An Obscure 1920s Men of America Booklet is the Most Recognized Rookie Card of Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Kenesaw Mountain Landis has a single pre-war cataloged issue making it a recognized rookie card to most
Produced by the Stevens-Davis Company in Chicago, the Men of American booklets were issued for a rather unique purpose. These booklets were actually used by companies as a motivational tool for employees.
We know that because even today, nearly 100 years later, some of the original materials and packaging distributed with these still exist. This collection of 55 booklets (plus variations) is sometimes cited as a 1928 set while in other places, it’s said to be from 1929. I’m not sure I’ve seen any definitive information exists pointing to one year over the other but some believe it was issued in both years.
And to the majority of collectors, a booklet in the set of Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, is viewed as his rookie card.
Now, these aren’t traditional cards. Instead, they’re miniature booklets. They are card-sized, though, measuring 2 1/2″ wide by about 4 1/2″ tall. The series is essentially what the title says. This is a collection of booklets of famous men that have done noteworthy things up to that moment in time in American history.
Initially, there were 52, likely designed for employees to view once per week to fit in a calendar year. An advertising flyer that was distributed with these booklets, in fact, makes mention that employees would receive one per week. But along the way, three variations were created that shared booklet numbers with others, possibly as replacements, giving us the total of 55 in a set. That also seems to lend credence to the idea that these were printed in more than one year.
The booklets are made up of several pages detailing the lives and careers of these individuals. And the great thing is that there’s a real hodgepodge of subjects in the checklist. There are presidents, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Famous aviators, such as Orville Wright. Inventors like Thomas Edison are present, as are other booklets of businessmen and some less notable characters. Sports, too, is represented.
One booklet spotlights golf legend Bobby Jones and baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby (among other athletes). Another looks at player and coach Walter Camp, an influential subject in American football. But it’s the third important sports booklet that has always intrigued me the most, and that’s the one of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Landis, of course, was baseball’s first commissioner. He happened onto the job, really, in the wake of the 1919 World Series scandal involving the Chicago White Sox, who would become known as the Black Sox after it was revealed that players accepted money to fix the championship series. Landis was appointed as commissioner to oversee the sport and while he would hold that post until his death in 1944, it is the Black Sox trial or which he is most famously known.
It is somewhat interesting to me that Landis was chosen for the set. He, of course, had a notable career, even outside of baseball, as a judge and lawyer in some significant cases. But there are no booklets fully dedicated to baseball or even boxing, which were the most popular American sports of the time. Hornsby, as mentioned, does appear, but only as one of many subjects in a booklet. All sorts of baseball players, of course, could have been featured, including the likes of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, or many, many more. Instead, the producers opted for Landis who, while important to the sport, certainly would not have been as popular as an all-time great player.
That insertion, however, was a crucial one, at least to sports card collectors, even though producers could not have possibly known at the time how important Landis’ inclusion was. And that’s because the miniature booklet is really Landis’ only known collectible from his career as commissioner. No, it’s not a standard baseball card. However, it is catalogued in the American Card Catalog (H572).
Landis appears on no traditional baseball cards in the pre-war era. And it’s interesting that his son, a decorated pilot, actually achieved that honor while his more famous father did not. His son, Major Reed Landis, is spotted in the 1930s National Chicle Sky Birds set.
Old Cardboard, which tracks rookies of Hall of Famers recognizes the booklet as Landis’ rookie and lists his next card as his Hall of Fame plaque postcard, issued between 1944 and 1952. Heck, that card wasn’t even issued until after his death. So this seems like a pretty clear cut case.
Or does it?
When I first heard of this Landis booklet years ago, I found it kind of odd that he had never appeared on an earlier postcard. Postcards were quite common from around 1905 through 1915, and while Landis was not yet commissioner, I still found it strange he did not land on later because postcards were still quite strong in the 1920s.
Turns out, he was on at least one. Several years ago, REA auctioned a Landis postcard that pictured him with Cubs owner William Wrigley. And while I am not the biggest ‘postcards are rookie cards’ guy in the world, if a miniature booklet can be considered a rookie, I don’t know how you don’t assign that designation to a postcard if it came first. And at least at the time of that 2014 auction, that was a question up in the air. The postcard is dated ‘circa’ 1926, which can really mean anything. SGC graded that particular card and if they came up with a designation of around 1926, I’m sure there was good reason for it. But unless a more firm date was established, any rookie claim seems up in the air there, too. Circa could mean something a few years earlier or a few years later.
Beyond that, however, I am not convinced that is the only postcard of Landis floating around. It seems too odd that such a high-profile figure didn’t make his way onto others — or onto other card-type collectibles. It’s somewhat inconceivable that Landis remained off of such collectibles for nearly a decade after becoming commissioner and I have to believe there are at least a handful of earlier rarities.
Additionally, Landis appeared on a team photo with the Hartford Senators in 1916. And if you’re a photo nut, you’re likely pointing to this as a Landis rookie, even though it came several years before Landis was even commissioner. That seems more like a pre-rookie but I don’t know, folks. I don’t make the rules and the rookie card water is real murky.
Still, most collectors have accepted the Men of America booklet as his true rookie card, even if it’s because they’ve never heard of the postcard or others. It’s an ACC-listed issue and will be the closest thing most collectors can come to owning a rookie card of the first commissioner.