The T206 Collection, the Players and Their Stories, a book we've been talking about for a few months, arrived on the doorstep last week.
Billed as a biographical companion to the cards that make up the content-challenged T206 set, the book is a great read even if you're not a card collector.
The bios of the players aren't long but that's a good thing when you're dealing with well over 300 different subjects. Authors Tom and Ellen Zappalla hit the highlights of not only each player's career but also delve into what the players did after their careers and in many cases, a little about how and when they died.
The book includes birth and death dates and while paging through the photos and biographies, I was struck by how many players active in baseball 100 years ago died at an age that we'd consider relatively young today. In the early 20th century, if you made it to 65, you had lived a good, long life. Anyone over 70 had to have been considered almost ancient.
The manner of death was varied. A bacterial infection. Tuberculosis felled several. Ossee Schreck made it to age 39 when he died of kidney disease. Doc Powers died shortly after running into a wall during a game. Jimmy Sheckard was hit by a car and killed in 1947. Harry Steinfeldt--the fourth infielder in the Tinker-Evers-Chance double play combination--was 36 when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Ty Cobb teammate Claude Rossman was known holding onto the ball at first base instead of throwing it. He died at 46 in a mental hospital.
Clearly medicine has come a long way. Not only was baseball a tough way to make a living, just living long enough to enjoy a life beyond the game was a challenge for many.
Since autographs weren't really that popular prior to Babe Ruth's era, it's easy to appreciate how rare some of the signatures of the game's early players truly are. Those who had passed on before World War II probably didn't sign more than a few dozen that have survived into the next century and in many cases that's being generous.
For the most part, the book is illustrated with reprint cards rather than the originals, but for this particular project that really doesn't matter. The book is about the players more than the cards. Collectors will enjoy the back secton of the book, though, which pictures several high grade T206s in PSA holders from the Cohen Collection. Written by PSA's Joe Orlando, the section explains the basics of the set from pose variations to backs, values and grading.
Nicely divided into sections that group players by how they are perceived a century later, The T206 Collection is a great snapshot of baseball as it was 100 years ago...and one that makes you appreciate your longer life expectancy!