The 1939 Detroit Tigers were a mostly forgettable team. After winning the 1935 World Series and recording back-to-back second place American League finishes, the Tigers quickly began to slip into mediocrity. The 1938 team stumbled to a fourth-place finish, replacing Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane, who was the team’s manager. In 1939, things were even worse. Even though the team was still above .500 (81-73), they finished a disappointing fifth in the American League standings.
By 1940, though, things turned around. The Tigers would reach the World Series and, while they ultimately lost to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games, it was still a special season for the American League champions. That year, a team release of photo cards was distributed known as the Michigan Sportservice Detroit Tigers set.
Here’s a closer look at this unique team set.
About the 1940 Michigan Sportservice Tigers Set
Baseball card collectors unfamiliar with this set might immediately be confused as to why it is cited as a 1940 release. The cards, after all, include a 1939 copyright date at the bottom. And in fact, they are often presented for sale as a 1939 set. But while the copyright for that set was apparently secured in 1939, the cards themselves are not believed to have been distributed until the following year, shortly after the start of World War II. Love of the Game Auctions states that the cards were distributed to fans that wrote to the team and its players.
These cards lie somewhere between traditional baseball cards and photographs in terms of their size. They are considerably larger than most standard baseball cards but significantly smaller than even 5″ x 7″ photographs. Measuring approximately 4 1/8″ wide by 6 1/4″ tall, these black and white photo cards featured members of the Tigers roster.
The look of the cards is pretty unique. Some collectors might consider them basic due to the black and white nature, somewhat organized information, and symmetrical design of a border with evenly spaced out baseballs. Others, however, would probably consider them a bit ‘busy.’ The numerous baseballs in the border of the player images are a bit distracting, as is the cursive Detroit Tigers name and sizable tiger head logo at the top. Each photo has a replica signature for the player with his name and brief biography at the bottom.
In small font in the lower right corner, the 1939 copyright and the Michigan Sportservice, Inc. name is printed. Beneath that, a warning is given against unauthorized reproductions, which is a bit unique. Backs of these cards are entirely blank.
Stars and Checklist
A total of 21 Tigers cards are known in this set. Leading the way are cards of Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Hal Newhouser, and Earl Averill. Of note is that Newhouser was a rookie in 1939. His card represents one of his very first issues.
Notably absent from the set is the aforementioned Cochrane. One of the most popular players in franchise history, as mentioned, his last year with the club as its manager was in 1938.
Here is the known checklist. All cards are presented alphabetically since the cards do not carry actual numbers:
- Earl Averill
- Dick Bartell
- Beau Bell
- Al Benton
- Tommy Bridges
- Frank Croucher
- Pete Fox
- Charlie Gehringer
- Hank Greenberg
- John Gorsica
- Pinky Higgins
- Fred Hutchinson
- Red Kress
- Barney McCosky
- Archie McKain
- Hal Newhouser
- Buck Newsom
- Schoolboy Rowe
- Birdie Tebbetts
- Dizzy Trout
- Rudy York
Prices and Rarity
So, we’ve got a team issue of photos for some players from the 1940s — shouldn’t be too expensive, right? Well while it might seem that way, these cards are more valuable than a lot of collectors might think.
The reason for that is the rarity of this issue. A few can sometimes be found on eBay at any given time and even the major grading companies have only graded a small amount. To date, SGC has graded only a total of 17 in the entire set.
That rarity has driven prices up for collectors in search of this regional issue. Even commons in modest condition typically cost $100 or more and prices for the stars and Hall of Famers are decidedly more. Asking prices often significantly exceed even that amount as some sellers realize the rarity of the issue, wanting to charge more. Further, the big names are rarely seen at all. A Hank Greenberg was reportedly sold via eBay in late 2011, earning more than $600.