In 1925, Turf Cigarettes, a UK tobacco product, distributed a set of 50 cards called the Sports Records set. The cards were distributed in their packages of cigarettes and split into two separate series, each with 25 cards. The cards featured a variety of sports, including baseball, golf, boxing, tennis, and swimming, among others. The key card in the set for most collectors is No. 50 George Sisler.
It’s an international tobacco issue that’s really well done. One could gripe about the cards not featuring the names of specific players on the front. As a whole, however, it’s an attractive set.
George Sisler Card
Many of the cards depict athletes from minor sports. The baseball card featuring Hall of Famer George Sisler, however, has always garnered attention from collectors. First, it’s a somewhat unique card as it features a Hall of Fame baseball player in a set from overseas. Second, the back of the card has gained some recognition for Sisler’s bio.
The bio incorrectly states that Sisler became the American League record holder for batting average in a single season when he hit .420 in 1922 with the St. Louis Browns. Now Sisler did lead the league in hits that year and was the Most Valuable Player. However, Nap Lajoie’s .426 mark in 1901 with the Philadelphia Athletics actually was the highest average.
Perhaps the creator confused the Athletics with the Phillies, where Lajoie had previously played. Or maybe they mixed up the batting average with Sisler’s 41-game hitting streak that year, which was a record. But whatever the reason, the fact is actually incorrect.
The other intriguing thing mentioned on the back of the Sisler card was that he was to have his named inscribed on a $100,000 baseball monument in Washington.
The $100,000 Monument and its Link to Cooperstown
The monument has often been a source of confusion for collectors that know about the Sisler card. No other details, after all, were mentioned in the description. However, a recent article from this year discussing some of the early origins for the baseball Hall of Fame sheds some light. According to that, the monument was connected with Cooperstown.
The monument in question was discussed in 1922. The idea, down to that very specific dollar amount of $100,000, was mentioned in Bill James’ 1994 book, The Politics of Glory. As the card indicates, it was to be constructed in Washington, DC (East Potomac Park, to be exact). Players would have their names inscribed on the grand monument, which as to be a Hall of Fame structure of sorts.
However, the location of Washington, DC didn’t sit well with those in Cooperstown, who had constructed Doubleday Field named after one-time resident Abner Doubleday. Doubleday, of course, was credited with creating the game, even though disputes of that continue until today. The idea eventually came to a halt in 1924 and the monument apparently wasn’t constructed even though the Baseball Hall of Fame was finally established in Cooperstown in 1936.
A September 22nd, 1922 article appearing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also referenced the monument and sheds even more light. The $100,000 amount is referenced but the article indicates that it would be an American League honor and that the money was fronted by that league. The names on it were to be the names of the best player in the American League and Sisler was selected to appear on it because he won the Most Valuable Player Award that year.
According to that newspaper article, it was clear this wasn’t a Hall of Fame monument as we would know it today. That is evident because it states that Sisler would be likely to have his name etched on it in future years, too. That was undoubtedly written without the knowledge that the award could be won by a player only once as that was the rule established (the rule was later eliminated in the 1930s). Essentially, it was to be a running account of the best players in the American League every season.
Sisler easily won the award after his big season but the list of other players under consideration for the award was interesting. Big names such as Sisler, Walter Johnson, and Eddie Collins appear. But numerous players weren’t household names by any stretch. Finishing second in the voting was Athletics pitcher Ed Rommel, who won 27 games that year. Fourth was pitcher Joe Bush, who won 26 games. Sixth was Tigers catcher Johnny Bassler, who batted .323 but had only 41 runs batted in with no home runs. Stars Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were not eligible because they were player-managers.
One major name missing from the list is Babe Ruth. Ruth had a tumultuous 1922 season, enduring several suspensions, including one that banned him from play for the first six weeks of the season for participating in an offseason barnstorming tour. Missing so much time was the likely reason he was left off of all ballots. Don’t feel bad for Ruth, though. He rebounded to win the award in 1923.
In short, the monument was to be a celebration of baseball’s best players. Seemingly, it would showcase the Most Valuable Players from each season. Both James’ book and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article lend some clarity to a confusing situation.