Remember That Time When Larry Doby was a White Pitcher?
Why is a black outfielder depicted as a white pitcher on a baseball card? Well …
The 1943 and 1949 M.P. & Co. sets are … something.
If you’re unfamiliar with these little gems, essentially, the first was created by a company called M.P. & Co. (Michael Pressner and Company) during World War II. Classified as R302-1, that set included a total of 24 cards. It has some big names in it but is also largely shunned for its crap artwork and just overall lack of appeal.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the company created a second set six years later in 1949. For some odd reason, the producers of the set thought replicating this travesty was a good idea as they used the same images with just different player names. Go figure. Why would they do such a thing?
Well, here’s the thing. Baseball card sets in the pre-war era could be expensive ventures. Companies were required to secure the rights of players to appear. Then they had to pay for the photos or the artwork. Then they had to pay for the actual printing and distribution.
The fine folks at M.P. & Company figured something out along the way. If they wanted to create a new set of cards, well, they already had artwork. Sure, six years later, the players would have to change. But, well, just … slap new names on the same pictures.
Now, look. That’s not the worst idea in the world, I suppose. And, if we’re being fair, companies did that in other sets. Two that come to mind are the E91 American Caramel cards issued from 1908-10 and, to a much lesser degree, the N284 Buchner Gold Coin set from 1887. Still, if you’re going to do it, you sort of need to have your ducks in a row.
M.P. & Co. did not.
In 1949, the company rolled out another 24-card set, replacing most of the players but using the exact same images. While there are a comedy of errors that stand out, including players throwing with the wrong hand, wearing the wrong number/uniform, etc., the one that is the worst centers around Hall of Famer Larry Doby.
Outstanding career aside, Doby, is arguably best known as being recognized as the first black American League player in the majors. Jackie Robinson was the first black player overall but Doby was the first American Leaguer.
Like Robinson, Doby became a hit. Not only because he was an attraction (to those that, you know, weren’t pelting him with racism) but because he was a heck of a player. Doby would become a seven-time All-Star, and lead the league in numerous categories during his career, including home runs, runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and on base percentage, among others.
And, you know, he was black.
Unfortunately for M.P. & Company, the 1943 set didn’t include any black players because, well, there weren’t any in all of baseball at the time. But for whatever reason, the company was insistent upon getting Doby into the set. So they did what they could.
The logical thing, of course, would have been to create a separate card for Doby but that may have been too costly. The next logical thing would have been to simply shade the complexion of one of the players in the set but they didn’t do that, either.
Instead, they merely took the card of pitcher Johnny Vander Meer from the 1943 set, changed the name to Larry Doby and called it a day.
So, a few things. Vander Meer was obviously a pitcher while Doby was an outfielder. Vander Meer is shown making a pitch and very clearly in the infield. More problematic, he is wearing No. 57, a number Doby never wore.
And, well, Doby was black.
Is this a racist card? I mean, of course not. Don’t be silly. The company merely did what they did for every other card and that’s to reuse an image. But in a time when many black players were having a hard time gaining acceptance in a league that had not seen true diversity, it just seems sort of careless.
Even beyond that, though. It’s just … weird.