First Italian major league player Ed Abbaticchio ‘leads the way’ in T206

Ed Abbaticchio is found on two cards in the massive baseball set

Collectors piecing together a T206 baseball card set have been known to arrange them in a number of ways. Because the cards are not numbered, most (including this collector) chasing a full set opt or the tried and true alphabetical method.

When you do that, you start off with a player named Ed Abbaticchio. Abbaticchio wasn’t a star, per se. But he’s notable to the set for two specific reasons.

First, his cards show up first in alphabetical order, making them de facto ‘No. 1’ issues in the most famous baseball card set of all time. And second, Abbaticchio is typically regarded as the first player of Italian descent to play in the major leagues.

Abbaticchio was born on tax day, as we call it — April 15 way back in 1877. He was one of nine children of Italian immigrants after his parents came to the U.S. at some point in the 1870s. Abbaticchio didn’t only star in baseball, mind you. He also played professionally in football and is often credited as the first two-sport athlete playing both sports on a professional level. His wonderful SABR bio going into his career and life in greater lengths can be found here.

He wasn’t a star baseball player, to be sure. His career has largely been forgotten after spending nine seasons in the National League with the Phillies, Pirates, and Beaneaters/Doves (Boston). He batted a modest .254 and while he was a member of the Pirates’ 1909 World Series winning team, he had only one at bat in the playoffs — a strikeout. Still, he managed to play 855 games in the majors and was a starting infielder in more than half of those appearances.

But let’s get back to those T206 cards. Abbaticchio has two that are distinguished today by his uniform. One card with a yellow background shows him swinging for the fences and facing to the right. On that card referenced as the ‘Blue Sleeves’ variant, Abbaticchio is wearing a uniform with blue sleeves and red stripes. If you’re a stickler for details, this is probably the card mentioned first on most checklists. His other card also shows him hitting. But this time, he’s facing to the left and has a long-sleeved jersey. This card is called his ‘brown sleeves’ variation (brown comes after blue alphabetically — hence the No. 2 designation on this one). Even if the jersey appears somewhat gray in nature in my image here, it’s more clearly a brown looking uniform on cards in person.

Another notable thing about his cards is that they could also be rookie issues of Abbaticchio, even though they were issued at the end of his career. The T206 set, of course, was distributed from 1909 through 1911, and Abbaticchio’s career ended after the 1910 season, when he appeared in just 47 games. However, I use that term ‘rookie’ lightly as I haven’t done an extensive enough dive in to see if the infielder appeared in some more obscure set earlier on. He did also appear in the 1910 Tip Top Bread Pirates team set. If nothing else, though, Abbaticchio’s T206 cards are certainly his most popular ones.

When it comes to pricing his cards, he generally is bought and sold as a common. I have observed his cards occasionally fetching more on eBay in certain auctions, but that seems to be more about general availability at the time. Typically, nicer low-grade Abbaticchio cards start in the $40-$50 range.

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