What is Joe DiMaggio doing in the 1939 Orcajo Cincinnati Reds Postcard Set?

PC786 Orcajo

The 1937-39 Orcajo Cincinnati Reds postcards set was classified as PC786 by Jefferson Burdick in his American Card Catalog. The set, which was printed over a three-year period, was the work of Orcajo, a photography studio in Dayton, Ohio.

Three different advertisers used these images that were produced by Orcajo, a photography company of some sort. The companies using these with their name on them included the Metropolitan Clothing Company, Val Decker Packing, and WHIO radio station. They were also printed without any of those sponsor names as well.

Small font on the back identifies the maker as “Orcajo Photo Art, Dayton, Ohio.”

Like T206 baseball cards and other popular sets, not all advertisers printed all postcards. Some of the postcards are exclusive to only one of the three sponsors.

A Curious Insertion

Most of the key players from the Cincinnati Reds during that time period are here. There are Hall of Fame players Kiki Cuyler and Ernie Lombardi. Also included are Hall of Famers Bill McKechnie and Edd Roush, who were manager and coach respectively on the 1938 team. There’s also Bucky Walters, who won the Most Valuable Player Award in 1939.

While the set is comprised of players on the Cincinnati Reds’ baseball team, one interesting inclusion has stumped collectors for years. In addition to those players, New York Yankees’ Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio was included.

The postcards were printed over three years but it is difficult to date many of them. What we do know, however, is that the postcards with the WHIO sponsor name (more specifically, a small inset photo featuring the team’s radio announcer) were printed first in 1937. I have not seen any DiMaggio’s with the WHIO affiliation on them, so if none exist, we can deduce his were from either 1938 or 1939.

DiMaggio didn’t have any ties to the Reds, so what was the connection?

Thoughts on Inclusion of Joe DiMaggio

DiMaggio Orcajo

The DiMaggio mystery may never be solved. But my guess is that the inclusion of DiMaggio had something to do with the 1939 World Series. The Reds and the Yankees met in the World Series in 1939 with DiMaggio’s Yanks winning their fourth consecutive World Series. That was the final year these postcards were produced.

DiMaggio didn’t just play in the series, he starred. He batted .313, good for second on the team and collected five hits, including a home run with three RBI. Charlie Keller was the offensive star, hitting .438 with three home runs and six RBI, but DiMaggio had a very strong series.

In addition, DiMaggio was arguably the biggest star of that time. Wanting to include him would be odd given the team constraints of the set but not entirely unheard of because of his immense popularity. In particular, 1939 was one of the best years of his career. He batted a career-high .381 to help him win his first Most Valuable Player Award. Everyone was likely trying to get a piece of DiMaggio at the time.

Other World Series issues have been produced before and it’s possible that DiMaggio’s inclusion was part of one to hype the World Series. That strategy wasn’t uncommon as it was used in the creation of other sets. The 1921 Koester Bread set, for example, that featured members of the New York Giants and New York Yankees (the 1921 World Series participants) was a likely example of this. After the Philadelphia Athletics clinched the 1929 pennant, members of the team were featured on sets of theater cards in the area. Some, including the R313A Gold Medal Foods set, featured players from both teams. Numerous other similar examples exist, too.

There could also be a few other reasons for DiMaggio’s inclusion as well.

First, Walters, who won the 1939 MVP Award, is in the set and Orcajo possibly wanted to present the American League MVP, which was DiMaggio, too.

Or maybe the studio simply wanted to capitalize on the popularity of DiMaggio and include him, World Series or not. This is also something that’s been done with other issues. A few years earlier, a Chicago company, Buckley, Dement, and Company, once created an interesting ink blotter with a baseball schedule for the hometown Cubs and White Sox. The schedule curiously featured a picture of Babe Ruth, who had no link to either team.

Possibly, the studio thought about expanding the postcards to include other major leaguers. 1939 was the third year in which the postcards were printed and maybe there were ideas to make it a larger set not specific to Cincinnati. If you were looking for one guy to promote at the time outside of the Reds, it probably would have been DiMaggio.

A less likely reason is that perhaps DiMaggio had a relationship  with one of the sponsors, who got him involved. That seems unlikely, though, since you would expect to find DiMaggio’s postcard with that sponsor name and the DiMaggio examples I have seen have been mostly, if not entirely, of the blank variety.

Conclusion

For me, I still believe DiMaggio was included as some sort of a World Series connection in 1939. That was just such a popular theme used in other issues and it’s what I think happened here.

He looks odd in a set full of Cincinnati Reds and a World Series link just makes the most sense to me.

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