A regular release of the famous card would have had several impacts on the set
A while back, I looked at the intriguing thought of what life would be like if Honus Wagner’s iconic T206 card had not been shortprinted. While it would still be a nice card, it obviously would not hold its prominent place in the hobby if it was no less common than the Ty Cobbs, Walter Johnsons, Christy Mathewsons, or Cy Youngs found in the set.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about another famously shortprinted card in the Nap Lajoie 1933 Goudey. The story is familiar to most. Lajoie’s No. 106 card, either intentionally or unintentionally (most agree unintentionally), went unprinted in the 1933 set. Due to customer demand, the company printed the card in 1934 and sent it to collectors that inquired about it. Not many were requested and have survived over the years. As a result, it is the rarest card in the issue.
That has given it a place in hobby lore and it is one of the most famous cards of all time. But, say Goudey actually did print it in 1933? What would be the ramifications?
There are several, actually.
First, the card obviously wouldn’t have the level of prominence it does now. Sure, Lajoie was a Hall of Famer and a desirable player. His card would no doubt be a nice one to have. But it certainly wouldn’t be one of the top pre-war cards as it is now. It would merely be one of the many cards in the set featuring a Hall of Famer and, thus, lost in the shuffle a bit.
Consider this, too. A good number of collectors probably don’t even realize that Lajoie’s career had long since ended by this point. He had finished his career in Philadelphia after the 1916 season and had been out of the majors for nearly 20 years when the cards were released. At the age of 59 in 1933, Lajoie was nearly a senior citizen at that point (no disrespect to our older readers, of course).
In addition, by association, the double printed No. 144 Babe Ruth card wouldn’t have been double printed. That card took the place of Lajoie’s on the 1933 sheet and, as a result, twice as many of that specific Ruth card were printed (assuming that sheet was printed as much as the others). The value of that Ruth card would likely increase a little as it’s generally the least expensive of the four Ruth cards in the set due to the quantities.
Also, from purely a print layout standpoint, things would have been changed on the 1934 sheets, too. Goudey had to print a special 25-card sheet to make room for the Lajoie in their 1934 printing. The 1934 set had a total of 96 cards and other sheets were printed with 24 to a sheet. But the final sheet with the Lajoie on it had 25 (five rows of five cards). If Goudey printed Lajoie’s card in 1933, all four of the 1934 sheets would have consisted of 24 cards since Lajoie obviously would not have been printed in that year.
Finally, the set obviously would have been easier to complete. Many collectors consider the set complete at 239 cards as the Lajoie is so difficult to obtain. But a truly complete set includes the Lajoie and his card makes it hard to reach that level. With four Ruth cards, it’s still not cheap to assemble. But there would be many more complete sets out there if Lajoie’s wasn’t shortprinted.
Projecting the Value
So the card wouldn’t be as important? But what about value? How much would Lajoie’s card be worth?
Well, safe to say, nowhere near what it is today. Even in low-grade, it’s a five-figure card these days. This PSA 2 sold for nearly $24,000 in 2016. How much would a PSA 2 Lajoie card be if it wasn’t shortprinted? Based on the price of other Hall of Famers in the set, I’d say around $150.
A good comparison is the card of Tris Speaker. Speaker was also a Hall of Famer from around the same period. He was younger than Lajoie as his career began a little later, but he had been retired for five years when the set was created. His card falls around that price and I expect Lajoie’s would have, too.