Oh, if baseball cards could talk. . . .

1911 T205 Gold Border Robert Byrne Pittsburgh Pirates, Pretty Freakin Awful

I could write about Robert Byrne (Bobby, to his friends & fellow players). I could write another all too brief account of a baseball life long since expired. I could write about Byrne’s ability as a stellar hitter in the often hitless dead-ball era. (In a span of less than ten years, from 1908 to 1917, a half-dozen no-hitters occurred in a given season—three times! 1908, 1915, and 1917.) I could also write about Bobby’s remarkable athleticism; apparently, he played professional soccer in the off-season. However, when he left St. Louis to play for Pittsburgh, Pirates president Barney Dreyfuss gave him an ultimatum, which forced Bobby to choose baseball exclusively. I even could write about Byrne’s mildly curious retirement and his ownership of a bowling alley in St. Louis, the hometown of his first major league team. . . .

Honestly, though, all I really want to do is share what I believe is one of the most beautifully wretched, old cards that I have ever seen. The auction listing title for this artifact could not have been better: “1911 T205 Gold Border Robert Byrne Pittsburgh Pirates, Pretty Freakin’ Awful!” Indeed, poor Bobby’s right eye seems to be knocked out of place, as if ’twere the aftermath of some peculiar boxing match o’ cardboard.

Player pages and other info found at the following resources: Baseball-reference.com and Wikipedia.

Who was Frank Truesdale?

Truesdale final

If you don’t know about Frank Truesdale, then you’re probably not alone. You may also be scratching your head at the peculiar sight of the featured T205 card of Truesdale from 1911. Well, that’s because it’s my own little tribute (see “fantasy card”) that I made for this wholly unappreciated, unknown ballplayer.

Nevertheless, Truesdale was still a ballplayer in the majors, which in itself is an achievement that not many of us can claim. He played for some four, albeit irregular, seasons over the course of eight years from 1910 to 1918, playing with the St. Louis Browns, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox. He hit one home run in his career and batted well under .300, though those numbers certainly aren’t unusual or even particularly poor in the aptly named dead-ball era (don’t you just love that phrase?). However, his “on-base percentage” was an improvement at .318. He largely fielded at 2nd base, and in his last season with the Red Sox he garnered a whopping salary of $2,120. He appears to have retired from baseball altogether in 1918, and he died in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1943.

Of course, so many players of Truesdale’s lackluster “name” status exist in baseball’s history. Largely, a life such as Truesdale’s utterly unsung existence is but a mere blip, a smattering of seemingly meaningless statistics, a smudge in the baseball almanacs and reference books. Moreover, many of these early ballplayers never received even the minimal acknowledgement of having their likeness imaged on a cheaply printed tobacco card insert. For some, not one photograph remains.

Thankfully, we do have a small photographic record for Truesdale. In fact, one such artifact appears strikingly clear and preserved: archived in the digitized holdings of the Library of Congress, this glass plate photo-negative of Truesdale from his days as a Yankee.*

truesdale, lrg

The black and white photo image was combined with a scanned T205 card to create the topmost featured one–violà. The result is far from perfect, though better than I had expected. I would love to make more of these, especially for unknown players like Truesdale, but we’ll need to see if it’s–er–in the cards. Finally, if I had to give this activity a lofty, academic-inspired term, perhaps I’d call it revisionist history (via baseball cards).

 

Truesdale final cartoonized

*Indeed, the LOC contains a number of these stunning early photographic images of ballplayers and other athletes. Better yet, the LOC also houses a special collection of thousands of old baseball cards.

Card notes: My mission was to create a Truesdale tribute card with my limited photo editing skills (mostly using Pixlr).  And for fun I also made an alternative, more cartoonish card (directly above). The process can be time consuming and tedious (at least for me), but maybe there’s just a learning curve.

Sources: Player pages and other info on Truesdale may be found at the following sites: Baseball-reference.com, Wikipedia, and the Library of Congress.

Opening Day Fun with 1911 T205s

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.

1911 T205 GOLD BORDER JOHN TITUS, PIEDMONT REVERSE

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.”

1911 T205 Matty McINTYRE, SWEET CAPORAL

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.