After the tobacco card boom of the 1910s, baseball card collectors ran into some lean times during the 1920s, as most years during that Roaring decade featured very few major issues. Starting in 1933, though, Goudey came to the rescue of Depression-era kids with several colorful sets that featured some of the most iconic first-year cards the hobby has ever seen. Of course, not all baseball rookie cards of the 1930s could be as glamorous as the 1938 Heads-Up Joe DiMaggio, and that’s actually a good thing if you’re interested in finding hidden gems.
What follows are some of the most underrated rookie cards of the 1930s, listed in the order they were originally released.
1930 Baguer Chocolates Al Lopez
Al Lopez is best known as the Hall of Fame manager who led the 1954 Cleveland Indians to one of the best regular-season records ever and also piloted the 1959 “Go-Go” White Sox to a surprise World Series appearance.
Before embarking on his managing career, though, Lopez spent 19 years as a pretty decent Major League catcher, mostly in the National League. After making just three appearances in 1928 and none in 1929, the 21-year-old played himself into a starting role for the 1930 Brooklyn Robins.
Lopez’s contributions that season were evidently enough to catch the attention of Cuban confectioner Baguer Chocolates, who included him in their 90-card issue that summer. At just 5/8″ x 7/8″, the Baguer cards are some of the smallest ever made, and they are pretty scarce, too. Through March of 2015, PSA had graded only 249 total cards from the set, with just one reaching as high as an 8 on the grading scale.
The Lopez card doesn’t come to market very often (you can see one on eBay here) and is usually in GOOD or worse condition, but it can still bring $100 or more. A near-complete set, including the Lopez card, fetched $3600 in October of 2014.
1933 Goudey (R319) Arky Vaughan
The 1933 Goudey set is one of the hobby’s most iconic issues, and it’s loaded with multiple cards of Hall of Famers like Jimmie Foxx (2), Babe Ruth (4), and Lou Gehrig (2). The beautiful hand-painted issue is also home to the legendary Nap Lajoie card that is one of the rarest in the hobby, and just about every card in the issue is a rookie thanks to the paucity of issues during the 1920s.
Nearly obscured by the grandeur of its set-mates, card #229 pictures a pensive Floyd Vaughan, who had made a splash as a rookie shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1932. “Arky” Vaughn batted .318 in his inaugural campaign and would go on to hit exactly .318 in a 14-year career that led to his Hall of Fame election in 1985.
Unlike most other rookie cards in the 1933 Goudey set, the Vaughan card pictures him as he would have actually appeared during his first year in the Major Leagues, and it is readily available on eBay. Prices realized can vary a bit, depending on card condition and whether it’s slabbed, but you can generally pick up #229 for around $100.
Not bad for an 80-year-old rookie card of a Hall of Famer.
1933 Tattoo Orbit Dizzy Dean
Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean was one of the greatest pitchers of his era, a blistering talent who faded quickly due to injury after several outstanding seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s. Dean was also unquestionably one of the most colorful characters in the history of Major League baseball, so it’s somewhat fitting that he made his baseball-card debut in the vibrant sets that brought some light to collectors in the heart of the Great Depression.
While Dean actually made his first pasteboard appearance as part of the regional 1931 Metropolitan Studios St. Louis Cardinals set, most collectors associate him with the colorful 1933 Goudey issue and consider this to be his true rookie card. Often overlooked, though, is Dean’s card from the R308 set, also issued in 1933.
Despite it’s relative scarcity, Dean’s Tattoo Orbit card occasionally turns up for sale, with a recent example in POOR condition trading for $78 and one now available on eBay. Huggins & Scott Auctions sold a lot of 10 Tattoo Orbit cards that included a GOOD copy of the Dean issue for a total of $478 in February of 2015.
The 1933 Tattoo Orbit Dizzy Dean rookie is another bright card from the era that simply doesn’t get much attention.
1935-36 Diamond Matchbooks Jocko Conlan
Most baseball fans know Jocko Conlan as the Hall 0f Fame umpire who traded kicks with Leo Durocher during a game in 1961, but before he stepped behind the plate, Conlan spent 13 years as a minor league outfielder, finally getting the call to the Chicago White Sox in 1934 at age 34. Fate stepped in the next season when an umpire fell ill before a game and Conlan was asked to fill in due to his reputation as a solid, honest veteran.
In 1936, Conlan traded in his spikes for a chest protector and began the umpiring career that would take him to five World Series and, eventually, Cooperstown. Along the way, he famously showed up in collectors’ shoe boxes by way of the wood-grained 1955 Bowman set that also featured 30 other umpires.
Conlan’s first card, though, came as part of the the 1935-36 Diamond Matchbooks issue that featured 151 different players. While it’s an unusual piece to be sure, the matchbook displays a player photo on the front cover and a brief biography on the back cover, so it’s much more of a “card” than the Conlan newspaper insert issued by La Presse in 1931.
1937 Goudey Wide Pens (R314 )Bobby Doerr
You may consider Bobby Doerr to be a borderline Hall of Famer, having only made it to Cooperstown in 1986 thanks to a Veteran’s Committee vote helped along by Ted Williams’ considerable influence. That may be true, but Doerr was the starting second baseman for several pretty good Boston Red Sox in the World War II era. Aided by the cozy dimensions of Fenway Park, Doerr hit .288 and smacked 223 home runs over a 14-year career, making him one of the better power-hitting middle infielders of the twentieth century.
Currently the oldest living Hall of Famer (he turned 97 on Tuesday), Doerr’s rookie card came as part of the 15-card 1937 Goudey Wide Pens premium set (R314), and, while it ‘s not often offered for sale, you can pick on up for under $100 if you pay attention. That’s a downright bargain for a big, attractive HOF rookie card that’s nearly than eight decades old.
Other Underrated Rookies
With more than 4500 different cards produced during the decade, the 1930s offer plenty of opportunity for issues to be overlooked. Aside from the cards that made our list, several other rookies have suffered in the glare of Goudey’s colorful issues and the heavyweight 1939 Play Ball rookie cards of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
Among the rookie cards that may have fallen through the hobby cracks to some extent are the 1938 Baseball Magazine (M114) Joe Gordon, 1932 Charles Denby Cigar Billy Herman, and 1933 Worch Cigars Joe “Ducky” Medwick issues. In addition, many players and executives made early appearances throughout the 1930s on “Type I Press Photos” that display much like traditional cards.
Indeed, the 1930s offered enough rookie cards, and enough variety, to fit just about any collecting taste. As the decade waned and America geared up for World War II, baseball card production once again slowed to a trickle, but not before many of the games greatest players made their cardboard debuts, underrated or not.