Category: Vintage Baseball Cards

Underappreciated Baseball Great Tris Speaker

Tris Speaker was one of the most prolific and underappreciated players in Red Sox history.  Playing in the shadows of Ty Cobb during baseball’s “Dead Ball Era”, Speaker led the Red Sox to World Series championships in 1912 and 1915 and the Indians in 1920 as a player/manager.  The “Grey Eagle” hit for high average, power, and production while eTrisSpeakerT206stablishing the standard for center field defense.   

From deep in the batter’s box, the crouching Speaker held the bat at the hip to ensure greater contact.  He struck out just 220 times during his 22-year career that included 3,514 career hits.  Speaker displayed the strength to hit line drives into the gaps and down both lines, accounting for his still-standing major league record of 792 career doubles.  Speaker batted higher than .350 nine times and higher than .380 five times en route to a .345 career batting average.

Despite the lofty batting statistics, Speaker won just one batting title courtesy of playing in the same era as Cobb, who won 12 batting titles and compiled a .366 career batting average.  Like his career accomplishments, Speaker’s baseball cards pale in comparison to Cobb’s, but are quite impressive in their own right.  Most baseball historians and vintage card collectors consider the 1909-1911 T206 card to be Speaker’s rookie.  The card displays Speaker on the verge of making contact from his unique batting stance.  Decent graded versions sell for as much as $7,500.

The original T206 baseball cards were issued in cigarette and loose tobacco packs through 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Co., including the “Ty Cobb” brand.  The set includes the T206 Honus Wagner card, the most valuable and coveted card ever produced.  One of the largest pre-World War I sets ever produced, the series also includes Hall of Famers Speaker, Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

Speed and defense also contributed to Speaker’s Hall of Fame career.  He stole 436 bases and hit 222 triples (fifth on the all-time list) during his career.  Speaker is considered the best center fielder of his time and one of the best ever.  Playing in an era when long drives were rare, Speaker played extremely shallow — practically positioned as a fifth infielder — to cut down would be singles and bloop hits.  His trademark play was racing to second base behind a confused or unsuspecting runner for a pick off play.  Speaker is still the all-time leader in putouts and double plays for his position.  He also recorded a record-tying 35 assists for the Red Sox in 1909 and 1912.

The majority of Speaker baseball cards display portrait or batting stance photos.  However, the 1927 Exhibits card is one of the few that feature Speaker in action defensively.  The photo shows Speaker as he awaits a throw, perhaps playing first base.  The 63-card 1927 Exhibit Baseball Set featured a green hue of the black and white images on each card front — a relatively new and unique printing method for the time.  Ungraded versions sell in the $125-$175 range.

Speaker’s unconventional path to centerfield started at a young age. After suffering two broken arms as a teenager, he taught himself to throw right handed.  Despite throwing with his non-dominant arm, Speaker tried to break into professional baseball as a  pitcher.  After being turned down by New York Giants manager John McGraw for a tryout as a pitcher, Speaker went to the Texas League to learn centerfield with the Cleburne Railroaders in his native Texas.

A year later, he was purchased by the Boston Americans (later Red Sox) and became the regular centerfielder, playing alongside Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and defensive whiz Duffy Lewis to form the “Golden Outfield,” which was widely considered one of the best outfields in baseball history.

One of Speaker’s earliest cards with the Red Sox is from the 1910-1911 M116 Sporting Life series.  A four cent investment would get readers of the Sporting Life newspaper a dozen sports cards.  Speaker’s card features a colorized portrait displaying his Red Sox baseball jersey.  Highly graded versions sell in excess of $5,900.

 

 

Happy Birthday Babe Ruth

Happy Birthday to baseball legend and American icon Babe Ruth, born on February 6, 1895.

The discussion of two-way baseball players starts and ends with Babe Ruth.   In the years before the infamous sale that sent Ruth from Boston to New York, the man known as the “Sultan of Swat” was baseball’s premier left-handed pitcher. Ruth would later become the most prolific hitter in baseball history.

Before his powerful uppercut swing made home runs relevant and transformed baseball into an offensive game, the full-time pitching ace and part-time slugger led the Red Sox to three

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Babe Ruth 1914 Frederick Foto baseball card.

World Series Championships. Ruth put together a 94-46 career record with nearly all of his pitching appearances coming in a Red Sox uniform. His 2.28 ERA is 17th lowest in baseball history.

The Babe found his place on the pitcher’s mound at the St. Mary’s Industrial School, a boys’ reformatory school.  He developed his craft with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League under owner and manager Jack Dunn, who signed the 19-year-old southpaw to his first professional contract in 1914.  The first Ruth baseball card was included in the 1914 Baltimore News series.  Issued with red or blue fronts and black variation backs, the card displays a gangly teenager yet to make his major league debut.  A red PSA-1 version of the Ruth rookie sold at auction for $450,300 last year.

Struck with financial hardship due to the emergence of the Baltimore Terrapins of the short-lived Federal League, the Orioles unloaded Ruth, Ernie Shore and Ben Egan to the Red Sox for $16,000 later that year.  Pitching behind established hurlers Smokey Joe Wood and Dutch Leonard among others, Ruth was used sparingly.  But in 1915, he went 18-8 as the team’s third starter and helped the Red Sox to the AL Pennant.

In 1916, Ruth emerged as a dominant pitcher, winning 21 games while tossing nine shutouts and posting a league-best 1.75 ERA.  Helping the Red Sox to back-to-back World Series championships, Ruth pitched 14 innings for a 2-1 Game 2 victory over the Brooklyn Robins.

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Babe Ruth 1914 Baltimore News baseball card.

 

Still considered a top-notch pitcher, Ruth returned in 1917 with a 24-13 record and 2.01 ERA.  He finished 35 of the 38 games he started.  At the same time, Ruth’s offensive prowess was taking shape.  He finished the season batting .325, triggering an eight-year streak of hitting .300 or better.

Already an established pitching ace, Ruth’s transformation to iconic slugger hit full stride in 1918.  Primarily an outfielder, Ruth led the league in homers with 11, earning his first of 12 home run titles.  Appearing in 20 games as a pitcher, he went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA.   The Babe pitched a 1-0 shutout in Game 1 of the World Series and won Game 4, as he established a 29 ⅓ scoreless innings streak, eclipsed by Whitey Ford decades later.

The Babe made 17 appearances on the mound in 1919, going 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA, but by this time pitching was merely a diversion for the future Hall of Fame slugger-to-be.  Ruth led the league in home runs (29), RBI (114) and runs (103).  Following the 1919 season, the Yankees purchased Babe Ruth the slugger, not the ace pitcher from financially-strapped Red Sox owner Harry Frazee for $100,000.

Ruth’s Red Sox-Yankees overlap is highlighted in his 1914 Frederick Foto card.  The unique card displaying a photo-quality image, pictures the Babe in a red Sox uniform, but reads “Babe Ruth N.Y.” in the upper left-hand corner.

In his first season with the Yankees Ruth set a new standard with 54 home runs, effectively introducing America to a new brand of baseball emphasizing power and brawn over speed and savbaberuth1962toppsvy.  Putting Ruth’s 1920 season in perspective: No other player hit more than 19 home runs and only one team hit more homers than Ruth did individually.

Laying the groundwork for what would become the Yankee Dynasty, Ruth’s 1921 season may have been the greatest in MLB history. The 26-year-old Ruth batted .376 while bashing 59 homers, driving in 171 runs, scoring 177 runs, and slugging a then-unthinkable .846. Riding Ruth’s prowess as a slugger, the Yankees became baseball’s most recognizable — not to mention most dominant — team, establishing new attendance records almost annually.

He eventually raised the bar to 60 round-trippers in 1927, a record that would stand for 34 years.  The Babe’s contribution to baseball was almost as significant as his contribution to the New York Yankees.  The new stadium built to house a growing fan base was quickly dubbed “The House That Ruth Built.”

Prior to Ruth wearing pinstripes, the Yankees neverwon a title of any sort.  In his 15 years in New York, the Yankees captured seven AL Pennants and four World Series titles.  Most baseball historians consider the 1927 Yankees to be the best team in baseball history.

Ruth returned to Boston in 1935 to play his final season with the Braves, hitting six homers to bump his career total to 714.  The Bambino held an amazing 56 major league records at the time of his retirement — including most career home runs.  In 1936 the newly formed Baseball Hall of Fame elected Babe Ruth as one of its five original inductees.  More than 75 years after his retirement, Ruth remains one of baseball’s first and America’s greatest icons.

The complete history of the Babe can be found in the 1962 “Babe Ruth Special” subset, which captures significant moments from his life and career, beginning with “Babe as a Boy” (#135) and ending with “Babe’s Farewell Speech”.  The special 10-card subset was issued one year after Roger Maris eclipsed the Babe’s single-season home run record.  Most of the cards can be found in good – very good condition for $8-$15.

David Oritz Makes Us Remember Legendary Slugger Jimmie Foxx

As David Ortiz climbs the charts among baseball’s all-time great sluggers, we see the name Jimmie Foxx appear in the record books over and over again, but for some reason Ole Double-X is seldom discussed. Dubbed “The Beast” because of his powerful right-handed swings, Foxx was one of the most underappreciated players in baseball and sports collectibles history.

Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez once proclaimed, “When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he and his space scientists were puzzled by an unidentifiable white object. I immediately knew what it was. That was the home run ball hit off me in 1937 by Jimmie Foxx.”

Foxx equaled or surpassed the production of nearly every slugger not named Babe Ruth, but he his rarely mentioned among baseball immortals such as Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle et al — and the demand for his baseball cards lag considerably behind baseball’s most revered sluggers.

Foxx hitfoxx at least 30 home runs and tallied 100 or more RBI from 1929 with the Philadelphia Athletics to 1940, his fifth season with the Red Sox. His 20-year total of 534 home runs ranked second to Ruth for many years. His 58 home runs in 1932 fell just two short of Ruth’s single-season record. Interestingly, two home runs were taken away from Foxx because of rain and 10 more were lost because of newly constructed outfield screens in Cleveland, St. Louis, and Philadelphia that were not erected until after Ruth hit 60. So if the baseball stars were properly aligned in 1932, Barry Bonds would have eclipsed the magical number of 70 set by Foxx.

While serving as the Red Sox first baseman, Foxx quickly learned to take advantage of the cozy confines in front of Fenway Park’s famed Green Monster. In his first three seasons with the Red Sox, he hit 41, 36, and 50 homers respectively.

Yankee Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey said of Foxx’s ridiculous power, “If I were catching blindfolded, I would always know it was Foxx who connected. He hit the ball harder than anyone else.”

The toughest Foxx baseball card to find in reasonable condition is the 1934 Goudey (#1). First cards of vintage sets received the brunt of the rubber band damage that decimated so many ’50s and ’60s baseball cards. A handful of PSA-8 versions exist, selling for $8,200, a remarkable buy considering ’34 Goudey PSA-8 Gehrig cards command as much as $15,000.

Foxx, provided Boston with their first bona-fide star since Ruth was sold to the Yankees in 1919. Double XX set Red Sox records for home runs (50) and RBI (175) during his 1938 MVP season. More than just a slugger, Foxx won the Triple Crown in 1933 and excelled defensively, primarily as a first baseman, but also as a catcher, third baseman, and outfielder.

Foxx was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, but strangely there has been little or no protest over the Red Sox failure to retire his number. Surely someone who is mentioned in the same breathe as Ruth and Gehrig deserves the same elite status as Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs in Red Sox annals.

Playing his only season with the Red Sox in 2006, infielder Mark Loretta told the Boston Herald that “Foxx never received the credit he deserved for being one of the game’s all-time great sluggers.” Loretta honored Foxx by wearing number 3. Foxx, who played 20 seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics (1925-35), Red Sox (1936-42), Chicago Cubs (1942 and 1944) and Philadelphia Phillies (1945), is arguably the best slugger not to have his uniform retired by any team.

Modern day cards of Foxx are somewhat limited, but affordable. His 2005 Upper Deck Trilogy Bat displays a vintage photo of Foxx in his Philadelphia Athletics uniform with a piece of an actual Foxx baseball bat embedded into the card can be had for under $45 — a great buy for limited card serial numbered to just 99.

Happy Birthday To The Great Satchel Paige

Baseball legend Satchel Paige was born on this day in 1906. Forty-five years ago this month, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that former Negro League players will have a separate wing in the Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, Kuhn’s separate, but equal Hall of Fame policy did not set well with the American public, particularly baseball players from the pre-segregation era.

Paige and Ted Williams were among the most vocal former players. Paige was famously quoted: “I was just as good as the white boys. I ain’t going in the back door of the Hall of Fame.”

Williams, in his 1966 HOF acceptance speech, urged Major League Baseball and the Hall to open the doors to Negro League stars, referencing Paige, Willie Mays and Josh Gibson among others.

On July 6, 1971 — five months after Kuhn’s backward-thinking-policy was announced — MLB and the HOF succumbed to public pressure and opened the doors to Paige with full HOF membership, which cleared the way other Negro League stars in the years to follow.

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The first Satchel Paige baseball card is from the 1953 Topps Set.

Paige’s 2004 Leaf Certified Materials Game Used Jersey cards are some of the most overlooked memorabilia cards ever produced.  He spent 22 seasons dominating the Negro Leagues and six years in the majors before being enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1971. There were several versions of Paige’s first memorabilia cards issued in Leaf Certified’s “Mirror Materials” parallel set and the tiered “Fabric of the Game” insert set — all limited to a production run of 100 and selling for over $100.

Paige threw a remarkable 55 no-hitters during his Negro League career, becoming the league’s most popular and recognizable player, not to mention its largest gate attraction. He joined the major leagues in 1948, helping the Cleveland Indians win the World Series as a “rookie.”

In 1965, at the age of 59, nearly 12 years since he last pitched in the majors, Paige pitched one game for the Kansas City A’s, pitching three shutout innings. Three years later, he was a coach for the Atlanta Braves, where he wore the jersey Donruss officials used to incorporate into 2004 Leaf Certified Materials.

Known for longevity and age as a major leaguer, Paige was a Negro League legend in his younger days. At a time when African-Americans were barred from the majors, Paige drew huge crowds of black and white baseball fans. He led the Pittsburgh Crawfords to top billing in the Negro Leagues as a fireballer in the early ’30s and did the same for the Kansas City Monarchs in the early ’40s as finesse pitcher.

Barred from the majors, Paige was often tempted to jump from team to team to earn a decent wage. In 1937, he joined a large group of Negro Leaguers traveling to the Dominican Republic to play for a team owned by Dominican president Rafael L. Trujillo. The following season, Paige hurt his arm pitching in the Mexican League, but quickly transformed from a “thrower“ to a “pitcher.” He returned to the states using guile and control in leading the Monarchs to four consecutive pennants before entering the majors.

The first of just a few Paige baseball cards was issued by Topps in 1953 (#220). A headshot captured the 47-year-old reliever in his St. Louis Browns uniform. Unfortunately, the Topps spelling of “Satchell” was incorrect and never corrected. The card was issued following a 12-10 season with a 3.07 ERA. Paige’s ’53 Topps card is selling for $350 online in decent condition.

Hank Aaron: The Real Home Run King

On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron smacked an Al Downing fastball over the leap of Dodgers left fielder Bill Buckner for his 715th home run at Atlanta Stadium, breaking the record held by Babe Ruth for over 50 years. The night of April 8, 1974 still hails as one of the most iconic moments in baseball history. The celebration of Aaron’s accomplishment combined with new-found appreciation for home run hitters from a previous, untainted era has increased interest in Aaron baseball cards.

The 1954 Topps Aaron rookie pictures a raw teenager on the verge of greatness. The card design sports two pictures, a large headshot and a small in-action shAaron52Toppsot in the lower left-hand corner. Hard to find in mint condition due to wear, dullness, blurry lettering and off-centered photos, near-mint PSA-7 versions sell in the $2,400 range.

The slender 180-lb. outfielder would go on to hit an unblemished 755 home runs over his 23-year career. A right-handed hitter with remarkably powerful wrists and a smoothly crafted swing, Aaron was recognized for home runs, but his legacy included 3,771 hits (third all-time), 2,174 runs (tied for second), 2,297 RBI (first), and a career .305 average. Aaron also displayed outstanding speed and one of the better right-field arms of his time.

Topps, a chewing gum producer new to the trading card business, made a wide array of printing and production gaffes while Aaron was emerging as the game’s top slugger. After just a few years of producing baseball cards, Topps had yet to establish much of a photo library, so pictures were often recycled during the ’50s. The same Aaron head shot was used from 1954-1956.

The 1956 card (#31) also includes an action shot in the lower right-hand corner picturing Willie Mays sliding into home plate wearing a Braves uniform. A Topps artist painted the uniform. The actual photo of Mays appeared in a baseball card publication a year earlier. Near-Mint PSA versions of this hard-to-find relic accidentally picturing two of baseball’s greatest players sells in excess of $2,700.

Topps made an even bigger blunder on Aaron’s card the following year. The production staff accidentally reversed the negative on the 1957 card (#20), which displays baseball’s most prolific right-handed hitter batting left-handed. The card that has no-doubt triggered decades of bar room arguments sells for $100 in excellent condition.

The 1958 Topps “BaAaron57Toppsseball Thrills” card, picturing Aaron’s classic home run swing, celebrates Aaron’s Game 4 homer that helped propel the Braves over the Yankees to win the 1957 World Series. This Topps set is notorious for being mis-cut and off center. The rare gem is worth up to $125.

The ultra conservative Topps Co. rolled the dice in 1974 by printing “New All-Time Home Run King” on Aaron’s 1974 Topps card (#1) despite Aaron entering the ’74 season one home run shy of tying Ruth’s career mark. Fortunately for Topps, Aaron kept the suspense to a minimum, hitting a homerun on Opening Day. The ’74 Topps card became officially accurate a few days later when Aaron broke the record on a nationally televised Monday Night Baseball game with a homer against the Dodgers.

Aaron has gained popularity with today’s collectors, as baseball card manufacturers continue to combine baseball history with modern day memorabilia cards. His 2014 Topps Tribute “Game-Used Bat” card is a great find for $40.

Baseball’s Unbreakable Records: Cy Young’s 511 Career Wins

As we Celebrate Denton True “Cy” Young’s birthday, here is Part 3 of “Baseball’s Most Unbreakable Records”.

Cy Young

1973 Topps celebrates Cy Young’s MLB record 511 career wins.

There is a reason why we celebrate baseball’s greatest pitchers with the Cy Young Award. The name Cy Young is synonymous with greatness. Born on this day in 1867, the former Red Sox great was the ultimate workhorse, holding MLB records for wins, games started, innings pitched, losses and batters faced.

His 511 career wins may be baseball’s most untouchable record. Young’s contemporary, Walter Johnson, is a distant second with 417 career wins. With five-man rotations and specialized bullpens the norm these days, the modern pitcher has little chance of surpassing 300 wins. The name Cy Young is looking more and more like a permanent fixture atop the pitcher’s section of the baseball record book.

The 1973 Topps set celebrates Cy Young with the 1973 Topps “All-time Victory Leader” card. Sporting a vintage photo from Young’s playing days, this unique card is a great addition to any baseball card collection for under $5.

The Great Tris Speaker: Baseball’s Unbreakable Records (Almost)

The second part of a semi-regular series on “Baseball’s Most Unbreakable Records”.

Sometimes baseball’s most unbreakable records need to be framed in the proper context.  Sometimes luck or fate has more affect on the baseball record book than we realize.

Tris Speaker never actually came close to Joe DiMaggio’s “unbreakable” 56-game hitting streak established decades after Speaker’s Hall of Fame career. But the Red TrisSox Hall of Fame outfielder from the deadball era did something nearly as remarkable — some might say even more remarkable.

In 1912, Speaker had hitting streaks of 20 games or more three different times — “a feat not even the great DiMaggio could ever duplicate”, wrote Timothy Gray, author of the fascinating and meticulously researched book Tris Speaker: A Rough and Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend. Gay cited research done by dead-ball era historian Dan Holmes, who maintains Speaker came within an “eyelash or two” of a 70-game (or more) hitting streak. From May 27 – August 14, Speaker played in 78 games and collected a hit in all but four of them.  A scratch hit here, a wind-blown double there and we may be looking at the baseball record book from a different perspective.

1912 was a great season for Speaker and the Red Sox. Celebrating the opening of Fenway Park, Speaker earned the American League MVP award and led the Red Sox to a World Series title over the Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants. Speaker, an exceptional contact hitter who could drive the ball to the gaps, flirted with .400 for much of the season before finishing with .383 batting average. He led the league in doubles with 53 and home runs with 10.

Running neck and neck with Ty Cobb as the greatest fielder of the time period, the man they called “Spoke” established a record for outfield assist that season with 35 — an amazing accomplishment that has never been equalled. Speaker, renowned for playing a shallow centerfield — and by shallow, historians say he positioned himself just behind second base — also led the league “by engineering nine catch-and-throw double plays” that season, according to Gay’s book.