Frank O’Rourke’s Inherent Dignity

I’m not a collector.

           I have a few cards, some that are worth slightly more than the cardboard they’re printed on, and many more that hold a good deal of sentimental value to me and nobody else. But in the context of the readers of this blog, I don’t merit the use of the term. I’ve never completed a set, never paid more than pocket money for a card, never gone to any remarkable lengths to acquire anything rare, or valuable, or particularly noteworthy. I still have all the cards I amassed as a kid, and I buy new hanger packs when I see them, and on the rare occasion that a wax pack drifts into my field of vision, I snap it up. I’ve made a habit of buying packs for my kids, and we make a little ceremony of opening them together. On Opening Day, or the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting, I sneak packs into their school lunches, and they come home and tell me what players they found inside.

           But I haven’t done any of those things I identify as serious collector behavior. I’ve bought maybe a half-dozen cards on eBay, for example, and I haven’t attended a show since I was about fourteen years old. I’ll never own a Mantle, Ruth, Mays, Clemente, or Aaron.

           Baseball cards are, for me, not an investment, and not an abiding obsession, but something adjacent to baseball that I love for that proximity. They remind me of the game. Their look, and feel, and smell are memory triggers, and for that reason I treasure them.

           And yet, with all that said, I recently bought a 1934 Frank O’Rourke card. It’s No. 43 in the Canadian-printed World Wide Gum Co. series, which reused the 1933 Goudey design, updating the salient facts for 1934, and repeating the biographical info on the back in French. In keeping with my longstanding tightfisted ethos, I paid more in shipping than I did for the card itself. It’s ungraded, with soft, smushed corners where crisp, sharp edges should be. There are minor creases. This card is anything but pristine.

            Frank O’Rourke was a nobody. Well, that’s not quite fair. He’s in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, after all. Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1891, he was an infielder who eked out fourteen seasons of big-league ball for Boston’s NL club, the Robins, Senators, Red Sox, Tigers, and Browns. By the time his portrait was rendered for the ’33 Goudey set he’d seen his last major league action, hanging on with the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers. The ’34 card that I now own dates to his single season with the Montreal Royals of the IL. He dropped down a few rungs to the Piedmont League in ’35, then held on for four seasons as a player-manager for the El Dorado (AR) Lions of the class ‘C’ Cotton States League. He later managed one more year in the Gulf Coast League, and in retirement he served as a scout for the Yankees.

            As a big-league player, O’Rourke managed a career bWAR of -2.0 and amassed a .254/.315/.333 slash line, and a .947 combined fielding percentage at third, short, and second (with a handful of games at first, and a couple patrolling the grass). As a minor-league manager he piled up a lifetime record of 551-580 across four levels of pro ball. Add all of that up and you get a slightly below-average baseball long-hauler, which is not to say there was nothing quietly heroic about Frank O’Rourke; longevity requires its own superpowers.

            But unlike some of its in-set brethren, selling this card wouldn’t allow me to pay off the mortgage, or retire to somewhere hot, sandy, and tax-free. Instead, my appreciation for this card is twofold: the first is purely and unapologetically aesthetic; the second is its implicit historical value.

            The Goudey cards are notoriously easy on the eyes, rendered with a stab at artistry that’s not generally present in modern cards. Holding a Goudey next to a 2021 Topps card makes for a stark contrast. The latter assaults with hyper-sharp photography and whizbang graphics that are intended, I can only guess, to suggest futurity, and motion, and, I don’t know, the internet? The Goudeys are Renaissance paintings on discrete panels of olive wood meant to be inlaid in elaborate polyptychs framing alters in out-of-the-way country churches, reverent celebrations of the beauty and purity of God’s favorite game. The backgrounds are solid fields of color—green in O’Rourke’s case, but elsewhere blue (as in Gehrig), yellow (Jimmie Foxx), red (Dazzy Vance). All the better to focus on the player. O’Rourke’s depicted from the chest up, like a Roman bust, in classic baseball togs: a white (or off-white) cap, logo-free, and a matching jersey with sun collar and orange-brown soutache piping. The pose is adapted from a photo of him in a St. Louis Browns uniform, from 1931 at the latest, that the Goudey (or World Wide Gum) people didn’t bother to retouch, though they were clear to indicate that he was, by 1934, a member of the Montreal Royals and thus in the habit of donning a blue-trimmed uniform.

            The portrait is so classically, absurdly, tragically handsome that if you hold it up to your ear it sings Protestant hymns interspersed with staticky ’30s radio calls of games won with moxie and heart. Even if you aren’t up to speed on his biography, the portrait makes clear that this is a baseball lifer, a man rolled in chalk and infield dirt and baked beneath a thousand midday suns.

            Since I first gazed on O’Rourke’s cardboard face I’ve gone looking for baseball card corollaries, but I came up short until I widened my scope, and then I found Piero della Francesca’s portrait of an Augustinian friar (possibly St. Leonard). Consider the similarities: the subtle intimations of age around the eyes and mouth, the weariness, and yet the slight bemusement, the wry off-center stare. Neither the friar nor Frank are too jaded to enjoy a good joke. Though separated by half a millennium, you get the sense they’d find some common ground. But beneath it all there’s something unmistakably ecclesiastical about both men’s depictions, the not-quite-visible result of a lifetime’s devotion to their respective callings. It’s behind the eyes, I think, or maybe just below the skin. Wherever it is, Piero managed to capture it, as did Elmer E. Crowell, the man responsible for O’Rourke’s likeness.

            The second half of my appreciation for this card has to do with its age: almost ninety years have passed since it was printed. I haven’t handled enough really old cards for the wonder of that to have diminished. Eighty-six years ago someone—a child, a nostalgic adult—bought a pack of gum and out tumbled this card.

            The US domestic GDP was in recovery after the New Deal slammed the brakes on negative growth and pumped cash into the economy. Hitler was chancellor of Germany, already in the process of consolidating his power and assuming the title of Führer. The first camps opened. The Prime Minister of Canada was RB Bennett, a safety match magnate who bungled the response to the Depression but had the foresight to establish the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In China, where my grandfather was a brakeman on a streetcar in Shanghai, tensions with Japan were ratcheting up in the wake of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the uneasy resolution to the “January 28th Incident.” The globe, inexorably, marched toward war.

            In the Bronx, Ruth was in his last season as a Yankee, and Gehrig, five years from retiring in the face of the rapid advance of his illness, was assuming outright leadership of the team. The Gashouse Gang took the Tigers in seven games in that fall’s Series. Detroit’s Mickey Cochrane was voted the AL’s best player, and in Commerce, Oklahoma, zinc miner Mutt Mantle’s kid, named for Cochrane, turned three years old.

            Frank O’Rourke was not directly connected to any of this as he toiled away in Montreal, and his card—a 2-3/8″ by 2-7/8″ piece of thick paper—has nothing whatsoever to do with those events. It was not present for any of them; it was not in all likelihood possessed or handled by any of the players in the aforementioned dramas. But it is for me touched by a temporal proximity, sprinkled with a residue which, though slight, constitutes enough of a reason for me to own it.

            If a Ruth Goudey—or a Sweet Caporal Wagner, or a ’52 Topps Mantle—is the seventh game of the World Series, then my Frank O’Rourke World Wide Gum is a non-consequential Thursday afternoon getaway game played before an announced crowd of twelve thousand. And while I love the screw-tightening intensity of a big game, what I treasure most about baseball is the sweet everydayness of it, the companionship of the radio announcer’s familiar voice for six months, the long, comforting trough of a regular season. And for all the superstars, the game’s lifeblood is its rank and file, guys like O’Rourke, doing the yeoman work of showing up every single day and taking his cuts, scooping up ground balls, and making throws across the diamond from whichever position he’s assigned.

            In that way, this O’Rourke card is perfectly emblematic both of Frank’s life and career, and most of ours. I won’t be in any literal or figurative Hall of Fame, and chances are neither will you. That’s okay. Something as beautiful as this Frank O’Rourke card exists to quietly and stubbornly insist that regardless of that, there’s still a hell of a lot of dignity inherent in our efforts, and the legacies thereof.

Editor’s note: Andrew’s newest book is now available for pre-order. If you can judge a book by it’s cover, this one will not disappoint!

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 1

A decade of tumult, the 1930s saw the United States, and the world, in flux. Numerous European economies continued their struggle to survive in the wake of the Great War—a struggle that finally reached America’s shores in October 1929, as the Wall Street Crash heralded the Great Depression. The map of the world, itself, was in flux, as newly minted despots gobbled up sovereign states to add to their burgeoning empires, while their demagoguery inspired millions to visit the darkest depths of the human soul.

In short, there was little in the 1930s on which to depend. Even names were in flux.

Warren Ogden, a descendant of Ogdens who had crossed the Atlantic with William Penn and whose surname became the eponym of the Pennsylvania town in which Warren was born, pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators in the mid-1920s. (Warren’s older brother, Jack, also pitched in the majors, though his yo-yo career up and down from the bushes spanned 1918 to 1932.) Not much of an asset to Connie Mack, Warren was put on waivers in May 1924, eventually being picked up by Washington. His 9-5 record and excellent 2.58 ERA over the remainder of the season helped Washington clinch its first pennant. A surprise starter in Game 7 of the World Series, Ogden struck out leadoff hitter Freddie Lindstrom, walked Frankie Frisch, and then was pulled for southpaw George Mogridge, in a successful ploy by manager Bucky Harris to lure John McGraw into altering his batting order to the right-handed Ogden. (Washington won in the bottom of the 12th inning to claim its only World Series championship.) Ogden remained with the Senators through July 1926, his major league record set at 18-19.

But we’re talking about the tumultuous, undependable 1930s, aren’t we? So, why bring up Warren Ogden, whose major league career ended well before that decade arrived? Because Goudey, well known for including minor leaguers in its 1933 set, did just that: Card No. 174 shows Warren as a Montréal Royal. (Ditto for big-brother Jack [“John”] Ogden, whose major league career ended in 1932 but received a card as a Baltimore Oriole in 1933. On a weird side note, the only other vintage card on which either brother apparently appeared, the 1928 W461 Exhibit, is a card of John yet shows a several-year-old photo of Warren, in his Senators uniform.)

As you can see, Goudey parenthetically included Warren’s nickname, “Curley.” However, the common spelling of said nickname has always been “Curly.” In fact, his name is sans “e” in virtually all resources, including Baseball Reference, SABR, Baseball Almanac, and MLB.com.

One might be inclined to think this was a Goudey thing—after all, the company wasn’t spelled Goudy.

However, as stated above, such inconsistency seems to have been symptomatic of the chaotic 1930s, where it clearly plagued the Three Stooges as well.

Yet whereas Columbia Pictures seems to have permanently abandoned the “e” by late in the decade, the sheer paucity of vintage Warren Ogden cards allowed this oversight to go unaddressed until 1975—long after Warren Ogden’s death—when TCMA’s team set honoring the 1924-1925 Senators finally conformed the spelling of his nickname to standard.

Every baseball player thrills to seeing himself on a baseball card for the first time, so God only knows how many times over the years his 1933 Goudey caused Ogden to wipe his hands vertically across his face in Curly Howard–like exasperation or maniacally spin himself 360° while lying on the floor knowing that he’d likely take “Curley” to the grave.

Alas, like his more famous namesake, Curly Ogden was a victim of soycumstance.

New member honors Hinchliffe with card set

Author’s Note: The SABR Baseball Cards blog is pleased to introduce new SABR member Donna Muscarella, whose interests in baseball, the Negro Leagues, and photography led her to produce a Hinchliffe Stadium baseball card set.

What led to your interest in Hinchliffe Stadium?

I visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum during a baseball-themed vacation in 2016.  The experience left me feeling a range of emotions—from anger to awe and much in between—but mostly, it left me with a desire to learn more about the Negro Leagues players, owners, and teams.

When the Tip Your Cap campaign associated with the Negro Leagues’ 100th Anniversary started in June 2020, I wanted to have Topps do a small run of twenty custom baseball cards for me.  Initially, I planned for the cards to depict me tipping my cap in tribute to the Negro Leagues.  That’s a pretty dull card on its own, so I started thinking about places that would complement the theme.  With local venues closed, and my feeling uncomfortable traveling during a pandemic, every idea I had about location seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream.  I scrapped the plan.

In addition to limited or no access to venues of all kinds, 2020 also brought limited or no access to modern baseball cards (at least, not at prices I felt were reasonable, Project 2020 aside).  The lack of product led me to think about other hobby options, and I became enamored with the thought of building a collection of postcards depicting stadiums in which Negro Leagues baseball had been played.  The first step in that process was to compose a list of ballparks.  Imagine my surprise and jubilation when I discovered that a dedicated Negro Leagues ballpark—not a Major League stadium rented to a Negro League team—was still standing a little more than ten miles from my house!

What made you decide to turn your Hinchliffe photos into a baseball card set?

Once I learned about Hinchliffe, the plan for my Tip Your Cap tribute card was on again.  A bigger plan snapped into focus the second Hinchliffe came into sight.  There in front of me was a beautiful Larry Doby mural painted on the stadium wall.  My vision was to pose in front of the stadium gate, but as soon as I saw the Doby mural, I knew it was the perfect spot for my Tip Your Cap photo.  I felt compelled to get that stadium gate onto a card, though.  And if I was going to do a card featuring the gate, then why not a small set of cards showcasing Hinchliffe?  As I began to walk around the stadium with goosebumps growing on top of goosebumps, I knew it had to be.

Though the write-ups are brief, I learned a lot from the backs of your cards. How much was it a goal of yours to educate collectors?

The idea for the cards was born out of a desire to pay personal tribute to the Negro Leagues during its centennial year and to inspire others to learn more about the Negro Leagues.  I was moved by the thought that maybe, just maybe, each person that read the cards might be moved to not only do some research on their own, but also to invite someone else to explore all that the history of the Negro Leagues has to offer.  You know, kind of like that shampoo commercial from the 1980s:  “I told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on and…”

The backs of your cards pay homage to 1933 Goudey. What made you choose that style for your card backs?

I thought it would be fun to incorporate some aspects of vintage cards into this set. After all, it showcases a venue that opened to the public in the early 1930s. I chose to model the card backs after the 1933 Goudeys because Hinchliffe Stadium hosted the Colored World Series in 1933. And the rounded font on the card fronts, while not exactly the same, is meant to be reminiscent of the Goudey font. The uncoated front and back surfaces are another vintage attribute I chose.

How did you decide how many cards to include and which cards/pictures to include in your set?

I wanted the card images to tell a story, to give a small sense of what it might have been like to visit Hinchliffe on a game day. The images chosen and the corresponding size of the set grew organically from the elements of the ballpark I was able to photograph from outside the gates that would support that journey.

How did you decide how many sets to make?

Being that I’m a first-time custom-card creator, I wanted to keep the print run small. Fifty was the minimum amount I could order using the card stock I chose, so I went with it. Should there be enough interest in my work, I would consider a larger edition for other sets.

You mentioned that you live very close to Hinchliffe. Do you see yourself traveling someday to other historic baseball sites to take pictures and/or make trading cards?

Absolutely!  Incorporating baseball into vacations is a tradition that my parents started, and as a fourth-generation baseball fan, I’ve taken it one step further by building many of my travel plans around baseball.  My discovery of Hinchliffe has made me want to incorporate even more exploration of baseball history into my travels.

I can walk down an ordinary New York City street or stroll through a nearby park and want to take photos left and right, but put me in the midst of baseball history with my camera and I’m like a kid in a candy store. It’s a pretty safe bet that more historic baseball sites will be visited and captured through my camera lens.

This Hinchliffe trading card project has been invigorating, and I hope to repeat that feeling by creating and releasing more card sets.

Aside from stadiums or places, what other baseball-themed card sets you hope to make?

I would love to do a set or series of sets that incorporate some of my favorite images of players that I’ve captured over the years. But without licensing from at least the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (and Major and Minor League Baseball if I want to include team names and logos), I can’t release those images in bulk, or even in duplicate. I can, however, use those images in one-of-one pieces of art. I have some ideas for combining my photos of players and stadiums with baseball cards to create unique artwork and plan to begin experimenting with them soon.

Nick Swisher photo by Donna Muscarella

My next planned project is a companion set to complement my original Hinchliffe cards.  The images included in the initial release were taken with a somewhat photojournalistic approach.  I wanted to convey the story of fans arriving to the ballpark (the gate on Card 1), purchasing tickets (the ticket windows on Card 2), heading to the seating bowl (the entry area on Card 3), and sitting down to watch the action (the stands on Card 4).  The anticipation contained in those moments are precious.

What I’ve found though, is that there is so much more to Hinchliffe!  I’ve begun capturing the character of the ballpark with more of an eye for detail.  For example, the sphere-topped flagpoles now sit bare against a blue sky—to think how majestic they looked when serving their purpose on a game day!  I don’t know what the final composition of the set will be, but plan for it to once again feature my photography and serve as a vehicle to share information about Hinchliffe and its relationship with the Negro Leagues.

Something that makes your set unique versus what I see from many other independent card producers is that you used photos you took yourself rather than found elsewhere. How long have you been a photographer and what got you started?

My parents tell me I was inquisitive almost from birth, and I am also very sentimental.  I believe my love of photography stems from a need to explore and a desire to preserve my discoveries.  This idea of exploration can take on many forms—for instance, it may involve visiting a new place or examining a familiar subject with a new perspective.  The possibilities are endless, especially with photography.

That said, I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a child.  My first camera, a 110 point and shoot, was the bonus I received when opening a new savings account.  There were other gift options available, but I wanted that camera!  When we’d get photos developed from family vacations, it was always easy to tell which rolls were mine.  All you had to do was look for the envelopes full of photos of clouds and flowers and animals and unusual takes on buildings or statues…

Do you have any photography tips for our readers interested in taking their own photos of stadiums or other baseball subjects?

  • Experiment! Digital photography is extremely conducive to it. You can immediately see your captured image and decide if you like what the image conveys or if adjustments are needed. Play with different vantage points, different use of light and shadow, and different fields of view.
  • Don’t be afraid to get lost in the details. Search for gems hidden in plain sight. It’s easy to be captivated by the sweeping expanse of a ballpark. There is tons of beauty there, and it is worthy of attention. But there also is beauty to be found in the details! Maybe it’s the scrollwork on the aisle seats or the way the sunset is glowing through the lighting panels mounted on top of the stadium or the way a small portion of the stadium’s exterior appears even more majestic when its backdrop is an azure blue sky.
  • If photographing a stadium on game day, arrive early and go inside as soon as gates open. Take advantage of location and experience opportunities that may exist only in the first forty-five minutes or so after gates open.
  • As for equipment, sure it’s nice to have a “fancy” camera. I shoot with a DSLR (currently Nikon D500) and a compact camera (currently Canon PowerShot SX730). But if your phone’s camera is the only camera you own, don’t let that stop you from photographic exploration. If you decide you like the photographic adventure enough to invest in a more advanced camera, do so when your financial means allow. Don’t feel like you need to buy the top of the line camera, or even a camera with interchangeable lenses (DSLR or mirrorless) right away.

What’s involved in turning your images and text into an actual baseball card? What parts were “DIY” and what parts did you use outside resources for?

I designed and composed the cards myself. Aside from image selection, I started my design approach with the back of the cards. I was determined to pay homage to 1933 Goudeys, so I wasn’t starting from scratch with my design template. I needed to find fonts and colors that would evoke a Goudey feel. Since I was printing on white stock (to best preserve image colors), I needed to select not only a color for the lettering, but also a background color that would mimic 1933 cardboard. The most challenging part was fitting all of the information I wanted to include onto the tiny backs of those cards!

Donna’s cards alongside 1933 Goudey

For the card fronts, I used desktop publishing software to experiment with different design options and color schemes.  My experimentation ended when I found the combination that best complimented all of the images I had chosen and paired well with the flip-side design. Once the layout and content were finalized, I converted the “pages” to press-quality PDFs and gave them to a professional shop for printing.

Besides making your own cards, tell us about your favorite baseball cards, either from when you were a kid or present day.

Dave Winfield’s rookie card (1974 Topps #456) always comes to mind when I am asked about favorite cards.  My love of this card has nothing to do with the card’s design.  It is based solely on a personal experience involving the card.

One Saturday afternoon sometime in the 1980s, I answered the phone and was surprised to hear my dad’s voice on the other end. He and my mom were at the mall. Of course, back then, calls from public places were usually made using pay phones and weren’t made just to shoot the breeze—a call from a pay phone had a distinct purpose. I couldn’t imagine why my dad would be calling from the mall and hoped that everything was alright.

In a very excited voice, Dad told me that Dave Winfield was at the mall for a free (!) autograph signing for another 45 minutes. He told me to grab a Winfield card and get there fast. So I grabbed my Winfield rookie and headed to the mall while my parents held a place in line.

When we got to the front of the line, Mr. Winfield extended his hand to greet us. I shook his hand first and watched my hand and wrist disappear in his. After he shook hands with my parents, I thanked him for being there and told him I would be honored if he would please sign my copy of his rookie card. As I placed it in front of him, he said, “Are you sure you want me to sign this? It’s going to ruin the card.” I exuberantly responded, “No it won’t, and yes please!” He asked again, “You’re sure?” “Absolutely!” He proceeded to sign the card and handed it back to me. I was beaming.

As I was shaking his hand again and offering my gratitude, my dad said, “Oh no! I just realized what shirt you’re wearing.” Mr. Winfield said, “It’s perfect. It’s a Yankees shirt!” “Yes,” my father responded, “but she’s got someone else’s name and number on her back!” As my father put his hands on my shoulders to turn me around, I let out a mortified “Dad!” as only a teenager could. Mr. Winfield laughed. I explained that if I had taken the time to change my shirt, I might have missed meeting him and apologized for the unintentional disrespect I had shown. He was the perfect gentleman. And so Dave Winfield’s 1974 Topps card will always be special to me.

Don Mattingly’s Topps rookie and the 1971 Topps Thurman Munson are also favorites from my younger years (although the Munson predates the start of my collecting by a few years).

In terms of modern cards, I am a fan in general of Topps Allen & Ginter and Heritage, including Heritage Minors, as well as Topps ProDebut. Stadium Club is another favorite because it features such beautiful photography.

Donna’s collaboration with Topps artist Blake Jamieson

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favorite artist cards here. Josh Trout’s Jackie Robinson from 2020 Topps Gallery is a beauty, and Efdot’s Mariano Rivera and Blake Jamieson’s Don Mattingly from Project 2020 are also standouts.

I understand you just recently joined SABR. What prompted your decision, and what aspects of membership are you most excited about?

My first non-statistical exposure to SABR came via an event in the late 2000s at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. I recall fondly the sense of camaraderie amongst the panelists and gallery of attendees. So the first impression was a very good one. Fast-forwarding to 2020, I became more active on social media and found SABR’s contributions from both the master account and several committee accounts to be both interesting and informative.

I am most looking forward to meeting new people through SABR and participating in activities with fellow SABR members.  I am also excited about the tremendous amount of knowledge that sits with members of SABR and affording myself of opportunities to learn more about the greatest game ever:  baseball.

If our readers want to connect with you, what is the best way they can do that?

I’d love to hear from fellow baseball enthusiasts!  For longer inquiries or conversations, please email me at TheLensOfDonnaM@gmail.com.  I’m also on Twitter and Instagram:  @TheLensOfDonnaM.

Jason’s Mount Rushmore of Vintage Sets

I expect fellow author-collector Dylan has really started something with his post on the subject a couple weeks back. The topic is one just begging for the pen of each of our members, even as the idea of choosing “just four?!” often feels impossible.

1934-36 Diamond stars

I’ll lead off with a set that Dylan included on his Mt. Rushmore, the “Diamond Stars” issued by National Chicle from 1934-36. Like Dylan, it’s the look of the cards that hooks me in.

The color palette jumps off the cardboard like ink off a comic book page, but I am also a big fan of the baseball scenes depicted in so many of the card backgrounds. I’ve already written about these scenes coming more from the imaginations of the artists than real life, but for me that’s a feature, not a bug.

From a purely visual standpoint, Diamond Stars is my favorite set of the 1930s and perhaps my favorite set of all-time. Where it falls short with many collectors is in its player selection. Conspicuously absent from the set are Yankee greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. For the budget set collector, this is yet another bug-turned-feature.

If you’ve read a few of my pieces already, you also know I enjoy sets with some novelty and mystery. Diamond Stars definitely fits the bill, not only for its various quirks but also offers early instances (though by no means the earliest) of “Traded” cards.

If I had to choose one thing I dislike about this set, it’s the repetition of 12 players at the end of the set’s 108-card checklist. Particularly as these final cards are more scarce than the first 96, the duplication introduces disproportionate pain for set collectors forced to pay a premium for cards they already have.

1933 Goudey

Here is another set I’ve written about quite a bit and the set under whose shadow all other sets of the era reside.

While the set’s iconic status goes hand in hand with its trademark “Big League Chewing Gum” banner along so many of the card bottoms, my favorite cards come from the set’s final three releases (e.g., Morrissey, Root, and Herman above).

Where Diamond Stars lacked Ruth and Gehrig, Goudey brought these players on steroids, combining for six cards across the set’s 240-card checklist. Counting the Napoleon Lajoie card issued the following year, the set includes 66 cards of Hall of Famers and all but two players who competed in the season’s inaugural All-Star Game.

Were I to find fault with this set, it would be in a flaw common to all other baseball sets issued in the United States around this time. The set included players from the National League, American League, Pacific Coast League, International League, Southern Association, and American Association but no players from the Negro National League or other Black baseball leagues.

Kudos to my bud Scott Hodges who is filling some big holes in the 1933 Goudey set and others with his own digital card creations.

I’ve attempted similar in analog fashion though I’ve been less faithful to the history. Here is Buck Leonard on the Grays a year before he joined the team.

I will definitely treat the absence of Black stars as a bug, not a feature, but if there’s a silver lining it’s that there is no chance I could afford a 1933 Goudey Josh Gibson, and its absence from my collection would absolutely torment me daily.

1911 T205 Gold Borders

Like Dylan I had to include a tobacco set on my list. The T206 set, which initially did little for me, has grown on me immensely over the past couple years. Still, it would have to gain a lot more ground to surpass its gilded sequel.

The set features three different designs: one for National Leaguers, one for American Leaguers, and one for Minor Leaguers.

I absolutely love the NL and Minor League designs and am somewhat ho hum about the AL one, so I’m fortunate to be a Brooklyn collector.

As brilliant as the card fronts are, the T205 card backs are not to be ignored. While some feature brief biographies and one of several tobacco brands, others include…stats!

As with the two sets covered thus far, you will not find a single Black player in this set. You might suppose no card set from 1911 included Black athletes, but this was not the case. For example, here is Jack Johnson from the 1911 Turkey Red Cabinets (mostly baseball) set.

Once again then there is the knowledge in collecting T205 that you’re not collecting the very best players of the era. But again, did I mention I was a Brooklyn collector?!

AND…

Here’s where it always gets tough. I probably have ten or more sets I’m considering, but the rules are that I can only choose one. Though I love the cardboard of the 1930s (and earlier!) so much, my favorite era of baseball is the early 1950s. Though integration was slow, it was at least happening, and the mix of new talent and old talent was simply off the charts.

That said, the number of baseball card sets that managed to include all the top stars of the period was practically zero. Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Jackie Robinson in the same (playing era) set? Your choices are already fairly limited:

  • 1947 Bond Bread
  • 1948 Blue Tint
  • 1949 Leaf
  • 1950 All-Star Pinups
  • 1950 R423 Strip Cards
  • 1952 Berk Ross

Add Stan Musial and Bob Feller and the list shrinks further:

  • 1947 Bond Bread
  • 1949 Leaf
  • 1950 R423 Strip Cards
  • 1952 Berk Ross

Add Mantle and Mays and the list boils down to one: 1952 Berk Ross.

With a selection of players that also includes Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Duke Snider, Monte Irvin, and an awesome Johnny Mize “in action” card, could this set be the winner?

As much as I love the checklist, the answer has to be no. Most of the images are too dark, too light, or too weird for my taste, and the simple design borders on the boring. Still, what could have been!

The key then is to find a set with beautiful cards and almost all these same players, and–if we add a few more years–Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Ernie Banks.

As much as it pains me to give up Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial, it’s hard for me not to land on 1956 Topps. The beautiful portraits, the Kreindleresque action shots, and the awesome cartoon backs offer my favorite overall design of the Golden Age of Baseball, and the absence of Bowman meant nearly every active star was included in the set.

Unlike 1952 Berk Ross, with only 72 cards, 1956 Topps included 342 cards (counting un-numbered checklists), hence was large enough to assign a card to nearly everyone, not just a couple stars per team.

If I have any bitterness toward this set, it’s only the sour grapes of waiting way too long to collect it. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that sometimes to collect your Rushmore you need to…rush more! Luckily, I do have all 24 Brooklyn cards from the set, and hey, did I mention I’m a Brooklyn collector?

How about you? Which vintage (or modern!) sets make your Mt Rushmore? We look forward to your article!

SABR Century Project – Baseball Cards of 1921

Author’s note: The newly formed SABR Century Research Committee has invited SABR’s other committees to share in the celebration of all things baseball a century ago. In our case, that means the baseball cards of 1921.

As I begin typing up this post I must confess to owning no baseball cards from the year 1921. Like a lot of collectors–even vintage collectors–my collection has a 20+ year gap between the tobacco and caramel cards of the early 1910s…

…and the gum cards of the early 1930s.

Of course if past habits prove true, I may find myself trying to bridge that gap by the time I reach the end of this post. (No joke! Every card pictured above came from my stint here at the SABR Baseball Cards blog.)

I will therefore approach this article not as any authority on the subject but through the eyes of a collector window shopping the offerings of the year 1921 as if I were trying to pick out a card, which of course I just might do, though I may need to add a side hustle to find the cash.

1921 American Caramel

The first set that comes to mind when I think of 1921 is the American Caramel set known as E121. American Caramel had been making cards on and off since 1908. In fact, the leftmost card in my first image above is from their 1909-11 set known as E90-1. However, in the years leading up to 1921, American Caramel had been mostly off, with their 1915 E106 issue being their lone set produced between 1912 and 1920. Much of the absence might be attributed to World War I and the flu pandemic since almost nobody was producing baseball cards between 1917 and 1919.

Their 1921 set then perhaps came as a welcome surprise to collectors and chewers, and for those who’d saved or remembered their earlier caramel cards the new cardboard would have looked quite different.

Gone were the color paints and here for the remainder of the American Caramel decade were black and white photos. And though none would have realized it at the time, the 1921 issue was also a next step in the decidedly haphazard evolution toward standard baseball card size. A side-effect was that some collectors trimmed the sides off their 1921 cards, likely to fit with their earlier cards better.

Player selection for the set of 80 included spanned 15 of the 16 Major League franchises. Perhaps surprisingly based on their Pennsylvania headquarters the one team not represented was the Philadelphia Athletics.

Positioned at the close of the Deadball Era the checklist was a mix of small ball and long ball. (And yes, the Bambino is still sporting his Red Sox jersey!)

Other “top shelf” Hall of Famers included Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, and Walter Johnson. Absent from the set are all “Eight Men Out” despite most having played full seasons in 1920. This was consistent with most card sets of the era and even into the present, as most sets aimed to produce cards for the current season rather than the prior one.

1921-23 National Caramel

Not to be confused with American Caramel, another Pennsylvania-based caramel company put out a set. The cards had the same basic look as the American Caramel cards, and many even used the same photographs. The set is known as the E220 National Caramel set and included 120 cards over a three year period.

A comparison of the card backs between the two sets suggests a common designer or at least printer was used by both companies.

I’d wondered for a bit if they were in fact the same company, perhaps thru merger, but my brief research seems to indicate their was no business relationship beyond competitor. (Related: A group of executives from American Caramel did leave in 1925 to establish York Caramel, which put out a set of cards in 1927.)

I wish I could say no one was hurt in the making and packing of these baseball cards, but this September 2, 1921, article from the Lancaster News Journal may suggest otherwise.

Now I know you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t that the same kid who got injured in a different explosion six years earlier?”

And don’t even get me started on the murder plot! (Of course I’m serious, even dead serious you might say.)

1921 Exhibit Supply company

The year 1921 also saw the debut of a family of baseball card sets that would extend all the way to the early 1960s. Exhibit Supply Company out of Chicago began producing postcard-sized photo cards with blank backs known to collectors simply as “Exhibits.” The initial offering featured 64 players, an even four per team, and again black and white photography carried the day.

Over the years and decades the look of these Exhibits cards changed relatively little, as these examples from 1939-46 and 1962 show, though in 1962 the innovation of adding statistics to an otherwise blank back occurred.

As for star power, the top-shelf Hall of Famers in the 1921 Exhibits exactly matched that of the American Caramel set, including the key cards of Ruth and Cobb.

Strip cards

No need to avert your gaze if you’re a non-collector simply reading this as part of your Century Committee scholarship. These is not some “adults only” release or deck of cards to be used in strip poker. Rather, these cards get their name for being issued in long strips that candy sellers would cut for their young baseball-crazy customers.

Various issues released in 1921 went by the (later) classifications W516, W521, W551 (shown above), and W9316 and were joined by some earlier releases that remained in circulation. The most popular of the earlier releases is the 1919-21 W514 set. Among its 120 cards are a dozen White Sox, and it remains the most affordable (but not very) way to collect contemporary cards of seven of the Eight Men Out. (Can you spot who’s missing?)

Despite their relative affordability (okay, explaining their relative affordability), many collectors find strip cards to be too cartoony and unattractive for their collections. To illustrate that this sort of artwork is harder than it looks I asked my son to draw three baseball players of the era, and I think you’ll agree he was no match for the pros. Wait, check that. These are actual cards from the 1921 W9316 issue!

Though many collectors would just as soon forget strip cards ever existed, they do feature importantly in the history of the Hobby. In 1923 a new set of strip cards would emerge. The front of the cards would look just like another strip card set known as W515. However, this new set featured advertising on the back from a gum maker who would 36 years later make a bigger splash in the Hobby and 58 years later make an even bigger one.

Zeenut Pacific Coast League

While most baseball card production ground to a halt during the war and pandemic years, one set managed to renew itself annually from 1911 until 1930. The 1921 issue featured 169 blank backed cards, 1-3/4″ x 3-11/16″ in size, significantly narrower and incrementally taller than today’s baseball cards.

While the checklist includes only one Hall of Famer, Sam Crawford of the Los Angeles Angels, there is no shortage of ex-MLBers, future MLBers, and other notables.

Pictures of these cards are hard to find, so I’ll illustrate by means of a quiz some of the top players on the checklist. Their 1921 Zeenut team is in parentheses.

  • Holds the fourth highest career batting average among qualifying players. (San Francisco Seals)
  • One of eight players with over 4,000 professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Los Angeles Angels)
  • Has the same name as the player with the most professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Salt Lake City Bees and Sacramento Senators)
  • Six-time National League home run champion (Salt Lake City Bees)
  • Pitcher-turned-baseball card illustrator (Seattle Rainiers)
  • Had the best relief outing of all time (San Francisco Seals)

Okay, ready for the answers? Lefty O’Doul, Jigger Statz, Peter Rose, Gavvy Cravath, Al Demaree, and Ernie Shore. Pretty fun names for a minor league set!

Bread cards

Though the releases described so far define 1921 to most pre-war collectors, I’ll offer that really 1921 was the “Year of the Bread Card.” Bread cards had been around for at least a decade, as evidenced by the 1910 Tip Top Bread “World’s Champions” set honoring the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bread cards also continued well past 1921, as evidenced by Tip Top’s popular 1947 set and two from Bond Bread, one dedicated entirely to a history-making Dodgers rookie.

The years from 1980-2000 saw numerous bread issues as well, but of course those same years saw multiple cards sets from hardware stores, macaroni brands, fast food joints, toilet plungers, firearms, pacemakers, and bobby pins. (Okay, just kidding about some of those.)

What distinguished 1920 then wasn’t simply that there were bread cards, but that there were so many different ones.

  • 1920-21 Mother’s Bread
  • 1921 Clark’s Bread
  • 1921 Koester Bread New York Giants/Yankees
  • 1921 Mrs. Sherlock’s Bread Pins (shown below, and yes, I’m stretching the definition of baseball card a bit here)
  • 1921 Standard Biscuit
  • 1921 White’s Bakery Baltimore Orioles
  • 1921 Wool’s American-Maid [sic] Bread

I don’t knead to tell you that’s a lot of bread! What the focaccia was going on back then? Challah if you feel my pain. Can’t stop now, I’m on a roll.

The Bambino

From among the many other–mostly very obscure–sets issued in 1921, I’ll close with one most collectors have never heard of that nonetheless occupies and important slot in the evolution of the Hobby and in my opinion features the best design of any set of the era. (And yes, you have seen that last Babe Ruth pose already in this article.)

As the packaging notes, kids needed only to eat 250 boxes (wait, seriously?!) of this candy to win a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. What’s more, according to my research, this seven-card set (or six plus a variation, I would argue) was the largest set to date featuring a single player.

As was the case often with Babe Ruth in 1921 the record he beat was his own since the only (!) single-player baseball card sets I could find prior to 1921 were three (slightly) different Babe Ruth “Heading Home” movie card sets of 2-3 cards each from 1920.

Conclusion

Though 1921 was not the turning point in Hobby history it was situated within a brief 2-3 year period that saw many notable Hobby trends: the rise of Ruth, a return to photography, the debut of Exhibits, the peak of bread/bakery cards, the resurgence of caramel cards, and the demise of the Black Sox. The once ubiquitous tobacco cards that ruled the Hobby a decade earlier had largely disappeared from the landscape and would not return (in a major release) for 30 more years with the Red Man sets of the early 1950s.

Something else we know about the cards from 1921, however much or little we think about it, is that these cards tell us the story of a segregated game. Invisible from the sets of the day were many of the era’s top players:

  • Oscar Charleston of the St. Louis Giants
  • Cristobal Torriente, Dave Malarcher, and Bingo DeMoss of the Chicago American Giants
  • John Donaldson, Jose Mendez, and Bullet Rogan of the Kansas City Monarchs
  • Louis Santop of the Philadelphia Hilldales
  • Cannonball Redding and Dick Lundy of the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants
  • Pop Lloyd of the Columbus Buckeyes
  • John Beckwith of the Chicago Giants
  • Andy Cooper and Pete Hill of the Detroit Stars
  • Biz Mackey of the Indianapolis ABCs
  • Smokey Joe Williams of the New York Lincoln Giants

The omission of these players is not surprising, but it certainly diminishes the card sets of the era, at least in this collector’s eyes.

Less significantly, mustaches were absent from 1921 baseball cards and a good 50 years away from making their comeback.

As you and I ponder this Dick Allen card, which some of you may have even obtained in a pack (!) and I will at least recognize as coming from the same decade I entered the Hobby, I’ll close with a sobering thought. This Dick Allen card is as old today as the cards from 1921 were when the Dick Allen card came out. Putting it another way, that Dick Allen represents the midpoint between these two baseball cards:

At first glance, you might be drawn to the differences between these cards. How much has changed in a hundred years! But look again, and you will also see—quite remarkably—just how much has stayed the same. Therein resides the beauty of the Hobby, if not the Game.

My Mount Rushmore of Vintage Sets

As collectors we all have our favorite sets—the sets that stood out and caught our attention the second we laid our eyes on them. In this article I’m going to be discussing the four sets that are at the top of my list and form my personal Mount Rushmore of vintage baseball sets.

1933 DeLong

First up we have my all-time favorite set, 1933 DeLong gum cards. These cards never fail to amaze me. From the first time I laid my eyes on the set, I fell in love. This 24-card set featuring 15 Hall of Famers is brought to life by a bright and colorful background. The players appear to be larger than life as they stand or slide (i.e., Pepper Martin) on the diamond.

One very unique part about these cards is that the players are printed in black and white but certain parts of their uniforms like their hats, socks and jersey-lettering show some color. One more small detail that I’ve always loved is the much smaller ball players that appear behind the main player pictured on the card.

Going beyond the front of the card, the backs are also perfectly done, each card eloquently offering tips on fielding, throwing, hitting, running, etc., written by Austen Lake, a columnist for the Boston Transcript. Lake was no stranger to the game of baseball, having tried out for the Yankees before going overseas to serve in World War I.


The uniqueness of these cards, front and back, are what gives this set a slight edge over the next set that I will discuss.

1934-36 Diamond Stars

Second on my Mount Rushmore—my Thomas Jefferson—is the Diamond Stars set produced between 1934 through 1936. This entire set is nothing short of a work of art, the Salvador Dali of baseball cards, if you will. This set is truly one of a kind, it will catch your eye instantly, and will keep your attention the more you look through each and every card.

This set produced 108 beautiful cards, with the final twelve repeated players from earlier in the set. The first 96 cards are all unique in their own way. You can look through all 96 and you won’t find any card quite like another, which is what makes this set so fun.

This may be the only set where the background of the card, using its Art Deco style, can often be every bit as captivating as the player the card features. From the wide use of colors from purple, to red, to blue, to yellow, to green, this set was truly the first of its kind and maybe the last of its kind.

One of a few things this set has in common with the previously discussed 1933 DeLong set is that the backs of the cards are also written by Austen Lake, who again does an incredible job. Not only does Lake add tips on fielding, batting and pitching in this set but certain cards also feature a player bio.

T206

Next up we have what can arguably be considered the most popular baseball set of all time. This set is massive, especially for its time, consisting of 524 cards including over 100 minor league ball players. Numerous players have multiple cards in the set, often a combination of portraits and “action shots”.

This set from start to finish is absolutely stunning. Every single card in this set could be blown up and hung in an art museum and would not look out of place in the slightest. Though the player images are incredibly well done, the backgrounds of the cards are what captivates me the most.

Not only do the bright blue skies suck you in, but the spectacular blend of orange and yellow skies truly capture the essence of a time period when the most honest form of work was working in mines, in a factory, or some sort of construction or road work, when smoke filled the sky in almost every city in America at the turn of the century.

Going beyond the front of the cards, another special feature of the set is the 16 different variations of the backs of the cards, from the simplicity of the Piedmont and Sweet Corporal backs to the more elegant and rare backs like Carolina Brights, Cycle Cigarettes, and my personal favorite, Polar Bear.

1952 Topps

To wrap up my Mount Rushmore I’m going with an iconic set that features some truly iconic cards, most notably the legendary Mickey Mantle card, Eddie Mathews’ rookie card, and Willie Mays’ second year card.

It was a close call between this set and the 1953 Topps set that from the following year. I’m not sure there’s exactly a wrong answer between the two but I personally have always loved the 1952 set since I was first introduced to it.

This set does an incredible job of mixing simplicity with outstanding photography. The legendary stadiums that appear in the background of the cards and the various colors used as the backdrops for some of my personal favorites (Clem Labine, Roy Campanella, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Johnny Sain) are nothing short of mesmerizing.

Going beyond the players on the card and the backgrounds, the star studded borders that go around the nameplate with the player’s facsimile autograph and the old time team logos add the perfect touch on the perfect set to summarize 1950’s baseball.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAYER BIO CLUES

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

Sheet 1

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

Sheet 2

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

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

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

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

Sheet 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheet 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My collecting story

Editor’s note: SABR welcomes new member Dylan Brennan of the Philadelphia area Connie Mack chapter. You can follow Dylan’s wonderful journey through the Hobby at his Twitter page @cardsstory.

For as long as I can remember baseball and card collecting has been a passion of mine since I ripped my first pack as a kid somewhere around the age or 8 of 9, idolizing legends like Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and so-on. It’s always been more than a hobby to me, it’s been a way of life.

My first two best friends and I would run to the closest store that sold cards, which was a K-Mart about 500 feet from our front doors. Whenever we had some money in our pockets it was like Christmas. We’d all run over there. If we had $7, it all went toward baseball cards. We’d go straight to one of our basements and start ripping through pack after pack hoping for the games biggest stars and some hometown heroes.

It’s funny to think back to these times, when one of my biggest worries was when I could go out and play sports with my buddies and what players I was going to pull in a pack of Topps baseball cards, long before the real world inevitably hit me out of nowhere like a freight train. But what I didn’t know during those 30 seconds of ripping through a pack of cardboard, was that I was starting to form my deepest passions in life: baseball and card collecting.

Ever since those first packs I was hooked on collecting, having added thousands of cards in my childhood. As I got older and started high school, I collected frequently until about junior-senior year when I soon discovered that hanging out in the woods with my buddies and having a few beers was slightly more interesting to me at the time.

A few years later, I went away to college which to tell the truth, wasn’t really for me. I did about 3 semesters away at school then came home when I was 18 and went straight to work. (Ah, the American dream!) This is about the time I started getting back into collecting. I collected mostly autographs of any and all Hall of Famers, star players, and childhood favorites that I could get my hands on.

I’ve always had a keen interest in vintage cards. It’s a hard thing to explain, as a lot of things that we love can be. But seeing pictures of cards of legends like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson was like a short tour through the Baseball equivalent of the Louvre. I had to have them. And once I started to add some vintage to my collection, I quickly learned what I truly loved to collect.

There’s just something unique about vintage baseball cards. The feel, the smell of old cardboard that strangely enough has been one of my favorite smells in the world. Small pieces of art that have been passed around for 70, 80 or even 100+ years. I think that’s what makes some cards similar to a painting or any work of art.

Art almost always has a story to tell and often, the artist leaves it up to its viewers to interpret their own version of the story in their mind. Baseball cards are like that in a unique way. The feeling of holding a beautiful T206 card in your hand and wondering where that card has been for the last 110 years is what makes it so special. The hands they’ve passed through. The stories they could tell, I could only imagine.

I’ve been lucky enough add a lot of cards this past year that I never thought I would own. I’ve also been able to meet some truly great people along the way. I’m excited for what 2021 brings for my collection and I look forward to meeting more awesome people in the process.

Editor’s note: You came to the right place!

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheet 1

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

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

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

I think it depends.

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

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

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

Sheet 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheet 3

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

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

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

Sheet 4

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

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

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

Sheet 5

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

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

Sheet 6

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

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

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

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

Sheet 7

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

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

Sheet 8

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

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

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

Sheet 9

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

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

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

Sheet 10

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

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

Other events in the bios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

Appendix

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

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

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

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

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

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist

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

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part five

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheets 1-4

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

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

Chicago White Sox

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

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

St. Louis Browns

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

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

St. Louis Cardinals

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

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

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

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

None of the Above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheet 5

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

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

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

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

Sheet 6

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

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

Sheet 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheets 8 and 9

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

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

Sheet 10

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

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

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

Conclusion?

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

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

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

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

A first baseman…

And three outfielders.

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

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