March 31st and April 1st brought the opening days of the regular baseball season. In tandem with that momentous occasion, the postal service serendipitously delivered my very first two T205 baseball cards just as I sat down to enjoy the Red Sox and Yankees game. And although my stack of baseball biographies includes some older, now deceased Yankees whom I greatly admire, it was *almost* sweet vindication for this Baltimore Orioles fan (see the playoffs of 2012, 1996 with the infamous fan interference, etc.) as I watched the shorthanded contemporary New York franchise lose their first opening day game in decades. Yet I digress from the principal topic here: this recently acquired pair of T205 “cards” from 1911.
To begin, I feel uncertain about how well such T205 issues hold up as typical cards—at least in the modern day sense. And I don’t mean that as any disrespect to these elegant though clearly well-loved and well-worn artifacts. The craft of print and press here is more than evident. The players’ likenesses pictured on these rather ragged cellulose scraps possess an oft-treasured quality in vintage cards that I opine with reiteration here: “painterly.” Even without the T205’s fragile, gilded border (about which this helpful guide expounds, as written by photography specialist David Cycleback), even with the frequently damaged, flakily absent, or even intentionally razored or scissored off semi-precious metal—handcrafted, not printed, and in copper, not gold—even sans glittery trims, these remain quite remarkable little gems of pulp ephemera. Again, though, they feel less like “cards” in light of their Lilliputian stature. Indeed, the total area of a single T205 specimen approximates that of an oversize stamp, while the rigors of weather, time, and sheer gravity can wear one down almost as thin.
First John Titus: our ubiquitous “internets” reveal he was a rather minor player whose dubious distinction was an uncanny ability for getting hit. Wait a moment—that must be a typo. Does Wikipedia or the more authoritative Baseball Reference intend to say Titus was known for getting hits? No, I am not making this up. John Titus, who played for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Braves during his prime between 1903 and 1913, managed to lead the National League in “hit by pitches” in 1909, and he ranks within the top hundred for the same merit in the career “hit by pitches” category. I didn’t even know there was such a category! Sadly, the most stately aspect of Titus’s career was his namesake.
On to Matthew McIntyre. . . . Now if you feel like looking up Mr. McIntyre yourself in the baseball almanacs, please remember that it’s McIntyre (not McEntyre, McIntire, or any other one of a number of Mc and Mac combinations), and it’s actually not Matthew or Matt but “Matty,” as the back of his T205 “Sweet Caporal” card informs. (Hmm, I once knew a “Matty” in school who’s now “living large” in the concrete jungle of New York City; no offense to my old friend, but he was not anywhere near the quality ballplayer like Matty McIntyre.) McIntyre was clearly an All-Star caliber offensive player—before there even was an All-Star game. His achievements are rather staggering and manifold: “In 1,072 career games, McIntyre batted .269 with 562 runs, 1,066 hits, 140 doubles, 69 triples, 4 home runs, 319 RBI, 120 stolen bases, 439 walks, 1,356 total bases, and 87 sacrifice hits,” as Wikipedia elucidates. And while he clearly wasn’t a huge career power hitter, 1908 with the Detroit Tigers (before a later trade to the White Sox) was certainly a stellar year for “Matty.” That year “McIntyre was first in the American League in several categories: plate appearances (672), times on base (258), runs (105), and singles (131). In 1908, he was also among the leaders in almost every other offensive category: No. 2 in on base percentage (.392), fifth in batting average (.295), fifth in slugging percentage (.385), [. . .] third in hits (168),” and more. He was second in hitting that year only to Ty Cobb, his teammate for whom he held apparently little affection as well as a “prolonged hazing campaign.”
As plainly evident by the stark differences between the card front for Titus and that of McIntyre, the tobacco brands (or at least the hired designers of these free “premiums” or “inserts”) possessed some likewise subtly divergent aesthetics. McIntyre’s bust is framed by a vibrant red rhombus of sorts, and his ballplayer’s equipment is arranged like a regal banner or coat of arms near the bottom for the Sweet Caporal issue. Meanwhile, Titus is assigned a seemingly appropriate plain, solid background for the Piedmont (“factory 42 reverse”?) card. Excepting of course the content of printed matter on their careers, the un-exemplary card backs are nearly identical for these two, incredibly dissimilar players.