1939 Play Ball Set

‘It’s In The Details’

Title Play Ball
Year 1939
Size 2 1/2″ x 3 1/8″
Images Black and White
Type Candy/Gum
Number in Set

1939 Play Ball Overview

1939-play-ballThe 1939 Play Ball (R334) set includes black and white cards in one of the final pre-war issues.

The design of the cards sort of play into the time period. World War II had just begun and these somewhat dull cards are a stark contrast to the mostly colorful sets of the 1930s.

Fronts included only a simplistic player image with no name or identifying marks. The lack of a name on the front is both unique and frustrating since it makes identifying some of the more obscure players more difficult. The back included a biography of the player as well as a card number and a mention of it being one of a series of 250 players. More cards were apparently to come, but never made it since the set is complete with Card No. 162.

The key cards in the set are easily those of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. Of note is that there is no No. 126 in the set. The Williams card, in particular, is important as it is his rookie issue.

Also key to the set are the shortprinted high number cards. The high number cards are No. 116-162 and sell for a bit of a premium. While low-grade commons among the low number cards can be found starting in the $5-$10 range, low-grade high number commons are about double or triple that.

Variations are found here, too, making a master set challenging. Many of the low number cards have player names printed both in all capital letters or a mix of capital and lower case letters. With the exception of possibly a few cases where one type may be extremely rare, there do not seem to be large differences in price.

The set is increasingly popular with newer vintage collectors wanting a pre-1950 set to collect. Cards aren’t too expensive and at 161 cards, assembling a complete set isn’t too unrealistic. The cards look a bit like the popular 1948 Bowman cards, which came a decade later. It is also iconic because it marked the 100th anniversary of the sport of baseball.

The 1939 Play Ball cards aren’t hard to find and many exist. PSA has graded more than 20,000 of them.

Play Ball produced a total of three sets – 1939, 1940, and 1941. Here was my list of the top ten cards across all three sets.

Ted Williams Rookie Card

Ted Williams 1939 Play BallWith all due respect to the Joe DiMaggio card in the set, there’s no doubt that the Ted Williams rookie card is the key one in the release.

The Williams card is not one of the most expensive pre-war cards that you’ll find. But starting around $1,200-$1,500 in low-grade condition, it doesn’t come cheap. It is also one of the more iconic pre-war cards — particularly of those in the 1930s. The Williams rookie is one of those that has been sought after by collectors for a very long time.

Williams’ card here shows him wielding a bat as a young player for the Red Sox. The back calls Williams ‘one of the youngest players in baseball’ before saying he ‘has a great future according to experts.’ Numbered at 92 in the set, it is the foundation of this popular issue.

Sample Cards

1939 Play Ball Overprint BackOne unique aspect of the set is that it included what are some of the first marked promo cards of all time. The 1939 Play Ball ‘Sample’ cards are the same as the regular cards, but have a red overprinted stamp on the back that states the following:

“FREE Sample Card – Get your pictures of leading baseball players. Three picture cards packed in each package of ‘Play Ball America’ Bubble Gum at your candy store.”

The price of the gum, one cent, was printed at the end of the brief advertisement.

The Sample cards were printed in much smaller quantities and are believed to have been packaged with parent company, Gum, Inc. products. Sample cards also do not exist for the entire set – they were only made for cards up to No. 115.

Despite the uniqueness of the sample cards, they do not sell for outrageous amounts. Common sample cards generally start around $15-$20.

Here’s a closer look at the sample cards.

1939 Play Ball Al Schacht

Al Schacht Card

One of the more interesting cards is one for a former player turned comedian called Al Schacht.

Schacht is seen on his card around a base while wearing a suit. By the time this set rolled around, he had retired as a player and was doing baseball comedy routines around the league. When in that context, it is easier to understand why the card was created.

Here’s more on the interesting Schacht card.

1939 Play Ball Checklist

  1. Jake Powell
  2. Lee Grissom
  3. Red Ruffing
  4. Elden Auker
  5. Luke Sewell
  6. Leo Durocher
  7. Bobby Doerr
  8. Henry Pippen
  9. Jim Tobin
  10. James Deshong
  11. Johnny Rizzo
  12. Hersh Martin
  13. Luke Hamlin
  14. Jim Tabor
  15. Paul Derringer
  16. Johnny Peacock
  17. Emerson Dickman
  18. Harry Danning
  19. Paul Dean
  20. Joe Heving
  21. Dutch Leonard
  22. Bucky Walters
  23. Burgess Whitehead
  24. Dick Coffman
  25. George Selkirk
  26. Joe DiMaggio
  27. Fred Ostermueller
  28. Syl Johnson
  29. Jack Wilson
  30. Bill Dickey
  31. Sam West
  32. Bob Seeds
  33. Del Young
  34. Frank Demaree
  35. Billy Jurges
  36. Frank McCormick
  37. Spud Davis
  38. Billy Myers
  39. Rick Ferrell
  40. Jim Bagby
  41. Lon Warneke
  42. Arndt Jorgens
  43. Mel Almada
  44. Don Heffner
  45. Pinky May
  46. Morrie Arnovich
  47. Buddy Lewis
  48. Lefty Gomez
  49. Eddie Miller
  50. Charlie Gehringer
  51. Mel Ott
  52. Tommy Henrich
  53. Carl Hubbell
  54. Harry Gumbert
  55. Arky Vaughan
  56. Hank Greenberg
  57. Buddy Hassett
  58. Lou Chiozza
  59. Ken Chase
  60. Schoolboy Rowe
  61. Tony Cuccinello
  62. Tom Carey
  63. Heinie Mueller
  64. Wally Moses
  65. Harry Craft
  66. Jimmy Ripple
  67. Eddie Joost
  68. Fred Sington
  69. Elbie Fletcher
  70. Fred Frankhouse
  71. Monte Pearson
  72. Debs Garms
  73. Hal Schumacher
  74. Cookie Lavagetto
  75. Frenchy Bordagaray
  76. Goody Rosen
  77. Lew Riggs
  78. Moose Solters
  79. Joe Moore
  80. Irwin Fox
  81. Babe Dahlgren
  82. Chuck Klein
  83. Gus Suhr
  84. Lamar Newsome
  85. Johnny Cooney
  86. Dolph Camilli
  87. Milt Shoffner
  88. Charles Keller
  89. Lloyd Waner
  90. Bob Klinger
  91. Jack Knott
  92. Ted Williams
  93. Charley Gelbert
  94. Heinie Manush
  95. Whit Wyatt
  96. Babe Phelps
  97. Bob Johnson
  98. Pinky Whitney
  99. Wally Berger
  100. Buddy Myer
  101. Doc Cramer
  102. Pep Young
  103. Moe Berg
  104. Tom Bridges
  105. Eric McNair
  106. Dolly Stark
  107. Joe Vosmik
  108. Frankie Hayes
  109. Myril Hoag
  110. Fred Fitzsimmons
  111. Van Lingle Mungo
  112. Paul Waner
  113. Al Schacht
  114. Cecil Travis
  115. Red Kress
  116. Gene Desautels
  117. Wayne Ambler
  118. Lynn Nelson
  119. Will Hershberger
  120. Rabbit Warstler
  121. Bill Posedel
  122. George McQuinn
  123. Peaches Davis
  124. Jumbo Brown
  125. Cliff Melton
  127. Gilbert Brack
  128. Joe Bowman
  129. Bill Swift
  130. Bill Brubaker
  131. Mort Cooper
  132. Jimmy Brown
  133. Lynn Myers
  134. Tot Pressnell
  135. Arnold Owen
  136. Roy Bell
  137. Pete Appleton
  138. George Case
  139. Vito Tamulis
  140. Ray Hayworth
  141. Pete Coscarart
  142. Ira Hutchinson
  143. Earl Averill
  144. Zeke Bonura
  145. Hugh Mulcahy
  146. Tom Sunkel
  147. George Coffman
  148. Bill Trotter
  149. Max West
  150. Jim Walkup
  151. Hugh Casey
  152. Roy Weatherly
  153. Paul Trout
  154. Johnny Hudson
  155. Jimmy Outlaw
  156. Ray Berres
  157. Don Padgett
  158. Bud Thomas
  159. Red Evans
  160. Gene Moore
  161. Lonny Frey
  162. Whitey Moore

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