I find myself in what’s become a usual position, wondering what to pursue. I’m winding down six sets (I need one card to finish each of four sets, eight for another and 10 for the last). There’s not enough on my want lists to keep me constantly in the game.
So, I scoured Standard Catalog for ideas. Nothing too big, yet. Nothing too expensive. I found what I was looking for – the 1963 Topps Peel-offs. A non-numbered checklist of 46 insert stickers. Perfect!
The Peel-offs are 1 ¼” X 2 ¾”. They’re smaller than a card, but seem big due to the oversized head. Colorful, nice, and fit my criteria.
Each Peel-off comes in two varieties – with instructions and without (blanks).
The blank backs are harder to come by, though the Harmon Killebrew I bought is blank backed and carried no price premium. It’s in the instructions where we find the “peel-off” name. If they were all blank backed, would they be called “Blanks?” Probably not; we’d refer to them as “Stickers,” as Topps did on the box.
This whole project started innocently enough, when I bought a Ken Hubbs to avoid postage fees. The price of the late Cubbie put me over the minimum order threshold. Something about the look of the thing stuck. I’d never seen one before and I liked it.
There are a couple of problems with these. One, cuts can be inconsistent. I’m finding I don’t mind terribly much. What’s weird is you can have the whole image while still seeing signs of the adjacent player on the sheet (see Cepeda in the group shot. Whose ear is peeking in?).
Two, I like my cards crease free, but all of these have a bump in the middle that aligns with where the two back papers meet. It’s a sort of nice character flaw, a bit of a wave that is distinct but unobtrusive.
To date (about a month into it), I’m finding progress solid and prices reasonable. It helps that more than half of the checklist are commons/lesser stars, easily gettable at $2-3. Even many Hall of Famers are less than $10. I’ve been told it’s a tough set to put together, and that sounds like it might be true. I imagine a lot of these ended up on book covers and bikes. I haven’t encountered any issues yet, though Mantle will cost me (as he always does).
From that initial Hubbs buy, I’m now halfway through, 23/46 either in hand or on their way. These will keep me busy, for a little while, until I figure out the next big project (1965 Topps Baseball? 1958? Hostess sets? Vintage Hockey?)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I expect fellow author-collector Dylan has really started something with his post on the subject a couple weeks back. The topic is one just begging for the pen of each of our members, even as the idea of choosing “just four?!” often feels impossible.
1934-36 Diamond stars
I’ll lead off with a set that Dylan included on his Mt. Rushmore, the “Diamond Stars” issued by National Chicle from 1934-36. Like Dylan, it’s the look of the cards that hooks me in.
The color palette jumps off the cardboard like ink off a comic book page, but I am also a big fan of the baseball scenes depicted in so many of the card backgrounds. I’ve already written about these scenes coming more from the imaginations of the artists than real life, but for me that’s a feature, not a bug.
From a purely visual standpoint, Diamond Stars is my favorite set of the 1930s and perhaps my favorite set of all-time. Where it falls short with many collectors is in its player selection. Conspicuously absent from the set are Yankee greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. For the budget set collector, this is yet another bug-turned-feature.
If you’ve read a few of my pieces already, you also know I enjoy sets with some novelty and mystery. Diamond Stars definitely fits the bill, not only for its various quirks but also offers early instances (though by no means the earliest) of “Traded” cards.
If I had to choose one thing I dislike about this set, it’s the repetition of 12 players at the end of the set’s 108-card checklist. Particularly as these final cards are more scarce than the first 96, the duplication introduces disproportionate pain for set collectors forced to pay a premium for cards they already have.
Here is another set I’ve written about quite a bit and the set under whose shadow all other sets of the era reside.
While the set’s iconic status goes hand in hand with its trademark “Big League Chewing Gum” banner along so many of the card bottoms, my favorite cards come from the set’s final three releases (e.g., Morrissey, Root, and Herman above).
Where Diamond Stars lacked Ruth and Gehrig, Goudey brought these players on steroids, combining for six cards across the set’s 240-card checklist. Counting the Napoleon Lajoie card issued the following year, the set includes 66 cards of Hall of Famers and all but two players who competed in the season’s inaugural All-Star Game.
Were I to find fault with this set, it would be in a flaw common to all other baseball sets issued in the United States around this time. The set included players from the National League, American League, Pacific Coast League, International League, Southern Association, and American Association but no players from the Negro National League or other Black baseball leagues.
Kudos to my bud Scott Hodges who is filling some big holes in the 1933 Goudey set and others with his own digital card creations.
I’ve attempted similar in analog fashion though I’ve been less faithful to the history. Here is Buck Leonard on the Grays a year before he joined the team.
I will definitely treat the absence of Black stars as a bug, not a feature, but if there’s a silver lining it’s that there is no chance I could afford a 1933 Goudey Josh Gibson, and its absence from my collection would absolutely torment me daily.
1911 T205 Gold Borders
Like Dylan I had to include a tobacco set on my list. The T206 set, which initially did little for me, has grown on me immensely over the past couple years. Still, it would have to gain a lot more ground to surpass its gilded sequel.
The set features three different designs: one for National Leaguers, one for American Leaguers, and one for Minor Leaguers.
I absolutely love the NL and Minor League designs and am somewhat ho hum about the AL one, so I’m fortunate to be a Brooklyn collector.
As brilliant as the card fronts are, the T205 card backs are not to be ignored. While some feature brief biographies and one of several tobacco brands, others include…stats!
As with the two sets covered thus far, you will not find a single Black player in this set. You might suppose no card set from 1911 included Black athletes, but this was not the case. For example, here is Jack Johnson from the 1911 Turkey Red Cabinets (mostly baseball) set.
Once again then there is the knowledge in collecting T205 that you’re not collecting the very best players of the era. But again, did I mention I was a Brooklyn collector?!
Here’s where it always gets tough. I probably have ten or more sets I’m considering, but the rules are that I can only choose one. Though I love the cardboard of the 1930s (and earlier!) so much, my favorite era of baseball is the early 1950s. Though integration was slow, it was at least happening, and the mix of new talent and old talent was simply off the charts.
That said, the number of baseball card sets that managed to include all the top stars of the period was practically zero. Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Jackie Robinson in the same (playing era) set? Your choices are already fairly limited:
1947 Bond Bread
1948 Blue Tint
1950 All-Star Pinups
1950 R423 Strip Cards
1952 Berk Ross
Add Stan Musial and Bob Feller and the list shrinks further:
1947 Bond Bread
1950 R423 Strip Cards
1952 Berk Ross
Add Mantle and Mays and the list boils down to one: 1952 Berk Ross.
With a selection of players that also includes Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Duke Snider, Monte Irvin, and an awesome Johnny Mize “in action” card, could this set be the winner?
As much as I love the checklist, the answer has to be no. Most of the images are too dark, too light, or too weird for my taste, and the simple design borders on the boring. Still, what could have been!
The key then is to find a set with beautiful cards and almost all these same players, and–if we add a few more years–Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Ernie Banks.
As much as it pains me to give up Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial, it’s hard for me not to land on 1956 Topps. The beautiful portraits, the Kreindleresque action shots, and the awesome cartoon backs offer my favorite overall design of the Golden Age of Baseball, and the absence of Bowman meant nearly every active star was included in the set.
Unlike 1952 Berk Ross, with only 72 cards, 1956 Topps included 342 cards (counting un-numbered checklists), hence was large enough to assign a card to nearly everyone, not just a couple stars per team.
If I have any bitterness toward this set, it’s only the sour grapes of waiting way too long to collect it. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that sometimes to collect your Rushmore you need to…rush more! Luckily, I do have all 24 Brooklyn cards from the set, and hey, did I mention I’m a Brooklyn collector?
How about you? Which vintage (or modern!) sets make your Mt Rushmore? We look forward to your article!
My name is Joe Genovese, curator and founder of the popular @GoatJerseys Twitter handle. I fell in love with jerseys as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. The uniforms back then were full of wonderful colors, stirrups, and neatly fitted pants and jerseys.
My mother was a huge Yankees fan, and started buying me baseball cards in 1978 when I was a little over four years old. I’m thankful she introduced me to a hobby I would enjoy for many years. As High School set in, hanging out with girls and friends became more important than buying packs and trading cards. I stopped collecting.
Fast forward to March 2020, the pandemic hit and I was home like most Americans in our country. I was trying to keep myself busy so I went into the attic and stumbled onto my childhood card collection. As I looked through all the sneaker boxes full of sets and cards from 1978 to 1990, it brought back great memories. Like every kid in the 80s I thought my 1985 Topps set, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn, and Mark McGwire rookies would make me rich one day. I was always super OCD with my my cards and kept them in great condition, so I was happy to see they how they looked after so many years. Especially my 1988-1989 Jordan cards which were in protected sleeves, definitely gradable!
My then five year-old daughter started helping me sort through the boxes, and just like that she was hooked! We started buying some packs from Target and Walmart, and soon after I found an LCS that was close by. I had a card partner just like the old days, we traded, we sorted, and we drove the wife nuts! It really made me love the hobby again after all these years.
In saying all that, I decided to come up with a project that would keep me busy, but also one that was very informative. I’ve always been an aficionado of the Negro Leagues. The history, the players, stats, fields, and their remarkable stories. I had the pleasure of interviewing the great Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro League Baseball Museum. I knew if I had any questions or inquiries on players I could reach out. So I decided to start a project called, “From the Negro League to MLB.”
Notwithstanding the December 2020 MLB announcement, there were 87 players who played in the Negro Leagues and in Major League Baseball. Harry Chappas was a white ballplayer and he was signed to play in the Negro Leagues for the Indianapolis Clowns who were barnstorming in those days, sort of like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. I know some other players did the same, but Harry didn’t have to go through what they had, so I’m not counting him. So here’s the deal, my goal is to collect a graded card, or an authenticated photo, and/or a piece of memorabilia from the other 86 players.
This past September I started my research, about two hours a day on eBay, Google, PSA, Beckett, and any website or forum where I could find information. Out of the 86 players, 16 did not have a MLB card. Lino Donoso was only featured on a 1956 Topps Pittsburgh Pirates team card, and John Kennedy only appeared on the 1958 Topps Philadelphia Phillies team card. 6 players only appeared on one MLB card. As I searched more in-depth, I started to see that many of these players were connected from the Negro Leagues, to Minor League ball, and even to the Mexican League. So many of these talented ballplayers, not only African-Americans, but Panamanians, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans didn’t get their shot in MLB until way after their prime.
This project has become an addicting hobby, and I really wanted to share my journey with the masses. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.
Billy Parker 1972 Topps Rookie Stars. I started off buying some of the cheaper graded cards that were available and easy to purchase. Parker was my first, he was the last Negro Leaguer to play in MLB. Billy played for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1961, and like I said above by this time they were more of a barnstorming team, so technically Ike Brown (below) is the last to play. Parker played sparingly for the Angels from 1971-1973 as a backup IF and OF.
🐐fact: Like many back then, Parker passed himself off as five years younger than he actually was.
Ike Brown 1974 Topps. Check out the frames, mustache, and sweet Tigers road uni’s. (The background is from my old Pursue the Pennant board game from the 80s.) He played 6 years in MLB, all with the Detroit Tigers. Brown spent 9 years in the Minor Leagues, as well as time in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs.
🐐fact: Ike was a jack of all trades, played every position except CF and catcher. He was also nicknamed, “Showboat” for his slow HR trot, and aggresive approach at the plate.
Paul Casanova 1975 Topps MINI. Huge fan of the ’75 Topps set, and the mini’s are pretty cool. Love those Braves hats from that era. It was also Brown’s last MLB card. Casanova was born in Cuba, an excellent defensive catcher, played for the Washington Senators from 1965-1971, and with the Braves from 1972-1974. Paul also played with the Indianapolis Clowns during their later years as Billy Parker did.
🐐fact: Casanova caught Phil Neikro’s lone no-hitter. “After the game, I raised him up on my shoulder. We drank a 12-pack of beer and Phil gave me $1,000.”
John “Blue Moon” Odom 1972 Topps IA. Great shot of John in those beautiful Oakland uni’s from the 70s. The “In Action” shot made this card an easy choice. John had a 13 year career in MLB, 12 of them with the A’s. In 1968-1969 he earned back to back All-Star nods, going 16-10 2.45 and 15-6 2.92 respectively.
🐐fact: Odom played for the Raleigh Tigers in the late stages of the Negro American League. He was paid mainly “meal money” per day by cheapskate owner Arthur Dove.
Bobby Prescott 1960 National Bank Tacoma Giants. This is pretty rare (POP4 PSA), Prescott was one of the players who did not have a MLB card. He played in only 10 games, all in 1961 for the Kansas City Athletics. He was a legendary Minor League Home Run hitter, smashing 398 over his 20 plus years in baseball.
🐐fact: Prescott was born in Panama, played for the little known Jacksonville Eagles of the Southern Negro League. He also won a HR title in the Panamanian League in 1951.
Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman 1961 Topps Rookie Card. Really cool shot of Clarence in his catching stance. I’m always a sucker for the old rookie cards with the star in the corner, plus that catchers mitt and the clean Phils threads. Another player who joined up with the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 50s. Coleman played in only 4 MLB seasons, 1 with the Phillies, and 3 with the New York Mets.
🐐fact: Coleman was a catcher for the expansion Mets in their inaugural season. The legend Casey Stengel said about Choo-Choo, “I’ve never seen a catcher so fast at retrieving passed balls.”
Hal Jones 1962 Topps Rookie Card. Loved that “C” the Indians used back then. Hal played two years in the majors, 17 total games, all with Cleveland. He spent 9 years in the Minor Leagues playing mainly 1B.
🐐fact: Hal played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956, appearing in the East-West All-Star classic.
Ernie Banks 1980 Laughlin PSA 10. Another very rare card (POP7 PSA10). Not an expensive card, but I really love the look of this one. Robert Laughlin used cartoons to illustrate some really cool cards. Banks was a 14x All-Star, 2x MVP, and smashed 512 HR. I wish Ernie had a chance to show his stuff in the postseason.
🐐fact: Cool Papa Bell saw Banks playing in a semi-pro game and signed him to the Kansas City Monarchs. Played for KC in ’50, hit .250, left to the army for the next two years, came back in ’53 and raked .347!
John Kennedy 1958 Topps Philadelphia Phillies team. John never had his own MLB card, so this was an easy choice. I could not find anything on John for a long time until I came across his name in a forum while I was doing research. There I found out he was featured in ‘58 team card since he was in Spring Training with the Phillies in ’57. He played a few games in April and May of ’58 before being sent down. The more you dig, the more you find! Kennedy was an IF, and the first black player in Phillies history.
🐐fact: Kennedy played in the Negro Leagues for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Kansas City Monarchs where he hit .385 with 17 HR before signing with the Phillies.
Monte Irvin 1954 Red Man Tobacco. I love this card, one of my favorite in the collection. The Red Man cards are tough to find in good condition. It has great color, and it captures an awesome expression on Monte’s face. A lot of the Red Man cards do not have the bottom attached to it since that was the part you would tear off to get a free “Big League Style Hat” after you collected 50 stubs. Monte was a super talented OF who played with and mentored Willie Mays in the spacious Polo Grounds. During his time with the New York Giants Irvin hit over .300 3 times (.299 in ’50). Irvin didn’t make it to MLB until he was a 30 year-old. He played 8 years, 7 with the Giants, and his last year in Wrigley.
🐐fact: “Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team.” – Hall of Famer Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles.
I hope you all enjoyed the 1st inning of “From the Negro Leagues to MLB.” 2nd inning will be up soon!
If you avidly collected baseball cards in the 80s, like I did, Don Sutton was a constant presence. From his last couple of Dodgers issues in 1980 and 1981, through his years with the Astros, Brewers, A’s, Angels and eventual return to the Dodgers in 1988, you never cracked a box of wax packs without getting a Don Sutton. The only thing that seemed to change was the color of his trademarked tight-knit and voluminous puff of curly hair. Steel grey for 1980 Topps to stark white in 1988 Score. Don Sutton always showed up and you were happy to have him.
Similarly, Don Sutton was always there for his team when called upon. In fact, in his 23 years in the Major Leagues, he never missed a start due to injury. Think about that amazing feat. He answered the bell through the presidencies of LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan without missing a single start. Also, Don Sutton did not just show up every four days, he excelled every four days. 324 wins, 3,574 strikeouts, a 3.26 career ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. An amazing feat, especially for someone who pitched in the shadows of other legends like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton.
Perhaps the most amazing fact about Don Sutton is that he is the only Dodgers Hall of Famer who never played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Duke, Sandy and Pee Wee all played at Ebbets Field and Mike Piazza dons a Mets cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.
So, there he is, Don Sutton, standing alone as the only Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Famer, at least until he is eventually joined by Clayton Kershaw. So, tonight after work, go on eBay and buy a box of mid-80s junk wax. When you get a Don Sutton card, and you will get a Don Sutton card, don’t rush by it to search for a bigger star. Turn over that Sutton card, check out his stats for yourself, and just appreciate his consistency and excellence.
As we lost Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer last year, this was my mantra. As the calendar turned to 2021, which we might now more correctly call “2020 Update,” and we lost Lasorda, then Sutton, “We still have Henry.” There were mornings I’d wake up and check espn.com for one sole purpose: to make sure Henry Aaron was still with us.
And now, of course, he isn’t.
It would be impossible for me to put into words the excellent life he lived or the greatness of his career. The best you’ll find all in one place is the outstanding biography, “The Last Hero,” by Howard Bryant.
Instead I’ll share a couple stories and some collection highlights as a personal tribute to my favorite player of all-time.
Don’t meet your idols?
When an event sells out in all of about ten seconds there’s no need to publicize it much. Such was the case with the “Chasing the Dream” benefit put on by the Milwaukee Brewers Community Foundation off and on over the past decade or so.
An afternoon hanging out with Hank Aaron at the ballpark? Yes, please! The first year I’d heard about the event it was of course too late. No tickets left. Try again next year. I did, and I was right about to enter my credit card info when I realized I had a business trip I couldn’t reschedule. Strike two. Still, like the Hammer, I knew to keep swinging.
Come 2016 I had my Google Alerts set up and started “hammering” the Brewers event staff any way I could with calls, emails, calls to see if they got my emails, emails to see if they got my calls, etc. Had the blocked my number and put me on their spammer list, the only fair question would have been “What took you so long?” Instead, one day I got an email from an employee that read something to the effect of, “Jason, I think you are the person who keeps calling us about the Hank Aaron event. Tickets are going on sale tomorrow. Or if it’s easier for you, just let me know how many you need.”
Fast forward to the morning of the event and I’m up at the crack of dawn sorting through my Hank Aaron collection for just the right item to get autographed. Since my wife (then girlfriend) Jodee was joining me, I’d no doubt bring a second item she could have signed. Of course I couldn’t decide so we hit the car with 5-6 articles and, me being me, I worried the whole drive that maybe I left something even better behind.
“Wait, if the event is at 3, why are we leaving here at 11?”
“I want to make sure we’re not late.”
Milwaukee was about 90 minutes from where I lived, so I’d added another hour in case of traffic, thirty minutes in case we needed to stop somewhere, and another thirty minutes for making our way through the stadium. Oh, and another half hour just in case.
“In case of what?”
“I don’t know. Just in case we need it.”
Not only were we the first car to arrive at the stadium, but the parking lot itself was not yet even open. I would have asked someone why the gates were locked, but we were so early there was not even anyone to ask.
About 45 minutes later another car pulled up behind us, and this was vindicating to me. “Yep, good thing we left when we did.”
Once the gates opened I parked as close as I could to the gate where our event paperwork directed us.
“Why are you running?” I heard a woman call out some distance behind me. It was Jodee. I slowed down.
“We need to hurry so we can get good seats.”
We compromised by speed-walking the rest of the way. There was only one problem. I had no idea where I was going. Most of the directions we were able to get from the handful of employees already working were of the “Hmm, not sure. Maybe up a couple more levels” variety.
Finally we came to a cozy, mid-sized room filled with tables, chairs, a stage, trays of meats and cheeses, and walls covered with Hank Aaron décor. Somehow we were too early. Nobody was here yet but us, meaning there wasn’t even anyone who could help us figure out our table.
When someone did come in, I was a little worried she was there to kick us out. Maybe this was some sort of VIP room, and the actual event I had tickets to was in a different part of the stadium. Damn.
“Are you here for the Hank Aaron event?”
“Yes, is this the right place?” I asked, hoping my Hank Aaron Milwaukee Braves throwback jersey would make me seem a little more VIP than I really was.
“Yes, you’re a little early, but feel free to have a seat.”
“Okay, do you know where?”
“You two are first, so anywhere you like.”
And yes I was gonna be that guy who grabs the table right in front of the stage where he’ll be literally three feet from Hank Aaron the entire time. I had better seats than Billye Aaron, and perhaps I should have offered to trade. Then again, it’s not like she didn’t see Hank Aaron all the time.
The event was unbelievable. Hank Aaron telling stories and taking questions from the crowd for over an hour, about as up close and personal as can be. The ten pounds of cheese and roast beef I ate were awesome too, but that’s another story. I sat there mesmerized the entire time, in the presence of baseball royalty. A true American hero in literal spitting distance from Jodee and me.
At the event’s conclusion there was time for each attendee to shake hands and get their picture taken with the Hammer. Mr. Aaron complimented me on my jersey, which I thought was funny. I had imagined that morning that half the crowd would be reppin’ #44, but it turned out I was the only one not in some variation of Dockers and a dress shirt. How Jodee predicted this I have no idea!
Hank Aaron had been an idol of mine since I first learned, around the age of 9, that he was the Home Run King. I had a book that included various leaderboards, and there was Hank Aaron’s name above even that of Babe Ruth. Little distracted by sabermetric nuance at that time, I simply figured things this way: Home runs are the best hit you can get, and Aaron has the most home runs. Ergo…
I practically shat myself in 1979 when I opened a pack of Topps cards and pulled a Hank Aaron. A friend at school had Aaron’s 1976 Topps but he would have sooner traded his whole house and family than let go of that card, so an Aaron of my own seemed impossible. And then it wasn’t.
Over the next few years, some friends and I made it to enough card shows and did enough trades that at various times I might have enough Hank Aaron cards to keep one in each of my pockets. This obviously did little for the condition and value of the cards but did wonders for my self-esteem.
With a series of unfortunate events nearly biblical in proportion, my Hank Aaron collection (along with my entire collection) would ultimately dwindle down to zero by high school, only to be rebuilt around my junior year of college when I figured out I could buy some top notch cardboard if only I stopped spending my work-study checks on overpriced textbooks. I proved to be worse at bookless school than I thought I’d be, but my (generous) C in Mathematical Analysis and F in Quantum Mechanics were a small price to pay for the Hank Aaron rookie card that remains in my collection to this day.
Over the next few years I continued to add to my collection through card shows and the Kit Young catalog. Hank Aaron wasn’t my sole focus, but I was slowly working toward a goal of collecting his entire career. This was pre-internet, so I had no idea just how many cards this would entail.
Fast forward more than two decades and I’m 44 (!) years old, sitting on a beat up couch in a small rental where for the first time in forever I open a box containing about 100 cards in yellowed top loaders. Along with my guitar and a coffee mug, this was the only thing I took with me when I separated from my ex-wife. There were some great cards in the box: Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Hack Wilson, … but the cards that brought back the fondest memories were the Aaron cards. After making it once through the stack, I went back through it again to pull and sort the Aarons. I had 12 cards from his Topps base run, roughly half his career. Instantly I had a goal.
Hobby Rip Van Winkle that I’d become, my first thought was to look for a card show heading to town. A few web searches later I discovered that cards were really, really easy to buy nowadays. I found eBay too intimidating and ended up at Dean’s Cards where the selection was ample and the searches didn’t turn up tons of reprints and fakes.
It was a very tough stretch in my life but one made far better by the Dean’s shipment that hit my mailbox every week or so. Once I had my base run, I moved on to All-Star cards, off brands, combination player cards, etc. As the want list got smaller but exponentially pricier, I diversified my collecting to include magazines, bobbleheads, artwork, and other Hank Aaron collectibles.
Hell, I even ran Hank Aaron 5Ks!
With the arrival of Hammer’s elusive 1960 Lake to Lake Dairy card last week and his 1969 Topps Super last year, I have finally reached the point where my Hank Aaron collection may well be complete, give or take a handful of League Leader cards. Either way, my love and admiration for Hank Aaron will never fade.
It was a somber thing today to walk through our basement bedroom, affectionately dubbed the Hank Aaron Suite. What was once my Tribute is now my Memorial to the Hammer.
The great Hank Aaron who survived so many other baseball legends in 2020 and early 2021 has now joined them. Henry Aaron is still with us, but only in our hearts, our memories, and our record books.
The King is dead. Long live the King.
UPDATE: Watch Jason’s SABR presentation, “The History of Baseball Cards as Told by Hank Aaron.”
In the summer of 1985, Pete Rose was inching closer by the day to breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record of 4191. My friends and I made a five-dollar bet, the winner of which would be whomever among the three of us could compile the most different Pete Rose cards by the time he broke the record.
A few years earlier, Kmart issued a small boxed set that reprinted the Topps card for each player who was awarded a league MVP award from 1962 through 1981, in honor of the store’s 20th anniversary. The set was one that had collected dust on card dealers’ tables for years, eschewed by collectors (especially me) who viewed the set as a box of reprint trash.
For purposes of winning a bet, however, the Kmart set was golden (especially in the days when there were not 500 different cards of every star player printed each year). I knew that Rose would have a Kmart card for his 1973 MVP award and was pleasantly surprised to find the set also included a highlight card, which commemorated Rose having eclipsed Stan Musial’s all-time National League hit record on August 10, 1981. These two Rose cards helped push me over the top. That we were betting on Pete Rose at the same time he was betting on baseball is just a fun coincidence.
An unintended consequence of buying the Kmart set, however, was actually enjoying the remainder of the cards. One that struck me in particular was the 1972 Dick (“Rich”) Allen card because it was, quite frankly, a strange profile view so unlike the standard poses and action shots that Topps typically used. I knew this was a real card I needed to have.
The oddity of the photo used on the 1972 card was highlighted when researching the appearance of mustaches on baseball cards, which culminated in this ground-breaking SABR Baseball Cards Committee article. Allen was identified as having been the first ballplayer to appear on a Topps issue sporting a mustache in his 1971 high-number Dodgers card.
As a member of the White Sox in 1972, Allen slashed .308/.420/.603; led the American League with 37 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and 99 walks; and led all of baseball in facial hair with his trademark mustache and pork chop sideburns. Curiously, however, the 1972 Topps card depicts a youthful, clean-shaven Allen. The 1973 issue corrected the incongruity and featured Allen’s hirsute silhouette, still discernible despite his face having been obscured by shadows.
As Tim Jenkins will attest, Topps made a habit in the 1960s and 1970s of using the same photograph of a player across different issues. The 1972 Dick Allen is no exception in that the same photograph was used for his 1970 issue, while Allen was a member of the Cardinals.
Thanks to some airbrush magic, the photo was purposefully vague in its identification of a particular team, but was happily consistent with Cardinal red and the White Sox color scheme of the time.
It appears, however, that this photo was actually taken while Allen was a member of the Phillies. The clean-cut photo of Allen used in 1970 and 1972 also appears to have been used as the basis for the 1965 Topps Embossed Dick Allen card, which would date the photo to 1965, or earlier, and confirms it was used by Topps to depict Allen on three different teams across eight different seasons.
Dick Allen and Pete Rose may never have been teammates but they certainly share a sacred bond as members of the Kmart boxed set.
The 1965 Ernie Banks Topps flagship card featured a profile pose. Similarly, it appears that this same photo was used as the basis for Banks’ 1965 Topps Embossed issue and helps to document that the Topps embossing process included trimming the length of the ballcap’s bill so the image would fit more comfortably onto the more slender card.
In several previous posts (too many for most of you!), I have highlighted Topps’ tendency to recycle photos. The Major League Baseball Players Association boycott of Topps in 1967-68 exacerbated this practice, but earlier examples abound. My latest obsession is focused on the 1960s cards of Juan Marichal.
In either 1960 or 1961, a photo session took place in San Francisco at Candlestick Park, which opened in 1960. The photographer captured three different poses of Marichal. The photos are distinctive due to Juan’s white undershirt.
Since the undergarment does not have a collar, it appears to be a rubberized jacket seen frequently on vintage cards whose photos were taken in spring training. The shirt was designed to help “burn off” fat accumulated over the winter. However, in this instance, the slender Dominican is undoubtedly using it for insulation, to ward off the Arctic like conditions at Candlestick Park. Also, it is a good bet that Marichal was not starting that evening. The white sleeves would have been deceptive to the hitters.
The first use of the white sleeve photos shows up on Juan’s 1962 card. He is shown with his arms above his head. 1963 has Juan in a slightly turned stretch position. The small black and white photo on the 1963 card reuses the 1962 picture.
In 1964, the third pose is used. This straight on shot turns up on Juan’s “Stand Up” card as well. The 1962 image makes a comeback on the Pitching Leaders card, while the 1963 Topps pose is used on the Wheaties Stamp.
Topps was far from done using the photos. The 1964 image turns up on the 1968 checklist as well as Juan’s Bazooka cards from 1965 and 1968. Meanwhile the 1963 Topps pose turns up on the 1967 checklist and 1965 Pitching Leaders card.
We are not done yet. The 1962 photo spans the decades and appears on the 1970 Pitching Leaders card.
Sometime prior to 1965, Topps snapped three additional photos, probably in spring training. Although it is hard to prove definitively, the pictures were probably taken at the same time, due to the mock turtleneck undershirt in all three.
Topps will recycle two of the three portraits. Juan’s partially turned headshot is found on the 1965 card, the 1966 ERA Leaders, the 1967 ERA and Pitching Leaders cards, and the 1967 poster insert. The same image returns on the Deckle Edge insert in 1969.
The second photo, depicting Marichal holding a ball, is used on the 1964 coin insert and the 1966 Bazooka.
The third image may be the best of all. The 1964 “Giant” shows a smiling Juan. I could not find another instance of this one being reused.
Topps put out the recycling again, using a newer photo taken a Candlestick. It is used on the 1967 and 1968 cards, the 1969 Pitching Leaders and the 1969 and 1970 Transogram.
Of course, Juan Marichal is not unique in having reused images. The League Leader cards have many duplicate images of star players. I still find it interesting that an image can show up eight years after it first appeared.
Author’s note: The newly formed SABR Century Research Committee has invited SABR’s other committees to share in the celebration of all things baseball a century ago. In our case, that means the baseball cards of 1921.
As I begin typing up this post I must confess to owning no baseball cards from the year 1921. Like a lot of collectors–even vintage collectors–my collection has a 20+ year gap between the tobacco and caramel cards of the early 1910s…
…and the gum cards of the early 1930s.
Of course if past habits prove true, I may find myself trying to bridge that gap by the time I reach the end of this post. (No joke! Every card pictured above came from my stint here at the SABR Baseball Cards blog.)
I will therefore approach this article not as any authority on the subject but through the eyes of a collector window shopping the offerings of the year 1921 as if I were trying to pick out a card, which of course I just might do, though I may need to add a side hustle to find the cash.
1921 American Caramel
The first set that comes to mind when I think of 1921 is the American Caramel set known as E121. American Caramel had been making cards on and off since 1908. In fact, the leftmost card in my first image above is from their 1909-11 set known as E90-1. However, in the years leading up to 1921, American Caramel had been mostly off, with their 1915 E106 issue being their lone set produced between 1912 and 1920. Much of the absence might be attributed to World War I and the flu pandemic since almost nobody was producing baseball cards between 1917 and 1919.
Their 1921 set then perhaps came as a welcome surprise to collectors and chewers, and for those who’d saved or remembered their earlier caramel cards the new cardboard would have looked quite different.
Gone were the color paints and here for the remainder of the American Caramel decade were black and white photos. And though none would have realized it at the time, the 1921 issue was also a next step in the decidedly haphazard evolution toward standard baseball card size. A side-effect was that some collectors trimmed the sides off their 1921 cards, likely to fit with their earlier cards better.
Player selection for the set of 80 included spanned 15 of the 16 Major League franchises. Perhaps surprisingly based on their Pennsylvania headquarters the one team not represented was the Philadelphia Athletics.
Positioned at the close of the Deadball Era the checklist was a mix of small ball and long ball. (And yes, the Bambino is still sporting his Red Sox jersey!)
Other “top shelf” Hall of Famers included Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, and Walter Johnson. Absent from the set are all “Eight Men Out” despite most having played full seasons in 1920. This was consistent with most card sets of the era and even into the present, as most sets aimed to produce cards for the current season rather than the prior one.
1921-23 National Caramel
Not to be confused with American Caramel, another Pennsylvania-based caramel company put out a set. The cards had the same basic look as the American Caramel cards, and many even used the same photographs. The set is known as the E220 National Caramel set and included 120 cards over a three year period.
A comparison of the card backs between the two sets suggests a common designer or at least printer was used by both companies.
I’d wondered for a bit if they were in fact the same company, perhaps thru merger, but my brief research seems to indicate their was no business relationship beyond competitor. (Related: A group of executives from American Caramel did leave in 1925 to establish York Caramel, which put out a set of cards in 1927.)
I wish I could say no one was hurt in the making and packing of these baseball cards, but this September 2, 1921, article from the Lancaster News Journal may suggest otherwise.
Now I know you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t that the same kid who got injured in a different explosion six years earlier?”
And don’t even get me started on the murder plot! (Of course I’m serious, even dead serious you might say.)
1921 Exhibit Supply company
The year 1921 also saw the debut of a family of baseball card sets that would extend all the way to the early 1960s. Exhibit Supply Company out of Chicago began producing postcard-sized photo cards with blank backs known to collectors simply as “Exhibits.” The initial offering featured 64 players, an even four per team, and again black and white photography carried the day.
Over the years and decades the look of these Exhibits cards changed relatively little, as these examples from 1939-46 and 1962 show, though in 1962 the innovation of adding statistics to an otherwise blank back occurred.
As for star power, the top-shelf Hall of Famers in the 1921 Exhibits exactly matched that of the American Caramel set, including the key cards of Ruth and Cobb.
No need to avert your gaze if you’re a non-collector simply reading this as part of your Century Committee scholarship. These is not some “adults only” release or deck of cards to be used in strip poker. Rather, these cards get their name for being issued in long strips that candy sellers would cut for their young baseball-crazy customers.
Various issues released in 1921 went by the (later) classifications W516, W521, W551 (shown above), and W9316 and were joined by some earlier releases that remained in circulation. The most popular of the earlier releases is the 1919-21 W514 set. Among its 120 cards are a dozen White Sox, and it remains the most affordable (but not very) way to collect contemporary cards of seven of the Eight Men Out. (Can you spot who’s missing?)
Despite their relative affordability (okay, explaining their relative affordability), many collectors find strip cards to be too cartoony and unattractive for their collections. To illustrate that this sort of artwork is harder than it looks I asked my son to draw three baseball players of the era, and I think you’ll agree he was no match for the pros. Wait, check that. These are actual cards from the 1921 W9316 issue!
Though many collectors would just as soon forget strip cards ever existed, they do feature importantly in the history of the Hobby. In 1923 a new set of strip cards would emerge. The front of the cards would look just like another strip card set known as W515. However, this new set featured advertising on the back from a gum maker who would 36 years later make a bigger splash in the Hobby and 58 years later make an even bigger one.
Zeenut Pacific Coast League
While most baseball card production ground to a halt during the war and pandemic years, one set managed to renew itself annually from 1911 until 1930. The 1921 issue featured 169 blank backed cards, 1-3/4″ x 3-11/16″ in size, significantly narrower and incrementally taller than today’s baseball cards.
While the checklist includes only one Hall of Famer, Sam Crawford of the Los Angeles Angels, there is no shortage of ex-MLBers, future MLBers, and other notables.
Pictures of these cards are hard to find, so I’ll illustrate by means of a quiz some of the top players on the checklist. Their 1921 Zeenut team is in parentheses.
Holds the fourth highest career batting average among qualifying players. (San Francisco Seals)
One of eight players with over 4,000 professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Los Angeles Angels)
Has the same name as the player with the most professional hits across MLB, MiLB, and NPB. (Salt Lake City Bees and Sacramento Senators)
Six-time National League home run champion (Salt Lake City Bees)
Had the best relief outing of all time (San Francisco Seals)
Okay, ready for the answers? Lefty O’Doul, Jigger Statz, Peter Rose, Gavvy Cravath, Al Demaree, and Ernie Shore. Pretty fun names for a minor league set!
Though the releases described so far define 1921 to most pre-war collectors, I’ll offer that really 1921 was the “Year of the Bread Card.” Bread cards had been around for at least a decade, as evidenced by the 1910 Tip Top Bread “World’s Champions” set honoring the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Bread cards also continued well past 1921, as evidenced by Tip Top’s popular 1947 set and two from Bond Bread, one dedicated entirely to a history-making Dodgers rookie.
The years from 1980-2000 saw numerous bread issues as well, but of course those same years saw multiple cards sets from hardware stores, macaroni brands, fast food joints, toilet plungers, firearms, pacemakers, and bobby pins. (Okay, just kidding about some of those.)
What distinguished 1920 then wasn’t simply that there were bread cards, but that there were so many different ones.
1920-21 Mother’s Bread
1921 Clark’s Bread
1921 Koester Bread New York Giants/Yankees
1921 Mrs. Sherlock’s Bread Pins (shown below, and yes, I’m stretching the definition of baseball card a bit here)
1921 Standard Biscuit
1921 White’s Bakery Baltimore Orioles
1921 Wool’s American-Maid [sic] Bread
I don’t knead to tell you that’s a lot of bread! What the focaccia was going on back then? Challah if you feel my pain. Can’t stop now, I’m on a roll.
From among the many other–mostly very obscure–sets issued in 1921, I’ll close with one most collectors have never heard of that nonetheless occupies and important slot in the evolution of the Hobby and in my opinion features the best design of any set of the era. (And yes, you have seen that last Babe Ruth pose already in this article.)
As the packaging notes, kids needed only to eat 250 boxes (wait, seriously?!) of this candy to win a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. What’s more, according to my research, this seven-card set (or six plus a variation, I would argue) was the largest set to date featuring a single player.
As was the case often with Babe Ruth in 1921 the record he beat was his own since the only (!) single-player baseball card sets I could find prior to 1921 were three (slightly) different Babe Ruth “Heading Home” movie card sets of 2-3 cards each from 1920.
Though 1921 was not the turning point in Hobby history it was situated within a brief 2-3 year period that saw many notable Hobby trends: the rise of Ruth, a return to photography, the debut of Exhibits, the peak of bread/bakery cards, the resurgence of caramel cards, and the demise of the Black Sox. The once ubiquitous tobacco cards that ruled the Hobby a decade earlier had largely disappeared from the landscape and would not return (in a major release) for 30 more years with the Red Man sets of the early 1950s.
Something else we know about the cards from 1921, however much or little we think about it, is that these cards tell us the story of a segregated game. Invisible from the sets of the day were many of the era’s top players:
Oscar Charleston of the St. Louis Giants
Cristobal Torriente, Dave Malarcher, and Bingo DeMoss of the Chicago American Giants
John Donaldson, Jose Mendez, and Bullet Rogan of the Kansas City Monarchs
Louis Santop of the Philadelphia Hilldales
Cannonball Redding and Dick Lundy of the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants
Pop Lloyd of the Columbus Buckeyes
John Beckwith of the Chicago Giants
Andy Cooper and Pete Hill of the Detroit Stars
Biz Mackey of the Indianapolis ABCs
Smokey Joe Williams of the New York Lincoln Giants
The omission of these players is not surprising, but it certainly diminishes the card sets of the era, at least in this collector’s eyes.
Less significantly, mustaches were absent from 1921 baseball cards and a good 50 years away from making their comeback.
As you and I ponder this Dick Allen card, which some of you may have even obtained in a pack (!) and I will at least recognize as coming from the same decade I entered the Hobby, I’ll close with a sobering thought. This Dick Allen card is as old today as the cards from 1921 were when the Dick Allen card came out. Putting it another way, that Dick Allen represents the midpoint between these two baseball cards:
At first glance, you might be drawn to the differences between these cards. How much has changed in a hundred years! But look again, and you will also see—quite remarkably—just how much has stayed the same. Therein resides the beauty of the Hobby, if not the Game.