100 Years Later: A five-part review of cards associated with the Chicago Black Sox Scandal of 1919
With the 100-year anniversary of the infamous Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919 here, I thought a look back at the cards surrounding those involved was appropriate. The Black Sox scandal is one that has gotten so much coverage that it can’t adequately be covered in one part. Thus, I’ll be offering a five-part look at the players and cards surrounding the event with a new part being issued each weekday this week.
Part I: The 1919 Chicago Black Sox Remain Popular with Collectors
Part II: Interesting Cards of Cincinnati Reds Players in the 1919 Series
Part III: Cards of Others Associated with the Black Sox Scandal Have Drawn Interest
Part IV: Despite Ties to Scandal, Interest for Clean White Sox Players has been Tepid
Part V: Following Bans, Black Sox Players were Largely Forgotten in the Gum Card Era
So this week we’ve reviewed cards for the White Sox players, the Reds players, and others involved in the 1919 World Series. While those cards are fiercely collected, one really interesting thing is that, following the scandal, finding cards of the banned players in the ensuing later E-Card years and the following gum card issues of the 1930s and beyond was extremely difficult.
The players mostly dropped off the face of the earth as far as baseball cards were concerned. And while you will see newer, post-war cards created for some of them, they were scarcely seen in the days following the scandal.
That might seem like it shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, these guys weren’t playing in the majors anymore so they wouldn’t have been affiliated with teams. While that is certainly true, though, several players were featured after their careers had ended. There’s the Ty Cobb card in the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set, released several years after he retired. There are numerous post-retirement Ruth cards in the late 1930s after he retired. Heck, the famous 1933/34 Goudey card of Nap Lajoie was issued nearly 20 years after he had retired.
Seeing banned players show up in post-career sets was something that most definitively happened. But why didn’t it happen with these guys? Turns out there are a few relatively simple reasons.
A Scandal is a Scandal
The biggest reason that players didn’t surface much on later cards is, obviously, the scandal.
Here’s the thing. While these guys are heavily desired these days, plenty of people absolutely wanted nothing to do with them back in the day. As we do with everything as a society, we’ve forgiven and moved on to a large extent. Few people these days are going to be finger-wagging the banned eight and insisting they be vilified for all eternity. The reality is that, 100 years later, we just don’t care to do that.
Things were different then, however. Shunned from baseball, they were outcasts and while they may have still been tolerated by some in Chicago, I’m not sure how much nationwide empathy there would have been for them. Even in Chicago, affection for them probably had waned as it made the team very bad, very quickly.
The White Sox went from competing for championships to fighting to stay out of the basement virtually overnight. That, of course, is understandable, considering the team lost six starters from their 96-win season in 1920. After the players were banned, Chicago was virtually starting over in 1921 and it showed. That year, the club won only 62 games and finished next to last, just ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics.
Things didn’t get much better after that. It took the team until 1925 to even get back to over .500 and they wouldn’t win another pennant until 1959. Now, you tell me the players would have been beloved by a large majority of the fanbase. And they certainly wouldn’t have had widespread appeal from the rest of the country.
Plus, as we’ll see later with a post-career Joe Jackson card, the scandal probably wasn’t something to be discussed in general when it came to trading cards.
Most Players Weren’t Superstars
While most of the banned guys were good, solid players, most weren’t huge stars that would warrant consideration in later sets, to be honest. Fred McMullin was a bench player and Swede Risberg was a career .243 hitter with six career home runs. There’d be zero reason to produce cards of those two guys.
And while others were decent, almost all weren’t so great that they were, in the words of Count Dooku, worthy of recognition in the archives of the Jedi order.
Hap Felsch, Chick Gandil, and Buck Weaver were all good players. But none was a Most Valuable Player or anything. None were career .300 hitters and only Felsch (.293) was close. Very solid players that were good starters but none was recognized as among the best players of the generation, even by a long shot. There just wouldn’t have been much reason to insist on their presence in a set as post-career players.
Pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams were certainly good and Cicotte have even been a Hall of Famer had he gone on to pitch several more seasons. But even in his case, he wasn’t one of the clear cut best pitchers of the pre-war era. Think Jack Morris instead of Cy Young. And Williams, in particular, won 45 games in his final two seasons but was clearly a beneficiary of playing on a good team, as is evidenced by his 3.91 ERA in his final year. Again, two guys that wouldn’t be candidates for a lot of post-war issues.
The big exception to this, obviously, is Jackson. Jackson was a real-life, bonafide walking, talking superstar that would definitively be in Cooperstown if his career continued. Jackson was 32 in his final season in 1920 but still batted a blistering .382 that season. His .356 career average ranks third all time and he hadn’t even lost much of his speed as an older player, leading the league in triples in his last year.
Of the group, Jackson was the only real big time superstar, and even if Cicotte did go on to be a Hall of Famer, he wasn’t the type of brand name that would have found himself in a lot of post-career sets.
Finally, while some sets did include retired players, it was usually more of a rarity. Part of the reason for that was because space was clearly at a premium in a lot of these sets.
Sure, we can point to larger issues, such as the 240-card 1933 Goudey and the 161-card 1939 Play Ball sets. But most sets were smaller than that and it was the current players that had the biggest appeal. Heck, we see that even today with most younger collectors showing little interest in vintage sets. And consider that, back then, collecting was not nearly the adult sensation it is today.
Sets found ways to include players such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb but that was because their names were such an incredible draw, even after they were finished playing. Most of the time, it was very difficult to justify including former players – let alone ones that weren’t real superstars.
Post-Career Cards of the Banned Eight
As stated, most of the players did not find their way into many candy and gum sets, following their ban.
Probably the most famous gum card featuring a banned White Sox player is Joe Jackson’s appearance in the 1940 Play Ball set. While that card is technically beyond the pre-war definition for me, it’s an older card issued prior to the end of World War II and many would indeed classify it as a pre-war card.
Jackson’s Play Ball card is particularly interesting. Despite a long biography on the back, there’s nary a mention of the thing for which is most known these days — the World Series scandal. Instead, the card mentions he was one of the ‘greatest hitters and outfielders of all-time” and gives a description of his playing career. The lone partabout his departure from the game is a mere statement mentioning he ‘stopped playing after the 1920 season.’
That the scandal was not even mentioned gives some idea as to how it was viewed in those days. In short, not something to be discussed and manufacturers may have even been requested to not mention it. But while they didn’t go into details, Fleer at least mentioned it on two cards.
Fleer had a couple of Black Sox issues. Their 1970 set, which featured past World Series,’ mentions the scandal. The card obviously couldn’t recap the series while leaving the scandal out and it calls it baseball’s ‘blackest hour.’ And a Twitter friend, Jason, also later informed me that a few years later, Buck Weaver was found in their 1973 Fleer Wildest Days and Plays set. Weaver was in the set for hitting 17 consecutive foul balls off against Babe Ruth during Ruth’s pitching days. The back of his card mentions the scandal but only in a joke, calling Weaver himself a foul ball for his role in 1919.
That ‘grudge’ of players not being used was something that lasted a very long time. Even Topps, which has been famous for picturing old ballplayers, doesn’t have vintage cards featuring the banned players. A search for them on eBay gave me nada. The players are included on some of the newer sets, like Topps’ remakes of pre-war cards. But I’m not aware of others appearing in their vintage issues from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
Now, beyond gum cards, there are a few things to mention. Jackson, for example, is featured in the W603 Sports Exchange Trading Post set. These jumbo cards are about 7″ x 10″ in size and were issued from 1946-49. But in general, the players aren’t found anywhere, really.
One final thing to note is that some players are in a few sets that spanned multiple years around the time the scandal took place. For example, the W514 strip card set was issued starting in 1919 but ran through 1921. It is possible some of the Black Sox players had cards that were still printed after their ban but printing began on them prior to it happening.
Baseball cards were extremely popular in the years following the scandal and gum cards were a tremendous hit with kids. But the banned White Sox players, unfortunately for them, were largely forgotten by card manufacturers.