A closer look at the 1936 Diamond Stars release

In my previous post I provided not only an overview of the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set but a deep dive into the cards that came out in 1935. Unless you are already an expert in Diamond Stars I recommend that you read that article or at least its introduction before jumping into this one.

My goal in this second article is to examine the 1936 Diamond Stars release, which consisted of cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108. Here is the checklist depicted graphically.

Particularly if you already know the very tidy subsets of cards that comprised the 1934 and 1935 releases, this listing of cards will appear quite haphazard at first glance. 73-108, that makes sense, but what’s with the random looking run of cards at the beginning?

That’s a question I’m very interested in attacking here, but before I do I should toss in a curveball. Going back to the run of cards 73-108, I’d like to split it into three groups, with the third one proving the most mysterious.

  • Cards 73-84: Repeated cards from 1935 release
  • Cards 85-96: Brand new cards for 1936
  • Cards 97-108: Renumbering of earlier cards in the set

Bill Dickey’s card #103 in 1936 is a good example of this third category as a nearly identical card numbered 11 was part of the 1934 and 1935 releases.

Now that you know the final twelve cards are renumbered repeats of earlier cards, you probably want to know which earlier cards. Here you go! The blue cells in the first four rows are the original versions of the twelve cards in the final row.

We now have a second way, though more imprecise than we’d like, to describe the 1936 release.

  • Largely a repeat of cards 1-36, though twelve are renumbered 97-108
  • Total repeat of cards 73-84
  • Twelve brand new cards, 85-96

If you’re like me that first bullet bothers you. What’s with card 46? And why not just repeat all of 1-36, or since 24 cards were selected, 1-24?

I’ll start with a partial answer to the second question. Card #7 is an example of one that is not recycled for 1936. It belongs to Lew Fonseca.

For more detail on Fonseca’s 1934 and 1935 cards, see my previous article. At present, suffice it to say that Fonseca’s final game as a player was way back in 1933 and even his managing stint only lasted until May 8, 1934. Therefore, a card in 1936 would be an odd thing indeed.

I suppose my same logic would dictate that a Fonseca card in 1935, which definitely did happen, was nearly as odd. However, that Fonseca card was fait accompli once the plan was made to recycle the entire 1934 issue in 1935.

But hey, if it’s 1936 and the plan is to not re-release the whole stack, Fonseca’s is an absolutely perfect candidate to exclude. So do all the “blanks” from that first run of 36 cards have a similar story? Unfortunately, the very first omission, card #1, provides an answer in the negative. Shazbot!

If there’s a story to the skipped cards in the early part of the checklist, it looks like it will be a complicated one. I’ll return to the matter at the very end of this article, but for now let’s look at the other oddity in the early part of the checklist.

Recall that card #46 was recycled (as card #106) seemingly out of the blue. Though you might anticipate the card to be a “must have” superstar, it actually belongs to Red Lucas. Hmm, that’s random.

Or is it?

Something you may remember from my previous article is that the Red Lucas card from 1935 had an uncorrected error. Despite being a member of the Pirates since the start of the 1934 season, the Lucas bio still had him with Cincinnati.

A-ha! Then the new card of Red was to correct the error? That makes sense! But…

The part of me that likes to believe there is order in the baseball card universe might imagine that Lucas was included in 1936 to correct the error, only someone goofed and forgot to do it. Of course, readers who prefer to abide by Occam’s Razor and other such advances in post-Medieval thought are welcome to regard the selection of Lucas as arbitrary.

We’ll come back to all of this soon enough, but for now let’s abandon these detours in favor of the main questions I took on for the 1935 cards and hope to repeat for 1936.

  • Were all the cards released at the same time?
  • Roughly when during the year were the various cards released?

As before, I’ll look at four categories of clues.

  1. Team updates
  2. Structure of uncut sheets
  3. Biographical clues
  4. Population reports

TEAM UPDATES

Al Simmons (#2) went from the White Sox to the Tigers on December 10, 1935, so his Diamond Stars cards from 1934 and 1935 showed him with Chicago naturally enough. For the 1936 release National Chicle took the trouble of removing “SOX” from Al’s jersey. (If you’re interested I have a separate article on all such uniform variants across the set. There are five or six in all, depending how you count.)

This jersey update tells us the Simmons card was finalized after December 10, not exactly big news but still something tangible that supports what we might have otherwise merely assumed.

This next player, based on the date involved, becomes much more exciting. The St. Louis Browns selected Roy Mahaffey (#10) after he was waived by the Philadelphia Athletics on January 29, 1936. The removal of the “A” logo from Mahaffey’s jersey on his 1936 card tells us the card was finalized after January 29.

We looked at Dixie Walker’s card #12 in my 1935 article, but we can now look at it again based on his May 1, 1936 move from the Yankees to the White Sox. His 1936 card (far right) never identifies a team. However, the references to his daunting destiny of having to replace Babe Ruth on the Yankees have been removed.

Whether the text was removed because the Yankees waived him or simply because George Selkirk emerged as Ruth’s true replacement in 1935 is something we can’t say for sure, but I find the latter to be more likely. Had the card’s production followed the team change, I’d expect some reference to it on the card (i.e., “former Yankee” or “new Chicago outfielder”).

Heinie Manush (#30) left the Senators for the Red Sox on December 17, 1935. Again National Chicle responded with a jersey update, omitting the “W” from Heinie’s sleeve.

Kiki Cuyler (#31) changed teams midway through the 1935 season (waived by Cubs on July 3, signed by Reds on July 5), which would normally be outside the window of interest for the 1936 release. I’ll include his card here nonetheless since his 1936 version captured the team update. (I’ll also speculate later that a possible reason for his inclusion in the 1936 series was to make this update.)

Irving Burns (#75) went from the Browns to the Tigers on April 30, 1936. However, his (very cool!) 1936 card—like his 1935 card—portrayed him as a Brown. (See cap logo and first sentence of bio.) We can infer, therefore, that his 1936 card was likely finalized before April 30.

John Babich (#82) went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Bees on February 6, 1936, and we see the change reflected in his uniform. We can also conclude that his card was finalized after February 6.

Ethan Allen (#92) went from the Phillies to the Cubs on May 21, 1936. However, his 1936 Diamond Stars card portrays him with Philadelphia. (See cap logo and first line of bio.) We can infer, therefore, that his 1936 card was likely finalized before May 21.

Al Lopez (#97, originally #28) went from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Boston Bees on December 12, 1935. As no logos or team names appeared on his Dodger card, only his card back was updated to reflect the change (see last sentence of bio, “Al Lopez, of the Bees…”).

This completes our study of team changes. Since there were so many players involved, I’ll do a quick summary before moving on.

Repeated cards from early part of checklist

  • Simmons (#2) – Finalized after December 10
  • Mahaffey #10) – Finalized after January 29
  • Dixie Walker (#12) – No conclusion
  • Heinie Manush (#30) – Finalized after December 17

Repeated cards from end of 1935 release

  • Irving Burns (#75) – Finalized before April 30
  • John Babich (#82) – Finalized after February 6

Brand new cards for 1936

  • Ethan Allen (#92) – Finalized before May 21

Renumbered cards from earlier releases

  • Al Lopez (#97) – Finalized after December 12

Ultimately, this feels like a case where a lot of information doesn’t (yet) add up to anything. In particular, the data above are perfectly consistent with the entire 1936 release occurring as one big clump of 48 cards around Opening Day but equally consistent with a staggered release of some kind. Finally, even for a staggered release, we have no clues to suggest the order of the groupings.

Still, so we don’t walk away feeling totally empty-handed, I’ll update my graphical depiction of the checklist, using bold red to indicate cards where a significant update was made, either a team change or the revamped Walker bio. What emerges, if only barely, is a possible logic to the selection of the early repeats on the checklist.

On the other hand, there were six players in the 1935 set whose later team changes would have made them excellent candidates for 1936. However, none cracked the set.

UNCUT SHEETS

As I have encountered no additional uncut sheets beyond the one examined in the last article, we’ll simply speculate as before that cards were released in multiples of 12. Notably, the number of cards in the 1936 release is 48, which is 4 times 12, and we have already seen that the cards naturally divide themselves into four logical groupings, each containing exactly twelve cards.

CLUES IN BIOS

Beyond what already came up under “Team Updates” I went 0 for 19 in hunting for clues in the set’s first 19 bios. This next card takes me to 0 for 20 but it’s worthy of sharing nonetheless. You may recall the Chiozza card from my 1935 article where I noted his bio incorrectly billed the second year player as “new to the major leagues this year.”

Well, here he is in 1936 with that very same write-up. Louis Chiozza, the eternal rookie! Perhaps like Red Lucas his card was included specifically so it could be corrected…only it wasn’t. In other news, if I’m looking at the picture right, it looks like the batter has managed a rare 9-3 ground out.

Worth mention is card 87, Steve O’Neill. As he had not played since 1928, he was in the set purely as Cleveland’s manager. There were clearly more accomplished managers who could have been included in his place, so O’Neill’s is not a card I would have expected to fill one of only 12 new slots in the set. Then again, he did replace Walter Johnson, as the bio notes, and his card provided a means for documenting this within the set. (Note that Bucky Harris is another long retired player included in this portion of the set as a manager.)

There is also a small bread crumb pertaining to timing at the very end of his bio, essentially a prediction for the coming season. (Spoiler alert: The Guardians finished in fifth place, 22.5 games behind the Yankees.) More than likely such text signals a bio that was written either before the season started or before it was much underway.

The next card in the set, George Selkirk (#88), again offers no help with our timing questions but does provide a nice bookend for the Dixie Walker card back trilogy.

As with the O’Neill card, the card of Ray Hayworth (#90) offers a small clue as to timing. Notably the last sentence tells us “the Tigers are favored to repeat in the 1936 pennant race.”

Though the team rebounded to a respectable second place finish, the Tigers started the year poorly and were as low as sixth place 60 games into the season. This suggests to me that the bio was written before the season or very near the beginning rather than any sizable number of games into it.

We’ve already looked at the Al Lopez card, but I’ll now call attention to a detail not previously discussed.

The second to last sentence in the bio refers collectors to a different card in the set, card 9, to learn more about catching. As you might imagine, young collectors in 1936 would have been justifiably frustrated if there were no way to obtain that card from packs. Thankfully, card 9 (Mickey Cochrane) was in packs, as one of the “random” repeats from the early part of the checklist.

Once again, a lot of hunting landed very little in the way of clues, but we can now update our previous summary with at least a modicum of new information, shown in italics.

Repeated cards from early part of checklist

  • Simmons (#2) – Finalized after December 10
  • Mahaffey #10) – Finalized after January 29
  • Dixie Walker (#12) – No conclusion
  • Heinie Manush (#30) – Finalized after December 17

Repeated cards from end of 1935 release

  • Irving Burns (#75) – Finalized before April 30
  • John Babich (#82) – Finalized after February 6

Brand new cards for 1936

  • Steve O’Neill (#87) – Probably finalized before season
  • Ethan Allen (#92) – Finalized before May 21
  • Ray Hayworth (#90) – Probably finalized before season

Renumbered cards from earlier releases

  • Al Lopez (#97) – Finalized after December 12

As before, we do not yet have enough information to draw any interesting conclusions. Thus far nothing precludes a single, early season 48-card release, nor does anything suggest it.

PSA POPULATION REPORT

Happily, the PSA population report seems to tell us a lot.

Before interpreting the rest of the data, we’ll focus on the very tiny bar for card 12 (Dixie Walker) so it doesn’t bias our broader read of the data. For whatever reason, Walker’s 1936 card didn’t report his 1935 stats at the bottom, as would have been typical for other 1936 cards. As a result, PSA has misidentified many of Walker’s 1936 cards as 1935, even though the blue ink and other biographical clues clearly distinguish the card as 1936.

Ignoring the anomalous Walker bar, along with the “spikes” corresponding to more frequently graded star players, we see at least three groupings of cards evident in the graph.

  • Cards 2-84 (i.e., the “random repeats” and the 12 repeats from the end of 1935)
  • Cards 85-96 (i.e., the brand new cards in the 1936 set)
  • Cards 97-108 (i.e., the renumbered repeats from 1935)

I furthermore believe there is enough differentiation in that first grouping to arrive at four distinct groupings.

Though none of our earlier analysis even hinted at the nature of the 1936 release, I think this graph provides everything we need to conclude the 1936 Diamond Stars set was issued as four separate series. I think there is more we can say as well. What follows is an admittedly speculative narrative but one that seems to make sense empirically and logically.

The very low populations of cards 73-84 can suggest a series that was available only briefly. Recalling that the best way to ensure cards by Opening Day is to go with cards you already have, I suspect this series kicked off the 1936 release right around Opening Day, buying National Chicle a bit of time to prepare cards 85-96, which featured all new players for 1936. The gap between the two series wouldn’t have been long at all, with 85-96 likely hitting shelves by early May.

At some point the brand new cards ran their course, and one would normally assume another all new series would take its place. Clearly there were still numerous players available, so I have to assume there were business decisions that dictated otherwise.

Rather than throw in the towel entirely, National Chicle opted for the more economical path of simply recycling their cards from the early part of the 1935 release. These cards hadn’t been in packs for a while and they even featured some important team and bio updates. Unfortunately, as the population report suggests, collectors more or less yawned at the reissues.

Not ready to give up just yet but also unwilling or unable to pay the higher price of legitimately new cards, this is where National Chicle resorted to some trickery. Renumbering their next series as 97-108 seems to have provided a decent bump to sales but not enough of one to continue the strategy. After all, even recycled cards carry printing and distribution costs, not to mention opportunity costs. Whether there was more bang for the buck elsewhere or simply no more bucks to bang, the Diamond Stars set that was originally to have included 240 players came to an end after 96 players and 108 cards.

I suspect other storylines are possible, but this is the one that makes the most sense to me. It’s also one that allows me to return to the original question of why the 1936 repeats at the top of the checklist appear so haphazard.

Viewing the set as completed according to plan, the skips and randomness beg explanation. However, if we view the set as something abandoned while still in progress, then the skips make sense. The question is no longer why Lefty Grove was omitted. We might simply infer that his card was destined for a later grouping. From the looks of things, perhaps all of 1-36, 1-48, or even 1-72 was destined for reissue.

As for why a non-consecutive approach prevailed, this is something we also saw with the 1933 Goudey set. Missing cards 1, 3, 6, and 7, for example, keep their unwitting customers buying packs in desperate search for cards they have no idea aren’t there. Provided all the blanks are eventually filled in, no harm done, and I do think this was the original plan. So yes to Lefty Grove, and what the heck…yes to Lew Fonseca also!

Of course, none of this was to be, thereby ending one of my favorite sets of all time not with a proverbial bang but a whimper, notwithstanding the actual banging on the boardroom door by a defiant creative director.

“But guys…guys! We’ve got some new cards ready!”

“Too late, pal. And what’s with all the crazy zig zags anyway?”

A closer look at the 1935 Diamond Stars release

I suggested in my previous post that I might dig in a bit more on the release schedule for 1934-36 Diamond Stars. Rather than go in order, I’ll start in the middle with 1935 since the Cy Blanton card is already fresh in my mind.

You may already know that the Diamond Stars set was released over a three-year period, according to the following sequence.

  • 1934: Cards 1-24
  • 1935: Cards 1-84
  • 1936: Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108

You’ll quickly notice that there is overlap across the three years, with cards 1-24 from 1934 repeated in 1935 and 24 more haphazardly numbered cards from 1935 repeated in 1936. Among other things, this led to a handful of cards (2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, and 22) being released all three years.

Buddy Myer is one such example and his card backs offer the opportunity to show that even the repeated (or three-peated) cards nonetheless changed from year to year. The most prominent and documented change comes in the updated stat lines. For example, the 1934 version notes Myer’s 1933 batting average while the 1935 version notes Myer’s 1934 batting average. Additionally, Myer’s age is updated from card to card to card. There is also variation in copyright lines, though it’s not as straightforward as 1934 to 1935 to 1936.

Beyond what’s evident from the numbering schemes, there is a second category of repeated players in the set. The final dozen cards from 1936, numbered 97-108, are virtual repeats of earlier cards from the first two years, though new numbers on the back render them a different class of repeats from those already noted. Bill Dickey, whose card was numbered 11 in 1934 and 1935, returns to the set in 1936 as card 103. (There is probably a story to this, but you won’t get it here.)

Now that we’ve covered the basic structure of the three-year release, we are ready to take a close look at the 84 cards that make up the 1935 series. These 84 cards fall quite naturally into two subsets: 1-24, which debuted in 1934, and 25-84, which reflected 60 brand new players.

Absent further scrutiny, I’m tempted to view 1-24 in the same way I view cards 1-24 of the 1934 Goudey set, which you may recall were repeats right down to the artwork of their 1933 Goudey counterparts. How better to put new packs on shelves pronto than to update some stats and ages but otherwise go with what you’ve already got? My conjecture, therefore, is that cards 1-24 came out together, presumably at the beginning of the season, ahead of the rest of the set.

One question then is whether there is evidence for this. Another question is how the remaining cards would have been released. For instance were all 60 issued together, or did they comprise multiple, smaller releases?

Following my approach with the Goudey sets, I’ll rely primarily on small bread crumbs in attempting to answer these questions. As such, I’ll state in advance that my results are truly speculative and should not be viewed as airtight. As for the categories of bread crumbs at my disposal, they primarily fall into four categories:

  1. Team updates
  2. Structure of uncut sheets
  3. Biographical clues
  4. Population reports (optional)

TEAM UPDATES

My very first article on the Diamond Stars set focused on players who changed teams across the set’s three-year release. As my current focus is the 1935 series, the players of greatest interest are those who changed teams in 1934 or 1935.

Among the first 24 cards on the checklist, the first relevant team change was George Blaeholder, who went from the Browns to the Athletics on May 21, 1935. That Blaeholder’s 1935 card (below) still has him with St. Louis suggests that the card was finalized before May 21.

The next card to reflect a team change is that of Dick Bartell, card 15 in the set. Bartell moved from the Phillies to the Giants on November 1, 1934, and his 1935 card reflects this by removing the Philadelphia logo from his jersey and cap. In terms of a release schedule, Bartell’s card only indicates finalization after November 1.

While not a team change per se Lew Fonseca went from team to no team in early 1934. He entered that season’s Spring Training as not only Sox manager but a contender for the starting first baseman’s job, only to hang up his playing spikes for good before the season began. While he did continue as manager, his stint lasted only 15 games before Lou Comiskey gave him the axe.

Fonseca’s 1934 Diamond Stars card identifies him as “first baseman and manager of the Chicago White Sox,” whereas his 1935 card identifies him as “formerly first baseman of the Chicago White Sox.” Of course, since the status change was so far back in the past, all it really tells us is that Fonseca’s 1935 card was finalized sometime after May 8, 1934, the day Fonseca was let go.

A final card to include in this grouping is that of Dixie Walker, card 12 in the set. In truth, Walker remained a Yankee throughout the entire 1935 season. However, it’s a different player’s team change that will interest us here.

Walker’s 1934 bio establishes him (no pressure!) as “the man who is expected to fill Babe Ruth’s shoes when the great Yankee slugger retires.” However, his 1935 card modifies the language to read “the man who is expected to fill the gap left by Babe Ruth moving to Boston (Braves).” We can put a date to the Bambino’s move (February 26) that also serves as the earliest date Walker’s 1935 card could have been finalized.

Among the block of cards from 25-84, the first player on the checklist to change teams during 1934-1935 was Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler, who was released by the Cubs on July 3 and signed by the Reds on July 5. While Cuyler’s 1936 Diamond Stars card places him on the Reds, his 1935 card still has him with Chicago (See final sentence of bio.) We can therefore infer that his card was likely finalized before July 3.

The next team change belongs to Blondy Ryan (card 40), who moved from the Phillies to the Yankees on August 6, 1935. As Ryan’s 1935 card keeps him with the Phillies, we might assume it was finalized prior to August 6.

The case of Red Lucas (card 46) is an odd one in that Lucas began the 1934 season with the Pirates but was nonetheless depicted on his 1935 (and 1936!) cards with the Reds. I simply regard this as an error rather than any clue to the card’s release date.

Card 53 in the set belongs to Oscar Melillo, who went from the Browns to the Red Sox on May 27, 1935. His card, one of my favorites in the set, depicts him with St. Louis, suggesting finalization prior to May 27.

The situation is similar with Glenn Myatt, card 58 in the set. Though he moved from the Indians to the Giants on May 26, 1935, his card⁠—another beauty⁠—still shows him with the former.

So far then we have seen nothing that conflicts with my theory of the 1935 release. However, we have also seen nothing conflicting with the idea that all 84 cards might have come out all at once at the beginning of the season. If there’s a bread crumb to point us elsewhere we haven’t found it yet.

That all changes with this next card, number 72, of Tony Piet who moved from the Reds to the White Sox on June 4, 1935. (His card bio notes he is “now with Chicago White Sox” though it curiously ignores his tenure with Cincinnati.) Because Piet enters the set with the White Sox we can infer rather positively that his card was finalized after June 4. This is exciting to someone like me!

As no other team changes occurred during the period of interest, we are left for now with the following conclusions.

  • Some of the 1935 cards were likely finalized early in the season.
  • At least one of the 1935 cards was finalized after June 4.

CLUES FROM UNCUT SHEETS

In contrast with the Goudey sets, there appears to be only one uncut sheet of Diamond Stars upon which to base any research, and even then it’s front is blank! On the bright side, it does come from our year of interest, 1935.

Rather than have you get out your magnifying glass, I’ll simply list the numbers:

63 72 65 64 63 72
69 66 67 70 69 66
61 62 71 68 61 62
63 72 65 64 63 72
69 66 67 70 69 66

Though there are 30 cards on the sheet, it’s worth noting that only 12 different cards are shown, specifically cards 61-72. Rows 4 and 5 are simply repeats of rows 1 and 2, while columns 5 and 6 are repeats of columns 1 and 2.

Again, this is not airtight, but my inference from this sheet, because it includes the Tony Piet card, is that this entire grouping of twelve cards was finalized after June 4.

Though less supported by any evidence, I would further suppose similar for cards 73-84 since they at least numerically come after the cards on this sheet.

CY BLANTON AND OTHER ASSORTED CLUES

The card that sparked my interest in the 1935 Diamond Stars release schedule was that of Pirates hurler Cy Blanton, card 57 in the set.

As noted in my previous article, his bio establishes him as among “the most effective pitchers in the major leagues” despite having almost no major league services prior to 1935. We can infer from the bio that Blanton’s card was finalized during rather than before the 1935 season and specifically late enough in the year for his hot start to register as more than a fluke.

If we assume Blanton would have need to pitch at least three good games to warrant such a write-up we conclude that his card would have been finalized after April 28. If we further assume Blanton’s card would have been part of a sequentially numbered sheet of 12 (plus repeats) we can then conclude cards 49-60 were similarly finalized after April 28. Notably, this sheet would have included two players we examined already, Oscar Melillo (53) and Glenn Myatt (58), whose cards we inferred were finalized before May 27 and May 26 respectively. The suggestion, therefore, is that this sheet was finalized between April 29 and May 26.

John Whitehead

A player with a somewhat similar story to Blanton’s is John Whitehead, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He did not make his big league debut until April 19, 1935, yet is described on his card as “the sensational White Sox pitching find.” While this could be based solely on his strong record in the Texas League or an impressive spring training, I’m more inclined to believe the moniker came from his remarkable start to the 1935 season. His record after 8 games? 8 wins, no losses, and nary even a no decision!

Of course the only place to go from there is downhill, and downhill Whitehead went! Following his undefeated April and May, he went winless in June, losing all six games he pitched and posting an ERA of 4.41.

As with Blanton, I’ll assume it would have taken at least three games to achieve “sensational” status. If so, Whitehead’s card would have been finalized after April 28. This is the same date noted for Blanton, and the two cards are on the same sheet. In my book this is another bread crumb supporting cards 48-59 having been finalized between the end of April and late May 1935.

Jimmie Foxx

Fellow SABR Baseball Cards author Randy Robbins dedicated a full article to the Diamond Stars Jimmie Foxx card in May 2020, owing to its unusual depiction of Foxx as a catcher and the bio’s citing of his split time behind the plate and at first base “since Micky [sic] Cochrane became manager of Detroit.”

Randy noted in his article that Foxx did not catch at all in 1934, Cochrane’s first year with the Tigers, but did begin the 1935 season at catcher. In fact, Foxx was the starting catcher in 24 of the team’s first 26 games before reassuming the reigns at first base. This led Randy to speculate that Foxx’s card was issued sometime during the 1935 season, a theory that I fully endorse.

From what I can tell, the decision to have Foxx catch in 1935 was announced well ahead of the start of the season. Here is the October 2, 1934, Rutland (Vermont) Daily Herald, for example.

Therefore it’s certainly possible the Foxx bio could have included the information about catching in anticipation of the coming season. However, it seems more likely that the text would have been written after Foxx had caught some number of games in 1935. If we assume Foxx had at least three games under his belt, then we’re looking at April 20 or later.

As the Foxx card is number 64 in the set, it was part of the uncut sheet seen previously that also included the Tony Piet card. We have already established the Piet card, hence likely all cards from 61-72, as being finalized after June 4, a window that makes the Foxx bio even more apt. (By June 4, Foxx had started 12 games at first base to go with his 24 starts at catcher and two starts at third base.)

Lou Chiozza

The bio for Lou Chiozza, card 80 in the set, reads as though 1935 was his debut season. On the contrary, he played 134 games in 1934, suggesting his bio is simply in error or was written the year before.

At the moment I’ll simply regard this card as an oddity and avoid any inferences as to the set’s 1935 release schedule.

CONCLUSIONS

In order to synthesize all of this information into a coherent release schedule, a couple assumptions are helpful.

  • Cards were finalized and released in groups of 12 or multiples of 12 such as 24 or 36.
  • Groups were finalized and released in order.

Earliest group of cards

Our look at Dixie Walker’s card (#12) and its Babe Ruth reference established that his card (hence cards 1-12 at least) were finalized after February 26 while our look at George Blaeholder (#13) suggested that cards 13-24 were finalized before May 21. In other words, the door is wide open to having all these cards ready by Opening Day, even if the late change to the Walker card might have created a bit of a hurry-up.

It’s possible that cards 25-36 if not 25-48 fall into this same grouping since all we saw is that Kiki Cuyler (#31) and Blondy Ryan (#40) were likely finalized before July 3 and August 6 respectively.

May grouping

Based on the Oscar Melillo (#53) and Glenn Myatt (#58) cards, we concluded cards 49-60 were likely finalized before May 26. On the other hand, the Cy Blanton (#57) and John Whitehead (#51) cards suggested finalization after April 29. Give or take a couple days, we can infer that cards 49-60 were finalized sometime in May, hence likely to have hit shelves either in late May or sometime in June.

There is no evidence to refute any of the cards from 1-48 from landing in this grouping. However, I’ll stick to my guns that 1-24 would have been on shelves by Opening Day, leaving only 25-48 uncertain.

June and beyond

The Tony Piet (#72) card required that cards 61-72 be finalized after June 4, a fact supported by the Jimmie Foxx (#64) card as well. This means cards 73-84 would have been finalized after June 4 as well, either with cards 61-72 or afterward.

Something I haven’t touched on yet is that cards 1-72 from 1935 feature green ink on the back while cards 73-84 can be found with green or blue ink.

My takeaway from this is that cards 61-84 were not produced together and that cards 73-84 formed their own final release.

Obviously there is significant guesswork throughout my analysis, so my conclusions may well be incorrect. Nonetheless I’ll sum up my speculative release schedule as follows.

  • By Opening Day – Cards 1-24
  • Probably later – Cards 25-48
  • Late May or June release – Cards 49-60
  • Late June or later release – Cards 61-72
  • After that – Cards 73-84

As always I’m happy to hear in the Comments if you have information that either supports or casts doubt on my findings. Down the road I’ll take a largely similar approach to the 1934 and 1936 Diamond Stars releases.

EXTRA FOR DIE-HARDS

While it’s often (correctly) said that population reports neither reflect true population nor scarcity, I’m a believer that certain inferences from population reports are nonetheless valid, including what I’m about to apply to the Diamond Stars release.

With apologies to those viewing on their phones, here is the PSA population report for 1935 Diamond Stars.

One thing that’s easy to spot is that the graph has numerous spikes, i.e., bars that are much taller than their neighbors. Card 44 is one such example, as are 50 and 64. Not surprisingly these anomalies in the data represent Hall of Famers and stars more likely to be graded than commons from the set. If you like, the three cards noted are Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, and Jimmie Foxx. Conversely, the graph has other bars that are about the same height as other bars in their neighborhood. Cards 55-58 are good examples of this and correspond to Tony Cuccinello, Gus Suhr, Cy Blanton, and Glenn Myatt.

If we train our eyes on the graph and ignore the spikes, an interesting pattern emerges. The graph begins with a neighborhood of low bars, and it corresponds precisely to cards 1-24. The graph then progresses through a set of significantly taller bars. This occurs precisely from cards 25-48. Following that, the bars continue at an intermediate height, which you can either associate with cards 49-84 or perhaps segment into two groupings: 49-72 (slightly taller) and 73-84 (slightly shorter).

I’ve added vertical red bars and horizontal pink bars to the graph to illustrate these neighborhoods.

You’ll recall from my initial analysis that there was some uncertainty as to whether cards 25-48 were released with cards 1-24 or comprised all or part of a later release. I believe the population graph now makes this clear, while perhaps also suggesting the set’s initial 24 cards were offered only briefly as if to buy time to get the new cards ready.

You’ll also recall from my initial analysis that cards 49-60 and 61-72 were presumed to have been finalized at different times. However, the graph is fairly flat across the entire interval from 49-72. There are a few ways this apparent discrepancy can be reconciled.

  • While the cards may have been finalized in distinct batches of 12, the two batches certainly could have been released at the same time.
  • The two batches could have been released separately but simply in similar quantities to one another.
  • While difficult to discern visually there is in fact a small but not necessarily significant difference in the bar heights with 61-72 being slightly taller than 49-60.

Were I to refine my original and highly speculative release schedule based on the population report data, I’d probably end up with something like this.

  • Cards 1-24: Early April ahead of Opening Day
  • Cards 25-48: Late April, after Opening Day
  • Cards 49-60: Mid-June or so, with much longer delay than from first release to second release.
  • Cards 61-72: Late July or so
  • Cards 73-84: Early September or so

If you made it this far, I have good news! The fun continues in my next article with a similar analysis of the 1936 release.

The hottest rookie card of 1935

Imagine yourself a young card collector in early 1935. Okay, fine. I’ll help you.

“What’s the point? Maybe I’ll just throw all these away…” you think to yourself as you rifle through the sack of Goudey cards you dutifully collected over the last couple years. Let’s face it, the 1935 four-in-one design just isn’t doing it for you. Compared to the cards of years past, the (often recycled) pictures are tiny, you loathe the extra work of cutting them yourself, and the puzzle backs don’t even seem to go together!

A couple friends in the neighborhood tried to get you into National Chicle Diamond Stars in 1934, but you declared yourself a Goudey loyalist, at least outwardly. The truth is you just didn’t have the spare change to start collecting multiple sets. And even if you did, why chance where that slippery slope could lead?

Still, you had to admit the cards were attractive….and the baseball tips just might help your game, which wasn’t exactly attracting the attention of Pittsburgh brass!

It was a small set too. Only 24 cards in 1934, with Lloyd Waner the only Pirate. Maybe you should have made the move from Goudey. Then again, the Diamond Stars set appears to have been a one-and-done in your part of town. You try asking the man behind the counter if the new Diamond Stars are in only to receive a blank star in return.

So yes, what’s the point of even collecting anymore? You hate the four-in-ones, but they appear to be the only game in town. Shouldn’t it be possible to follow your hometown Pirates without the need for a stack of cards at your side? Plus, you’d read their Goudey card backs so many times you pretty much had them memorized. Arky Vaughan? Bats left handed but throws right. Weighs 175 pounds. Bill Swift? “One of the main reasons why the Pirates win ball games!”

And then Blanton-mania struck. As SABR biographer Gregory Wolf tells it, “Cy Blanton broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in a blaze of glory.” What kind of blaze? Think Jake deGrom. And no, I’m not talking about rookie deGrom. I’m talking about present day deGrom.

The numbers don’t lie.

“The hard-throwing right-hander with an array of screwballs, curves, and sinkers” (SABR Bio) became your new obsession, completely surpassing your love for Big Poison and Little Poison. When pops fished out his T206 Wagner, declaring Hans the greatest Pirate of them all, you muttered “…until Blanton” under your breath before puzzling for a moment as to why a grown man would even own a baseball card.

Plus, if baseball cards were so great, why was there no Blanton card?

The thought was interrupted by the screech of bike tires followed by banging on the front door. Was someone dying? Was the world coming to an end? Why such urgency from little Jackie who was usually quite reserved?

“Look who I got! Look who I got!”

“Wait, what?!” There really is a Blanton card? But how could that be? He didn’t even play last year, did he? [Author’s note: He did, but just one game.]

“Lemme see! Lemme see!” you demand, practically ripping the card out of Jackie’s hand to admire it. That quick, your love of cards not only returned to you but completely consumed you. You need this card more than you need air and water. If we’re being honest, you need this card more than you need your friend Jackie, am I right?

After offering your entire collection, which included all four 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth cards, for the Blanton, a deal Jackie refuses due to A) Blanton-mania, and B) brand loyalty, you beg, borrow, and steal from your folks until you have more money in your pocket than you’ve ever had in your entire life: nine cents.

Eight packs in, you have a mouthful of gum but little else to show for the small fortune you arrived with: Stan Hack, Billy Urbanski, Cliff Bolton, Buck Jordan, Glenn Myatt, Billy Werber, Fred Frankhouse, and an oddball card of Jimmie Foxx as a catcher! But then, like a pre-Hobbsian Roy Hobbs (movie version, not book), you come through with a monster rip in the ninth.

For reasons unknown, even later in life, your mind raced to an exciting World of Tomorrow where humans could not only propel themselves to the moon but digital currencies as well, and card collectors communicated with each other by electromagnet technology so small it could fit in their pockets. Without understanding the means or the mechanism, you imagined yourself “sharing” your pull with friends even two or three towns away, along with the rhetorical, unorthodoxly capitalized, and interrobanged phrase that would unwittingly become standard only 85 years later—

“dID i dO gOoD?!”

“I’ve never had a kid faint from a pack of baseball cards. You’re lucky I had my smelling salts handy.” [Author’s note: I too fainted from a pack of baseball cards. 1981 Fleer, “C” Nettles error.]

Yeah, fainting was weird, but you didn’t have time to dwell. The Blanton! Where’s the Blanton!

Grabbing it off the floor you turn it over to read the back, a feat made difficult by lingering dizziness.

Eventually, the card comes into focus.

It was official. May 29, 1935, was the best day of your entire life. No less and authority than Austen Lake, right there on the back of your Blanton card, told you to “save your best stuff for the pinches” and you did. Ninth pack, Darrell E. Blanton, ’nuff said.

Little did you know that this phenom hurler was about to surrender 16 earned runs across his next four games, more than doubling his ERA from 1.00 to 2.01. He would still finish the season with a league-topping 2.58 to go with 18 victories, but like many phenoms he would pursue the shadow of his rookie campaign unsuccessfully for the rest of his career. Even still, your Blanton hording only grew, particularly when word hit the neighborhood that he had a Goudey also! (If memory serves, you traded your dad’s prized Wagner card for it.)

Blanton with three George Canales

When the 1940 season began sans Blanton [Author’s note: He joined the Phils in May], you looked back at your paper-clipped stacks of his rookie card, shaking your head in much the same way 1990s collectors looked back on their screw-down holders of Kevin Maas and Todd Van Poppel or modern collectors may someday view their PSA slabbed cards (if they ever ship) of Akil Baddoo and Wander Franco.

Of course the thing about baseball cards is that it may not matter what a card is worth later on. What matters most is that immediate and magical feeling of thinking you have something really special and therefore are something really special. There may be healthier and more sustainable paths to self worth, but for nine cents…this is a helluva deal!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

In other news, happy birthday to Cy Blanton, who would be 113 today were he still around. And for the Diamond Star junkies out there, here is what may be an interesting tidbit from the back of his card.

You may already know that the Diamond Stars set was issued over three years, according to this release schedule:

  • 1934: Cards 1-24
  • 1935: Cards 1-84
  • 1936: Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108

The Blanton card, numbered 57 in the set, was part of the 1935 release. The above decoder ring aside, you can note his complete 1934 (International League) record at the bottom of the bio, along with a 1935 copyright date.

However, the portion of the bio I’ve highlighted in red tells us that this card would not have been out at the start of the season. I would imagine it would have been at least early May before anyone would seriously include Blanton among “the most effective pitchers in the major leagues.” Add however long it takes to print, slice, pack, and truck the cards to retailers, and I can’t imagine this card hitting the shelves before June 1935.

Was this the case with the entire 1935 issue, only the new additions (25-84), or some even smaller subset? For those who enjoy these things, I suspect there is some fun to be had in checking the backs of all the 1935—if not 1934 and 1936—Diamond Stars for clues. This is something I did earlier this year ad (hopefully not yours) nauseam with the 1933 and 1934 Goudey sets, so perhaps it’s something I’ll take on with Diamond Stars. In the meantime here is some additional reading on the set.

MORE DIAMOND STARS ARTICLES HERE ON THE BLOG

Albert Pujols, next man up!

I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it, but there he was: Albert Pujols in Dodger Blue.

Photo: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Pujols signing, baseball savant Jay Jaffe was quick to point out that Albert was in good company.

Ditto Chris Kamka.

While late to the party, I’ll carry on the theme with the baseball card angle. We’ll blow right past Jackie, Sandy, Pee Wee, and the Duke and focus on the players you don’t normally think of as Dodgers.

THE BROOKLYN ERA

Chief Bender

There’s a great reason you don’t think of Bender as a Dodger. He never was. Yet, here he is in the 1916 Mother’s Bread set representing the Brooklyn National League club!

Without doing a ton of digging, I’m going to assume this is simply an error card. The same set also has Bender (same image) as a Philadelphia Athletic, which would have been equally incorrect. (Bender was a Baltimore Terrapin in 1915 and a Philadelphia Phillie in 1916.)

Roberto Clemente

The Great One, as is well known, never suited up for Brooklyn. Instead he was smartly and fatefully signed by the Pirates after the Dodgers left him unprotected in their farm system.

The 1994 Topps Archives set chose to include Roberto as a “1954 PROSPECT” of the Brooklyn Dodgers, depicting Clemente in a Montreal Royals uniform and aping the 1954 Topps design.

Charlie Gehringer

Okay, now you know there’s something funny going on here. The Mechanical Man as a Dodger? Heavens no! However, the uniform must have looked close enough that someone logged the card this way in Trading Card Database. (And don’t worry. I’ve submitted a correction.)

Still, it may well be that your Albert Pujols Dodgers card looks this jarring 50 years into the future. (Perhaps your Albert Pujols Angels cards will as well!)

Tony Lazzeri

Here’s one thing we know. If a player even spent a minute as a Dodger the 1990 Target Dodgers megaset took note.

In Lazzeri’s case, it was only 14 games, but he did have the highest OBP, SLG, and OPS of his entire career!

Babe Ruth

Lazzeri wasn’t the only member of the Murderers Row to have a Dodger baseball card. The Bambino, who coached for the squad, had several, beginning with this one from the 1962 Topps “Babe Ruth Special” subset.

If my eyes don’t deceive me, the next time Cody Bellinger steps to the plate for the Dodgers (hopefully soon!) his uniform number 35 will take on new significance.

Paul Waner

Thanks to Don Zminda for reminding me in the comments that Big Poison also had some Dodger cardboard.

Vintage collectors will prefer his 1941 Double Play card, shared with the season’s most ill-fated backstop. However, if beauty is what you’re after then this 1973 card will fill you will “Glee.”

Hack Wilson

Perhaps the only thing that could have diminished the thrill of my fellow SABR Chicago member John Racanelli landed his “holy grail” Hack Wilson card was flipping it over to see the team on the back.

Like Pujols, Wilson had his best seasons behind him, though he did knock a total of 38 homers for Brooklyn across 2+ seasons.

THE LOS ANGELES ERA

Dick Allen

This Dick Allen card is better known as the first major release with a mustache since T206 but is more importantly a must in any Dodger collection.

Unlike Pujols (at least we assume!), Allen’s best years weren’t behind him at all when he joined the Dodgers. He would of course win the American League’s MVP award in 1972 as a member of the White Sox, where he would also garner back-to-back Topps All-Star cards in 1974 and 1975.

Jim Bunning

Don’t worry. I didn’t remember this either.

Three wins, one loss, and a respectable 3.36 ERA.

Whitey Ford

Wait, what?! The Chairman of the Board? Yes, if his 1962 Post Cereal (Canadian) issue is to be believed.

Don’t panic. It was only an error card.

Rickey Henderson

While it seems like Rickey played for just about every team at some point, it sometimes takes cardboard proof to reassure me I wasn’t just imagining him in Dodger Blue.

So thank you, 2003 Fleer Tradition…I think.

Greg Maddux

Buy the time Maddux came to L.A. in 2006, by way of the Cubs, the Dodger faithful may have worried he had little left in the tank.

As his 2006 Upper Deck Season Highlights card reminds us, he could still get outs, tossing six no-hit innings in his first game as a Dodger. The magic didn’t last long though, as he went on to surrender 28 hits over his next three games.

Juan Marichal

Of course the Target Dodgers set was there for it, but we’ll go 1983 ASA instead.

The picture is sure to feel like a dagger to the hearts of Giants fans, but they could of course parry with an equally blasphemous Jackie.

Frank Robinson

Robby may have entered the Hall as an Oriole, but that didn’t stop SSPC from immortalizing him as a Dodger.

Naturally, many other cards include Frank Robinson’s Dodger stint, including his 1973 Topps flagship issue.

Jim Thome

Hall of Famer Jim Thome (or J M H M if your eyes are as bad as mine) had a brief pinch-hitting stint for the Dodgers in 2009, batting 17 times in 17 games with 4 singles.

Still, that cup of coffee was enough to make him one of THREE 600 HR club members Dodgers collectors can claim, along with Babe Ruth and now…

Albert Pujols!

Man, remember when we had to wait a year for this kind of thing!

Collecting the 100 HR Club in Four Iconic Sets

Here is a collecting goal virtually nobody has, whether because the club includes some ridiculously expensive cards or because it includes so many players of near zero interest to the modern fan. At the time I type these words, the club currently has 925 players plus one active player, Jackie Bradley, Jr., sitting on 99. [UPDATE: He did it!]

Of course, that’s if we’re talking about today’s collector in 2021. How would the 100 HR Club look to a collectors from days of yore?

T206 and the 100 HR Club

We’ll start in 1911, which is the final year of the famous 1909-11 America Tobacco Company “monster” known as T206. We were still firmly in the Deadball era, but the 100 HR Club already had eight members.

Interestingly, none of the players were still active during the span of the set’s release. Fortunately, the 100 HR Club collector wouldn’t strike out entirely, thanks to Hugh Duffy’s inclusion as White Sox manager in the set.

Even better, you as the reader now know the answer to a trivia question that will stump your friends: “Which of the subjects in the T206 set had the most career home runs at the time of the set’s release?”

1933 Goudey and the 100 HR Club

Time travel back to 1933, and the club becomes much more interesting. By season’s end, the club has swelled to 48 members, more than half (26) still active at the time of the set’s release.

Ignoring the fact that the set included multiple cards of certain players, let’s take a look at which 100 HR Club members a 1933 Goudey collector could attain that year.

Of the top 11 names on the list, all nine active players were present in the 1933 Goudey set. The only absences were Cy and Ken Williams, who were a few years removed from their Major League playing careers.

Making our way through slots 12-25 on the list, only five of the players were still active in 1933. Of these, four had cards in the set: Ott, Hartnett, Herman, and Terry. Chick Hafey was not only still active but an (inaugural) All-Star that year. Still, he did not appear in a Goudey set until 1934. (If you’re looking for more trivia, he and Oral Hildebrand are the only 1933 All-Stars not present in 1933 Goudey.)

The next four players on the HR list, Tillie Walker, Jimmy Ryan, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker were all retired for either 5, 10, or 20 years. However, Speaker landed a card in the Goudey set as a part owner of the American Association’s Kansas City Blues. (And of course die-hard Goudey fans could nab the Cobb from the Sport Kings set.)

Following Speaker, the next seven players in the 100 HR Club were all active in 1933. However, Don Hurst would have to wait until the 1934 set for a Goudey card.

Continuing down the list we hit a streak of old-timers (Brouthers, Meusel, Duffy, Tiernan) before landing on a run of three straight 1933 Goudey cards.

Of the final five members of the 100 HR Club, the two still active in 1933 each had cards in the set.

By the way, can I right now declare Berger’s 1933 Tattoo Orbit card a work of art?

Adding an angle I’ll develop more fully in my treatment of 1952 Topps, I’ll note that there were five Negro League players with 100+ home runs by 1933: Oscar Charleston, Turkey Stearnes, Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, and John Beckwith. All five were still active in 1933, but none appear in the Goudey set.

1952 Topps and the 100 HR Club

By 1952 the home run was most definitely “a thing” so it’s not surprising that the 100 HR club more than doubled it ranks from 48 members less than two decades earlier to a robust 116. Here are the 27 who were still active in 1952.

Collectors with knowledge of the 1952 Topps set will recognize right away at least a couple of players who definitely were not in the set: Ted Williams and Stan Musial. The same would be true of Ralph Kiner and Charlie Keller, leaving the Topps set with 23 of the 27 players listed.

However, the 1952 Topps set also included 6 managers and 11 coaches, two of whom (sort of) were 100 HR Club members.

The more famous 100 HR Club member-coach in the set, 30th on the list with 202 home runs, was Bill Dickey of the Yankees.

Then it’s up to you if you want to count the other. Checking in at 39th on the list is Sam Chapman, with 180 home runs. Strictly speaking, he does not make the set’s checklist. However, his photograph was the source of Cincinnati coach Ben Chapman’s card. (And if the name is familiar, Ben Chapman was the manager that was a total a-hole to Jackie Robinson in 42, not to mention real life.)

For completeness, I also checked to ensure that 100 HR Club members who retired in 1950 or 1951 (e.g., Joe DiMaggio) did not somehow eke out a spot in the set, which they did not.

As I eagerly await the inclusion of Negro League records and statistics into the MLB record book, I’ll simply note that Seamheads currently shows nine players with 100+ home runs from 1920-48, the period MLB will be recognizing. I haven’t done the extra work to examine whether or not all of these home runs “will count.” That said, none of these nine players were included in the 1952 Topps set.

Nonetheless, the inclusion of Negro League records does appear to add a player. By the end of the 1952 season, Monte Irvin had 43 National League homers and (per Seamheads) 61 Negro League homers for a total of 104.

There are also two players who come very close. Luke Easter lands at 97, counting 11 Negro League roundtrippers, and Jackie Robinson lands at 96, counting 4 taters from his days as a Monarch.

1989 Upper Deck and the 100 HR Club

Though it sometimes feels wrong to type, I regard the 1989 Upper Deck set as the fourth iconic baseball card set of the 20th century, so this is where I’ll conduct my final analysis.

The 100 HR Club has now swelled to 442 (!) members, a gigantic number compared to 1952 but still less than half the club’s size today. Of this number, 56 were active in 1989. As the Upper Deck set, counting its high series, had 800 cards, I will simply assume for now that all 56 of these players were represented in the set. (Let me know in the comments if you know of any exceptions.)

Still, this would not be the whole story for the 1989 Upper Deck set. For example, Dave Winfield did not play in 1989 but nonetheless registered a card. Fittingly, the card shows him just chillin’.

“Career cappers” were also in vogue by 1989, so I also took a look at player’s who retired following the 1988 season. One such player in the set was Don Baylor, whose card back appears provides a fitting farewell to a great career.

Ditto Larry Parrish who seems to be handing over the reins to new 100 HR Club member Mark McGwire.

And finally, Ted Simmons and Bob Horner, who are each shown on the team more commonly associated with the other.

Summary

Of the four sets profiled, the 1933 Goudey set featured the largest percentage of 100 HR Club members. Officially (at the time I type this), it included 25 of 48 100 HR clubbers, or 52%. Including Negro League records (though my data may not ultimately match what MLB recognizes), the numbers change to 25 out of 53, or 47%.

Naturally, the question crossed my mind whether this figure–either one–represented a pinnacle across all sets. In a very boring way the answer is no, since a cabinet set from 1890 included a Harry Stovey when he was the sole member of the club. As such, that set included 100% of all 100 HR Club members. To allow for more interesting answers I’ll re-ask the question but use the “Modern Era” as a qualifier. I’ll also restrict the sets in question to ones mainly featuring active players as opposed to all-time greats tribute sets.

Either way, for the moment I do not know the answer but expect it will still be circa 1933, probably a tad earlier. (The 1931 W517 set is a strong candidate.)

Forgetting about baseball cards at the moment and not yet incorporating Negro League data, it’s easy using Stathead to look at the percentage of active 100 HR Club members over time. I’ve done this from 1900 to 2020, in 10 year increments and the results seem to confirm 1930 or so as when the greatest percentage of 100 HR Club members were active.

One thing clear from the data is the percentage of active 100 HR clubbers is only trending downward at this point. Were I to compute the data year by year rather than in ten year increments, we might see the occasional upward blip, but what’s certain is the days of a new release capturing anywhere near 50% of baseball’s “elite” 100 HR club are completely behind us. At this point, even 5% may live entirely in Baseball’s rear-view mirror.

Sources:

  • Trading Card Database for checklists and card images
  • Stathead for 100 HR Club data
  • Seamheads for Negro League HR totals

On thinking about what makes a card a card

One of the few editorial positions we have on this blog is a very catholic stance toward what counts as a baseball card. We’ve published posts about photos, toys, games, stamps, coins, etcetera, all of which serve to flesh out and describe the way that we collected cards. We’re not interested in being gatekeepers for what cards are. We’re interested in use and how cards relate to our fandom and interest in the game itself.

All that said, the discussion about what constitutes a card is one that comes up periodically on Twitter or on here.* It’s a fun discussion to have since we all have very different ideas** which in turn impact our collections and interests. I enjoy taking part in these discussions but I really love just watching them since the criteria people bring up have turned out to all over the map.

*Probably also in the Facebook group but as I’m no longer part of that website I’m unable to confirm as much.

**Quite similar to the “what constitutes a complete set” discussion we had earlier on this blog.

We all, of course, have significant agreement on what a card is. But there are so many variables where an item can deviate from being a card™  that I found myself creating a taxonomy of card attributes. Looking at cards with these attributes in mind is something I’ve found helps me understand why my gut reacts to different products the way it does.

This post will explain my thinking and hopefully help other people put words to things their guts have already intuited. Again, this is in no way intended to be a gatekeeping thing. We all have different reactions to which attributes we care about and where on the spectrum something stops being a card. But if the Twitter conversations have taught me anything it’s that being our most interesting conversations are when we’re being positive about our definitions rather than negative about someone else’s.

Material

We’ll start with the obvious and discuss the material of the card. Obviously the expectation is that they be made of cardboard. They are called “cards” after all.

But cards have never been limited to just that. From the silks and blankets in the pre-war era to the plastic, metal, and wood releases of the modern era we’ve always had cards that weren’t made of cardboard. We’ve had stamps, stickers (some made of cloth), rub-offs, rub-downs, and decals as well.

Even in the cardboard/paper realm there’s also a discussion with having about the thickness of the paperstock. We’ve had posts on the blog about cards printed on newsprint and cards which are almost a quarter of an inch thick.

Size

In general tobacco-sized to 3.5″×5″ seems to have a consensus as being a card. But what about 5″×7″ or 8.5″×11″? What about minis and micros that are smaller than tobacco cards? What about posters and pin-ups?

A lot of this comes back to storage concerns and the way many of us use binders and binder pages to organize our collections. But it’s more than that too. For most of us, “card” indicates something from the business card to postcard size and anything beyond that becomes something else. Too small and the card starts to feel insignificant. Too large and it becomes something else—a photo, a poster, a flyer.

Form

This is sort of related to size but refers to non-rectangular items like discs and diecuts but also encompasses folders, booklets, and pop-ups as well as  coins, poker chips, and buttons. Many of these are binderable. Just as many lose what makes them distinct and interesting as soon as they get bindered.

The items which aren’t binderable at all are especially interesting here. Things like the 1957 Swift Meats diecut paper dolls or those Topps 3-D Baseball Stars from the 1980s are clearly intended to be like cards but do not fit into any standard card storage or presentation systems.

Content

The question of what makes a card a card is more than just the physical description of what it’s made of and what shape it is. What it actually depicts is also important. Yes, picture on the front, stats/bio on the back is the expectation. But there are a lot of cards out there which don’t do this.

We’re not just talking about blank backs either although those are definitely relevant to this category. Backs that are advertising, common designs, or just a player name are all part of this. The same goes with fronts that depict a generic player instead of someone specific.

And for my money, all the more-recent relic, autograph, or online cards with backs that are functionally blank fit in here as well. I’ve seen way too many people refer to them as “half a card” to not mention them.

Release

No images for this section because it’s not something that can really be depicted visually. Traditionally, cards are part of a set and are released in either packs or complete sets. Cards that exist by themselves without the context of a set or the lottery of a pack stray into a grey area. This is something that’s really been pushed into new territory with online releases and the way Topps has in many ways optimized its distribution around selling and creating individual items on demand, but the idea of one-off card releases has been around a long time.

There’s also the discussion here about what connotes a set—both in terms of size and how things are numbered. At what point does a release of cards become a “set”? If something is unnumbered or only has a weird alphanumeric code on the back does that mean that it was intended to be collected by itself?

Case Studies

Why do I bother thinking and categorizing different attributes? Because as I watch the discussions it seems that most of us tolerate a certain amount of variance in one or two categories as long as the others remain “standard.” So let’s dig in.

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Let’s start with 1969 Topps Deckle Edge. These are pretty clearly cards but they serve as an example of something that sort of fails one of the categories because the backs are non-existent. But as you move from card size to 5″x7″ to 8″x10″, more and more people switch from treating them as cards to treating them as photos.

Or look at Broders. They’re generally “backless” but they also start to deviate from the expected release method.* They consist of small checklists and were generally not released the same way most cards are. Art cards and customs fit in this area as well. Move up a size in this area and we have things like team photo postcards. Change the paper stock and we end up in Jay Publishing land. At some point things stop being a card for a lot of people**

*There’s also something to be said about the licensing stuff but I’ve not heard anyone claim that Panini or other unlicensed logoless cards aren’t even cards.

**Although we still collect them and cover them on this blog.

The one that’s sort of stumped me in my own collection are the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball stadium giveaways from the early 1990s. Despite being letter-sized and blank-backed, because they’re cardboard and manufactured by Upper Deck they physically feel more like cards than a lot of the posters that Topps has folded up and inserted in packs over the years.

At the same time, since they were distributed via stadium giveaway and do not function as part of a set. They’re also functionally distinct from those late-60s, early-70s posters that were issued in packs and formed part of a distinct set.

But I could go on and on. As stated initially, the point of this post isn’t to provide a definitive answer or even an official opinion. Instead I hope that organizing my thoughts about the different ways we evaluate cardness is helpful to other people as I’ve found it to be for my own thinking.

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!