The year 1933 was a bad one for the country and for major league baseball.
Millions of men were out of work as the Great Depression continued across America. The economic crisis hit the major leagues hard at the turnstiles. Attendance fell to 3.1 million in the National League and 2.9 million in the American League, the lowest in either league for 14 years previous and in the succeeding 50 seasons.
But, if baseball was bad at the box office in 1933, it was great at the candy counters, because Goudey Gum Company issued its first baseball card set.
The baseball set was a sensation for collectors a half century ago and remains one of the most popular sets of any era and one of the most widely collected sets of the 1930s.
The first Goudey baseball set was billed on the reverse as “…a series of 240 Baseball Stars.” There’s no doubt the set is full of stars, but the number of cards in the set remains a subject of dispute. More about that later.
All the cards are in full color and measure 2-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches. They were printed on heavy card stock and each card carries the name of the player and the Goudey copyright on the front. A total of 168 cards have “BIG LEAGUE CHEWING GUM” in white letters on a red strip across the bottom of the card. The others don’t have this legend on the face of the card. Those with the red strip are #s 1-96, 100-105, 115-120, and 130-189.
The set contains all the superstars of the day as well as a few players who were in the minors. At least 40 Hall of Fame players are in the set, but you’ll also find #175 Dan Howley, a former major league manager then the skipper for Toronto, and #180 Eddie Moore, an ex-major leaguer who picked up his paycheck from the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association in 1933.
Babe Ruth’s popularity is evident, even though the Bambino was in the twilight of his career in 1933. He appears in the set four times. Twenty-two other players have more than one card, with “Heinie” Manush and Joe Cronin each featured on three cards. Among the others, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx each appear twice, but the poses are indistinguishable. George Walberg appears twice in exactly the same pose, but the cards can be separated by a slightly different background color on one.
So, the set listed as R319 in the American Card Catalog, appears to be a fairly straightforward issue sent off to the candy stores during the 1933 baseball season. That would be true, except for #106 and some World Series backs.
Collector Elwood Scharf, in an article printed six years ago, recalled that youngsters were puzzled about two things in 1933.
After the first 48 numbers had appeared, he said, Goudey issued cards that left gaps between numbers. Number 106 was missing, as were many others.
The season came and went. The World Series, won by the New York Giants over the Washington Senators in five games, came and went. Still there were missing numbers.
Finally, after the October classic was history, new cards featuring players from the World Series opponents began to appear in the stores, Scharf recalled. Numbers 107-114 and 121-124 had Senators and numbers 125-127 and 232-240 showed Giants. Card #127, for example, tells how Melvin Ott was the “biggest siege gun for the Giants in the World Series,” batting .389 and winning the fifth game with a 10th inning homer.”
But, #106 showing a portrait of Napoleon (Larry) Lajoie was printed along with the last series of 1934 Goudeys.
What happened in 1933? It could have been replaced on the sixth series of 24 cards in the 1933 Goudey set, which features two copies of #144, the full length batting pose of Babe Ruth. This extra Ruth has been known in the hobby for years and was mentioned in the July, 1972, issue of THE TRADER SPEAKS in a column about collector Don McPherson of Lafayette, California. McPherson has six of the 10 uncut 1933 Goudey sheets (including the one with the double Ruth) and has R320 complete in uncut sheets–three sheets of 24 and one sheet of 25 cards.
The sheet of 25 in the 1934 Goudey set contains #106 Lajoie, printed the following year apparently in answer to a flood of complaints from collectors who wrote to the company after they were unable to find the card in the stores.
McPherson’s sheet shows the Lajoie with a front that looks like the 1933 Goudey without the line across the bottom, but which features the small player figures at the top like the 1934 issue. The front does not carry the 1934 Goudey copyright mark, but then none of the other cards on the sheet- #s 73-96 in the 1934 set- carry the copyright on the front, although numbers 1 through 72 in the set have it. the back of the Lajoie card is exactly the same format as the 1933 Goudeys, except it has a 1934 copyright mark.
You may never have Lajoie, but collecting the rest of the 1933 Goudey Baseball set is quite possible and the other 239 cards seem to be available- testimony to the popularity of the set in 1933 as well as a half century later.
The above article article was written by John Spalding and originally appeared in The Trader Speaks, a hobby publication in the 1970s and 80s