The Old Duck was fortunate enough to get another glimpse at baseball history this past week, as over 50 vintage baseball cards made their way across my desk. So, we’ll take a quick trip in the baseball time machine to the time of the great depression.
For baseball cards collectors of any age, the idea of no new cards being produced for 20 years in almost unfathomable. After all, Bowman started producing cards in 1948 while Topps entered the market in 1952 and is still the collectible of choice. Many others joined the fray in the 80’s & 90’s and it could be reasonably argued that too many cards were produced in that era. However, as we look back on the history of the hobby it becomes clear that such a gap did exist in the early 20th century.
In the early 1900’s, baseball cards were almost always produced as premium items that accompanied tobacco in one form or another. In fact, the famous Honus Wagner card from the T-206 set of 1910 holds its scarcity from Wagner’s rumored dislike of tobacco and his threat of legal action that caused his card to have a limited run. The final full set of baseball cards during this time was the 176-card Cracker Jack set from 1915 and it was almost two decades before baseball card collecting made a colorful comeback.
In 1933, the Goudey Gum Company of Boston decided to produce a 240-card set that would include all the major stars of the period. They had beautiful colors and amazing artwork including both portrait and action shots. And the good news for today’s modern collector is that the cards from this set can still be found in the marketplace. Of course, the cost will vary greatly based on condition, but you can still add baseball’s legendary names to your own collection.
To put the timing of the ’33 Goudeys in perspective, the country was in the throes of a terrible economic depression, FDR had just been inaugurated, Hitler was the new Chancellor of Germany and prohibition was ending. Into this setting Enos Gordon Goudey decided that pictures of ballplayers as premiums would help increase the sales of his gum products.
As we review some of the cards in this historic offering, the values will be based on a card in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition.
#19 Bill Dickey, Yankees Catcher ($375) – At age 26, he was already established as the All-Star backstop of the New Yorkers dynasty.
#20 Bill Terry, Giants 1B ($285) – Coming off one of his best seasons where he hit .350 with 28 HR’s & 117 RBI’s. In 1930, he had 254 Hits and batted .401.
#29 Jimmie Foxx, Athletics 1B ($700) – “Double X” won his second consecutive MVP in ’33 by hitting .356 with 48 HR’s & 163 RBI’s.
#49 Frank Frisch, Cardinals 2B ($285) – “The Fordham Flash” took over as player-manager in the 2nd half of the season and led the Redbirds to the World Series championship in ’34.
#53 Babe Ruth, Yankees OF ($11,500) – “The Sultan of Swat” had four cards in the set, which was the most of any player. Numbers 144, 149 & 181 have values over $5,000.
#92 Lou Gehrig, Yankees 1B ($4,000) – “The Iron Horse” was in his prime and had two cards in the set…#160 is similarly valued.
#119 Rogers Hornsby, Cardinals 2B ($350) – The legendary “Rajah” was in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career at age 37 but still hit .326 as a part-time player.
#127 Mel Ott, Giants 1B ($375) – Came to Major Leagues in 1926 at age 17 and was coming off a ’32 campaign where he led the NL with 38 HR’s.
#158 Moe Berg, Senators Catcher ($210) – One of the great “back-stories” in the history of the game, he hit only .185 as a back-up in ’33, but the following year he was part of a barnstorming all-star team that traveled to Japan. During the visit, Berg (who may have been the most intellectual player of his time, having been educated at Princeton & Columbia) took photographs and home movies of the Tokyo landscape which were later used by General Doolittle’s bombers in 1942. When his playing career ended in 1939, Moe drifted underground and became a spy for the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) in Europe during World War II. His exploits are captured in a 1994 biography titled “The Catcher Was A Spy” and the film of his life was released in the last year.
#211 Hack Wilson, Dodgers OF ($325) – This diminutive (5′ 6″) slugger still holds the all-time record for RBI’s in a season with 191 for the Cubs in 1930.
#216 Vernon Gomez, Yankees Pitcher ($275) – “Lefty” won 87 games for the Bombers from 1931-1934.
#220 Lefty Grove, Athletic Pitcher ($415) – A 300 game-winner in his 17-year career, he went 24-8 with 21 complete games in ’33.
#222 Charley Gehringer, Tigers 2B ($275) – Right in the middle of his 19-year career with the Bengals at age 30, he had over 200 hits in seven different seasons including 1933.
#223 Dizzy Dean, Cardinals Pitcher ($550) – One of the most colorful characters of the game, he had a short but memorable career. In ’33, he started 34 games and completed 26 of them. In addition, “Diz” also appeared 14 times in relief and had a 20-18 record while leading the NL in Strikeouts.
#230 Carl Hubbell, Giants Pitcher ($325) – The master of the screwball, “King Carl” won the NL MVP with a record of 23-12 and a league-leading ERA of 1.66.
Other Hall of Fame members in the set include Pie Traynor, Ki-Ki Cuyler, Paul Waner, Al Simmons, Eddie Collins, Joe Cronin, Micket Cochrane, Tris Speaker, Bill Terry, Leo Durocher, Arky Vaughan and others. For boys of a certain generation, many of these names are familiar from the player discs of the All-Star Baseball board game.
Hope you enjoyed our nostalgic visit back to one of the great baseball card sets in history.