Would be Hall of Famer Shoeless Joe Jackson was one of the top players of his day. But despite being a well-known star, Jackson appears on an unmistakably low number of baseball cards produced during his playing days.
According to PSA’s checklist for the Jackson master set, only 21 items are required to complete it. And if we’re only talking about cards from Jackson’s playing days, we can strike a few from even that short list, such as his 1940 Play Ball card and his 1910 Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods pin, which isn’t actually a card.
I did notice Jackson’s most valuable card, his T210 Old Mill minor league issue, is not there. PSA also did not count the T202 Hassan Triple Folders card on which it was recently discovered he appears. Perhaps a few others have been not accounted for, either.
But whatever the case, 20ish total contemporary cards for a real life bonafide star is a freakishly low number. Today, I expect many guys have about that many cards produced in a year between parallels, inserts, and whatnot. And even in the pre-war era, players still routinely appeared in a healthy number of sets for the most part.
So what gives?
Well, the obvious thing, of course, is that Jackson was banned from baseball after his part in the 1919 World Series fix from his Chicago White Sox days. Dubbed the Black Sox, his team had several players accept a bribe to help lose games in the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Jackson was one of those players cited, despite playing incredibly well in the series.
As a result, Jackson was out of baseball by the age of 33. He hit .382 in his final season and obviously had plenty left in the tank.
But Jackson still played 13 years in the big leagues. You’d figure he would still find his way into more sets, right?
Typically, yes. But Jackson had a few more things against him. First, while he played 13 years in the majors, that was really more like ten. He spent much of his first three years in the minors and only played a total of 30 major league games during that time (1908-10), meaning he didn’t get into many of the sets produced in the craze of 1908-11 when several issues were made.
Additionally, Jackson’s career happened during kind of an unfortunate time as World War I was smack dab in the middle of it. Similar to the 1940s when baseball cards were sort of put on hold, as I covered here, there were not a lot of issues in between 1914 and 1918.
When you add those two factors together, you’ve got a total of nine of Jackson’s 13 years where his card market was drastically affected. Given that, it’s easier to understand why he didn’t have many cards and, consequently, why they are so rare.
It’s kind of a shame, really. Jackson is an extremely popular pre-war player and it would be nicer if more people could collect his cards. But the prices are just so bonkers for most of them. Even low-grade copies of his less expensive cards, such as the 1913 Barker Game, 1913 National Game, and W514 strip card are still going to approach $1,000 much of the time.
Don’t get me wrong. His cards would still be expensive if there were more of them. Look at a player like Ty Cobb, who has many issues, as a good example of that. Still, it’d be nice if Jackson cards were a little more common and collectors had some additional options.