Athletes continue to do endorse all sorts of products, just as they have for the past 100 years. These products have covered nearly everything under the sun, including professional services, food/beverages, apparel, vehicles, tobacco, and nearly everything you can imagine. As games of amusement started to emerge in the late 1800s, baseball-themed card games became yet another player-endorsed item.
The object of every game was to present a realistic depiction of the sport in question. And unsurprisingly, the cards for these game cards are quite collectable today.
Popular Pre-War Games
One of the earliest baseball card games was the 1884 Lawson Game. Some have even cited this as the first such game. The cards featured generic pictures of players and equipment.
Like most playing cards, these have rounded edges. That has helped to keep them in good condition and even today, you can find these 135-year-old cards in high-grade condition.
The players in the set are generic, which also helps keep prices low. But the set was endorsed by numerous players that participated in a tournament playing the game. Basically, players got together and played in an 8-team tournament, joining a player on their actual team. Among others, participants included home run king Roger Connor and Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers. The tournament was heavily covered by newspapers with results appearing along with the scores of actual baseball games.
Given the age of these cards, you might expect them to be more valuable. But you can pick up ungraded cards from the set for as little as $20-$30.
While those cards had colorful pictures, that wasn’t always the case in other sets. Some cards went for a much simpler design with a standard back and only game actions printed on the reverse.
That doesn’t mean those games weren’t popular, though. One of those more basic games that surely did well was created by former player Jake Aydelott. Aydelott was not much of a player, appearing in only two seasons in 1884 and 1886. But we can surmise that Aydelott’s games were probably a bit of a success for a couple of reasons. Aydelott took out numerous advertisements in publications, which surely were not cheap. He also created a few (at least two, possibly more) iterations of his game.
The exact dating on his cards is not clear. But by no later than 1885, his first game was created. At least one other set was issued with that one often being cited as a 1900s issue. Prices for the cards vary with the older set from the 1800s more desirable.
One of the more popular games was one endorsed by Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie. Today, the set is known simply as the Nap Lajoie Game.
The Nap Lajoie game is believed to have been issued in 1913. It is very popular among collectors because, unlike other games, these cards actually included an image of the Hall of Famer.
One side of the card pictures Lajoie while the other includes the specific actions used to play the game. A total of two different types of cards exist – some with a red-tinted image of Lajoie while others have a blue-tinted image.
Even non-game collectors tend to pick up these cards. They are among the cheapest cards of Lajoie that one can find with decent copies starting at around $10. Even high-grade cards don’t typically sell for much more as a number of these exist in good condition.
Along the same lines is a game issued in/around 1909 by former player Tim Jordan. The 1909 Tim Jordan Game is one of the more well-known issues and is collected despite the fact that it includes generic players.
Jordan’s involvement undoubtedly would have helped sales as he was a bit of a star at the time of its release. In 1906 and 1908, Jordan hit 12 home runs. Both times that led the entire major leagues. Unlike some other endorsed products, Jordan is featured prominently on the box with an actual picture of him. Tim Jordan game cards vary in price, typically starting around $20-$30.
Game cards continued into the 1920s with one of the most popular being the 1924 Walter Mails Game. The game was created by George Groves, a recreational athlete and businessman. Groves knew he would need an athlete to help pitch the game and secured the use of pitcher Walter Mails for that.
The Mails game cards were unique as they included a player’s picture on the front but also the game card action on the same side. The cards were black and white, utilizing a variety of player poses.
Interestingly enough, Groves actually had plans for a second game. As I detail here, I was able to speak to one of Groves’ descendants and she provided numerous items of interest, including his plans for the upgraded game. In Mails’ notes, he cited being able to use Walter Johnson as a potential spokesman but the game never materialized.
While some have artwork that is less desirable on them, the Mails game cards are among the most valuable ones out there. Decent commons typically start in the $25-$50 range with stars selling for hundreds of dollars. The set includes several Hall of Famers, led by the aforementioned Johnson and also George Sisler. You can usually find some of the Mails cards on eBay.
And of course Babe Ruth wouldn’t be left out. Ruth endorsed many products and is tied to a few games. One of his more interesting ones was a game issued by Quaker Oats. Quaker Oats issued the ‘Ask Me’ game for their puffed wheat product in 1934 with Ruth as the spokesman.
Collectors received the game through the mail from ‘Ruth himself’ as the package was shipped with a return address on it with Ruth’s name. Ruth also appeared on special pins to promote the game and is found on a slew of Quaker Oats items, including photographs and more.
The cards are a bit different than others mentioned here. Instead of a traditional game of baseball, this was actually a trivia card set. Cataloged as F279-1 in the American Card Catalog, the game included a total of 26 cards with questions on the fronts/back. Ruth’s involvement in the set is clearly evident as he is repeatedly mentioned in many of the questions and answers. These cards are also a bit different as they have ‘clipped’ corners instead of rounded ones.
The price is generally right with these cards with most often selling in the $5-$10 range. But some cards with prominent players featured as the question/answer (such as Ruth or teammate Lou Gehrig) usually sell for more.
The popularity of baseball games endorsed by players continued into the 1930s. Others produced during that time were endorsed by Hall of Famers such as Ducky Medwick and Paul Waner and cards from these sets, and others, remain very desired by collectors.