Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Anatomy of 1938 Goudey Baseball #250 and #274, Joe DiMaggio

Born a scant 99 years ago, future Yankee Clipper, husband to Marilyn Monroe, and Mr. Coffee: Joseph Paul DiMaggio.

ACME wire photo, dated Nov 21, 1934

Raised on the sandlots of his native California--one of three sons who chose pro ball over fishing for their father--DiMaggio's success as a teenager in the Pacific Coast League spurred New York to send four (!) players to his first pro team, the San Francisco Seals, in trade for young Joe's services. (The Yankees added $5,000 when one of them, infielder Doc Farrell, refused to join the Seals.)

1934 photo with DiMaggio trade details (back)

That 1934 ACME picture is a head-on shot from the same Seals photo session that celebrated Joe's trade and became the source for several Goudey cards (below). Gum companies often appropriated news photos to save money and time, either with or without paying the wire service, and I think Goudey used this one because his Seals uniform could also pass for New York, once you hazed out the background and darkened its pinstripes.

1937 Goudey Premium (Type 4, portrait), Joe DiMaggio

Goudey offered these "Premiums" (better described as paper-thin photo postcards) at candy stores in exchange for pack wrappers, an early "customer loyalty program" I covered in The Knot Hole League set profile. The following year, a face-only version of this photo appeared on a cartoon body for Goudey's first 1938 Big League Gum series, which ran #241-264, "extending" 1933's set of 240.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #250, Joe DiMaggio

Many collectors and dealers call this 1938 version DiMaggio's "rookie," but it only qualifies as his first American gum card. OldBaseball.com notes his appearance in two larger 1936 photo sets: Goudey's R314 "Wide Pen" Premiums (with manager Joe McCarthy) and National Chicle's R312 Color Tints. He also appeared in World Wide Gum's own 1936 Big League Gum, an obscure Canadian issue printed near Montreal (and financially affiliated with Goudey).

Sharp eyes will recognize this as a match for the Joe DiMaggio card Mr. Burns gave to Homer Simpson.

Mark this as the only time I've seen "adjudged" and "poled" on a baseball card.

Whatever "rookie" opinion you ascribe to, kids didn't have to wait long for more DiMaggio.

1938 Goudey Big League Gum #274, Joe DiMaggio

1938 Big League Gum repeated the same 24 players for their second series (#265-288), so Joe appears again, this time with four hand-titled cartoons.
  • "Considered one of the greatest outfielders of all time" (in just 3 years!)
  • "He's a member of the Yanks' Murderers' Row and flirts with the home-run record"
  • "$25,000: pretty fair salary for a young fellow!"
  • "Baseball's Hall of Fame: Joe rated a niche in this place from the first year in the major league."

Joe's last cartoon hints at how "Hall of Fame" meant something more poetic to fans in 1938. It was just five years after Cooperstown opened its physical location, so brick-and-mortar visions of enshrinement seemed interchangeable with legend and euphemism. Notable players and achievements rated Hall of Fame status in their own time, instead of waiting for others to "make a case for inclusion," in the language of today.

SF Seals and brothers, Vince, Joe, and Dom DiMaggio

Like other native Italians, the DiMaggio parents suffered state persecution during WWII and Joe himself lost three prime years to military service, leaving him quietly (and I'd say "justly") bitter about the war's effect on his family and career. Esquire writer Gay Talese captured Joe's demeanor in retirement with "Silent Season of a Hero," considered one the best essays on baseball and, given its subject, fame.

Goudey's 1938 Baseball Movies & 1937 Thum-Movies

Goudey featured DiMaggio at every opportunity following his 1936 debut, so it's possible ACME's 1934 wire photo saw additional use along the way in other ephemera since lost to time. While not an exhaustive look at his history on cards, it shows how one image can (and will) make its way around the hobby. Buon compleanno to Joe and his many fans.

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