Despite a Modest Baseball Career, Billy Sunday Cards Remain Popular
The evangelist’s cards often bring high prices thanks to his post-career work as a preacher
By all accounts, Billy Sunday was a fine baseball player. But with a career spanning eight years and a .248 batting average, he wasn’t the type of player that would typically have valuable baseball cards.
Sunday played for the Chicago White Stockings (White Sox), Pittsburgh Alleghenys (Pirates), and Philadelphia Phillies in the 1800s. He was actually discovered by Cap Anson, one of baseball’s first true stars, with Anson ultimately signing him to play for Chicago. As the SABR article on Sunday details, he was known for his speed and was quite popular with fans despite not being a star player. He was said to have run the 100m dash in only ten seconds, easily beating a professional sprinter.
Following his career, he went into the ministry and became a full-fledged evangelist. Sunday wasn’t only a preacher, but one of the most popular ones in the world. With a sometimes fiery demeanor, Sunday was even somewhat controversial to other evangelists of the time. But he is among the most well-known evangelists of all time and that is what has driven the prices of his baseball cards so high.
Now, part of the value of Sunday’s cards is driven by the age, obviously. After all, any Old Judge baseball card from the late 1800s is typically going to be worth around $75-$100, even in poor condition. But Sunday’s cards also shoot well past the prices for commons.
Like many players of the time period, Sunday is not only found in the N172 Old Judge set, but has several cards in it. In general, those are his easiest cards to find and in mid-grade condition, easily sell for more than $1,000. A GAI 5, for example, recently sold on eBay for $1,600.
Sunday is also found in some other sets, such as the N284 Buchner Gold Coin set, the N173 Old Judge Cabinets set, the 1888 G&B Gum set, and the 1888 N403 Yum Yum Tobacco set. But your best bet at finding one of his cards will usually be in the N172 Old Judge issue as those are the more common cards and also because he has several different ones in that set.
With a possible exception to his N284 Buchner Gold Coin card, Sunday’s cards in those sets are also going to usually be more expensive. For example, a Sunday N403 Yum Yum card sold for more than $3,000 in a 2005 REA auction.
Sound expensive? Yeah, it kinda is. But if you’re looking for pre-war Sunday stuff, there are some cheaper alternatives. Sunday is found on all sorts of early memorabilia and that includes his appearance on several postcards.
The downside to Billy Sunday postcards is that they will generally feature him in suits and plain clothes as opposed to baseball uniforms. But the good news is that those are a lot more affordable and can be found for as little as $10 or so.