A Pre-War Hall of Fame Rookie Card for Under $3? Yes, Please.

If you’re looking for the cheapest Hall of Fame rookie card from the pre-war era, this may be it

I’m constantly on the lookout for inexpensive pre-war baseball cards. I collect all kinds of sports but like most, my focus/favorites are baseball issues. While I mostly collect sets, I’ll take a good bargain any way I can get it. That has led to me buying more singles and, especially ones of Hall of Famers if they’re cheap enough.

Typically when I place orders at COMC, I’m searching for these types of bargains and a popular target are cards from the 1939-46 Salutations Exhibit set. Now, this is a set I happen to be collecting but my COMC orders are usually good for a card or two from this set just because they’re so affordable. And if I can find really cheap Hall of Famers, even better.

My latest COMC order included a Hal Newhouser Salutations Exhibit. Now, Newhouser’s career 207-150 mark with a career 3.06 ERA doesn’t really scream Hall of Famer. In fact, he had to wait quite a while for his induction, which didn’t come until nearly 40 years after his career ended. He was inducted in 1992 by the Veterans Committee and he’s one of those guys that is looked at as a bit questionable by most.

Hal Newhouser 1939-46 Salutations ExhibitFor three years, Newhouser was flat out dominant and his Hall of Fame argument is certainly based largely on that. From 1944-46, he was an incredible 80-27 with an ERA somewhere around 2.00 during that time. Newhouser was so good that he was the back-to-back Most Valuable Player in 1944 and 1945 before finishing second in 1946. In 1945, leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA, he won the pitcher’s version of the Triple Crown.

Beyond that, he was more pedestrian. In the five years before that run, he never had a winning record. And while his 21 wins in 1948 led the league, his 17 losses in 1947 were also a league ‘best’. He was never really the same after injury time in 1950 took its toll on him and his career ended pretty early at the age of 34, pitching in diminished roles.

Newhouser’s Salutations Exhibit card has always been a bargain. It’s usually around $10-$20 but you can get it cheaper. I’ve gotten low-grade ones for as little as $5 before and, in this recent COMC order, I picked this one up shown here for under $3. Now, it does have writing on the back but how many other Hall of Fame rookie cards from the pre-war era can you buy for that small of a price tag?

With this set being first issued in 1939, Newhouser’s card is, of course, just barely within the limits of my definition of a pre-war card. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there are no ways to determine conclusively when a card from this set was printed within that span. Due to teams, etc., we can narrow some down. But Newhouser played the entirety of that time with the Detroit Tigers, so that does’t help us.

It is difficult to imagine that his card was printed in 1939. That was his first year in the majors as an 18-year-old and he appeared in only a single game that year. My guess is that the card was not issued in his rookie year but, regardless of that, it is believed to be his earliest card. And while it may not meet my specific standards of a pre-war card if it wasn’t issued in 1939, most consider these to be pre-war cards.

Old Cardboard has done an incredible job of cataloging rookie issues of players. What I like about their list is that several alternatives are given, which is helpful considering the precise definition of a rookie card is not entirely clear cut. At any rate, their page for Newhouser does not show any cards earlier than 1946 for him.

That is, of course, largely attributable to the fact that World War II cut down the production of baseball card sets quite a bit. And as a young sub .500 pitcher with an ERA of nearly 5.00, it is easy to see why he did not make the cut in some of the more popular sets, like the three Play Ball issues from 1939, 1940, and 1941.

As a result, this looks like Newhouser’s first true ‘card.’ And for under $5, I’m not sure a better bargain exists for a pre-war rookie card of a Hall of Famer.

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