Before baseball players became filthy rich, it wasn’t uncommon to them working any number of jobs in the off-season to supplement their income. And as they still do to this day, players would often lend their name for various products. In the early 1900s, a couple of baseball players got into the baseball card game industry.
About the Players
Tim Jordan and Walter “Duster” Mails were both relatively unheralded players. Jordan managed to lead the league twice in home runs, hitting 12 in both 1906 and 1908 with the Brooklyn Superbas, but he never became a full-blown superstar and was a .261 hitter in a seven-year career.
Walter Mails had arguably an even less distinguished career. While he helped win a championship with the Cleveland Indians in 1920, he had only a 32-25 career (with a 4.10 ERA) in seven seasons with Brooklyn, Cleveland, and St. Louis.
Both players had decent major league careers but neither would be considered a solid candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Tim Jordan Card Game
Jordan finished his major league career in 1910 and his game is believed to have hit the streets shortly after his career. A total of 72 cards were in the set and the cards featured a variety of player poses that were drawn. The poses took up half of the card and were printed twice in opposite directions. Each card mentioned a specific action that was to occur when drawn or played (i.e. put out, passed ball, base hit, etc.).
Backs of the cards had a distinct baseball-themed look with baseball equipment printed in the corners and a baseball diamond in the middle. A baseball appeared on the diamond and the inside of it read, ‘Tim J. Jordan Card Game” along the seams. Jordan’s game was not listed in the American Card Catalog.
The full game included a small playing field and chips to use as baserunners.
Walter Mails Card Game
While the Tim Jordan game cards had a traditional playing card feel tot hem, Walter Mails’ game cards upped the ante in terms of appeal to collectors. The Mails‘ game cards don’t have the exceptional lithography from the early 1900s baseball cards, but they did have real black and white images of actual players. While Jordan’s game cards had drawings of generic players, Mails’ 56-card set included Hall of Fame players such as Walter Johnson, Rabbit Maranville, and George Sisler.
Mails also one-upped Jordan by the fact that Mails himself was in his own set. That Mails’ set included actual players is perhaps part of the reason it was found and identified by Jefferson Burdick in the American Card Catalog as the WG7 set.
The backs of Mails’ cards was similar to those of Jordan in a way. The designs were completely different, but Mails’ backs also featured baseball themed icons in each corner and also included his name in the center. There are both blue and red backs of this set. The game was sold by the ‘Great Mails Baseball Card Game Company.’
Both games worked a little differently, but essentially were played about the same. One player or players would represent a team while another player or players would represent another team. The team at bat would select cards playing out the actions on the card until three outs were recorded. Teams would then switch sides and the actions would be repeated until nine innings or an agreed-upon time concluded.
Tim Jordan and Walter Mails Game Card Prices
Complete games of either set (including the box, board, rules, etc.) are very rare and don’t surface too often. But because each game included dozens of playing cards, finding individual cards for sale is not too hard.
And while the cards are 90-100 years old, because they are game cards, they are often found in above-average condition. Not only do the rounded corners assist with that but if the game was not played very much, they could have been left virtually untouched for many years.
When initially printed, both games were inexpensive by today’s standards. Mails’, for example, sold for only $1. Today, of course, you won’t find any of the individual cards that cheap.
Because Jordan’s game cards feature generic players, prices between each individual card (assuming the same condition) generally don’t fluctuate all that much. In lower-end mid-grade shape, those cards are usually in the $40-$50 range.
The Mails set, however, has some cards that often sell for hundreds of dollars. This Johnson card, for example, brought $1,200 at auction last fall. Commons are much cheaper and can sometimes be found for under $100.
Complete sets for both games pop up for auction, too. Most often, only complete card sets are sold. But sets with the complete packaging are heavily desired and sell for a premium. The Mails set sells for significantly more than the Jordan set. A complete set of graded Mails cards sold for more than $2,600 at auction a few years ago. Meanwhile, a set of graded Jordan cards with the full game intact sold for about $800 less.
You can usually spot several cards, especially specific player cards from the Mails game for sale on eBay.