Nap Lajoie 1933 Goudey was the Ultimate Chase Card … and had Ties to Babe Ruth
Short print cards have been around in the baseball card hobby for about as long as it’s existed. These cards are generally ones that are limited on purpose for any number of reasons.
Back in 1933, baseball cards were going through big time changes. Tobacco cards, other than ones printed internationally, were basically extinct. And while candy cards certainly continued, they were largely being packaged with gum products – hence the switch in name from candy/caramel cards to gum cards. Plus, even as the cards did exist, they looked much different, going to a thicker, more square-like card.
Topps, of course, would go on to become the gum mogul but they didn’t hit the street until the 1950s. In the meantime, several gum companies distributed cards and Goudey was really king of the era.
About Goudey and the 1933 Set
Goudey was created in 1919 and printed its first baseball cards in 1933. Now, what was remarkable was that, even though it was their first go-round with gum cards, they did an incredible job.
The 1933 Goudey cards weren’t only wildly popular back then, the set is often heralded as one of the most impressive releases of all time today. Typically, it has been placed in a Big 3 of sorts, along with T206 and the 1952 Topps set. To have that kind of reputation and staying power is truly remarkable.
The set is probably best known for its brightly colored backgrounds, if nothing else. It has lots of other characteristics, of course. But the first thing you notice when you thumb through a stack of 1933 Goudeys is probably the diversity of colorful backgrounds.
Part of the reason the set is so impressive is because of the many stars and Hall of Famers. That’s typical of most releases, I suppose, but Goudey was special in that, like T206, many of the big names had more than one card. Some had two while others had three. But the biggest draw in the set was Babe Ruth and he had four.
Now, here’s what a lot of people don’t know. Ruth shared a special connection with Nap Lajoie in relation to this set. Give me a minute, though – I’ll get to that in a bit.
Nap Lajoie, Where art Thou?
The 1933 Goudey set was likely not too easy to assemble back in the day. That’s because, despite a relatively large production, evident by the number of cards that have survived today, it still contained a whopping 240 cards.
That isn’t a huge number by today’s standards but it was back then. Earlier candy cards were often in the 50-100 range (some even less). A few earlier candy sets, such as American Caramel’s E120 and E121 sets as well as the 1914 Cracker Jack and 1915 Cracker Jack sets, topped 100 cards. But most typically had much smaller checklists. Collecting 240 back then had to be a challenging effort. Still, some surely made it.
Imagine kids back in the day sorting cards much the same way we do today. Arranging them neatly in piles, hoping they have as close to a complete set as possible. Now, imagine everyone coming up empty when it came to one single, solitary card.
At some point, collectors started getting suspicious about a particular card – No. 106. That was probably especially true of the ones trying to assemble complete sets. They weren’t finding the card. Anywhere. Not only them but their friends were having trouble, too. The card was literally nowhere to be seen. Rumors probably existed. Someone likely ‘heard’ of the card surfacing somewhere. But as far as tangible proof, it didn’t exist. Come to find out, it couldn’t.
Turns out Card No. 106 was Nap Lajoie but it was never actually printed. That’s either because Goudey intentionally did not print it or they goofed. Conventional wisdom says that the move was intentional in an effort to boost sales with frantic collectors buying more gum than they needed.
The trick had been pulled numerous times in the past and was nothing new. Companies would often offer prizes in exchange to collectors completing full sets only to intentionally shortprint at least one card to limit the amount of prizes redeemed. But whatever the case, the card was not found.
It’s pretty amusing that Lajoie was even selected to be in the set. The set featured almost all current players and Lajoie had not only been retired but hadn’t played in a major league game in nearly 20 years, last appearing in 1916. Lajoie wasn’t the only retired player there. Tris Speaker is another one in the set that was done playing ball. But unlike Lajoie, he’d at least been a recent player, playing in the majors until 1928 and then in the minors, last appearing in 1930.
Babe Ruth Ties
What is really interesting about the Lajoie story is that a pretty important player is tied to it and that’s Babe Ruth.
Ruth, as stated, had four cards in the set. And as I previously covered, while none are incredibly plentiful by today’s standards, one is much easier to find. In particular, Ruth’s No. 144 card featuring a full body pose has been seen a lot more. At least count, there were more than 1,500 graded and was the one of the four to achieve that total.
The card was long believed to be a double print and with the discovery of an uncut sheet, those beliefs were confirmed. Ruth’s card does indeed appear twice on the same sheet, meaning it would have been double printed, explaining why it is much easier to find than others.
But the significance of that goes well beyond simply Ruth himself. That’s because, as REA explains here, Ruth’s double printed card actually occupied the spot in the set that Lajoie’s No. 106 card should have gotten. It is believed that the 240-card set was printed on ten uncut 24-card sheets. If Goudey had, excuse the pun, played ball, that would have equaled out perfectly and not having any double printed cards. However, by removing No. 106, that meant a second card would have to be added to one of the sheets so as not to waste space – and that card was Ruth’s double printed No. 144.
Ruth’s selection as the double printed card has always been fascinating to me for two reasons. First, I’ve always wondered if Goudey felt bad about the whole omission of No. 106 and, as a way to make up for it, gave players the chance to more easily find a card of the biggest name in the set.
And along those lines, could double printing the Ruth have helped to actually sell more cards? While the card would have been easier to obtain, would it have also made collectors more likely to buy more packs in the hopes of finding more? Whatever the case, Ruth’s selection obviously wasn’t by chance. The company could have double printed any card in the set and, almost certainly, very deliberately gave the honor to the biggest player in baseball.
But the Lajoie cards, scarce as they are, do exist today. So what happened if none were printed with the 1933 set?
Well, Goudey surely received a lot of inquiries (some were certainly of the unpleasant variety) from collectors regarding the card. And in 1934, they made good.
Goudey not only printed a new set in 1934, but they also printed the long-awaited No. 106 card of Lajoie to fill the hole in the 1933 set. That is confirmed with one of the 1934 uncut sheets shown here with the Lajoie card printed last in the second row.
The company was not said to have included these in the 1934 packs. If that were the case, after all, we’d see a lot more of them. Instead, they simply mailed them to collectors that asked. How many were actually distributed is unknown but, given what we know about the scarcity of that card today, it wouldn’t have been a ton. To date, PSA and SGC have graded only about 120 total.
Goudey eventually did the right thing here and the most interesting part, of course, is that they made the set all the more popular with such a chase card. That, by the way, was almost certainly their intention all along.