A Timely Visit Likely the Only Reason this Babe Ruth Tobacco Card was Printed
A chance meeting is probably the only reason a special Babe Ruth card was created
While baseball may have eventually surpassed it, in the 1920s and 1930s, boxing was just as popular as what we now call America’s pastime. Some may even argue its popularity was greater.
Take, for example, the 1920s Fro Joy cards. While the 1928 Babe Ruth Fro Joy cards are the most popular, Fro Joy actually selected a boxer, Hall of Famer Gene Tunney, to headline its first set in 1927. Simply put, boxing was a very big deal in the pre-war era.
So, when boxer Max Schmeling happened to be in the same town as the legendary Babe Ruth, it was a perfect storm of sorts.
Schmeling had won the world heavyweight championship in December of 1930 after American Jack Sharkey was disqualified during their fight. The win was Schmeling’s eight straight victory and was his 28th win in his last 29 fights. Needless to say, he was on quite a roll.
Three months later, he would defend his title against a boxer named Young Stribling who, with a 224-13-14 record, was no slouch himself. The fight took place at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio and Schmeling would go on to defeat Stribling. But while the setting in Cleveland wouldn’t typically be too noteworthy, the timing of the fight was. That’s because Ruth and the New York Yankees happened to be in town playing the Cleveland Indians.
Schmeling was promoting his fight in the days leading up to it and attended one of the games. That led to a pretty iconic photo op with Ruth and the two have been memorialized in numerous photographs during the meeting.
Of particular interest to card collectors is that the visit was also captured on a pre-war card.
The 1932 Bulgaria-Sport set was an international tobacco issue covering all sorts of subjects. Its name deceives many collectors that believe it was issued in Bulgaria. Instead, these are German cards that were issued for a brand called Bulgaria Cigarettes.
While there isn’t any other American baseball in it, the most popular card in the set features Ruth and Schmeling together. The card is an interesting one for a few reasons.
First, Ruth didn’t begin his career until 1914 and tobacco cards in the U.S. were dying out by then. With World War I beginning that year, Ruth wouldn’t really start to appear on too many baseball cards until the 1920s once production picked up again. By that time, tobacco cards were out while candy cards were in. So even though Ruth has a million cards, he doesn’t appear in many tobacco sets. This, however, is one of those issues where he is found.
Second, while Ruth is the headliner, Schmeling’s presence certainly adds to the card. Some collectors will argue that Schmeling being on the card actually hurts the value a little and that is probably true. It’s sort of like a single-signed baseball. A ball with only Ruth’s signature on it is generally going to be more desirable than, say, a ball autographed by Ruth and a less desirable player. Schmeling was an iconic figure but most baseball card collectors couldn’t care less about him being on the card. Still, it’s just a really cool card that features two of the best in their sport at their time. You don’t get too many cards like that.
The card is also from Ruth’s playing days. As I’ve written before, the slugger was featured in several sets after he retired and while those cards are nice, they’re not generally as desirable as cards issued when Ruth was still active. Printed in 1932, Ruth was still playing the game and that makes it even more attractive.
Finally, its price makes it worth a look. While Ruth gum cards from the same time period sell for hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars, finding this one under $100 in low-grade condition is doable. Even in better condition, it isn’t too hard to find at under $300.
A card that may not have been
One last point I want to make is this. Had it not been for Schmeling’s appearance, Ruth likely would not have even been in the set, in my opinion.
Why is that? Because it was an international set and there were no other baseball cards included in it. More to the point, these were German cards and Schmeling was to Germany what Ruth was to America. In fact, there is little doubt that Schmeling, not Ruth, would have been the feature attraction to collectors at the time since they were issued in Germany.
Now, Ruth certainly was a well-known star, even abroad — don’t get me wrong. And the card even calls Ruth the ‘Baseball König,’ which, translated, means Baseball King. But given that no other American baseball players were included in the massive set spanning 272 cards, it’s clear to me that he would have not been in it without the presence of Schmeling.
The card, after all, is titled ‘Schmeling and Babe Ruth’ on the back – not the other way around.
What’s it mean? Probably that American baseball card collectors can be thankful that Max Schmeling was in town when Ruth happened to be there. Otherwise, this card likely would not exist.