The beauty of baseball is that because of the game’s long, storied history, we can celebrate anniversaries of big events.
And 75 years ago, at Yankee Stadium on May 15, 1941, Joe DiMaggio connected for an RBI single in the first inning against Chicago White Sox left-hander Eddie Smith. It didn’t draw much attention at the time since it was the Yankees’ lone run in a 13-1 loss. Smith improved to 3-1 in a season where he’d go 13-17 for the White Sox.
The Yankee Clipper had gone 0-for-3 the previous day against Cleveland’s Mel Harder at Yankee Stadium, but he would not be blanked again until July 17, 1941, when Cleveland stopped his amazing 56-game hitting streak at Municipal Stadium.
Finding baseball cards from that magical 1941 season are difficult; with World War II just months away, the card market would soon go into hibernation. Here, though, are a few 1941 issues that include DiMaggio cards.
1941 Play Ball No. 71
This set was produced by Gum, Inc., the direct ancestor of Bowman. The Philadelphia-based company was started in 1927 by Jacob Warren Bowman, and his Blony one-cent bubble gum cornered 60 percent of the market at its height.
Play Ball debuted as a black-and-white set in 1939, and by 1941 the card images had been colorized. The ’41 set had the same pose of DiMaggio that it did in 1940; the difference was in the colorization. The 1941 set had been pared down to 72 from the 240 offered in 1940, and cards 49 through 72 are short-printed and therefore scarcer.
Not surprisingly, DiMaggio’s card is the most expensive in the set. The “Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards” lists it at $3,500 in near mint condition. Of the 620 cards submitted to PSA for grading, there is one gem mint card, five PSA-9s, 29 in near-mint/mint (PSA-8) and 39 in near mint.
You can buy a lower grade–but still respectable example for $1,000-$1,500.
1941 Double Play Nos. 63-64
The design of the 1941 Double Play card reminds me of a 1960s type newspaper photo caption. The player’s name is in bold typeface, almost like a small headline, and there is a paragraph underneath it. The set was marketed by Gum Products, Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company began in the East Boston area in 1940, as owner Wellington M. Cramer Jr. borrowed $16,000 as operating capital for a start-up.
Each card has two players pictured, and because of the design, it was not unusual for cards to be cut in half. DiMaggio was paired with Yankees teammate Charlie Keller (spelled “Charley” on the card). DiMaggio had a magnificent season in 1941, with a .357 average, 30 homers and a league-leading 125 RBIs to win MVP honors in the American League. But Keller’s stats weren’t too shabby, either. “King Kong” had 33 homers and 122 RBIs to finish fifth in MVP voting for the Yankees, who bounced back from a (for them) subpar 1940 to win the A.L. pennant.
There have been 201 of these cards sent to PSA for grading, and only 12 grade as high as PSA-8. The SGC numbers are smaller, with 69 graded cards and none achieving higher than an 86 rating.
Much less pricey than the Play Ball issue, a DiMaggio Double Play card in a 4 or 5 is only a few hundred dollars.
1941 Wheaties Champs of the USA, No. 17
This set consists of eight cereal back panels, with three cards per panel. Collectors could keep the panels intact, or cut out all three different cards. The format for the 1941 set is identical to Wheaties’ 1940 issue — 8 ¼ inches deep by 6 inches wide. The cards within the panels actually look like stamps, and the subjects cover all sports. In addition to DiMaggio, golfer Byron Nelson and circus trapeze artist Antoinette Concello, known as “the greatest woman flyer of all time.”
Predictably, the panel containing DiMaggio is the most coveted among the 13 that were issued in 1941. Sometimes found in full panels, they’re also often found cut into individual sections.