A Look Back at the Cards of Cy Young
Young’s contemporary cards span nearly 20 years
One of baseball’s all-time great pitchers, there’s quite a bit of demand for Cy Young’s baseball cards. Even 100 years after the fact, his cards are heavily sought after now more than ever.
Young is most famous for his major league record of 511 wins. With pitchers struggling to reach even 300 these days, that isn’t a mark that is likely to ever be threatened without a significant alteration in the definition of a victory.
How did Young win so much? By pitching so much.
Today, a pitcher starting 40 times in one regular season would be eye-opening. Young started more than 40 games a total of 11 times during his career. A couple of times, he even got close to 50. By comparison, today’s pitchers generally top out in the low to mid 30s in terms of games started with teams using larger rotations.
Young’s cards are rare, old, and generally pretty expensive. Here’s a look at the cards produced throughout his career.
Cy Young’s ‘Rookie’ Card
Cy Young’s rookie card is generally considered to be the 1893 Just So Tobacco card. The card pictures him as a member of the Cleveland Spiders and that year, Young went 33-16 with a 3.36 ERA. To be fair, Young does have an earlier cabinet photo, shown here. But his rookie ‘card’ is mostly cited as the Just So issue.
Many collectors of modern cards that see the D.T. Young and wouldn’t think of it as a Cy Young card. But the D.T. initials stand for Denton True — Young’s real name.
Remember that part I mentioned about pitchers winning more games during Young’s era. Well, Young won 33 games that season and didn’t even lead the league. In fact, that was good for only a third-place tie in the National League. Frank Killen had 36 wins and Kid Nichols won 34 while Young tied Amos Rusie with 33.
If you happen to be looking for one of these, good luck. The Just So cards are hardly ever seen. SGC and PSA (mostly SGC) have graded only a total of 23 cards to date and that includes a grand total of zero Cy Young cards. But it is worth pointing out that the cabinet photos with the same images of the Just So cards exist.
Fortunately, not all of Young’s cards are so scarce.
Early 1900s Cards
Wait. How did you we go from 1893 to the 1900s?
Young pitched a grand total of 22 seasons but he doesn’t have as many cards as you might think. That’s because from the time his career started in 1890 through the end of the century, there weren’t many baseball cards being printed at all. And, in fact, there was an outright ban on tobacco cards that started in 1897 and lasted until the early 1900s.
The bulk of Young’s other cards wouldn’t come until after the Turn of the Century. So while he played a long time, you wouldn’t necessarily know that by looking at his baseball cards.
Now, some items could skirt the tobacco ban. For example, Young is in the 1899-00 M101-1 Sporting News set. However, that was just a supplement/photograph. Young did appear in some others as well, such as the 1902 W600 Sporting Life set. But as photographs, they aren’t really what we’re after for the purpose of this article.
So when did we start to see cards again? One of Young’s earliest traditional cards from the 1900s is in the 1903-04 Breisch-Williams set.
The card, shown here, is a notable one for that reason. But it’s also somewhat significant because it is a black and white card of Young and most of his issues were in color. The card pictures a more youthful ‘Young’ but one that has certainly aged from the 1893 Just So card.
This one isn’t as rare as Young’s Just So Tobacco card but still a very difficult card to track down in any grade. A modest PSA 2 sold for more than $17,000 back in 2011 to give you an idea on the price tag.
Out of your range? Don’t worry, the prices predictably come down the further we go to the end of his career. And a few years later, we get to one of Young’s more affordable cards.
Young also appeared in the 1906 Fan Craze set. Fan Craze was a popular baseball card game and, while there were a lot of those, is desirable to collectors because they pictured real players. He also appeared in some other game card sets in the 1913 National Game and 1913 Barker Game sets, but those are technically post-career cards of him.
Young’s Fan Craze card here is another portrait of the famous pitcher. And this one’s black and white, too, but I assure you that I wasn’t making up that part about most of his cards being in color. We’ll get there.
The card has a game action, ‘Hit by Pitcher,’ on it. That’s kind of appropriate given that he hit a total of 161 batters in his career, which ranks 12th all-time.
As a playing card, this one’s a lot more affordable than most of Young’s other cards. And with rounded corners, it’s also easier to find in high-grade condition, as I wrote recently.
When it’s auctioned, collectors can decently get a decent copy for a couple hundred bucks. Even in ultra high-grade condition, the price isn’t out of control, which it would be for a tobacco or candy card of Young.
REA auctioned an SGC Gem Mint version back in 2016 and the damage was an incredibly modest $4,800. You can easily pay that for a mid-grade card of Young in other sets and that one was deemed virtually perfect.
Young was featured in some other non-card sets during this time but collectors would generally have to wait for the card boom of 1909-13 for most of Young’s cards. And that’s when his career was coming to an end.
Young did ultimately end up in quite a few card sets but not until late in his career.
Among his most popular cards are the 1911 T205 and 1909-11 T206 issues. Young’s featured once in T205 and three times in T206, so the latter, in particular, is a popular landing spot for collectors looking for his stuff. It’s nice and it’s somewhat plentiful, even.
Above are Young’s three T206 cards. All are desirable but the portrait pose is the most valuable. Even in low-grade, these typically still sell for at least a few hundred bucks.
Other common Young cards are out there, too.
From the popular 1909-11 E90-1 American Caramel set, Young is there twice with both a throwing and portrait pose. But unlike the T206 set, he’s included twice there for a reason. Young’s portrait card pictures him with Boston while his throwing card shows him as a member of Cleveland.
The two cards (shown here) give us an idea of the years of production, too. Young pitched with Boston in 1908 prior to joining Cleveland in 1909. That tells us the Boston card came first and certainly was being created in 1908. We know that because Young wasn’t traded to Cleveland until February 1909.
But while these are some of the more popular and accessible Young cards from late in his career, there’s no shortage of tougher issues.
One is the 1910 E105 Mello-Mint card. The pose on this card will be familiar since it’s the same one as Young’s throwing pose in the aforementioned E90-1 American Caramel card. It was a popular picture and is also seen in the 1909 E92 and E101 sets.
Another one of the tougher ones is the E94 Close Candy card of Young.
Those cards look a lot like other early candy/caramel card issues but have stamped advertisements for the George Close Candy Company on the back. And another variation exists for a company called Blome’s Chocolates, a Baltimore-based firm.
What Close did was what a lot of other companies did. He stamped the advertisements onto cards that were almost certainly not made specifically just for him. We know that for a couple of reasons.
First, if they were just Close cards, Close would have likely had the advertisements printed directly onto the cards instead, making for a more professional look. Second, the same exact set was seen elsewhere, as the cards were also printed in the M131 Baltimore Newsboys set. And since the checklists are the same, we known Young appears in that set, too.
But there’s more than just tobacco and candy cards of Young.
One of those was the D304 set, which is known with five different advertiser bakery brands, including General Baking, Brunner’s, Butter Krust, Martens, and Weber. These brands used the same images on the fronts but had different advertisements on the backs. Young is also in the extremely rare 1910 Washington Times set, technically an M-Card/Publications issue.
And, while most strip cards came later, he also appeared in the 1912 W555 Strip Card set. Technically, it has been discovered to be candy set. However, they are classified as a strip issue.
The Cy Young/Irv Young Mystery
Finally, one other thing to touch on is the Cy Young/Irv Young debacle.
Now, I’ve covered this in length before and if you want the full rundown, you can read it here. But essentially, E97 and E98 cards exist that could be considered to be cards of either Cy Young or Irv Young, another major leaguer at the same time.
How could that be? Technically, the card picture Irv but Cy’s name appears on them. So, is it a Cy Young card with an error or an Irv Young card with an error?
In short, there’s no consensus. These days, you’ll find collectors on both sides of the issue and often, a collector’s stance will depend on which card he/she has. If they’ve got the card, it’s Cy Young. If they want to buy one, it’s Irv.
But beyond that, collector perceptions on the matter are split on whose cards these really are.