Sometimes – whether you merit it or not – you seed the Publicity Storm Cloud just right with the chemicals and you get eight inches of rain.
Such it was yesterday when a respected memorabilia auction house put out a story about the discovery of some hundred-year old baseball cards in an attic in Ohio. I have a little less than 400,000 followers on Twitter and it feels like half of them sent me a link, wondering if I would be buying what each and every article described as three million dollars worth of cards. As near as I can tell, the story was picked up by ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, Fox, AP, Forbes Agence France Presse, TASS, and Pravda. As I washed my face before bed last night and flipped on the radio, the story was on the CBS hourly newscast.
I’ve dealt with the auctioneers – Heritage – for years with nothing but professional results, and I’m accusing them of nothing but professional success here, but boy oh boy oh boy did they hype this thing.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Finding 1909-10 baseball cards in pristine condition in an attic at Defiance, Ohio, is a wonderful story and the cards are worth a lot of money. But comparisons to unique artwork (“It’s like finding the Mona Lisa in the attic,” said the finder) and the three-million dollar pricetag are ludicrous.
There are 30 cards in the set, issued by an anonymous candy manufacturer during the baseball card craze of 1909-11. Labeled within our hobby for cataloging purposes as “E-98” (the “E” is for “Early Candy and Gum”) the cards are scarce compared to other more plentiful issues of the time (yet there are 15 of them available right now, in lesser shape, on eBay). They also just aren’t that popular. In an era in which the candy companies produced extraordinarily beautiful lithographs of players stylized to look like Greek Gods with blazing sunsets behind them, E-98’s are pretty bland colorized black-and-white images set against one-color backgrounds. The set is also full of careless errors (if you look at the card of “Cy” Young, lower left, you’ll notice it shows a lefthanded pitcher. Cy, who only won 511 career games, was a righthander. The photo actually depicts a very obscure contemporary named Irv Young).
Here’s what I mean about relative attractiveness. The Mathewson and the Wagner below are from the E-95 set issued by Philadelphia Caramel in 1909. Find me 700 copies of them in superb condition and we’re talking.
:Nevertheless, baseball card price guides agree that a full set of all 30 E-98 cards should be valued at about $125,000 in near perfect condition. The 37 cards that the auction house, Heritage, plans to sell next month, are the best of the bunch, real beauties with sharp corners, the kind investors love.
The problem is that there’s only one thing that investors react to more than beautifully conditioned old cards. That would be the sudden “find” of a large lot of previously hard-to-find cards.
From the time it came out in 1953 or 1954, a Dormand Postcards issue of Gil Hodges of the Brooklyn Dodgers was wildly scarce. In the days when regular cards from the series fetched a dollar or two and even a Mickey Mantle cost only $5 or $10, Hodges was “worth” $400. Then a few years ago somebody found a stack of them. I mean, like 750 of them. Like, however many they made and didn’t distribute for whatever reason back in the ’50s. Right now on eBay you can get your average Dormand postcard for $25 to $45. Hodges? Well, you can buy-it-now for $750. That’s $750 for 42 copies of the Hodges card (some poor guy, meanwhile, is still trying to sell his one pristine-looking Hodges for $2,000).
If you read the entire story of the “attic find” in Ohio you’ll notice that what they discovered wasn’t just 37 old cards, but 700 of them. The family and the auction house aren’t saying specifically what the rest of them are, but the way these things work, if there weren’t a lot more of the E-98 cards (presumably in lesser condition) than they’d be auctioning them off, too. If they were more valuable, or more intriguing, or just from a more collected or beloved set of cards, they’d be publicizing them.
So, congrats to the owners of the “find.” The estimate for what an auction next month at the national collectors’ gathering in Baltimore – $500,000 – might be a little high, but it’s probably in range. Investors will invest in anything, especially if they’ve read about it in the news. But even some of the news articles indicate that there are less than 700 of these E-98’s registered and encased in plastic (as in the illustration) with an unknown larger supply in “raw” (that is, not encapsulated) condition. If you introduce 700 new ones into the market, the price will initially go up, and then way, way down.
The family and the auction house have a stack of 700+ cards from a set nobody really collects and which investors might begin to doubt.
Don’t forget to wave to the Gil Hodges Dormand Postcard when you pass it.
UPDATE 5 PM EDT: A tweeter raises an important point. Javier Cepero writes: “Doesn’t the guy have a Honus Wagner 10 rated card?”
Yes. But not the Honus Wagner. The Honus Wagner – from the American Tobacco Company 1909 set called “T-206” has been sold for $3,000,000 by itself (in perfect, albeit altered condition) down to the $300,000-$400,000 range for the crappier ones.
On his MLB Network program Studio 42, Bob Costas tonight referenced a blog post here from 2009, and asked Tom Seaver if he was aware that I’d found a game-action photograph of Christy Mathewson from the 1911 World Series that showed Mathewson using the exact of drop-and-drive delivery Seaver brought to perfection in the early years of his career in the late ’60s.
Seaver said he’d seen the photo – I was pretty sure he had, since I’d sent a copy to him via a friend shortly after I found it in Cooperstown.
In blog years, a long time has passed since I posted the shots, so here they are again:
That’s Seaver – coincidentally in action against at Shea Stadium the San Francisco Giants in 1975 – showing the “drop and drive” that usually left the front of his right knee dirty. There had been a lot of anecdotal evidence that Mathewson, who retired in 1916, had used a similar delivery. But until the kind curators at the Hall photo archive let me look at their collection of glass images from the 1911 World Series, I don’t think anybody had actually seen a game-action image of Mathewson.
The resemblance, as you’ll see, is startling:
It’s the same delivery. In 1911.
Needless to say, I geeked out completely when I saw that photo. I literally thought “Why is there a picture of Tom Seaver pitching in the 1911 World Series?” After I posted the shot in August, 2009, I ran into Bob at Yankee Stadium and he had seen the post and he geeked out completely over it.
Just for the record, there are precious few game-action photos, particularly of pitchers, particularly in post-season action, from before the first World War. This was part of a series of 30 or 40 transparent glass slides, above three by five inches, that had been taken with a special camera for presentation as a slide show at the earlier movie theaters of the time. The Hall has what appears to be a complete set, and it constitutes a treasure trove for historians. You’ve heard of “Home Run” Baker? He got his name not for volume of homers, but for consecutive game-winning blasts off Mathewson and his fellow future Hall of Famer Rube Marquard in the ’11 Series. The slides include images of Baker rounding third on one of the homers.
I’m not going to say there isn’t another game-action photo of Mathewson anywhere else (and I’m not counting all the posed and/or warm-up shots that show Matty fully upright or just soft tossing). I’m just saying I’d never seen one before this image, and I don’t recall anybody reporting having seen another.
The 1911 photo series had been lost to historians because when it was donated to the hall in the mid 1960’s, the individual slides were divvied up and put, one by one, into the individual files of the players depicted. Only around 2009 was a search made for the whole set (you can imagine how long that took). This is what the Mathewson photo looked like – exactly as movie-goers would have seen it in October or November, 1911:
This is magnificent for several reasons – not the least of which is the extraordinarily low mound (which makes you appreciate Mathewson’s 373 career wins (plus five more in World Series action). But principally because that which historians thought really hadn’t become the standard for the “power pitcher” until the ’40s or ’50s, was in Mathewson’s repertoire a century ago.
Was that the greatest World Series game ever played?
For games in which a team, having put itself on the precipice of elimination because of managerial and/or strategic incompetence, then stumbles all over itself in all the fundamentals for eight innings, and still manages to prevail? Yes – Game Six, Rangers-Cardinals, was the greatest World Series Game of all-time. I’ve never seen a team overcome itself like that.
But the Cardinals’ disastrous defense (and other failures) probably disqualifies it from the top five all-time Series Games, simply because it eliminates the excellence requisite to knock somebody else off the list. Mike Napoli’s pickoff of Matt Holliday was epic, and the homers of Josh Hamilton and David Freese were titanic and memorable. But history will probably judge the rest of the game’s turning points (Freese’s error, Holliday’s error, Holliday’s end of the pickoff, Darren Oliver pitching in that situation, the Rangers’ stranded runners, Nelson Cruz’s handling of the game-tying triple, the failures of both teams’ closers) pretty harshly.
For contrast, in chronological order here are five Series Games that I think exceed last night’s thriller in terms of overall grading.
1912 Game Eight: That’s right, Game Eight (there had been, in those pre-lights days at Fenway Park, a tie). The pitching matchup was merely Christy Mathewson (373 career wins) versus Hugh Bedient (rookie 20-game winner) followed in relief by Smoky Joe Wood (who won merely 37 games that year, three in the Series). Mathewson shut out the Red Sox into the seventh, and the game was still tied 1-1 in the tenth when Fred Merkle singled home Red Murray and then went to second an error. But the Giants stranded the insurance run, and in the Bottom of the 10th, as darkness descended on Fenway (the first year it was open) there unfolded the damnedest Series inning anybody would see until 1986. Pinch-hitter Clyde Engle lofted the easiest flyball imaginable to centerfielder Fred Snodgrass – who dropped it. Hall of Famer Harry Hooper immediately lofted the hardest flyball imaginable to Snodgrass, who made an almost unbelievable running catch to keep the tying run from scoring and the winning run from getting at least to second or third. Mathewson, who had in the previous 339 innings walked just 38 men, then walked the obscure Steve Yerkes. But Matty bore down to get the immortal Tris Speaker to pop up in foul territory between the plate and first, and he seemed to have gotten out of the jam. Like the fly Holliday muffed last night, the thing was in the air forever, and was clearly the play of the inward rushing first baseman Merkle. Inexplicably, Mathewson called Merkle off, shouting “Chief, Chief!” at his lumbering catcher Chief Myers. The ball dropped untouched. Witnesses said Speaker told Mathewson “that’s going to cost you the Series, Matty” and then promptly singled to bring home the tying run and put the winner at third, whence Larry Gardner ransomed it with a sacrifice fly.
1960 Game Seven: The magnificence of this game is better appreciated now that we’ve found the game film. And yes, the madness of Casey Stengel is evident: he had eventual losing pitcher Ralph Terry warming up almost continuously throughout the contest. But consider this: the Hal Smith three-run homer for Pittsburgh would’ve been one of baseball’s immortal moments, until it was trumped in the top of the 9th by the Yankee rally featuring Mickey Mantle’s seeming series-saving dive back into first base ahead of Rocky Nelson’s tag, until it was trumped in the bottom of the 9th by Mazeroski’s homer. There were 19 runs scored, 24 hits made, the lead was lost, the game re-tied, and the Series decided in a matter of the last three consecutive half-innings, and there was neither an error nor a strikeout in the entire contest.
1975 Game Six: Fisk’s homer has taken on a life of its own thanks to the famous Fenway Scoreboard Rat who caused the cameraman in there to keep his instrument trained on Fisk as he hopped down the line with his incomparable attempt to influence the flight of the ball. But consider: each team had overcome a three-run deficit just to get the game into extras, there was an impossible pinch-hit three-run homer by ex-Red Bernie Carbo against his old team, the extraordinary George Foster play to cut down Denny Doyle at the plate with the winning run in the bottom of the 9th, and Sparky Anderson managed to use eight of his nine pitchers and still nearly win the damn thing – and have enough left to still win the Series.
1986 Game Six: This is well-chronicled, so, briefly: this exceeds last night’s game because while the Cardinals twice survived two-out, last-strike scenarios in separate innings to tie the Rangers in the 9th and 10th, the Met season-saving rally began with two outs and two strikes on Gary Carter in the bottom of the 10th. The Cards had the runs already aboard in each of their rallies. The Red Sox were one wide strike zone away from none of that ever happening.
1991 Game Seven: I’ll have to admit I didn’t think this belonged on the list, but as pitching has changed to the time when finishing 11 starts in a season provides the nickname “Complete Game James” Shields, what Jack Morris did that night in the 1-0 thriller makes this a Top 5 game.
There are many other nominees — the Kirk Gibson home run game in ’88, the A’s epic rally on the Cubs in ’29, Grover Cleveland Alexander’s hungover relief job in 1926, plus all the individual achievement games like Larsen’s perfecto and the Mickey Owen dropped third strike contest — and upon reflection I might be able to make a case to knock last night’s off the Top 10. But I’m comfortable saying it will probably remain. We tend to overrate what’s just happened (a kind of temporal myopia) but then again perspective often enhances an event’s stature rather than diminishing it. Let’s just appreciate the game for what it was: heart-stopping back-and-forth World Series baseball.
As the Hall of Fame induction looms, something I heard on a Cardinals’ broadcast the other day inspired me to hit the books. The gist of the discussion, which was dead serious and included not even a hint that the view might be a little skewed by some homerism, was that while there weren’t any coaches in Cooperstown, and there was no mechanism for electing any, obviously Dave Duncan would be elected, and just as soon as possible.
7 – John Schulte, Yankees, 1936-19477 – Jim Turner, Yankees, 1949-19585 – Mel Stottlemyre, Mets, Yankees, 1986-20004 – Mike Gonzalez, Cardinals, 1934-19463 – Johnny Sain, Yankees, Tigers, 1961-19683 – Joe Becker, Dodgers, 1955-1963
The others with as many as two? Duncan (1989 A’s, 2006, Cards), Galen Cisco (1992-93 Jays), Ron Perranoski (1981, 1988 Dodgers), Larry Shepard (1975-76 Reds), Wes Stock (1973-74 A’s), Dick Such (1987, 1991 Twins).
6 – Leo Mazzone: Glavine ’91 ’98, Maddux ’93 ’94 ’95, Smoltz ’964 – George Bamberger: Cuellar ’69, Palmer ’73 ’75 ’764 – Dave Duncan: Hoyt ’83, Welch ’90, Eckersley ’92, Carpenter ’053 – Joe Becker: Newcombe ’56, Drysdale ’62, Koufax ’633 – Bill Fischer: Clemens ’86 ’87 ’913 – Ray Miller: Flanagan ’79, Stone ’80, Drabek ’903 – Claude Osteen: Carlton ’82, Denny ’83, Bedrosian ’873 – Johnny Sain: Ford ’61, McLain ’68 ’693 – Rube Walker: Seaver ’69 ’73 ’75
fire you? Becker went to St. Louis in 1965 and the Cubs in ’67 and did pretty well with Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins in those places, but evidently not well enough.
Two books to address today, one brand new, one kinda.
But I can’t trust him. The book is riddled with historical mistakes, most of them seemingly trivial, some of them hilarious. One of them is particularly embarrassing. Vaccaro writes of the Giants’ second year in their gigantic stadium, the Polo Grounds:
…to left field, the official measurement was 277 feet, but the second deck extended about twenty feet over the lower grandstand, meaning if you could get a little air under the ball you could get yourself a tidy 250-foot home run…
his glove, is the left field foul line.
There is a lot of historical tone-deafness – particularly distressing considering Mr. Vaccaro often covers the Yankees. He recounts a conversation among McGraw and New York sportswriters about the Giants taking in the American League New York Highlanders as tenants at the Polo Grounds for the 1913 season. Vaccaro quotes the famed Damon Runyon telling McGraw that his paper’s headline writers have a new name intended for the team: The Yankees. McGraw is quoted as wondering if it will catch on in 1913. Even if the mistake originates elsewhere, it should’ve rung untrue to Vaccaro: The name “Yankees” had been used on the baseball cards as early as 1911, and on a team picture issued by one of the New York papers in 1907. If McGraw and Runyon hadn’t heard the name “Yankees” by the time of the 1912 World Series, they’d both had undiagnosed hearing problems for five years.
“I took it over my left shoulder and with my bare hand although I clapped my glove on it right away and hung on like a bulldog in a tramp,” Evans would soon tell the mountain of reporters…
…become a part owner of the American Association, a top Triple-A-level minor league…”
Post professional career
In 1929 Speaker replaced Walter Johnson as the manager of the Newark Bears of the International League, a post he held for two years. He became a part owner of the American Association. The announcement of Speaker’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame was made in January, 1937.
Jack Zduriencik was one move away from completely rebuilding a shaken franchise in a little over thirteen months.
That is none other than our Mr. Fullenwider, in the uniform of the Columbia Commies (had a different meaning then), standing in New York’s Polo Grounds, most likely late in the season of 1911, or possibly early in 1912. In those days before extensive farm systems, major league teams not only drafted players from minor league teams, but did so wholesale – and usually days after the minor league season ended. Thus it was not unusual for “bushers” to report to the big leagues – and apparently to bring their uniforms with them.
ears in the minor league record in that same city – Rocky Mount, pitching for the Tarheels of the Virginia League for two seasons, then Columbia in 1922 and Greenville in ’23. He’d finish up with a record of 194 and 146, with memories of a trip to Marlin, Texas with McGraw and the boys, and at least one winter of the greatest kind of hope and optimism. One wonders if he got to keep the Ice Cream Cone hat.
For more than 25 years, Dan Patrick and I have had the same debate.
Had the great pleasure of joining the family of 2009 Frick Award Winner Tony Kubek on its private tour of the Hall (and lunch) and while private means private, I can share some of the artifacts and one very nice family image.
on one of the prettiest streets of the Democracy, until an update after tonight’s big soiree or tomorrow morning’s pre-induction mayhem.