Al Schacht’s 1939 Play Ball Card is … Something
Where can you find a baseball player sliding into a base while wearing a suit? The 1939 Play Ball set, of course.
The 1939 Play Ball set is mostly a pretty stoic set. Even though it was produced in the colorful gum card era, even despite plenty of smiling faces, it has a fairly somber look because the cards printed in black and white. That, perhaps even intentionally, reflected the mood around the world with World War II occurring.
At 161 cards, the set features plenty of big names. The key to the set, of course, is the rookie card of Ted Williams. But there’s plenty more in the issue, too.
One of the stranger cards, though, is for a relatively common subject named Al Schacht.
I use the word ‘subject’ because Schacht was not a player — at least when the Play Ball set is released. In fact, those familiar with his brief playing career may wonder why he was in the set at all. Schacht pitched in only three major league seasons with the Washington Senators and, in his first in 1919, he appeared in only two games, winning both. That 2-0 record with a 2.40 ERA and a complete game was enough to buy him two more seasons in the majors when he went a pedestrian 12-10. His playing days had ended nearly two decades before this card was even produced. So what gives?
Well, he would go on to coach with the Senators after that and, along with another coach, Nick Altrock, put on comedy routines. The two had known each other from their playing days and Schacht ultimately earned the nickname of, “The Clown Prince of Baseball.” Ironically, while the pair’s routines were well-liked, the two men disliked each other personally. Schacht ultimately joined the Boston Red Sox briefly as a coach, which ended his partnership with Altrock, before jumping into comedy on a full-time basis. As SABR notes, he would entertain at World Series games, All-Star games, and at other games around the league.
Schacht’s card was issued during this time. He had left coaching in 1936 and the Play Ball card was produced three years later.
The card, in true Schacht style, is a comedic one. Understanding the timeline of his playing career and that he was an entertainer by this time makes more sense when you look at the card.
Schacht is shown sliding into a base (or lying next to one, anyway), wearing a fielder’s glove while donned in a full baseball uniform with a formal hat and suit. The card is No. 113 set in the set, only a few cards earlier than the beginning of the high number portion of the set. The back of the card includes a biography for Schacht, even going so far as to call him, “The greatest individual drawing card in baseball.” The card is unique but generally sells for little more than that of a common. Often, low-grade ones are in the $5-$10 range.
Schacht must have been popular because Play Ball even included him in their 1940 set as well. But his card there is a portrait pose and not nearly as entertaining. He was left out of the company’s final set in 1941 but that is understandable as the checklist was cut dramatically, including only 72 cards.
By the time the 1939 Play Ball set was produced, Schacht’s playing days were well behind him. But his inclusion in the issue is proof enough that he was still making an impact on the sport many years after that.