In July, the board of directors for the Baseball Hall of Fame revealed that pre-1950 candidates will be considered just once every 10 years. Their reasoning might be defensible. These years have been well picked over. Few people alive today ever watched the remaining candidates play.
That said, there are still some players worthy at least of respect, if not enshrinement. Here are baseball cards for ten standout players not in the Hall of Fame who made their mark between the founding of the American League in 1901 and the beginning of World War II:
Sports Collectors Daily editor Rich Mueller wrote here in 2010 about the discovery of one of them. Found in an early 20th century scrapbook, the descendants of the original collector consigned it to Robert Edward Auctions.
“It’s a special find,” Lifson said at the time. “We’re so used to telling people that their cards have value but aren’t worth a fortune. It’s a pleasure when every once in a while we get to say, ‘Yes, your cards are actually worth a small fortune.’”
Lifson added, “It’s one of the most important cards in all of vintage card collecting. The family is very happy. It’s like they won the lottery.”
Even if you can’t afford a rookie card, Jackson appears on some others during the decade that aren’t quite as expensive.
2. Wes Ferrell, 1933 Goudey: One of the best pitchers of the 1930s, Ferrell could also hit. Add together his pitching and hitting numbers, and he’s maybe the best eligible player from before World War II not in Cooperstown.
A temperamental player who had an impressive peak and last played in the majors at 33, Ferrell won 20 games six times between 1929 and 1936. Lifetime, he offered a .280/.351/.446 slash, and it wasn’t just his era padding his numbers. His 100 OPS+ means he was offered total offensive production exactly on league average when adjusting for his ballpark and era.
Ferrell was a fixture in the 1930s sets like Goudey, Batter-Up and Diamond Stars.
3. Nap Rucker, 1911 T3 Turkey Red: Most underrated pitcher in baseball history? Rucker’s probably up there. His won-loss record doesn’t begin to tell the story.
A Brooklyn pitcher for his entire 10-year big league career, Rucker went 142-142 while offering an adjusted ERA almost 20 percent above league average. How bad of luck did he have? Rucker once lost 21 games while having an adjusted ERA more than 50 percent better than league average.
His 29.7 Wins Above Average are tops among pitchers between 1901 and 1941 who aren’t in Cooperstown, though he ranks eighth for WAR given the shortness of his career.
4. Sherry Magee, T206: There’s been a resurgence in interest in recent years for Magee, with the Deadball Era outfielder making the 2009 Veterans Committee ballot after never having been known to have been a candidate.
Primarily a Phillie during his 16-season career, Magee led the National League in RBIs four times. He also offered 31 Wins Above Average, tops for eligible players who played between 1901 and 1941 and aren’t in Cooperstown.
It’ll be interesting to see if he gets another look in future Hall of Fame votes.
Magee’s T206 error card (last name spelled “Magie”) is one of the most famous cards in the hobby but the corrected version–and his other card in the set–are certainly worth owning.
5. Urban Shocker, 1922 E121 American Caramel Series: Poor Urban Shocker. He didn’t know what was in-store for him when this picture was taken.
A four-time 20-game winner, Shocker took ill late in his career with heart disease. According to his Society for American Baseball Research biography, he won 18 games for the 1927 Murderers Row Yankees while suffering from it.
He succumbed the following year, days before his 38th birthday, likely falling short of 200 wins because of it. Cooperstown can right an injustice by putting him in, even if it will come nearly a century after his death.
6. Art Fletcher, 1909 T206: It’s a little unusual to see Fletcher come across looking like a slugger on his rookie card. He would go on in his 14-year career to be one of the finest defensive shortstops in baseball history.
His 144 runs from field rank ninth-best among all shortstops, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Other things, Fletcher didn’t do quite as well, once walking just six times in a season.
Then again, his 100 OPS+ means he offered league-average offensive production. A shortstop with a capable glove who doesn’t give back too many runs remains just as valuable of a commodity.
You can own one of his cards for very little investment.
7. Eddie Cicotte, 1920 W516-1: In 1920, Cicotte had his last great year, going 21-10 for the Chicago White Sox.
As is well known, Cicotte, Jackson, and six other teammates were suspended after a Cook County, Illinois grand jury convened late in the season to investigate rumors they’d thrown the 1919 World Series.
Their criminal trial ended in acquittal after key evidence went missing, though Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis barred them shortly after.
As one of the premier pitchers of his era, Cicotte appears in several different sets. Strip cards are a great, inexpensive way to own some big name players on the cheap.
8. Heinie Groh, American Caramel: Groh earned a spot as one of the interviewees in Lawrence Ritter’s classic 1966 oral history, The Glory of Their Times, by being one of the best players of the Deadball Era.
Groh’s 26.1 Wins Above Average rank fourth best for position players who played between 1901 and 1941 and aren’t in Cooperstown. He also had a knack for playing on contenders, appearing in five World Series with three different teams.
Groh appears in a few different American Caramel sets and you can own a lower grade copy of one of them for under $50.
9. Babe Adams, 1923 W515: With the Deadball Era so defined by pitching, it’s easy to find standout hurlers from then who aren’t in Cooperstown who could maybe have a case made for them: Dolf Luque, Deacon Phillippe, Smoky Joe Wood, and several others. Adams is one of the better-remembered of this group, with veteran Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci mentioning him in a World Series broadcast a few years ago.
He’s not blessed with a lot of cards but does appear in several sets from the early 1910s to the mid-1920s.
10. Wally Berger, 1940 Play Ball: Kind of the Nap Rucker of pre-World War II hitters, Berger played for some dreadful teams, had a short but impressive peak, and then was done early.
A .300 career hitter, Berger hit 38 homers as a rookie in 1930, setting a record that stood until Mark McGwire broke it in 1987. He was an All-Star during the first four seasons the game was held. Of the eighteen players who started the 1934 game, Berger is the only man not in the Hall of Fame.
His 1940 card comes from the end of the line, when the former National League All Star was a washed-up 34-year-old finishing out his career with the Reds and Phillies.