Five (Okay, 4 1/2) Pre-War Baseball Cards Often Mistaken for Rookie Issues

Here are some cards that many collectors incorrectly believe to be rookies

When it comes to mistaken rookie cards, there’s probably none greater than the Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps. Mick’s 1952 Topps card is his most valuable but what many collectors don’t realize is that it’s not a rookie issue. That honor belongs to the 1951 Bowman card.

But it isn’t just post-war cards that are mistaken for rookies. The same thing happens with pre-war cards and here are five (technically four and one question mark) of the most common errors.

Joe Jackson T210 Old Mill

T210 Joe JacksonJackson’s T210 Old Mill card is frequently called a rookie issue. But that’s wrong for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a minor league card as Jackson is pictured here with his New Orleans club. Most consider minor league issues to be pre-rookie cards instead of rookies since, technically, they do not feature major league players. There’s no 100% consensus on that as some collectors do believe minor league cards should be rookies.

But the real issue is that Jackson has some cards that were printed starting in 1909 with the E90-1 American Caramel cards.

Interestingly, Jackson is pictured on the E90-1 card as a professional while his later Old Mill card features him as a minor leaguer. That’s because, while he spent time in the majors in 1908 and 1909, he also spent time in the minors after that when the Old Mill cards were printed.

Jackson’s Old Mill card is much rarer and his more valuable card — but it’s not a rookie.

Ruth 1933 Goudey Yellow

Babe Ruth 1933 Goudey

Before you say, ‘That’s ridiculous,’ allow me to beat you to it.

Of course it is.

Ruth’s 1933 Goudey cards were printed near the end of a long career. But while collectors that are familiar with pre-war cards would clearly state that these can’t be rookie issues, not all collectors agree. Even some price guides commonly called these Ruth’s rookie issues.

But how can these be rookie cards? The argument, on the rare occasion that it is made, is usually based around them being Ruth’s first cards that were distributed to a large enough audience. Some believe that cards that were not widely offered cannot be a player’s rookie card. However, while an interesting thought, few buy into that idea.

It should also be pointed out that there are fewer collectors make an argument such as that than there are ones that are simply misguided. I told a tale of attending a card show last year where I spoke with a collector having one of Ruth’s 1933 Goudey cards graded, insisting (unprompted, I add, parenthetically) it was his rookie. This was not a collector with a nuanced opinion of what makes a rookie card. Instead, he was simply not aware Ruth had earlier cards as he mostly collected modern issues. That’s not said to diminish him in any way. I only bring it up because this is an opinion held by a great many collectors of mostly newer cards that are unaware of Ruth’s earlier cards.

The idea that Ruth 1933 Goudey cards are rookies is one that is pushed to an extent more than you probably realize.

Joe DiMaggio 1939 Play Ball

Joe DiMaggio 1939 Play BallI wrote about this card briefly when I outlined my top ten Play Ball cards. And it certainly warrants another mention here.

For whatever reason, this card is commonly called a rookie. But this is something that doesn’t make much sense.

The DiMaggio 1939 Play Ball card is not even close to being his rookie making the claim a head-scratcher. DiMaggio appears in the 1938 Goudey set (twice, as a matter of fact).  He also has several issues from 1936.

It can be contended that some of those items are more like photographs instead of traditional baseball cards. Completely true. But that doesn’t explain the 1938 Goudey cards or the ultra rare 1936 World Wide Gum card. Both of those by any definition would be called cards and were printed prior to this one.

How rampant is the mistake? At any given time, there are usually several listings for the card on eBay, which state the card is a rookie. Some of those are likely sellers simply trying to get over. Others, though, are surely folks that just don’t know.


Bob Feller 1938 Goudey

If I had a dollar for every time I heard of this card being a rookie issue, I’d probably be able to buy one of Feller’s true rookie cards.

The 1938 Goudey ones (like others in the set, there are two in it) is certainly an early Feller card. And collectors might dismiss some of his earlier stuff, such as his 1936 Goudey Wide Pen premium photo or his 1937 Exhibit card for not being true baseball cards. Feller is often believed to have a 1936 Boston American Stamp, a rare issue printed in a newspaper — another gray area.

But even if you discount those non-traditional items, the problem is that Feller does have an unmistakable baseball card in the 1937 O-Pee-Chee set. The card is no doubt tough to find but that doesn’t make it any less a rookie card.

A full year before the 1938 Goudeys, that card has more of a claim to being a rookie than these do.

Pee Wee Reese 1941 Play Ball

Pee Wee Reese 1941 Play BallI first got the idea for this article as I was putting together the aforementioned Play Ball Top Ten cards list. And to be honest, unlike the other ones, the Reese is in a bit of a gray area here. The controversy around it was something I wanted to write about, even though most consider this to be a rookie card.

Now, Reese’s first cards very clearly came in 1941. But the issue here is that this may not be a 1941 card.

While called the 1941 Play Ball set, it has been theorized that the high number cards in it were not printed in 1941. The evidence for that comes in the fact that while some low-number cards bear a 1941 copyright, others, along with all of the high number cards, have no year. Since Reese’s card was a high-number card, it could have been printed in 1942. And because Reese has a 1941 Double Play card, if the Play Ball was issued in 1942, it wouldn’t be a rookie.

That obviously is not clear cut evidence. However, it is believed by enough people that some even refer to this as a 1941-42 set.

In short, the Reese could be his true rookie card. But the 1941 Double Play is the only one that is unquestionably a rookie issue.

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