Johnny Seigle (Siegle) and his Strange E90-1 American Caramel Card
What exactly is Johnny Siegle doing in the E90-1 American Caramel set?
The E90-1 American Caramel set is one I’ve written a good bit about. It’s a fascinating set and one of the more heavily collected early caramel issues. I don’t know that it’s technically the most popular since the 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack cards might have something to say about that. But I do believe more collectors are pursuing them just because values for Cracker Jack cards has sort of gotten out of hand.
At any rate, the E90-1 set includes a total of 121 cards and many of the players are somewhat recognizable by pre-war standards. A few are not, though, and one of those is a guy named Johnny Siegle.
Now, if you collect these cards, you may be familiar with Siegle’s name since he’s in the set and his card is regarded as somewhat tough. But aside from that, I’m not even sure how many other cards he appears on. He’s in a few other issues, such as the E92 series, T216, and T211 Red Sun, but I’m not sure how many others he is found in beyond those.
Siegle’s card is beautiful, by the way. Let’s not forget that. It’s a really great image and one of only five horizontal cards found in the E90-1 set. That alone is one of the reasons it is a unique one different from most others seen in the release. While it might look like he’s about to throw a pitch, Siegle was actually an outfielder so he’s meant to be shown in the field here.
The first thing you may notice is that his name is spelled incorrectly as ‘Seigle.’ That is also the case on his E92 and T216 cards, which is unsurprising because those cards used the same image as this one (his T211 card is a different pose on a minor league card and has his name spelled correctly). But while that’s an oddity, there’s more to wonder about with this card.
The more strange fact is that Siegle’s major league career actually ended in 1906 — about three years before this set is believed to have been issued.
So why did Siegle appear in a set when he had been out of the majors for so long? A few thoughts on that subject, though I’m not sure they are much more than simple theories.
Before I start, a footnote here to be considered. While I’m writing about his inclusion in the E90-1 set, since that set shared images with the E92 issues, it is possible that the origin for Siegle’s card started with E92 and not E90-1 because the E92 sets were also believed to have been issued in 1909 (the same starting year for E90-1). But regardless of where the image was first used, the question remains — why is Siegle included in either of them? His T216 inclusion is seemingly easier to explain as that one used the same image as these two sets and was simply recycled.
Thoughts on Siegle’s E90-1 Inclusion
Some might wonder if Siegle was mixed up with a different player. After all, that happened in other sets.
The closest candidate for that theory might be a guy named Walt Slagle. In 1910, his only major league season, Slagle pitched for the Reds. Could someone involved with the set have initially confused Slagle’s name with Siegle’s, thinking Siegle was still on the Reds roster? The names are close enough that you could say that. But nothing conclusive about that, obviously.
If we insist this is indeed Siegle pictured on the card and that there was no mixup with Slagle, about the only thing we have to go off of is that a return to Cincinnati for him was anticipated. But was that likely? Well, it wasn’t exactly unlikely.
As this book recounts, he was at one time considered to be a bright prospect, hitting .304 in his rookie season with the Reds before suffering an ankle injury and never showing that offensive promise again. But even by 1909, Siegle reaching the majors again was not out of the question, and that is possibly the best explanation for his inclusion. He was a minor league starter, after all, and at 34, was not too old to be considered. He was known as a strong defensive player and, as stated, one that had shown some flashes of offensive brilliance before, howbeit brief.
The thing that leaves us scratching our heads is, again, that gap. But let’s take a closer look at that.
First, it’s important to remember that creating such a large set was not an easy undertaking. Images and artwork were things that took a considerable amount of time to produce. And as we know from discovered letters given to players to be pictured in the T206 set, getting their permission to use their likeness was also an item that required lead time. Keep all of that in mind.
Now, let’s look at the timeline. Consider that Siegle was on the Reds roster by the end of 1906 and would have been anticipated to join them again in 1907 at some point — especially given the promise shown during his limited playing time in 1905. That 1907 appearance didn’t happen but, playing full time in 1907 in the minors, there’s reason to believe he could rejoin the Reds in 1908 when the producers of this set would have begun putting it together in earnest. By the time the set is finished, Siegle still is not with the Reds. But at that point, the artwork is done, his rights to appear in it presumably secured, and well, why not just leave him in?
I realize that even that is a wholly unsatisfying conclusion, of course. After all, surely there were other players that could have been used instead. Why take a flyer on a less certain prospect (one that was older, too). And even if the artwork was completed, simply changing the uniform name and name on the card to make it appear to be another player would have been an easy fix. Plus, we know from American Caramel’s E91 set produced in the same era that they were not exactly against image depictions that were not spot on.
I can’t speak to why Siegle was included over another player, obviously. But a final point is that it is also worth pointing out that set checklists were often notoriously outdated. That is one of the reasons we cannot definitively date sets purely by a player’s card depicting him with a certain team.
A great example of that is, coincidentally, another Siegle card. For example, look at his T216 Peoples tobacco card. That card used the same image as the one on his E90-1/E92 cards and that set was produced even later, with most sources stating that it was distributed starting in 1911 and extending into 1916. Set production was sometimes limited to merely taking cards that were created earlier and simply redistributing them with new company names on them years after the fact.
That doesn’t help explain why a player of Siegle’s relative lack of importance was included in the set after his last major league game. But it is meant to show that set checklists were not viewed with the same scrutiny that checklists in later sets were. In the end, producers may have fully expected that Siegel would not play in the majors again and simply not have cared all that much.