensions.
Fleer successfully lured Ted Williams and produced an 80-card set of the mercurial slugger in 1959. The Williams set accounted for $250,000 in sales (approximately $2.4 million today), which was just a fraction of the $3.8 million (approximately $36 million today) worth of Topps baseball cards sold in 1959.
During the 1960 and 1961 seasons, Fleer issued sets featuring “Baseball Greats,” each of which featured Ted Williams and a cast of retired Hall of Famers and stars. Sales of these sets again paled in comparison to Topps’ baseball offerings. Leaf also issued a small set of current player cards in 1960, sold along with marbles. The 1960 Leaf contract paid the players $50 and provided for rights when distributed in combination with “marbles or other non-edible novelties such as charms made of plastic or metal.”
The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Topps on January 30, 1962—with Fleer’s enthusiastic support—alleging that Topps violated § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which made illegal “unfair methods of competition in commerce and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce.” This section also outlawed business practices that were “unscrupulous, oppressive, exploitative, or otherwise indefensible.” The FTC alleged further that Topps created a monopoly in the manufacture and distribution of baseball picture cards “contrary to public policy” and “to the detriment of free and open competition.” The Hearing Examiner made sure to emphasize that “[m]onopoly is condemned without qualification,” somewhat ironic considering that Major League Baseball enjoys the protections of a legally sanctioned monopoly.
At the heart of the complaint was the allegation Topps had completely foreclosed Fleer from the baseball card market by entering exclusive contracts with almost all major league baseball players and practically all minor league players with major league potential. It was further alleged that Topps had the power to impose tie-in requirements and imposed retail price control on vendors because it “wanted to know about anybody who was not selling the cards at six for a nickel.” On the heels of the FTC filing, Fleer bombarded college coaches with correspondence attacking Topps’ contracts and accusing Topps of monopolistic practices that were under investigation by the FTC.
Taking a page from their prior battle with Bowman, Topps began drafting their contracts to give themselves broader rights and further restrict the players from contracting with others. In 1957, the Topps contract gave exclusive rights to cards associated with gum and candy; in 1958, Topps added “confections” to the list; in 1959, the Topps’ contract extended to cards sold without gum in bulk vending boxes (despite the fact that vending boxes were an exceedingly small part of its total sales); and in 1960, the Topps contract included an agreement by the player not to enter into any other contracts while under contract with Topps. By May 1961, Fleer had contracted with only five major league ballplayers who had not contracted with Topps.
At the time the FTC got involved, Topps had exclusive rights with 95% of major league baseball players and contracts with more than 6500 ballplayers in both the major leagues in minor leagues. Topps first approached players in the minor leagues with a payment of $5 to sign a contract that would pay the player $125 per year for five years if he were promoted to Major League Baseball. Those players who reached the big leagues were paid regardless of whether Topps issued a card of the individual. (Topps would not have to pay if it decided not to market a complete series of cards, except they had to pay the Yankees either way.) Topps’ network included “agents” such as scouts, managers and players who were compensated as much as $100 a year, plus five dollars for each ballplayer signed, or other “gifts, tips or small payments” upon delivery of signed contracts.
Fleer claimed their representatives were physically excluded or intimidated from soliciting players at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ and Detroit Tigers’ training camps “by goon or similar methods.” In the face of Topps’ established network, Fleer had signed only 20 major league players by 1962 and 27 by 1963. Undeterred, Fleer issued a 66-card set (plus an unnumbered checklist) of active major league players in 1963, dwarfed by the 576-card set issued by Topps that year.
The FTC hearing examiner also considered evidence that Topps actively sought to impose market restrictions on other food and beverage manufacturers who used baseball picture cards as promotional devices. General Foods included baseball cards on packages of Post Cereal from 1961 to 1963 and Jell-O from 1962 to 1963. Topps took issue with the Post Cereal promotion that offered a sheet of ten cards (not attached to a cereal box) for two box tops and ten cents, alleging this was an infringement on their rights to sell cards individually. Topps subsequently entered into agreement that Post would pay a license and royalty fees in connection with its distribution of cards alone under the offer. Topps also objected to the set issued in 1958 by Hires Root Beer. Ultimately, Hires made a deal that allowed them to use photos of the players without having to pay Topps, but never issued another set.
The Topps “Monopoly”
Generally speaking, a monopoly is the control of “an economically meaningful market.” In the FTC matter, all that needed to be established was that baseball cards were economically meaningful, and that Topps controlled the market. There was no need to establish that Topps intended to monopolize; nor was it necessary to show Topps exercised its monopoly power.
Hearing Examiner Herman Tocker issued his initial decision on August 7, 1964, after a full evidentiary hearing. He found that Topps had “monopolized the sale of current baseball card picture cards both as separate articles of commerce and as a promotional device for the sale of confectionery products,” in violation of § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission act—even though Topps’ exclusive contracts and other practices were not unfair when viewed separately. Although it had not actually done so, Topps could have controlled the baseball trading card market and “had the power to increase or decrease at will the price when sold alone or when in packages of gum and cards.” Tocker found further that Topps was in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act—a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $50,000 or imprisonment.
Topps was ordered to cease and desist from entering or extending exclusive contacts with ballplayers, coaches, and managers for terms in excess of two years and enforcing any contracts in effect after October 31, 1966, along with an order to provide copies of the contracts to the ballplayers. Tocker also opined “[o]bviously, a single picture card, in and of itself, has little value” and “last year’s cards without current statistical content are about as valuable as yesterday’s newspaper,” observations that have not aged well.
The FTC Appeal
Both sides appealed the Hearing Examiner’s decision and order. FTC Commissioner Philip Elman thoroughly reviewed the evidence on record and reversed, holding Topps did not have a monopoly in the production of baseball cards because they lacked economic significance and alone were not “meaningful in terms of trade realities.”
Elman specifically decided that Topps’ control over baseball picture cards used to promote confectioneries was not detrimental to fair competition and that baseball cards were not so unique and indispensable a promotional technique that other bubblegum manufacturers could not compete on fair and equal terms with Topps. Elman cited several examples of successful promotional trading card series such as football players, retired baseball players, and non-sport sets featuring the Beatles and “Spook Theatre.” Moreover, but for the fact that Topps was the largest seller of bubblegum, there was no proof of any correlation between its superior market share and the sale of baseball picture cards.
Ultimately, Topps’ business model—tirelessly signing as many minor-league players as possible with hopes they would become big leaguers—was not an unfair or monopolistic practice. Because no monopoly was proven, the complaint was dismissed on appeal.
Fleer in the late 1960s
Despite its failure to break Topps’ hold over “current baseball picture cards,” Fleer remained the second largest manufacturer of bubblegum in the United States. Before the 1966 season started, Fleer announced it would be issuing a 66-card set dedicated to Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale and had a representative, Bob Quinn, continuing to visit Florida training camps looking to sign players to contracts.
The “Drysdale set” Fleer issued in 1966, however, was actually the “All Star Match Baseball” game, with each of the game cards including a black and white puzzle piece of Drysdale on the reverse, such that all 66 cards were necessary to complete the puzzle.
Fleer had also tried to get the jump on Topps by sending contracts and $25 checks to all players chosen in the newly implemented draft, which upset some college coaches who feared their players could jeopardize their amateur status by cashing those checks.
Despite Fleer’s continued efforts to erode Topps’ market stranglehold, Fleer ultimately acquiesced and subsequently sold all of its baseball contracts to Topps in 1966 for $385,000 (approximately $3.4 million today). This would not be the last we would hear from Fleer at the courthouse, however.
Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., 171 N. Y. 538, 541, 64 N. E. 442 (N.Y. 1902). This right of privacy is generally attributed to this article in the 1890 Harvard Law Journal by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis.
Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200, 42 S.Ct. 465, 66 L.Ed. 898, 26 A.L.R. 357 (1922). Major League Baseball has a legal monopoly, “[t]he business is giving exhibitions of baseball, which are purely state affairs. It is true that in order to attain for these exhibitions the great popularity that they have achieved, competitions must be arranged between clubs from different cities and States. But the fact that in order to give the exhibitions the Leagues must induce free persons to cross state lines and must arrange and pay for their doing so is not enough to change the character of the business.”
Hanna Mfg. Co. v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 101 A.L.R. 484, 78 F.2d 763 (5th Cir. 1935). Defendant Hillerich & Bradsby Co. will be referred to as “Louisville Slugger,” its more widely used tradename today.
Bowman Gum, Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 103 F. Supp. 944 (E.D.N.Y. 1952). Topps also issued 9-card set of team photos in 1951 (Boston Red Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, New York Giants, Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Senators) and Major League All-Stars/Connie Mack All-Stars. These sets do not appear to have been subject of the litigation between Topps and Bowman.
Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, 202 F.2d 866 (2nd Cir. 1953). In April 1952, Bowman Gum shareholders approved the change of the company name to Haelan Laboratories. Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1952: 4. Accordingly, the ensuing litigation lists Haelan—and not Bowman—as a party.
Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, 131 F. Supp. 262 (E.D.N.Y. 1955).
In re Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. 67 F.T.C. 744 (1965). Baseball card sales in 1960: Topps $3,638,000 (approx. $34 million today), Fleer $300,000 (approx. $2.8 million today), and Leaf $100,000 (approx. $934,000 today); in 1961: Topps $3,475,000 (approx. $32 million today) and Fleer $355,506 (approx. $3.3 million today). The second series of Fleer’s 1961 Baseball Greats accounted for an additional $85,000 in sales (approx. $778,000 today) for 1962. Though distributed under the company name “Sports Novelties Inc.,” the 1960 Leaf issue is referred to in the hobby as “Leaf” and is referred to similarly herein. The FTC hearing examiner described the Beatles as “a group of singing troubadours imported from England”. Additionally, for football cards, the contract was made with the league and not the individual players. The players received no direct compensation—all money was channeled to league pension funds.
“The Week in a Busy World,” Atlanta Constitution, May 5, 1901: 42.
“Chewing Gum Stuck with Suit by Mize,” Daily News (New York), August 27, 1941: 284.
“Johnny Mize Asks Damages from Cambridge Gum Firm,” Boston Globe, June 25, 1942: 11. Mize appeared on two cards in the set: Nos. 39/40 with Enos Slaughter and Nos. 99/100 with Dan Litwhiler. It is unclear how many of each comprised the total.
“Mize of Cardinals Wins Court Test on Use of Name,” Boston Globe, September 5, 1941: 23.
“Mize Suit Against Gum Firm Dismissed,” Des Moines Register, June 28, 1942: 16.
“Spahn, Five Others Take Action in Gum Distribution Controversy, Boston Globe, May 4, 1949: 23. Although this case attracted little press, that Warren Spahn was involved is not surprising based on the battle he would have in the future regarding the publication of the “Warren Spahn Story,” which he contended painted him in a false (but positive) light and was published without his consent.
“A’s Stars Get Writ to Bar Use of Pictures on Gum,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 7, 1949: 16.
“Haelan Merged into Connelly,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 1955: 30.
Bob Rathgeber, “Young Bob Quinn: Bubble Gum Exec,” Bradenton (Florida) Herald, March 17, 1966: 14.
Wayne Shufelt, “’Gummed’ Up,” Tampa Times, April 2, 1966: 10.
Paul Bedard, “Bubble May Burst in Baseball Card Suit,” Washington Post, June 20, 1979.
A reply to a recent SABR Baseball Cards social media post led me to think about the baseball players more famous for their baseball cards than for any of their on or off the field exploits. Here are ten who I believe fit the bill.
Ripken lasted twelve years in the big leagues as an infielder, including an all-star caliber season in 1990. Today he is a frequent co-host on MLB Network. His brother is baseball’s ultimate Iron Man and one of the greatest shortstops in history. And still, say the name Billy Ripken and card collectors think only of one thing: his 1989 Fleer F*ck Face card.
His career on the diamond lasted only half as long as Billy Ripken’s but he spent six years as the regular second baseman for the Rangers and Cubs, topping 30 steals four times while batting a respectable .266. Like Ripken, baseball also ran in his family. Of course any kid who collected baseball cards in 1979 will know him best for this seemingly impossible cardboard trickery.
BRANDON PUFFER AND JUNG BONG
Puffer played four years in the big leagues, appearing in 85 games for the Astros, Padres, and Giants. Jung Bong played one fewer season, appearing in 48 games for the Braves and Reds. The two pitchers combined for a WAR of -1.2. Though never teammates, the duo shared Future Stars cardboard in the 2003 Topps set on card #331, known to collectors (and chronicled by David Roth) as the “Bong Puffer card.”
Legitimately one of the best hitters of his time, scouted by the legendary Buck O’Neil, and the man behind the classic line, “They don’t think it be like it is, but it do,” Oscar Gamble would be remembered fondly even if he had no baseball cards at all. Fortunately that’s a hypothetical we need not ponder long when this pure cardboard gold is right in front of us.
SHERRY MAGEE AND JOE DOYLE
Magee built a borderline Hall of Fame career from 1904-1919 that included more than 2000 hits, four RBI titles, and 59.4 WAR. Even with those credentials I suspect many readers can only hazard a guess whether his name is pronounced Maggie, McGee, or Madgee.
Doyle, on the other hand, had a completely undistinguished career, seeing limited action on the mound over five seasons at roughly replacement level.
Whatever their on-field exploits, each of these players will forever be cardboard legends, with their error cards comprising half of the T206 set’s “Big Four.”
BENNY BENGOUGHAND ANDY PAKFO
Bengough was a career backup catcher who compiled 0.3 WAR over his ten seasons in the big leagues. When the 1933 Goudey set came out, he was already out of baseball.
Pafko, on the other hand, was a four-time all-star who batted .285 over 13 seasons with a career OPS+ of 117. His 1952 season (.287/19/85) was uncannily similar to his lifetime per 162 slash line of .285/19/85, and his midseason move from the Cubs to the Dodgers the prior year was one of the season’s biggest trades.
While neither player would top any list of all-time greats, each player topped many stacks of baseball cards, thanks to being numbered one in the 1933 Goudey and 1952 Topps sets respectively. Until the Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie card came along in 1989, I suspect these two players were the Hobby’s most famous set starters. Certainly both cards, in reasonable shape, carried a premium comparable to lesser Hall of Famers due to rubber banding, spills, and the myriad other ways stack toppers suffered disproportionate damage in collections prior to the advent of plastic sheets.
I’ll end the article with what may be my most contentious selection. Without a doubt, Wagner is a top shelf baseball immortal, considered by many to be the greatest shortstop of all-time if not the single greatest player of the Deadball Era. (In both cases, Pop Lloyd deserves consideration as well.) To an audience well versed in baseball history, therefore, Wagner is most famous for his tremendous playing career, even if most fans still pronounce his name wrong.
Yet whatever his accomplishments on the diamond, I suspect the Flying Dutchman is best known today, whether in the collecting world or the general public, for a single, transcendently pricey cardboard rectangle, our Hobby’s Mona Lisa.
Who else would you nominate for this elite club where ERR trumps WAR and even backup catchers can be number one? Sound off in the Comments!
When researching the 1934-36 National Chicle “Batter Up” set I came across the curious fact the set’s first series, cards 1-80, included no Chicago Cubs. At first this seemed like a quirk unique to the set. However, further research revealed that the lack of Cubs was fairly common among the gum and candy cards of the era. Here is a chronology of the major sets from 1933-49 along with the status of their Cubs cards or lack thereof.
The 240-card set in 1933 included 17 Cubs cards, including at least one in each of its first 9 series, which is about what you’d expect. I’ve mainly included this set because A) it’s THE gum set of the 1930s, and B) it’s the last set before things got weird.
The 96-card follow-up set in 1934 included 6 Cubs cards, which by itself doesn’t suggest anything anomalous. However, the distribution of Cubs in the set is worth a quick note. Series one included three Cubs, but all were repeated from the 1933 set, artwork and all. (This was true of all 24 cards in 1934 series one.)
When the set did issue its first series of new players, none were Cubs. It wasn’t until the set’s third series that new Cubs (Lynn Nelson, Lyle Tinning) finally appeared. (The fourth series brought back another Cub, Kiki Cuyler, from the 1933 set but with new artwork. And as Matthew notes in the comments, the twelve “Chuck Klein says” cards also add to the Cubs fourth series presence.)
The 1935 Goudey set primarily relied on recycled artwork and players from their 1933 and 1934 releases. Of the 144 “cards” (really, quarters of cards) in the set, there are only 11 new players. None are Cubs. Overall, the Cubs are tied with the Phillies for fewest cards in the set: either one or four, depending how you choose to count.
The small 25-card set in 1936 included one Cubs player, Chuck Klein.
Subsequent Goudey sets seemed to be fairly normal with respect to Cubs players.
National Chicle debuted two significant multi-year sets in 1934. One was the Batter Up set, whose 80 cards that year have already been noted to have avoided the Cubs entirely. The other set, Diamond Stars, was equally devoid of Cubs among its 24-card offering that year.
Diamond Stars continued in 1935 with 60 new players, and this time there were three Cubs, two of whom were repeated with identical artwork in the 1936 release.
Meanwhile, series two of Batter Up, which I place entirely in 1936, exploded from zero to 11 Cubs among the final 112 cards in the set.
Gum, Inc., is best known to collectors for two different offerings: Play Ball (1939-41) and Bowman (1948-55). The three years of Play Ball cards included 473 different cards. Believe it or not, none were active Cubs players! The 161-card 1939 set and 72-card 1941 set included no Cubs at all while the 240-card 1940 set included three retired greats and one coach card.
The Gum, Inc., shutout continued into their debut Bowman offering that included 48 cards but no Cubs. Beginning in 1949, however, the Bowman sets had about the number of Cubs cards one would expect.
This set included 65 cards. None were Cubs.
1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Up
This 40-card set had no Cubs, but it’s a bit of a special case as only American League teams were represented.
1941 Double Play
This set had 75 cards (150 if cut in half) including five (or ten) Cubs cards, among them the first card (or two cards) in the set.
1948 Swell “Sport Thrills”
This highlights set included only 20 cards, none of which were Cubs. Then again, there were five other teams that didn’t make the checklist either. Still, you’re gonna tell me this was a bigger thrill than the Homer in the Gloamin?’
Chicago-based Leaf Candy introduced a 98-card set (likely intended to be larger) in 1949, and 11 of the cards were Cubs.
* * * * *
I posted some key elements of this article to the SABR Baseball Cards readers on Twitter as well as the collectors on the Net54 Baseball forum. Leading theories on the omission or delayed inclusion of Cubs in the various sets tended to relate to the Cubs being owned by the Wrigley family. Why help the competition, right?
Of course Cubs did ultimately crack the checklists, even if it took ten years in the case of Gum, Inc. One wonders, therefore, what made the difference. Did the rival gum and candy makers make P.K. Wrigley an offer he couldn’t refuse? Did the players break from official or unofficial team policy to sign with rival confectioneries? Did Wrigley ultimately decide that Cub-less baseball card sets would hurt the popularity of his franchise?
Whatever prompted the return of Cubs cards, I can’t even imagine being a Cubs fan from 1939-41, buying pack after pack of Play Ball, and not pulling a single Cubs player. I guess the closest I can come is being a Dodger fan in 2021 and not finding packs to open at all.
White Sox slugger Zeke Bonura has one of the more unusual baseball cards of the 1930s, courtesy of the 1936-37 World Wide Gum (V355) set sometimes known as Canadian Goudey.
Notably, the dapper Bonura is sporting a tie and vest ensemble rather than any baseball-related garb. (Oddly enough, the very next card on the checklist is of a fellow White Sox infielder, dressed almost identically.)
One might initially assume the two teammates were photographed at the same event, perhaps a banquet or the opera. Or might they have joined this man, dressed to conduct an orchestra or star in a Dracula movie, for a simple night on the town?
No? Okay, any chance Bonura, if not all three of these debonair gentlemen, were en route to this September 1935 watermelon eating contest?
Getting warmer but that’s still not it. If we’re gonna solve this mystery we’ll need one very important clue.
When Zeke wasn’t playing ball with the White Sox, he was often back home in New Orleans where according to this January 20, 1935, article (Nebraska State Journal) he “wrestles crates of produce, takes orders and makes himself generally handy around his father’s produce store.”
As it turns out, Bonura not only spent his winter months neck deep in fruits and vegetables but many springs as well. “Mentioning that Bonura is a holdout is about the same as saying that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning,” observed the Sporting News (January 14, 1937). Two years earlier, the same publication had Bonura “[speaking] up from the recesses of his father’s market in New Orleans” regarding his 1935 contract holdout. Bonura’s SABR bio has him holding out four straight years from 1935-38.
My understanding is that the fruitless negotiations went something like this:
SOX: “Hey, Zeke, are you gonna PRODUCE RUNS or RUN PRODUCE!” ZEKE: “Either way I’m gonna get my cabbage!” SOX: “…or just upset the apple cart.” ZEKE: “You really think I give a fig?” SOX: “How’d we end up with such a lemon?” ZEKE: “Actually the nickname’s Banana Nose.” SOX: “More like gone bananas! You’re really gonna turn down a plum job…” ZEKE: “I have a plum job!” SOX: “Apples and oranges.” ZEKE: “That too!” SOX: “What is this, Who’s On First?“ ZEKE: “Anyone but me if you don’t pay up!”
But lettuce at last return to the baseball card that began this article. If you haven’t guessed it already, it’s this other job—Bonura as fruit merchant—that the card depicts. Look carefully at the backdrop behind Bonura and you’ll spot various crates of produce. To the left of his forehead are the letters “TAIN,” which I suspect come from one of the many fruit crates of the period with “MOUNTAIN” on the label. Similarly, the “ON U.S.” by his chin is likely a fragment of “WASHINGTON U.S.A.” or “OREGON U.S.A.,” two states known for their produce. Look closely and you may recognize other words as well.
Though it’s possible the World Wide Gum card’s photograph was taken during the winter months, my sense is it’s more likely to be a spring photo since that’s when Zeke as fruit merchant would have been more newsworthy. If so, I have to imagine the 1936-37 WWG Bonura card is the first (and probably only) baseball card of a player actively holding out for more money.
How do you like them apples? 😊
Author’s Note: I believe the site of the baseball card and newspaper photos would have been at Bonura Wholesale Produce (and/or John Bonura & Company), located at 200 Poydras Street in the New Orleans French Quarter. While the business no longer stands today, there is a Gordon Biersch brewery and restaurant where you can raise a glass (or enjoy some seasonal vegetables!) in Zeke’s honor.
George Costanza is woven deep into the fabric of America’s national pastime. Assiduously converting a nebulous, unrealistic desire to become either the general manager of a baseball team or a sports announcer while holding no experience in either endeavor, he eventually rose to assistant to the traveling secretary of baseball’s most prestigious franchise, the New York Yankees. So versatile was Costanza in this capacity that, in addition to his expert booking of the team in Ramada hotels during road trips, he imparted invaluable batting tips to Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter before the 1997 season. It’s no coincidence that Williams, a .305 hitter in 1996, saw his batting average jump to .328 after Costanza’s unraveling of hitting’s simple physics (velocity/[trajectory × gravity]), then earn the American League batting crown in 1998 with a .339 mark.
By 1999, both Williams and Jeter pumped their averages into the .340s—making Costanza probably the best de facto hitting coach the franchise ever had.
And as for Jeter’s fragile defense that the Bronx Bombers had just won the 1996 World Series and thus didn’t warrant Costanza’s unsolicited batting tutelage, it’s even less of a coincidence that New York proceeded to sweep the 1998 and 1999 World Series and lose only one game in the 2000 Fall Classic—thus dropping a lone contest over three Costanza-influenced World Series championships.
So much for winning in six, Derek.
An ardent Yankees supporter long before he joined the payroll, Costanza introduced the revolutionary concept of naming a newborn after the uniform number of one’s favorite player—in George’s case, Mickey Mantle. Alas, this electrifying idea was stolen by his fiancé’s cousin, but George can be proud that somewhere walks a young man or woman with the wonderfully novel appellation of “Seven”—a name with cachet up the yin-yang!
Whether George was freeing the New York Yankees from the shackles of the past by wearing Babe Ruth’s priceless uniform while eating syrupy strawberries or dragging its hard-won World Series trophy around the parking lot to free himself from the shackles of the Yankees so he could accept an offer to become the New York Mets head scout, George Costanza proved himself an integral element of baseball—even if 1979 National League co-MVP Keith Hernandez thinks he’s a chucker.
If George owns a regrettable moment during his baseball career, it’s his brief, star-crossed encounter while doing volunteer work with senior citizens. While Elaine Benes devoted time to Mrs. Oliver, the goitered ex-lover of Mahatma Gandhi, and Jerry attempted to provide companionship for the irascible Mr. Fields while simultaneously allowing Kramer and Newman to loot the old man’s valuable record collection, George found himself partnered with the carefree Ben Cantwell, as they attempted to enjoy a lunch together.
Though this lunch occurred previous to his employment with the Yankees, it is curious that an ardent baseball fan such as George failed to realize that the man sitting opposite him in the booth of the coffee shop may well have been former major league pitcher, Ben Cantwell, a man who was a teammate of Babe Ruth, himself. True, Mr. Cantwell claimed to be 85 years old, which would make his birth year either 1907 or 1908, whereas all official sources list the Boston Braves hurler as having been born in 1902. However, birth records from such remote years have been known to be inaccurate; as well, people, in their vanity, have been known to shave years off their birthdate either to feel younger or keep themselves relevant (a pratice widespread in baseball’s bygone days, as displayed on countless baseball cards as recently as the 1950s).
Ben Cantwell might simply have been the Joan Rivers of the major leagues.
George’s potential knowledge of Cantwell’s history surely would have provided for a more amiable and rewarding conversation. What stories Mr. Cantwell could have spun: playing with and against the titans of the 1920s and ‘30s; being a 20-game winner in 1933; being a member of the worst National League squad of the 20th century; recollections of the Babe. Mr. Cantwell was a veritable treasure trove of baseball history waiting to be gleaned.
Rather than pecking obsessively at the fact that the wizened Cantwell could meet his maker at any moment, George could have discussed how Cantwell dealt with going a horrid 4-25 for the inept Boston Braves in 1935. Judging by Mr. Cantwell’s insouciance about his advanced age, it’s a good bet he comported himself in the same graceful manner while his teammates barely lifted a bat to help him—a life lesson that would have well served the anxiety-plagued, hypochondriacal George.
Instead, George insists on pressing the issue of Ben Cantwell’s ostensible nearness to oblivion, eventually driving away his elderly company. A precious opportunity lost (after which, George adds insult to injury by crassly expecting this sufferer of the Great Depression to pay for the soup).
Okay, it might be a little much to expect George to have recognized a man who may have been a semi-obscure pitcher six decades earlier. But considering George’s extensive interest in baseball, as well as growing up under the yoke of a father who also possesses a passion for the sport—as evidenced by Frank Costanza’s grilling of George Steinbrenner both for the Boss’s lamentable trade of Jay Buhner and for a $12 million contract handed to Hideki Irabu*—one is left wondering how George could have no inkling of his lunch guest’s possible identity.
* For the Irabu comment, see transcripts from the Fourth District County Court, Latham, Massachusetts v. Seinfeld et al; Article 223-7 of the Latham County Penal Code (the Good Samaritan Law); Honorable Judge Arthur Vandelay presiding.
Still, getting fired from a volunteer job may have been a moot point: George Costanza was, by his own admission, a great quitter who came from a long line of quitters. He was raised to give up—making his termination as Ben Cantwell’s youthful companion inevitable one way or the other. In essence, George Costanza was the 1935 Boston Braves of caring for senior citizens.