The T206 Big Four: Eddie Plank (Part I of IV)
The T206 release has become the most popular baseball card set of all time. There are many rare and valuable cards in it but the keys to the complete set are undoubtedly what are collectively known as ‘The Big 4.’ The Big 4 is comprised of the four most valuable cards in the set and also the toughest ones to obtain. In this series, I’ll take a closer look at each of the four cards.
Eddie Plank, the Player
While Honus Wagner is the most famous Hall of Famer found in the T206 Big 4, what many collectors forget is that the grouping includes another prestigious player in pitcher Eddie Plank.
Plank doesn’t have Wagner’s following, of course. But he was a heck of a player that has often been forgotten. In a 17-year career played primarily with the Philadelphia Athletics, Plank compiled a 326-194 record with a 2.35 ERA.
It would be difficult to call Plank the best pitcher at any point during his career. However, he routinely won 20 games and his 19-6 mark in 1906 gave him the league’s best winning percentage (.760) that year. Twice, he led the league in shutouts, and there is little question about his Hall of Fame credentials.
Some will point to the fact that Plank played for the Athletics, a powerhouse, which allowed him to win many games. But Plank still pitched incredibly well, as demonstrated by his 2.35 ERA. Even in the postseason against the best teams, he fared incredibly well. Despite a lopsided 2-5 record, Plank’s minuscule 1.32 career postseason ERA across seven games tells you everything to know about his amazing talent. He often pitched well enough to win without recording the actual victory.
About Plank’s Card
From a production standpoint, Plank’s card is one of many portrait cards in the set. Unlike many others, he is found on only this one card. Plank’s card, like Wagner’s, is somewhat of a mystery. It is not an error that makes this card valuable. Rather, it’s that few of them exist. No reason for it being a shortprint is entirely clear, though there is no shortage of theories.
Like the Wagner card, it is possible that this card was issued without Plank’s permission and contractual agreement to be in the set. That could have led to a ‘pulling’ of it from production early in the process or it being destroyed before a small amount were issued in packs of cigarettes.
Along those lines is that Plank had an aversion to being linked to tobacco. In this scenario, his card was pulled from production early because he didn’t want to be included in a tobacco card set, for financial reasons, or for some other unknown reason. The tobacco hypothesis, in particular, is even strengthened by the fact that Plank does not appear in most of the other notable tobacco card sets. He does appear in some issues, such as the 1913/1914 Derby Cigars set, which makes that mindset a bit problematic. But that can possibly be explained away as a small, regional issue where permission may not have even been sought.
A problem with this theory is that Plank has cards in both the initial 150 Series as well as the later 350 Series. If his cards were not to be included and were yanked quickly during the 150 Series production, why was he also found in the 350 Series? That would seem to indicate that he should at least have had many 150 Series cards. The only logical reason, if following this theory, is that he was pulled quickly during the 150 Series but accidentally included for a short while in the 350 Series as well, before being yanked from that one, too.
Other theories exist as well.
A damaged or even broken printing plate is sometimes mentioned as the reason. As Just Collect points out here, a damaged plate makes more sense than a broken one. The card was produced beyond the first series and that would not have been possible if the plate was broken early. The theory surrounding a damaged plate mostly relies on cards not passing quality control standards and most being discarded with only a few good enough to be distributed. PSA even states that many examples of the ones that were distributed are off center, playing into the fact that the majority of Plank cards had flaws and could not have been of high enough quality to be used.
That theory seems reasonable, but there is no proof that it is actually the case. And one reason I kind of lean against it is because Plank has only one card in the set.
Think about it — if a damaged printing plate was really the reason for these cards being pulled, you would almost expect that he would appear on at least one other card in the set. I say that because many other Hall of Famers received two, three, and even four cards. If they had to remove this Plank card, it seems logical they would try to include at least another. Plank having more than one card would have seemed likely, anyway, given his talent. But that is even more the case if the makers of the set realized that most of his cards were unusable.
Some collectors will point to the fact that several Hall of Famers have only one card. But in the majority of those instances, that is easily explained. For example, Tris Speaker, Home Run Baker, and Zack Wheat (all of whom have only one card) were just starting their careers when the set was produced. Others, like Jake Beckley, Joe Kelley, and Joe McGinnity, were at the end, making it easy to understand why they had only one card.
Plank was a prime candidate to have more than one card and him having only one makes me think that, like Wagner, he did not give permission to be in the set. That makes more sense given his known dislike for tobacco.
Still, until more concrete proof is discovered, we are left with no guaranteed explanation for the lack of his cards. All we can safely say is that they are undeniably rare.
Rarity and Value
While many collectors point to the extreme rarity of the Wagner card (and, for good reason), Plank’s card is no easy find, either. To date, PSA and SGC have combined to grade only a little more than 100 of them, compared to 47 Wagners.
The value of Plank cards comes nowhere close to Wagners but it is still a very expensive card that continues to climb in value, even when in poor condition. A PSA 1 sold for more than $51,000 in 2018.