The 1940 Play Ball set was the largest baseball card offering from Gum, Inc. With a total of 240 cards, it’s not only the largest Play Ball set, but one of the larger gum card sets in general.
Not many baseball card sets were printed in the 1940s but this was one of them. And while this set includes plenty of contemporary stars, it is also known for a large collection of cards featuring post-career players. There’s no Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb here but, plenty of others fill the set.
Here are some of the key ones.
Shoeless Joe Jackson
Shoeless Joe Jackson is one of the real prizes in the 1940 Play Ball release. As I wrote here, Shoeless Joe and the banned White Sox players from the 1919 World Series weren’t really featured all that much in post-career sets. The perception of those guys has sort of changed a little bit as their cards have become quite collectible. But card manufacturers weren’t real anxious to include them in many sets in the years following the scandal.
Thus, Jackson’s appearance here is a welcome sight. Not only is the card a valuable one, easily selling for more than $1,000 in decent condition, but it’s just unique in that Jackson wasn’t in that many early sets to begin with.
The ironic part, of course, is the biography on Jackson’s card doesn’t even mention the Black Sox scandal. Instead, it only cites that he ‘stopped playing after the 1920 season.’
The Big Train is one of the many early stars in this set that was included.
Johnson’s card calls him a ‘Former Pitching Star’ and notes his 1936 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His biography on the back provides a nice rundown of his career, including his 400+ victories.
Interestingly, Johnson’s seven-year run as a manager for the Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians is not mentioned. Given that Johnson had some managerial success winning more than 90 games in three of those seasons, that omission is an interesting one.
Johnson’s card is not dirt cheap. However, it certainly is a bigger bargain than Jackson’s. On eBay, it can often be found starting around $100-$150 in decent condition.
Wagner is admittedly a different case from others on this list. While the other players were out of major league baseball here, Wagner was not, serving as a coach for his Pittsburgh Pirates.
Still, his name is far too big not to mention here.
Instead of the other players here, an aged Wagner is pictured on his card. Since he was still involved with a major league team, that current image made more sense than one from the Flying Dutchman in his playing days would have. Wagner stayed close to the Pirates for years after he retired and also even tried his hand at politics in Pittsburgh. At this time, he was serving as a hitting instructor for the team.
Like Walter Johnson, Mathewson is another legendary hurler found in this set.
Mathewson’s card serves as a bit of a tribute because he passed away at a young age in 1925 from tuberculosis. As a result, it reads a little differently than some other bios found in the set for post-career players, calling him ‘one of baseball’s most beloved memories.’ Among the many achievements cited on his card, Mathewson’s modern record 37 victories in 1908 are rightly included.
Matty’s cards are a bit more affordable than some of the other aforementioned options. For a mid-grade card at the lower end of the spectrum, collectors can expect to pay around $75-$100.
Tris Speaker is also one of the more popular post-career players found in the 1940 Play Ball issue.
Speaker’s last game in the majors was in the 1928 season but he stayed plenty busy following his career. He played and managed in the International League for a brief time before beginning a short stint as manager and part-owner of the minor league Kansas City Blues. Speaker later became a businessman and ambassador for the Cleveland Indians, one of the teams for which he played.
Speaker’s card certainly doesn’t hold back in its praise of the Hall of Famer. Calling him ‘one of baseball’s immortals,’ his biography on the back also includes a casual mention of him as possibly the best defensive outfielder in the history of the game to that point.
Collectors looking to get their hands on a Speaker card from the set won’t have much trouble. Mid-grade examples start around $40-$50.