Ever since I got out of collecting newer baseball cards, I’ve tried to come up with my thoughts on newer cards featuring older players.
Anytime I saw one, a weird dichotomy would present itself. On one hand, I’d think it was cool that old players were still being remembered. On the other, I found overly glossy, three-dimensional cards of Honus Wagner and the like to be abhorrent.
When I pondered the idea today, my immediate thoughts, for some reason, went back to when I previously collected newer cards. At the time, I had plenty of these types of cards but don’t think I ever gave the idea much thought. Now, when my binders are full of thousands of cards from the pre-war era, it just sort of seems odd to me to find pictures of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and the like plastered on shiny pieces of cardboard instead of the tiny, dull-finish tobacco and candy cards I’m used to.
But the more I thought about it recently, the more I realized that pre-war collectors should actually embrace this idea.
Hear me out.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not heading out to my local Target or Wal-Mart to buy brand X, Y, or Z hoping to find a 1/1 insert with a cut signature of Cap Anson or a card with a piece of Tris Speaker’s game used bat. But it’s a great thing to find pictures of pre-war favorites on newer cards, even if you don’t care about them yourself.
Now, as a quick aside, I want to premise this by saying to card companies that they should stop cutting up invaluable treasures such as game-used or even game-model bats of older players. This isn’t about those cards. I cringe when I see these sorts of things like this gamer from The Babe pictured here.
I totally realize the argument is that chopping up a single bat is, by and large, not that damaging to the memorabilia industry. But I’d much rather these treasures remain intact and given away to one collector instead of making a bunch of numbered cards that often have limited monetary value, anyway. There are oh so many ways to make a quick buck and hacking pieces of history to shove into yet another numbered baseball card shouldn’t be necessary.
Back to the point at hand here.
The reality is that, the further we get from the pre-war era (even the latest pre-war cards are inching closer to being a century old, after all), the greater the chance that some of these players will be forgotten.
Ruth, Cobb, Speaker? Nah, not those guys. I’m talking about the lesser known guys. Guys like Hal Chase or Bill Dahlen that were legitimate stars. Or even guys farther under the radar like 25-game winner Bill Donovan or, perhaps, Lefty O’Doul, who was a two-time batting champion and once hit .398 in a season while collecting 254 hits.
Fortunately, we’re too far ahead from a technology standpoint for these guys to likely be forgotten about. And actually, many more people know about these sorts of players today with wonderful sites, such as Baseball Reference, than did in the pre-internet days. Still, the fact remains that, the farther we are from the pre-war era, some of these great players risk getting less and less credit. But it’s not only about a remembrance of these sorts of players’ careers I’m talking about. Specifically, it’s good for the pre-war card collecting hobby.
That might sound ridiculous at first. After all, wouldn’t collectors of modern cards be satisfied if they can pick up a $2 insert of Christy Mathewson and less inclined to seek out the real thing? Some, yes. But I’m willing to bet some will also do research to learn more about his career. Others will be interested in at least seeing some of his contemporary cards. And others still will be motivated enough to buy one. Simply put, the more pre-war players are recognized on cards today, by any means, the better for the pre-war collecting hobby in general.
The pre-war hobby is doing just fine, by the way. This isn’t a ‘We’re melting‘ diatribe about a dying niche of the industry. Cobb cards are seeing some incredible numbers. Plentiful T206 cards are going up in value, not down. And other cards, such as Ruth and Joe Jackson rookies are soaring. We’re seeing other six-figure and seven-figure cards besides the famous Honus Wagner T206 issue and that’s something that, frankly, probably wasn’t even in the minds of collectors 20 or 30 years ago.
The market is thriving but there are also fewer collectors for these cards than there are modern issues. One way, however, to bring more people into the fold is introduce these players on current cards. And while I might not personally have any interest in a Walter Johnson refractor card, it’s still a good thing for the pre-war industry that they’re being produced.