Wildfire Schulte: An MVP with Dirt Cheap Cards
Wildfire Schulte is among the many pre-war bargains to be found
Collecting big name stars from the pre-war era is often expensive. But some of the best bargains are found with guys in that next tier.
One of those is certainly Wildfire Schulte.
Frank ‘Wildfire’ Schulte isn’t a player discussed all that much outside of pre-war circles. And even among pre-war collectors, he’s often a virtual unknown.
To start, the Wildfire nickname is one that has gotten him some attention. But he didn’t earn that moniker for the way he played or ran. No, according to SABR, he got it from elsewhere:
Perhaps as dangerous on the base paths as at the plate, Schulte, who daringly stole home 22 times in his career, became a fixture on Chance’s Cub “machine”. Along the way he picked up the nickname that became synonymous with him. Legend states that Schulte admired actress Lillian Russell and that he and his teammates saw her perform in a play called “Wildfire” in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Cub players then enjoyed a party thrown by Russell, and Schulte, an owner of race horses (some of which were trotters he raced on ice in upstate New York) subsequently named one of his trotters Wildfire. Before long the Chicago sportswriters got wind of these developments, and he too became known by the name.
Have you heard of Schulte? If not, you probably should have.
Schulte’s greatest achievement was when he won the 1911 National League Most Valuable Player award. That year, Schulte led the league in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases. If that doesn’t impress you, the fact that he beat out other all-time great contenders such as Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Cleveland Alexander should.
While that was technically Schulte’s best year, he was hardly a one-hit wonder. His ten home runs the year before also led the league and he finished in the top five in home runs in three other seasons. His speed made him a terror on the basepaths. He led the league in triples 1906 and often finished among the leaders in that category, too. And as noted in that SABR snippet above, he stole home 22 times. Baseball Almanac actually sets the number at 23, which places him fifth all time in that category.
While he wasn’t recognized as one of the game’s best hitters, he also batted .300 twice. He also hit even better when it counted. In 1907 and 1908, he helped the Chicago Cubs to back to back World Series titles, hitting a blistering .389 in the 1908 Series. And, even in defeat in the 1910 World Series, he batted an astonishing .412.
Despite all of that, Schulte’s cards are basically at the bottom of the barrel. There are collectors that pursue his cards but most are commons or not much more.
There are some exceptions. Schulte’s front view T206 card (shown left here), for example, sells significantly above the common rate. But for the most part, you won’t pay too much more for Schulte’s cards than you will commons.
Among his cheaper cards are his T205 gold borders and T207 brown background tobacco issues. In low-grade condition, you can find those (as you can other common) for around $20 or, sometimes, even less. If you’re looking for a cheap Schulte card, you can’t really go wrong with one of those.
Schulte, of course, does have more expensive cards. One of those would be his T204 Ramly card, which probably doesn’t get much cheaper than $75-$100. But that’s a product of the set since all Ramly cards are expensive with prices of commons in that range. Unlike his T206 front facing card, his T204 Ramly doesn’t really sell for more than commons.
One note is that you won’t find Schulte in a lot of sets with shorter checklists. While he was a very good player, he didn’t have the brand name that others did. And it was pretty hard for many players to squeeze into caramel card sets with checklists of only a few dozen cards.
Still, you will find him outside of tobacco sets on occasion. For example, he is found in the E91 American Caramel sets. Schulte has two E91 cards since he’s in both the 1908 E91A set and the 1909 E91B issue. Both cards used the same image and both, unfortunately, have his last name misspelled as ‘Shulte.’ Both cards are not impossible to find but, like other E91s, is somewhat tough. To date, PSA has graded only about ten of each.
Why are Schulte’s cards such bargains? Mostly because he’s a player from 100 years ago that hasn’t been remembered. While not everyone won an MVP, there are plenty of others that had above average major league careers that barely register in terms of collector interest. Despite having a very good career, Schulte’s name has simply been lost to time. Cards of those players are often ones that provide incredible value.
And for a pre-war Most Valuable Player in the days of Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner to sell for common prices, that makes for an unlikely bargain.