In 1950, the Sawyer Biscuit Company issued a rare set of promotional photographs. The pictures featured minor league baseball players from the Indianapolis Indians and are quite rare.
For some time, the checklist consisted of fewer than two dozen subjects. However, a 1970s reprint set and some recent discoveries likely prove that many more subjects actually exist.
1950 Sawyer Biscuit Indianapolis Indians Set
The black and white pictures included various poses of the team’s baseball players and also their replica signatures. These blank-backed 8″ x 10″ photographs are believed to have been issued via the mail. While this is technically a minor league set, collectors will recognize several names as a majority of the known players in it reached the major leagues. Since this was a AAA team, that is not too surprising.
While the Sawyer Biscuit name may not be familiar to all collectors, this was not their first rodeo with team photographs. In 1938, they issued photographs for both the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox as part of a promotion with their Sawyer Butter Cookies product. However, these photographs are different in that they did not include a mounted frame as the Cubs and White Sox photos did.
The key to the set is a photograph of Hall of Fame catcher Al Lopez, who was the team’s manager. He would stay there only one year before heading off to the majors where he would manage for nearly two decades with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.
Until only a few days ago, a total of 23 photographs were known in the set. A significant problem with finding more is that these are not labeled with a Sawyer Biscuit name on them. Thus, they appear to be merely standard team photographs and are often sold/listed as such. However, back in 2008, Old Cardboard essentially proved these to be Sawyer Biscuit products as a group of them surfaced along with original shipping envelopes from that company.
Because there are no markings on them and no indication of what year they are from, collectors looking for them have to creative in their searches. I recently ran such a search for Indians photographs and found two previously unchecklisted players from this set in Tom Saffell and Del Ballinger. These were not listed as Sawyer Biscuit photos but they clearly are for reasons I’ll explain below. Neither is a consequential player — Saffell spent four years in the majors, batting only .238, while Ballinger never made it at all. But the find is notable in that they were not previously known to be in the set.
My curiosity was only spiked once I found Saffell and Ballinger, and I wondered if more could be found.
Link to 1978 Sertoma Reprint Set
Before I began looking for these photos, I was not previously aware of the Sertoma sets. However, I stumbled upon them in the midst of this. Technically, there are two different sets although they are really all under one issue. One was issued in 1977 while the second came in 1978. They can be considered one large issue as card numbers in the 1978 set began at No. 26 where the 1977 set left off.
The 1977 set is popular as it includes a hodgepodge of famous players from different eras, such as Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, and more. The 1978 set, interestingly, is a set of players from the 1950 Indianapolis Indians team of all things.
But why the Indianapolis Indians? Turns out that is fairly easy to explain. These sets were issued by the Southside Indianapolis Sertoma Club, a group of businessmen that raised money for charity. The checklist in the 1978 set even identifies the 1977 set, indicating it was such a big hit at the Indianapolis Sports Collectors Convention. Thus, the hometown Indians made perfect sense.
The Sertoma Indians set is important because, well, the cards were exact reproductions of the team photos used in the Sawyer Biscuit set. I noticed that when seeing the cards for the first time, instantly recognizing the pictures on them as the ones from the Sawyer Biscuit photos. The cards even have the same replica signatures printed on them in the same locations.
Shown here are a copy of my photo of Lopez from the set next to his card in the Sertoma set. All others I have seen also match up as well, including the Saffell and Ballinger I recently acquired.
Complete Parallels? Not Exactly.
One interesting thing is that the two sets (Sertoma and Sawyer Biscuit) are not complete parallels. That is because three players in the known Sawyer Biscuit photos checklist, Al Grunwald, Gary Gearhart, and Paul LaPalme are not in the checklist of Sertoma cards for whatever reason. And we know they are not there because there is actually a checklist card for the 1978 Sertoma set, which shows their absence.
Why that is exactly is not known. It is worth pointing out that the Sertoma set included a total of 32 cards with the checklist and perhaps they were printed in rows of four or eight, leaving a few extra cards. But, in short, there’s no good explanation at this time for why not every player with a photo made his way into the reprinted card set.
Finishing the Checklist
To date, 22 of the 31 subjects from the Sertoma card set are now checklisted in the Sawyer Biscuit set and I suspect the other nine exist as well given the link between the two releases since the cards were reprints of the original photos. Below is the checklist for the Sertoma set and I have placed an asterisk next to the players that are already known to be in the Sawyer Biscuit set.
Additionally, the three aforementioned players with known Sawyer Biscuit photos but that are not in the card set (Gearhart, Grunwald, and LaPalme) are in italics below. That gives us a total of 25 known Sawyer Biscuit photos with at least 34 likely for the entire set. I say ‘at least’ because additional Sawyer Biscuit photos could have been printed for players not found in the Sertoma card set, just as Gearhart, Grunwald, and LaPalme were.
- Del Ballinger*
- Monty Basgall*
- Ted Beard*
- Gus Bell*
- Eddie Bockman*
- Dale Coogan*
- Dom Dallessandro*
- Nanny Fernandez*
- Ed Fitzgerald*
- Bob Friend
- Gary Gearhart*
- Hal Gregg
- Al Grunwald*
- Don Gutteridge*
- Johnny Hutchings
- Frank Kalin*
- Paul LaPalme*
- Royce Lint*
- Al Lopez*
- Forrest Main*
- John McCall*
- Joe Muir
- Danny O’Connell*
- Frank Papish*
- Russ Peters
- Bill Pierro
- Mizell Platt
- Elmer Riddle
- Culley Rikard*
- Tom Saffell*
- Eddie Stevens*
- Fred Strobel
- Earl Turner*
- Leo Wells*