More than 100 years after it was printed, a strange variation still has no real explanation
The T205 baseball card set includes all sorts of oddities and errors. While a total of 208 cards are needed to complete the basic set, at least a couple dozen other errors exist, meaning there are technically more than 230 different cards in the set.
Some of those errors are bigger than others. One for John Titus includes a simple small smudge on the back and I expect other similar ones are out there for other cards. But others are more significant and one of the more expensive, rarer variations is one that includes some extra text.
This particular error surrounds a former catcher/infielder for the Philadelphia Phillies named Pat Moran. Moran’s name is pretty well-known in pre-war collecting circles, even if he wasn’t an outstanding player. He had a good, long career with 14 years in the majors with the Beaneaters, Cubs, and Phillies, and is found on several cards because of that.
Moran, particularly on offense, was nothing special, really. He was a career .235 hitter and only reached the modest 100-hit plateau one time in 1903. The .262 he hit that season was a career-best so that gives you an idea of his offensive capabilities. He was valuable for his defensive versatility. While he mostly played catcher, he played all over the infield, logging time at first, second, third, and even shortstop.
Most of Moran’s cards in the T205 set are pretty basic but a few include a weird error. Backs of the error cards have a few extra words beneath his stat line.
The card, as shown here on the left, is clearly a mistake of some sort. After the statistics for his 1910 season, we see the letters/words:
“ning corps of pitchers.”
On their own, the words don’t mean a single thing. But taken in the proper context, they actually do.
That line actually comes from the back of another card in the set – specifically, the card for Al Mattern (pictured on the right). Mattern spent five years in the majors and was a pitcher for the Boston Rustlers at the time. The last sentence of his card reads, “Many offers have been made for him but Manager Tenney intends to keep him for a nucleus around which to build a winning corps of pitchers.” Because the cards were small and narrow, that led to some words being cut off quite a bit and that was the case on Mattern’s bio. The word ‘winning’ is split up onto two separate lines, leaving the “ning corps of pitchers” at the end.
That line has somehow made its way onto the back of a few of Moran’s cards.
Interestingly enough, that seems to be where that particular mistake ends. No other similar errors involving other lines of text are known and none of the Mattern cards are known to be missing the line, which is possibly the most odd thing.
The card is rare and quite valuable. To give you an idea of the rarity, to date, PSA has graded 189 of the regular, corrected version. By contrast, they have graded only 61 of the error cards, which is a little less than 1/3 of the corrected cards. But 3:1 is hardly the ratio of the error to the correction. That’s because a larger number of the error cards will certainly find their way into slabs than the common corrected version.
So, what about value? Well, the Moran errors are significantly more expensive. While low-grade corrected Moran cards might start at about $15-$20, it’s difficult to find low-grade stray line cards for much under $350 or so.
Some collectors have come up with vague theories of how the error occurred. My hats are off to them because it’s clearly a printing error and printing processes aren’t my forte. But those guesses are also mostly shots in the dark.
We’re all guessing here and there’s nothing definitive because we don’t know enough about the printing process or how the cards were laid out. And frankly, the logistics of how it happened aren’t too important, anyway. It’s a lot of fun to solve mysteries like this but, in the end, I think the significance of it is pretty small. But the one thing we do know is that it’s one of the more intriguing error cards in the popular set.