Zee-Nut Minor League Baseball Sets Full of Unknown Players

The Zee-Nut sets are largely made up of baseball obscurities and one in particular caught my eye recently

Over the history of time, there have been all kinds of minor league baseball sets. But the Zee-Nuts that spanned from the 1910s all the way through the 1930s are probably one of the most confusing.

Zee-Nut cards are classified as candy issues and even though they were described by their maker, the California-based Collins-McCarthy Candy Company, as a confectionery product, they also could be seen as more of a food instead. The product was a mixture of popcorn, peanuts, and coconuts. It was not solely marketed towards kids. Rather, it was said to be for children, young adults, and even the ‘old folks.’ Their slogan was, “Gee! But it’s Good.”

Zee-Nut created so many sets that most collectors don’t even bother try keeping them straight. They are all often lumped together with the generic Zee-Nut classification and even Jefferson Burdick didn’t try to separate them much. Despite there technically being more than two dozen Zee-Nut sets, Burdick only created two designations for them. Even that is somewhat deceptive as only the first four sets (1911 through 1914) are classified as E136 with all of the rest being called E137. The earlier ones certainly met Burdick’s E-Card label but the later ones from the 1930s, technically, should have probably been classified as R-Cards to indicate later candy issues.

There are some big names of players in the set, obviously. These are minor league cards and some of these players made it big. Among the more well-known cards are a pair of issues for Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio that were issued before he reached the majors. There are several other Hall of Famers with Zee-Nuts, too.

But there are more than 3,000 Zee-Nut cards in all and, as you would expect, well, not everyone became a star. Many, in fact, are completely obscure players.

I’ve got a few Zee-Nuts in my collection. None have been deliberate buys, really. I’ve generally only bought them when I’ve seen them at prices that have been took low. And I was reminded of the obscurity in these sets when I recently received a card in the mail.

Hughes Zee-NutI received a card last week in the mail from a collecting friend. It’s always a nice surprise when something like this shows up unexpected.

Unlike some others in the set, this one is fairly easy to determine since it provides the year on the front. This card is for some player named Hughes on some team named Sacramento. But if you’re unfamiliar with the Zee-Nuts, that might be all of the information you’ve got.

But after a small amount of digging, I discovered that the player in question was named Bill Hughes and the team in question was the Sacramento Senators of the Pacific Coast League.

So what about Hughes and his team? Well, the latter was nothing special. Baseball-Reference doesn’t provide a win-loss record for the team, but the combined win-loss record among the pitchers is a subpar 86-109. Hughes, however, was actually the standout in that rotation. Despite his team’s bad record, Hughes was 20-19 on the year. Aside from a player named Red Brow, who was 1-0, Hughes was the only pitcher that was above .500 on the season. His 20 wins and 53 total games both led the team.

Hughes mostly toiled in the minor leagues his entire career — and a long career it was. Hughes played a total of 20 seasons, retiring in 1939 at the age of 42. As a pitcher, he had a great deal of success with a 270-212 record. Despite that, his major league time was fleeting.

In 1921, Hughes played a single game with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched a total of two innings, allowing three hits and an earned run. He was only 24 at the time and he couldn’t possibly have imagined that would be his only major league appearance. Unfortunately for him, it was.

In looking up the card and Hughes’ career, it’s a cruel reminder of what a lot of professional athletes put themselves through. We tend to think of the famous ones, focusing on their wealth and fame. But there are many others, scratching to just get by hoping for a chance in the majors.

Hughes got his moment but pitching only two innings in a single major league game with 20 years in the minors is a reminder that these sticking in the majors is no easy feat. Even if you’ve got the talent to necessarily do it, there are so many guys on the fringes that it comes down to being in the right spot at the right time.

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