Sunday, February 25, 2024

Five Facets of 1922 American Caramel (E120 set of 240): Babe Ruth, Surf Dry Casting, the Federal League, and more!

Introduction

Most collectors who know the 1922 American Caramel set (Old Cardboard profile) will recognize their baroque borders and aspire to own any big name from its star-filled checklist. The company, an important 1920s candy maker, made a comprehensive set (15 guys on 16 teams team) and attractive albums to display them, something seldom seen in our hobby's prewar era.

Those intricate borders drew me in first. I spent a week going through E120 card by card, searching for insights into its players, photos, and peccadilloes. This post digs into five of them.

1. Borders = teams

Each E120 card shows baseball gear in all four corners and their secret hides in plain sight: designs also identify teams. All fifteen Yankees share this catching mask, chest protector, and crossed bats.

Red Sox cards like Herb Pennock show an umpire's protector and gloved ball, each with bat, above a pitcher throwing to that righthanded batter.

E120 put its eight different borders on one team per league. Note the toning difference between leagues, creamy for AL and pale for NL.

Mask, glove, bats on bases: Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates

Mask, chest protector, crossed bats: New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals

Diagonal crossed bats, gloves/baseballs: Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs

Mitt, mask, crouched catcher, pitcher: Cleveland Indians, Brooklyn Dodgers

Paired pennants, megaphone, base: Chicago White Sox, New York Giants

Bat/ball/glove, thrower, pitching windup, bat on base: Philadelphia A's, Boston Braves

Pennant, pennant, pitching windup, runner: St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia Phillies

Chest pad/bat, bat/ball/glove, batter, thrower: Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds


Just three players fall outside this pattern and seem like goofs, since team names remain correct and none of them changed franchises midseason.

Adolfo Luque: Reds team, Braves border


Frank "Dixie" Davis: Browns team, Red Sox border


Walter Mails: Indians team, Browns border


2. Babe Ruth vs. Harold G. Lentz

Now that you know more about the Babe border, why's he holding that baseball like a farm-fresh egg?

His original photo raises more questions than it answers. Easy enough to see Ruth's companion holds a fishing rod, so what else is happening?

You're looking at the 1922 Polo Grounds pregame event to promote dry surf casting, a competitive distance sport with rod and reel. Reigning champ Harold Lentz attempted to outdo the Babe's longest homers with his 4oz lead weight. History differs on their outcome. First, read a note linked to that source photo and recall those Polo Grounds went 483' to deep center.

"New York: Champion Surf Caster Fails to Beat Babe Ruth's Swat. In a most unusual contest at the Polo Grounds today, Harold G. Lentz, world's champion surf caster, using a four-ounce lead, tried to better Babe Ruth's record swat of 470 feet. Lentz made four attempts, casting the lead 392 feet, 402 feet, 440 feet and 438 feet."

Popular Science Monthly cited different distances for each competitor, with Lentz now outdoing Ruth. Their circled handshake happened about the same time as E120's source photo.

I welcome anyone who can ID their real winner! Either way, you never look at E120's Ruth card the same way again.

3. Two teams, same day, 1922 edition

Trivia fans might remember Joel Youngblood as a guy with hits for two teams on the same day after being traded by the Mets to Montreal on August 4, 1982 and joining Les Expos in time to suit up.


Custom card maker and blogger Nine Pockets recognized this feat with a 1984-style highlight card and full story on Joel's big day.

E120 players Max Flack and Cliff Heathcote managed half-bloods by being traded for each other mid-doubleheader on May 30, 1922, and playing in two uniforms without leaving Chicago's North Side.


After going hitless in the day's opener, each did better in game two, Flack went 1-for-4 with an outfield assist, while Heathcote notched a pair of singles.

It appears Americal Caramel released their set in phases through that year and finished its Cubs and Cardinals lineups before late May, since Max and Cliff appear with their original teams. Consider other 1922 transactions to fill out their timeline.

Note: I assume American Caramel produced all 15 players on each team at once, since they also took pains to plan out league albums. This "team teamline" could fail if cards went out piecemeal, even if I use correct transaction dates.


E120 shows Lee's opening day team, so they set the Phillies checklist sometime before late May and the Giants sometime before August.



E120 shows Moore on his original team, so add the A's to those distributed before mid-July.



E120 shows Mokan's original team. As a Pennsylvania company, American Caramel might reflect local transactions sooner than others, so we can set the Pirates checklist by this time.



All three players in E120 appear on their new teams, our biggest update for midseason changes.


New York outpaced St. Louis by a single game for 1922's AL pennant, so I think this update says more about American Caramel making fans wait for Babe Ruth's card to show up. Their July 23 swap marks E120's latest transaction cutoff, so I infer Red Sox and Yankee sets went out in August or September.

4. Max Flack and the Whale

There's another secret hiding in plain sight on Flack's card. That notched "C" on his chest dates to 1914, when Max played for Chicago's short-lived Federal League franchise!

 


That Federal League spirit remains with us today, at least in Chicago. Wrigley Field began as a park built by Charles Weeghman for use by his "Feds" in 1914.

Rookie OF Max sits dead-center in their 1914 team photo

The squad changed to "Whales" for 1915 and captured that year's title on its final day of play. When the Federal League folded, MLB allowed Weeghman to buy Chicago's Cubs, where Flack played until that midday 1922 trade. Cool to see this photo history resurface eight years after the fact!

5. Frank Snyder and Charles Robertson, International Men of Mystery

I promise this photo does not ask whether you can see through Frank's uniform, a "thin pants" reference that'll be dated by summer 2024. It's for something you can't see: any photo credit.


All but two E120 cards credit their photo to one of five sources.
  1. I.F.S. : International Film (or Feature) Service (179 cards, maybe 180)
  2. U&U : Underwood & Underwood (14, maybe 15)
  3. FM : Felix Mendelsohnn (13)
  4. P&A: Pacific & Atlantic (5)
  5. S: Company not yet identified (27)
Photos for Frank's Giants teammates came from I.F.S., as well as all 15 Yankees. These guys show that expected © mark near their feet.

 

Synder's stats show he played often and well, with no midseason team change to muddle things. I assume an editing gaffe omitted his I.F.S. photo credit, making Frank's card unique in E120!

Charlie Robertson, another "man out standing in his field," got a step closer with © and then petered out.


The White Sox sourced photos from three different studios (I.F.S., U&U, FM), so who's to say what his credit should be. That uniform and environment looks close to teammate Everett Yaryan, so I'll pencil in U&U.


I added those "maybes" above to get 240 total card ©.

Summary

Card analysis showed us which borders match to teams, unmasked an unusual Ruth card, and found some Federal League history that remains relevant today. Next time, we ask the hard questions: where can a guy buy these sweet, sweet sweaters?


You can spend days uncovering secrets from E120's 240 cards, thanks to its unconventional design and wide-ranging photo sources, and I look forward to finding even more in the future. Add any of your own questions or insights in the comments!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

1961 Bell Brand Dodgers Baseball #5, Norm Larker

This classic baseball pose under sunny Dodgertown skies made me wonder why I knew so little about its #5, Norm Larker. He even compares favorably to a HOFer, Red Ruffing, six-time World Series winner with the powerhouse 1930s Yankees. Does that mean Norm's been overlooked for Cooperstown in the six decades since his retirement?

There's a catch! Red Ruffing earned his pay on the mound every fourth day, so Norm's similar to a good-hitting pitcher, an altogether different context. Larker notched some good seasons, including an All-Star year in 1960, without peaking for long enough to stand out among 1960s contemporaries. This name from my prime collecting years offers a better career comparison.

Norm's top Baseball Reference comp, Glenn Adams

BONUS TRIVIA: Ruffing's the sole pitcher to play after WWII and collect 500+ career hits, often pinch-hitting on off days. He joined the Yankees slugging lineup for this photo before 1938 World Series game one at Wrigley Field, Red at far right.

Norm wore #5 all four years in LA (1958-61) and Bell Brand used team uniform numbers as its set checklist, making him my type card.

Good to see scheduled 1961 doubleheaders on Norm's better half! A worthy artifact of the 20th century game, no question. 

Check out the Sports Collectors Daily profile of 1958-61 Bell Brand chips sets for another throwback.

Bell Brand promo for 1960

Each bag of chips contained a single card in cellophane and some unopened examples survive today.

Bell Brand snacks made themselves easy to find in supermarkets, often with seasonal tips.

A Sampler of Things: Bell Brand Potato Chips

I wrote this during Lent season 2024 and, as shown on that ad card, observant eaters can still top their tuna casserole with potato chips. Just wash up before smearing grease all over your cards!

Values: Larker cost a few dollars as one of this set's lesser-known guys. The full set checklist includes sharp photos of Snider, Koufax, Hodges, and more. It remains popular among Dodger collectors, so expect to pay $25+ for its HOFers and $100+ for those in nice condition.

Fakes / reprints: There's some risk of fakery for major stars like Koufax, as well as those in "unopened" (restored) cellophane. I recommend sticking to opened, lesser-known players if you need a type card.