Gambling and baseball – a big no-no, right? Of course. But somewhere in between the game’s most infamous betting scandal and Pete Rose, gambling allegations also were the likely culprit for a weird variation on two baseball cards in the W512 strip card set.
How? Read on.
W512 Strip Card Overview and Variations
The W512 strip card set features a total of 50 cards, minus the numerous variations found in the set. The color pictures of poorly-drawn ‘famous people’ (as Jefferson Burdick named the set in his American Card Catalog) were standard for your run-of-the-mill strip card set.
The W512 set was produced over several years with most attributing the set as a 1925-1927 issue. In addition to the baseball players, the set contains all sorts of other athletes from sports such as boxing, tennis, and golf. Other personalities are also included as the release contains a total of 20 actors and actresses that were sandwiched in between the athletes. Because the set was produced over several years, the makers opted to keep it up to date – a noble idea, of course.
The pictures on the cards remained the same but the printer updated some of the text, creating numerous variations, to reflect two main things. Regarding the baseball players, the cards were updated to include their new teams as they were traded or moved on to another franchise. Athletes in other sports had their titles changed as well with most reflecting when a champion lost a title. For example, boxer Jack Dempsey has a card calling him the Heavyweight Champion and one stating he is the ‘Ex-Heavyweight Champion.’
Of most note to collectors, however, are the baseball cards. And it’s there that we find a couple of puzzling variations.
Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker …
Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker are both found in the set. As you would expect, they are two of the more desirable cards in the release. Cobb’s card, in fact, is likely second only to that of Babe Ruth.
Cobb and Speaker are two of the six baseball players with variations. But while the cards of others only noted their new teams, Cobb’s and Speaker’s have a strange designation. Cobb’s card calls him the ‘Ex-Mgr.’ of Detroit and Speaker’s says he is the ‘Ex-Mgr.’ of Cleveland.
Now, it’s not the manager designation that’s the problem. Both Cobb and Speaker were, in fact, player-managers as they managed the same club for which they played. No, the strange part is that their cards don’t actually list their new teams. That wouldn’t be an issue if both stopped playing after leaving their old franchises. But Cobb went on to play for two years in Philadelphia while Speaker continued his career in Washington, before ending up with Cobb in Philadelphia in 1928, which was ultimately the final year of their careers.
So what gives?
Well, the answer is that a gambling scandal was probably the reason for the odd designation.
… and Gambling
Both players retired from the game briefly after 1926. A real reason wasn’t given but since both were nearly 40, it made sense to some degree.
Enter Dutch Leonard.
From 1913-1925, Leonard had a solid but unspectacular career in the majors with the Boston Red Sox and the Tigers as a pticher. Leonard was actually one of Cobb’s players and it turns out had some incriminating evidence about a gambling scandal. The former pitcher claimed that he, Cobb, Speaker, and Smoky Joe Wood had conspired to fix a Tigers-Indians game. All of a sudden, it became pretty clear why Cobb and Speaker were suddenly departing. This article lays it out in extensive detail, but in summary, Leonard had letters from Wood, and to a lesser extent, Cobb, discussing what appeared to be the fix.
In the end, while the letters appeared to back up Leonard’s claims, they were largely seen as loose pieces of evidence. The players, of course, denied the charges and the end basically came when Leonard refused to show up when challenged to confront them in Chicago. While American League president Ban Johnson announced his intentions to remove the players from major league baseball, commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, reinstated the players and allowed them to play again, thus ending their unscheduled retirements.
Despite being cleared and still being capable players, Detroit and Cleveland essentially said that the players could take a hike and allowed them to go wherever they chose. Cobb went to Philadelphia and Speaker wound up in Washington.
As a result, however, the players’ fate was unknown for quite a while as Landis didn’t even clear the players to join another team until nearly February in 1927. That is important because if the batch of cards was printed anytime from their planned retirement until the new players signed after that time period, there was good reason to simply call them ‘Ex’ players with no new team designation. Leaving their former team names would have been incorrect and the printer couldn’t possibly have known where they would resurface.
With all of the other players’ cards indicating their new teams during the printing of this issue, the semi-retirement of Cobb and Speaker seems to be the only reasonable explanation for their strange variation.
You can check out W512 cards on eBay here.