Recently, I was flipping through some of my card binders. While I buy plenty of singles and lots, my primary collecting focus is really on building sets. I like the satisfaction of completion and set building can present some interesting challenges.
Because my focus is on sets, often I find myself buying particular lots of cards even if I only need a few. That, of course, leads to a significant amount of duplicates and, well, if I’m being honest, those duplicates sometimes even turn into second set pursuits. In other words, I’m kind of a set fanatic.
But sometimes those dupes merely sit in binders and are sold off or used as trade bait for other cards I need. I found myself thumbing through my pre-war gum card duplicates and stumbled upon a card that was quite interesting — even though I had never given it much thought before.
Enter Joe Bowman
Joe Bowman is not a player that elicits much attention. Even in pre-war circles, his cards are commons and, frankly, most collectors have probably never even heard of him.
Bowman was not a star in the least. He did manage to bounce around among six teams over 11 seasons and he spent the majority of that time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. That kind of longevity proved his value as a major leaguer. But as a pitcher, Bowman lost more games than he won (77-96 career record) and his 4.40 ERA defined a career of mediocrity. Statistically, his best season probably came in 1944 when he returned from a two-year stint in the minor leagues. Playing for the Boston Red Sox in the wartime big leagues of 1944, he achieved a 12-8 record. It was one of the few times he finished the season over .500 and his 12 victories were the most in a single season in his career. Even in that year, however, Bowman still proved to be little more than sufficient as his 4.81 ERA was well above his career average.
Despite playing over 11 seasons, Bowman does not have many baseball cards. But one of his resided in my duplicates binder and is what sparked this article — a 1940 Play Ball card.
So, what’s the fascination with this card?
Play Ball, Meet Bowman — Bowman, Play Ball
I’m not sure why the card never stood out to me before. I typically catch random off the wall stuff like this but this one never hit me until just yesterday.
Bowman, of course, was a famous card manufacturer. Issuing baseball card sets from 1948 through 1955, they were the chief rival of Topps, which was also creating baseball cards at the same time. Bowman, ultimately couldn’t keep up and was acquired by Topps. Topps did not continue printing Bowman cards and effectively shut the brand down before reviving it in 1989. Today, the Bowman brand is prospect focused and among the most popular of any trading card line.
Prior to the Bowman-Topps rivalry, though, were the famous Play Ball sets issued by Gum, Inc. from 1939 through 1941. Gum, Inc. was created by Jacob Warren Bowman in 1927 and because there were not too many baseball card sets at the time, the Play Ball sets are among the most popular gum card releases.
But while the Play Ball cards were popular, the complexities of World War II and paper shortages meant that hardly any card sets were being produced after 1941, the year the U.S. entered the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurring late that year. Gum, Inc. produced a 1941 set but then did not create any additional baseball card sets.
Fast forward to 1948, several years after the war and the company emerged again. This time, however, it was renamed from Gum, Inc. to Bowman, after found Jacob Warren Bowman. I am not aware of any relation between Joe Bowman and Bowman’s founder. But that unique history provides us with a pretty cool collectible in the Joe Bowman Play Ball cards (Bowman appeared in both the 1939 and 1940 sets – shown here are both).
Bowman’s (Joe Bowman, that is) 1940 Play Ball cards reside in commons boxes today. In decent condition, they start around $10-$15, though ones in worse shape can be found for a little less. His 1939 card is a bit pricier as a high number, starting around $20-$25 in decent shape. Plus, the back story between Bowman and Play Ball makes these some of the more interesting commons in the sets.
So I ask you, are these Bowman cards or Play Ball cards? The answer, I suppose, depends on how you look at it.