Lou Gehrig’s Strange Disappearance in the 1930s Goudey Sets
The removal of the legendary baseball player from Goudey’s later sets has confused collectors for decades
In the 1930s, it was hard to find a more noteworthy name in baseball than Lou Gehrig. While Babe Ruth was still a prominent player, Gehrig’s career started later and he outlasted the Babe before his fatal ALS diagnosis. And even if he wasn’t necessarily the most popular player of that decade, he certainly ranked high on the list.
Gehrig’s popularity was so high, in fact, that he was selected as a spokesperson of sorts Goudey.
Not only was Gehrig himself featured twice in the company’s 1934 Goudey set, his name was also plastered on most every card as part of a ‘Lou Gehrig Says’ feature. In short, Gehrig offered a brief analysis of the player featured on the backs and this is considered by some as the Lou Gehrig set.
And as important as Gehrig’s two cards are in the set, the release is also known for the lack of a player in Babe Ruth. Ruth had appeared in the 1933 Goudey set a whopping four times but is nowhere to be in the 1934 set. Many have pointed to Gehrig’s prominence in the set as the reason since the two had somewhat of a strained relationship. As Gehrig analyzed players on the back, including Ruth could have been uncomfortable. But whatever the reason, Ruth isn’t there.
What many collectors don’t know is that Gehrig had a greater influence on Goudey that extended beyond the company’s primary 1934 offering. Around the same time, Goudey ran a membership-based club called the Knot Hole League, creating a card game around it. Gehrig served as the ‘president’ of that club and was featured prominently on the wrappers as seen here.
A funny thing happened, though. After Gehrig served as the face of the company’s baseball cards, he was left out of Goudey’s 1935 offering entirely. And just as mysteriously, Ruth managed to return in that set. Gehrig was also MIA from the company’s 1936 black and white issue.
It wasn’t just that, though. Gehrig was left out of the company’s premium sets in 1936 and 1937, and also did not appear in their 1938 card set. But why would such an important piece of Goudey’s earlier sets suddenly find himself on the outside looking in?
To date, no hardened proof has been discovered. But some speculation centers around Gehrig and the company having some sort of dispute. Here, for example, is PSA’s take:
The first 37 cards in the set have a significant amount of depicted star players. After card 37, with a few exceptions, most of the players, to use an old expression, were in the major leagues “for a cup of coffee.” Twelve cards in the set are the so-called Klein’s card followed again by the Gehrig cards. Putting these facts together, the 1934 set was being invented at the same time as it was produced after card 37. The Klein cards may mirror a dispute between Goudey and Gehrig. The dispute may have settled and the rest of the Gehrig cards were produced.
While that all seems to make sense and could be 100% accurate, we’re left with an incomplete picture. No ironclad explanation has ever been fully discovered to account for his disappearance and all we’ve really got are hypotheses.
Another thought that Gehrig perhaps had no real dispute with the company and simply wanted more money in 1935. That would be possible but PSA’s explanation of the brief interruption in the ‘Lou Gehrig says’ series followed by it restarting lends credence to the idea that something indeed may have been wrong with the partnership and not simply a financial issue.
One really interesting thing here is the role of Gehrig’s participation in Goudey’s Knot Hole League.
The Knot Hole card set, despite commonly listed as a 1937 issue, is from 1935. Gehrig’s association with that club was still continuing by that point. So his absence from at least Goudey’s main 1935 set seems curious. But perhaps that was a separate arrangement and Goudey was allowed to continue using Gehrig as the president of that club despite a possible 1934 dust-up.
However, given the prominence of Gehrig in the company’s 1934 production of baseball cards, his utter disappearance after that simply doesn’t add up.