1914-1915 Cracker Jack Baseball Cards

(Ed note: John McMurray is the chairman of SABR’s Deadball Era Committee. This article recently appeared in the wonderful committee newsletter.)

The accessibility of the Deadball Era derives, in part, from the many existing images of players from the period. It is worthwhile to recall that some of the most vivid and enduring player portrayals are on contemporary baseball cards. The most famous Deadball Era cards are from the T205 and T206 sets, which are large, comprehensive, and relatively available tobacco issues (with some notable exceptions). Still, many collectors prefer the 1914-1915 Cracker Jack cards even if these cards are more expensive and difficult to locate, as they likely are the most impressive baseball cards issued during the Deadball Era. The Cracker Jack cards (sometimes known by the E145-1 designation for the 1914 set and E145-2 for 1915, with caramel cards having an ‘E’ set designation rather than ‘T’ for tobacco) are a wonderful window into the Deadball Era in the middle of its second decade.

With a clean presentation and bright red backgrounds, the Cracker Jack cards had the most eye-appeal of any card issued to date. Today, some collectors still consider them to be the most attractive baseball card design ever produced. These 2-1/4” by 3” cards were also nearly twice as large as most of their tobacco card counterparts and included the most biographical detail of any baseball card yet manufactured. But it is the detailed artwork and many action poses which make this set a perennial collector favorite. In some sense, these are baseball cards doubling as art.

Here, among the Cracker Jack cards, are the best baseball card images of Shoeless Joe Jackson’s swing, of Walter Johnson’s pitching motion, and of Ty Cobb’s glare. The action shots, too, are magnificent: Chick Gandil reaching for a ball at first base is a beautifully done horizontal image, as is that of Ray Keating pitching. Then there are the catcher poses, with Hick Cady, Ted Easterly, Les Nunamaker, Frank Owen, and Wally Schang shown in action in full catcher’s gear. The portraits of Charles Comiskey and Connie Mack seem to capture their respective professional reputations. If you would like to see a commanding picture of John McGraw, a side view of Gavy Cravath at bat, or a pensive pose of Honus Wagner, these sets are the place to look. Surely, no better card of Smoky Joe Wood has ever been produced than in the Cracker Jack sets, and there is a sometimes-overlooked card of Branch Rickey as manager of the St. Louis Browns. As many have noted, what is missing is a card of Babe Ruth in either set, a real incongruity since so many lesser names are included. But, except for Ruth, there is really nothing missing from these relatively small sets.

Magee1915The 1914 Cracker Jack cards are significantly more scarce than the ones issued in 1915. “While collecting complete sets from either year is tough, there is no question that the 1914 set is infinitely more difficult to acquire, and it all comes down to the way the cards were distributed,” wrote Joe Orlando, president of Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) and PSA/DNA, in a chapter about the origins of the cards in The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players (Peter E. Randall Publisher, 2013) by Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala. Orlando said that the 1914 cards were distributed only in packages of Cracker Jack, making the cards more susceptible to damage, while the 1915 cards were available both in packages with the candy and also through a mail-in redemption where the entire set could be acquired for “either 100 coupons or one coupon plus a whopping 25 cents!” Add to it that the 1914 cards were printed on thinner card stock than their 1915 counterparts, and it is clear why so few of the former exist in top condition.

As Orlando outlines (see Zappala and Zappala, pp. 163-173), the 1914 set has 144 cards, while the 1915 version has 176. For most part, the first 144 cards are identical between the sets, as they have the same players and poses. Two players have different poses from the first year to the second: Christy Mathewson and Del Pratt each have an action pose in 1914 and a portrait in 1915. The 1914 Mathewson card, is, by far, the most popular and expensive Cracker Jack card, but it is very difficult to locate. The PSA website notes that one in excellent condition sold for $95,000 in 2012. Four players (Harry Lord, Jay Cashion, Nixey Callahan, and Frank Chance) have cards in the 1914 set but not in the 1915 edition. The final thirty-two cards of the 1915 set (Nos. 145-176) are not included in the 1914 version. A few cards from 1914, as Orlando notes, were replaced from 1914 to 1915: Rollie Zeider’s standing pose (he had two cards in 1914) was removed for Oscar Dugey, and Hal Chase would take the place of Frank Chance. The easiest way to tell the 1914 and 1915 cards apart is that the backs of the latter were printed upside down “so the card information could be read while mounted in the specially-designed albums (available by mail order for the 1915 set only),” wrote Orlando. He notes, though, that some 1915 cards show some staining from glue, likely used to keep the cards in these albums.

The backs of the cards are succinct, usually outlining each player’s basic biography and how he got to the major leagues, occasionally capped with understated praise. Cobb “is noted as a marvel for speed and batting.” Wagner, his card says matter-of-factly, “has batted over 300 (sic) for ten years.” Rabbit Maranville with Boston “has been a great success.” At the bottom, the card backs in 1914 note that the company’s first issue is “15,000,000 pictures,” while the 1915 backs detail the offer for the complete set and to acquire what the company called the “Handsome Album to hold (the) full set of pictures.”

An oft-forgotten component of these sets is their Federal League players including Rube Marquard who is erroneously identified as being with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, and Artie (Circus Solly) Hofman, whose surname is misspelled as ‘Hoffman’. George Suggs’ uniform as a member of the Baltimore Terrapins stands out, while Bill Rariden is shown in his Boston Braves uniform in spite of having joined the Federal League’s Indianapolis Hoosiers, as his card notes. Rollie Zeider’s standing pose clearly shows the word ‘Feds’ on his Chicago uniform, and the bold word ‘Buffalo’ across Walter Blair’s chest is a clear indication that things were different in baseball during 1914 and 1915.

These sets distinctively capture the individuality of many players. Though the artwork can vary in its quality (Max Carey’s card, for one, is not the sharpest), it is fair to say that the portrayals often capture the essence of well-known players, and particularly of the top stars. Fred Clarke’s sitting pose gives an air of focused effectiveness, and Sam Crawford’s throwing motion offers a contented, carefree style. The grit and crustiness of the era also come through in Doc Gessler’s swing or in Sherry Magee’s throwing pose. Eddie Cicotte’s easy smile on his Cracker Jack cards, alas, is reminiscent of a time before scandal hit the sport. In the Cracker Jack cards, no two poses or portraits look the same, making the set stand out from those which often repeat similar images.

A card of a common Cracker Jack player in very good condition, which is to say, showing considerable wear, will likely cost between $150 and $200. Because of the demand for these cards and their relative scarcity, a star player will likely cost more than $500, with steep increases in price as condition improves even marginally. Cards issued in 1914, of course, almost always command a higher price. It speaks to the endurance of the Deadball Era and its players that desire for these cards remains so solid and strong more than a century after they were produced.

Many vintage baseball card collectors begin with the T205 and T206 sets because those sets include more players, and most cards are available for about half of the price of the Cracker Jack cards. That is a fair approach. At the same time, while very different in appearance from traditional tobacco cards, the Cracker Jack sets include artwork that is at least as good, if not better, as well as an array of player poses and biographical detail not found in other contemporary card sets. These cards justifiably play a part in the telling of the story of the Deadball Era.

The ’87 cards at 69¢ a pop

1987 Topps box

The summer’s treasure trove of baseball cards continues:  Among the shoeboxes I was gifted, there was a baseball card pack box full of over 750 loose cards.  When I saw the box, I had a bit of fantasy that inside I would find wax packs.  There’s something special about opening a pack of cards, especially an old pack.  Would I find 17-card packs with sticks of gum?  Alas, the box was full of loose cards.  Oh well.  A boy could dream.

Pile by pile, I picked up each stack and quickly flipped through the familiar names making note of the card design as well.  The 1987 Topps set (792 cards) was touted as a “blast from the past” giving collectors memories of the 1962 Topps set with its use of a border with its simulated wood-grain finish.  The card features a large player photo with the team logo at the upper left corner and the players name in bold font inside a colored box next to the Topps logo at the bottom of the card.  The player’s position, however, is not indicated, which is the first time since 1972 that Topps did not include this detail.

1987 Topps inside.jpg

As I flipped through the cards, I thought about the 1962 counterpart and about what I didn’t like about this card design.  The wood border is fine, yeah, another flashback that Topps has done before.  What bothered me was the missing player position, and the team logo.  I like the uniformity of other card sets depicting the team name in the same font.  To me, the logo sort of throws the uniformity of the card off.  I believe this set is the first time since 1965 that a logo has been added to the card, though in that set, the logo was incorporated with the team name in the same font imposed on a pennant.

I knew that noted “rookies” of interest in this set included Ruben Sierra (#261), Mike Greenwell (#259), Wally Joyner (#80), Barry Bonds (#320) and Mark McGwire (#366), who had first appeared on a card in a 1984 U.S. Olympics Topps subset issued in 1985.  Among this box, I found a Greenwell, couple of Joyners and a McGwire.  These cards, like the rest of box, are in tip-top shape.  Sharp corners, no wear, vivid pictures, like the previous owner never played with them at all.  It’s amazing to me that of all the thousands of cards that were gifted to me in this summer collection, they are almost all in pristine condition, save for the dozen vintage cards I wrote about earlier.

I realized too, in thinking about the 1987 year, that I didn’t spend time at all collecting baseball cards during most of the 1980s because I was in college spending my extra funds on girls and beer.  Some 20 years or so later, I was able to go back and start collecting those years I had missed.  This 1987 set isn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy seeing all the familiar names and certainly appreciate opening the box and making yet another great discovery.

Of Syndergaard and Sasquatch

Syndergaard

Recently, “Sports Collectors Daily” offered a preview of the upcoming, July 2018 release of Topps’ Allen and Ginter set. Most of you are aware that Topps began issuing cards in the style of the 19th century Allen and Ginter tobacco cards in 2006. As with most modern card issues, there is a dizzying array of parallels, relics, autographs, original “buy backs” short prints, and subsets. I am enamored with the parallels and non-sports subsets that are issued in “tobacco size” (1-7/16 X 2-5/8).

Altuve mini

It seems strange to mimic the style of tobacco cards while producing them in standard size. The traditional tobacco card format with an advertisement on the back is the logical size, thus my affinity for the parallel sets. Of course, the mini-parallels have numerous versions such as metal, cloth etc. I try to ignore these distinctions and just enjoy the cards.

Allen and Gintar provides a mixture of current and former players, not to mention subsets of other sports figures. For instance, in 2017, Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano could be pulled from packs.

Peppers

I realize that “purists” may scoff at the idea of mixing non-sport cards with baseball. I say “pshaw” to this “fuddy-duddery.” The non-sport cards are interesting on a historical level and the quirky subject matter amusing. The 2018 set has the following mini subsets: “World’s Hottest Peppers,” “Indigenous Heroes,” “Postage Required” (maybe a Manama stamp is included), “Flags of Lost Nations” and “Folio of Fears.” The backs have narratives that explain the topics.

Mayor Murray

In 2016, Allen and Ginter produced 35 mini US Mayors. Seattle’s now former Mayor (sex scandal), Ed Murray, shows up along with many other big city leaders. Topps dropped the ball by not including Jeff Katz in this set. Come on, Topps! What is more apropos than including the Mayor of Cooperstown?

DB Cooper    Sasquatch

Other notable non-sport minis of personal interest include legendary Northwest high jacker, D.B. Cooper, in the 2011 “Mysterious Figures” set and the Sasquatch in the 2014 “Larger than Life.” By the way, all Northwest residents have encountered a Sasquatch at least once. I usually see one after having a few drinks. Coincidence?

Ferocious Feline Tabby

Man's Best Friend Husky

The original Allen and Ginter tobacco cards of the 1880s often featured animals. Some card anthropomorphized the subject, while others depicted animals in nature. Topps has kept this tradition alive by creating such subsets as: 2011 “Man’s Best Friend,” 2016 “Ferocious Felines” and “Mascots of the Wild” and 2017 “Horse in the Race.”

If you haven’t purchased Allen and Ginter before, I encourage you to buy a few packs when they come out in July. I’m hoping the “The Folio of Fears” subset has a card depicting the fear of non-sports cards mixing with baseball- “nonludusbasisspheracardboardiaphobia.”

Sources:

Mueller, Rich. “2018 Topps Allen and Ginter Baseball Cards Include Usual Quirkiness.” Sports Collectors Daily, Sports Collectors Daily, 13 Feb. 2018, www.sportscollectorsdaily.com/topps-allen-ginter-returns-for-2018/.

Trading Card Data Base

Topps 1963 All-Star Rookie Cup Team: Part 2 – the Voting

Today in the second installment in our three part series dedicated to the 1962 Topps Rookie Cup All-Star team we are going to take a look at the voting process. For more on the team check out Part 1.

The Topps All-Star Rookie team has been selected a number of different ways over the years. Originally they were selected via a vote by “the Youth of America” . I am not positive but I believe currently Topps has MLB Managers vote on the squad.

In 1962 that responsibility of picking the team was the belonged to a fairly complete roster of the players coaches and managers of Major League Baseball. Thanks to the Sporting News we have a record of that vote.

1964 Topps #457 Jesse Gonder

1964 Topps #457 Jesse Gonder

We will get to Jesse Gonder in a minute, for now I will just mention that he did not lead the voting, nor did NL Rookie of the Year Pete Rose.

According to an article published in The Sporting News (1963 Sep 21) There were 563 players, coaches, and managers involved in the voting. During the 1963 season there were 20 MLB teams, this means that an average of more than 28 people voted for each team.

On September 15th 1962 Topps Sports Director Sy Berger announced the All-Star Rookie Team and the overall vote winner was…..

White Sox Pitcher Gary Peters who received 522 of those 563 votes or 93%.

A solid selection, Peters was Rose’s AL ROY counterpart. The rest of the voting went as follows:

1964 All-Star rCup Voting

I broke the Rookie All-Stars into two groups, Position Players and Pitchers just to make the the MLB Stat columns a little clearer. Both tables are sorted by the Number of votes received in the All-Star Rookie tally.

The hitters break down into two groups the first 5 that all received at least 2/3 of the vote. The final 3 players were more contested and all finished at 50% or less.  Both pitchers won their positions easily. It appears the “eye test” worked in 1963, The five hitters chosen had WAR numbers of +2.0 or better while the final 3 were all +1.0 or below. One cannot question the selection of Gary Peters and his +7.0 WAR.

Jesse Gonder

We chose Jesse Gonder as cover card for a couple of reasons. To start off Catcher was the most contested position of the voting:

Jesse Gonder Catchers

Nice to see Twitter favorite @JohnnyBateman7 on the board. As we can see Freehan won the WAR however in 1963 that was obviously not known. Gonder won the vote, likely due to his .304 batting average. Of course voting for him meant ignoring the fact that he had less than half of the plate appearances of either Freehan or Bateman.

The second reason we decided to focus on Jesse Gonder is his card. Take a look, notice anything odd for a rookie cup card? Yep, no Rookie Cup. Not sure why it happened but the Trophy icon was missed on Jesse Gonder’s 1964 Topps card. Of the Ten cards in the All-Star Rookie subset it is the highest numbered, one of two on the series 6 checklist which runs from from 430-506. Perhaps by the time Topps got to their penultimate series the quality control had slipped a tad.

Pete Rose

I would like to close by discussing Pete Rose who won second base but did not garner as many votes as either Gary Peters or Vic Davalillo.

Pete Rose 2nd Base

This may be due to the fact that Pete Rose likely had competition from HBP specialist Ron Hunt. TSN did not publish the Topps voting results for all the positions, it is notable that the only player to garner Rookie of the Year votes yet not receive an All-Star Rookie Cup was Hunt.

I am a little stunned how much better Rose did in the ROY vote considering how similar his and Hunt’s numbers were in 1963. Apparently Hustle counts.

Once again I will mention if you want to read a fine article on the 1963 Topps Pete Rose card check with Wax Pack Gods.

Sources and Links

The Sporting News (1963 various issues)

Baseball-ref

Baseball Card Database

Cardboard Connection

Phungo 1963 Topps Rookie Cup Index

Wax Pack Gods

Getting Down with Upgrades

A few months before the glorious reinvigorating of the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, I was easing my way back into the hobby. I realized that I was about 50 cards shy of a complete 1971 Topps set. What always stopped me from finishing it was the condition; on the whole what I had was VGEX on average (or at best), well below my normal standards. When it dawned on me that consistency of condition within the set was key, I was freed from my bonds. I could get a Nolan Ryan in EX and not break the bank. This is all very good justification.

I finished that set and then, as we all do, looked for what was next. I was further away from a full 1970 Topps set, but the overall condition of those cards was better than my 1971s. A couple of big gifts from friends put me in line for a set in EX.

Still, happy as I was with competed sets, I knew there were some real dogs in each. When I went through them both recently, again looking for some kind of uniform condition, I counted up about 55-60 cards per set in need of serious upgrading.

IMG_3344

This Yankees Team card from 1970 is so awful – worn, creased, with the soft pliability of a wet paper towel. Even within a sheet (and we know sheets provide some cover for imperfections), it looks like shit. Only Jim Bunning has the nerve to look in its direction. Up close it’s like the Phantom of the Opera, mask off. It clearly is not welcome and things need to change.

IMG_3343

What to do? I whittled a little off the list with two trades (here’s a good example of a before and after from 1971)

IMG_3342

and, shockingly, to me, I had doubles that were in better condition than the cards I had in my set. (Remember to always check your doubles!). When the dust cleared I was down to about 30 cards needed per set.

A card show will take care of most of these, but, with some time to spare last night, I visited COMC. I’ve ordered only once from them and I didn’t love the experience beyond getting the final card of a set I’d been working on for 17 years (2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball). I spent too much that time, $3.99 postage for one card that I should’ve gotten for a little less.

One of the nice things about our card community is the sharing of information (and cards) and I was tipped off to the trick of COMC. You can load up a cart and qualify for the same $3.99 payment. I ended up finding 35 cards at good prices, the scans showing exactly the condition I’m seeking. I’m still a bit nervous to see what they’re like in person, but I feel tentatively good about it.

Kind of. I’m down to needing 31 cards for both sets to be in a state I can accept, with a few superstars in the mix (1971 Clemente is the priciest). Is this money well spent? I don’t know. For what it’ll end up costing me to upgrade, I could buy all the 1956 commons I need in EX. The reality is one spend doesn’t preclude another spend. I’ll end up buying all the upgrades I need, sort of as an extracurricular project, not exactly counting it when I tally up my card costs. That’s seriously flawed justification, but I’m coming to terms with it.

TRENDY: South Korea Winter Olympics

The Olympics being held in PyeongChang is a good opportunity to discuss some WBC/South Korea cards.

20180210_093916

2009 A&G National Price #NP39 Shin-Soo Choo

Shin-Soo Choo is probably the most prominent Korean MLB player. The 34 year old outfielder has put together a pretty nice career including a couple of playoff appearances and 168 Home Runs. Choo will be entering his 14th season, four of which have been with the Texas Rangers, in a few weeks,

Topps noted the 2009 World Baseball Classic by giving the Allen & Ginter’s common (or decoy) insert an International flare. Each of the 75 subjects in the set is presented on a card that represents the players home country. In the above Shin-Soo Choo card you can see the a small flag atop the interior frame along with a flag background for the player image. The player name banner also references the home country.

2009 A&G National Pride #NP39 Shin-Soo Choo (b-side)

20180210_093927

The backside features both the player team and home country. The write-up mentions South Korea’s 10-2 WBC victory over Venezuela in which Shin-Soo Choo hit a first inning home run. The blast came against former Phillies pitcher Carlos Silva who did not make it out of the 2nd inning.


20180210_093850

2005 Topps #UH199 HR Derby Hee-Seop Choi

2005 was also a WBC year and as part of the events promotion MLB gave the Home Run Derby an international flair. You can see the Korean flag patch on the upper left of Hee-Sop Choi’s uniform.

The 2005 All-Star game was held in Detroit with 8 players representing seven different countries and the US territory of Puerto Rico. At the time of the event Choi had the lowest career Home Run total among the participants with 38. The South Korean First Baseman was eliminated in the first round when he hit 5 Homers, 7 were needed to advance. The final was won by the Phillies Bobby Abreu (Venezuela) over Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) by an 11-5 round score. Abreu had 41 Home Runs on the night boosted by an impressive 24 spot in the opening frame.

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2005 Topps #UH199 HR Derby Hee-Seop Choi (b-side)

The back side of the card discusses Hee-Seop Choi’s Home Run Derby first round. Much debated 2018 HOF Nominee Andruw Jones (Netherlands) is mentioned alongside Choi.

20180210_094122

Phungo WBC Binder South Korea Page

One of the MANY minor collections in the Phungo collection is the WBC binder which includes players paged by home country. There are several card sets that contain feature players representing their native countries. This is the Korea page which currently houses 7 cards with slots 1 & 2 open. Hee-Seop Choi earns center square for a combination of his stature and the fact that he is facing my preferred direction for a center square on a Right Hand Page.

2018 Winter Games

For more info on an interesting baseball connected Olympian check my column on Topps 2014 Olympic cards which features Skeleton athlete Katie Uhlaender. The original Posting from four years ago can be found here.

Katie’s father was an MLB outfielder and we briefly discussed him in 2014 as well. That column including his RC along with a discussion of his 1969T card in the Uhleander family can be found here.

Sources and Links

Phungo Game Dated Card Index

Phungo WBC Index

Cardboard Junkie

TeamSets4U

MLB

NBC Olympics

LA Times

Baseball-Ref

It Curves, Part 2

In ’78 and ’79, Wiffle issued disc shaped cards in or on their ball boxes.   Since we are discussing Wiffle balls, it’s only appropriate that the actual years of distribution are as “baffling” as a perfectly executed Wiffle curve.  The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards dates the two sets from ’77 and ’78; however, the Wiffle Corporation states that ’78 and ’79 are the correct years. This is confirmed by promotional documents.  Some dealers have changed the year designations, while other still go with the original years. I will defer to the Wiffle Corporation.

The ’78 disc cards are the standard design issued by MSA (Michael Schechter Associates) except for being smaller in diameter. Most of you are familiar with the black and white, headshots with airbrushed cap emblems, since the photos were only licensed by the Major League Baseball Players Association, and not MLB. The right and left front has color panels with biographical information. The discs were produced as promotions and were customized with advertisements on the back.

The 80-card set was issued as single cards inserted inside the Wiffle ball box. There are six different color panels and each player only comes in one color. 21 future Hall-of-Fame inductees grace the set along with other stars of the era. Mark Fidrych may be the most unique player depicted and Ray Burris the most obscure. For some reason, Ed Kranepool shows up even though he is winding down his career in ’78.

 

Various Players

In ’79, Wiffle includes five cards printed on the box; two cards facing in and three facing out. Collectors have only identified 12 different boxes, which adds up to 60 cards. However, the display box in stores implored kids to collect all 88 cards. It is generally believed that only 60 were produced.

Munson cut

Each card has a thick, black dotted line around the circumference designed as guide for cutting out the cards. 52 of the players in the ’79 set are repeated from the previous year, all with the same pictures. Eight new players are introduced as well. Once again, each player’s panels are the same color, but the colors differ from ’78. As with most cards designed to be cut, uncut boxes are more valuable. This Thurman Munson is indicative of what can happen when kids use scissors.

Cey-Ryan Header

Finally, Wiffle “floated” a “knuckle curve” by issuing cards on “headers.” These are cardboard sleeves used to hold a bat and ball together for display. 28 different cards with blank backs appear on the sleeves. All cards are folded, due to the packaging technique. 14 were printed in one color panels and 14 with two colors.

 

60s Header

I neglected to include in part one a similar sleeve in the ‘60s featuring multiple player photos in a star format. Not sure if there are versions with different players.

Garland

I hope you are inspired to round up some neighborhood kids for a spirited Wiffle ball game in the backyard. If not, at least head over to eBay and pick up this awesome Wayne Garland with signature “porn stash.”

 

Sources:

“Wiffle Ball discs.” Collectors Universe, forums.collectors.com/discussion/954495/wiffle-ball-discs.

“Sales material helps to properly date when Wiffle Ball Discs were released.” Sports Collectors Digest, 13 Dec. 2016, http://www.sportscollectorsdigest.com/wiffle-ball-discs/.

The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards