By The Beard Of Hercules; New 113-Year Old Baseball Cards

The most telling observations off Twitter yesterday: The colored-in beard sticking out from Brian Wilson of the Giants makes him look either like Bluto from Popeye or Bill Murray playing Hercules (“That boulder is too large. I could lift a smaller one”) on Saturday Night Live.


Absolutely fitting news from college football. Brian Jordan did color on a telecast of the Memphis-Southern Mississippi game yesterday. He spent the baseball season doing color on the telecasts of the AAA Gwinnett Braves, and a handful of broadcasts for the big league club. The former two-sport player is now a two-sport announcer.

My review of Jane Leavy‘s marvelous Mickey Mantle biography is now online at the Sunday New York Times Book Review. However, if you go to the editors’ notes in the front you will read a story about me, but apparently featuring an illustration meant to look like British Foreign Secretary William Hague if he had glasses and a little hair.
Impressive, no, that in three games of League Championship play we have already seen CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, and Roy Halladay, and none of them have been sharp enough to write home to Mother about. Doesn’t exactly set the bar high for Cliff Lee tomorrow night in New York.
Finally, if you want to try to understand some of the joy of antique baseball cards, consider late breaking news from the first comprehensive set ever issued, the 1887-1890 sets put out by Old Judge Cigarettes. 512 players were shown, in well over 2000 different poses (New York Giants outfielder Mike Dorgan had 17 different), with an almost incalculable number of caption and team variations, in transcendent photographs in which baseballs were often hung by string from the ceiling of the photographer’s studio.
And two new variations were discovered yesterday. 

OldJudgeOrrA.jpg

One of the most-collected parts of the series is a subset of 16 players from the original New York Mets of the then-major league American Association. The cards were put out early in 1887, when the Mets played on Staten Island, more or less exactly where the current ballpark for the Yankees’ affiliate now stands. The fellow who owned the then-private Staten Island Ferry bought the club and put up a ballpark next to his Wild West show and outdoor theater in hopes of drumming up business to Staten Island. It didn’t work and the Mets wound up moving to Kansas City in 1888.
The players are all inexplicably shown wearing the same kind (maybe even just the same one) spotted cravat tie and are thus known as “Spotted Ties.” The card shown here is of Mets’ first baseman Dave Orr, one of the few sluggers of the time and a genuine Hall of Fame candidate despite a career cut short by a stroke after just eight seasons. 
At left is the Orr card depicted in the masterful The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company compiled by Joe Gonsowski, Richard Masson, and my friend Jay Miller, which shows every known pose of every known player (a vendor is referenced here at Rob Lifson’s blog). For all everybody knew, this was the  
OldJudgeOrrB.jpg
way all Dave Orr Spotted Ties looked. 
Then Jay emailed me yesterday to say that a minor variation had been noticed in the card of Mets’ catcher Charlie Reipschlager (identified on the card and in the box scores of the day as “Ripslager”). It was simply how the name “Ripslager” was lettered across his uniform. It was clear that it had been re-done for some reason, possibly owing to the mechanical process by which the original photographs of the players were re-photographed using the big box cameras of the day, to creete one large photograph from which the sheets of cards were printed.
in any event, Jay suggested I should check the Ripslager card in my collection (and the other “Spotted Ties”) for the variation. I didn’t have the two different versions of the catcher, but lo and behold, there are at least two different versions of Orr. This second card on the left shows a larger, bolder identification, the letters nearly touching the tie, and far more spread out. 
The change may be difficult to see, so a picture of the two cards side-by-side is shown below. Intuition suggests there may be similar lettering variations on all of the Spotted Ties. It’s impossible to say if one kind is more valuable than the others (the most expensive Spotted Tie depicts Steve Behel, an early Jewish player). But the variations should not have come as a surprise. An entirel
y new pose of Jim Tyng (inventor of the catcher’s mask) was discovered just last year, not long after we had all realized that the “only” card of Baltimore manager Billy Barnie was actually two different photos, taken within seconds of each other, and showed only a slight change in where his gaze was directed, and a previously unknown player, Whitey Gibson, was only unearthed in 1980. And thus the charm of collecting: we’re still getting new cards, 113 years after Goodwin & Co. first made them.
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3 Comments

After watching the Phillies/Giants game yesterday, I was almost surprised that I didn’t dream about a world where everyone was bearded… :) As for “Bluto”, how did he manage to play the game? With all that Magic Marker on his beard, he should have been high as a kite. Beards and spotted ties… You wrote: ” …the ‘only’ card of Baltimore manager Billy Barnie was actually two different photos, taken within seconds of each other, and showed only a slight change in where his gaze was directed”. Oddly enough, a friend of mine and I used to visit the same improv comedy club, and we both took photos of the shows. Years later, someone posted one of her photos online, and I thought “wait – that’s MY picture”. So I looked it up, and sure enough, it was. I thought “How did THAT happen?” But then someone pointed out that they weren’t exactly the same – we had been sitting next to each other, and captured the exact same moment in time, but with the slightest deviation in angle. Strange, but kind of interesting. Just as an aside – I wonder why all the players in that card series were wearing the same spotted tie? Interesting. Thanks for the blog post… yours are always informative and fun.

Keith, I commend you on your review of the Jane Leavy (almost typed ‘Mayer’!) biography of Mantle. You managed to avoid the trap many NYT reviewers of biography fall into: reviewing the chronology of the subject’s life rather than the book. Those reviews often read like something a procrastinating kid would scrawl out on a Sunday night. Yours makes me want to read this book and head to the library tomorrow to check out her Koufax bio.

Currently reading the Willie Mays authorized bio by James Hirsch, and next on the list is the Henry Aaron bio from Howard Bryant. As a Giants fan, I had to wait until the Braves were eliminated before reading it! ;)

Thanks for that side-by-side shot of the cards, Keith. Makes it easier to see the variation between the two. The sepia is quite lovely.
I have to say, I’m glad the baseball card people switched from cigarettes to bubblegum at some point. I’m pretty sure I didn’t articulate that correctly, but hopefully you know what I mean: cigarettes = bad; bubblegum = better.
Your NYT book review was enjoyable. Just a silly observation apropos of nothing, but I remember thinking as I watched Ken Burns’ ?Baseball? documentary a while back, that if Mickey Mantle hadn’t been a gifted baseball player, he could have been a CW singer. He had an unforgettable voice. You just knew he had a few tales of woe and some wild and woolly stories to tell. I tend to do a lot of multi-tasking while watching TV, but found myself setting down whatever I was doing just to get closer to the TV to listen to Mantle.
I wish I could say that I’m going to buy Jane Leavy’s book immediately and read it cover to cover, but that’s probably not going to happen at the moment. However, I will put it on my ?to read? list because I’m curious more than ever before about the man behind The Voice.

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