Monday, July 14, 2008

1979 Jack Wallin Diamond Greats Baseball #5, Joe Sewell

There are 1000 stories in the naked city and today's guest, Joe "Yankees Shortstop" Sewell, ties together several.
  • Tragedy: debuted as Ray Chapman's replacement after baseball's first fatal beaning in 1920.
  • Joy: Cleveland rode out of that valley to win the World Series that year, and Joe eventually picked up another with the Yankees in 1932.
  • Legacy: forty-plus years later, the Vets Committee voted him into the Hall of Fame, likely because he was one of the best shortstops throughout the 1920s and was day-in, day-out dependable before Gehrig made it fashionable.
Card front (blank back)

Though his batting skills eventually tailed off, Sewell holds what might be an unbreakable career record, striking out only once every 63 at-bats. This skill improved over time and he never struck out more than 9 times per season from 1925-1933, despite playing almost every single day. His 1990 obituary reported that Joe played his entire career with a single bat, adding a touch of the mythical to an already impressive performance.

Jack Wallin, an enthusiastic memorabilia collector, published this set of "Diamond Greats" using simple stat lines and archival photos. Unlike many other retro oddball sets, all of the players were still alive when Wallin signed them to contracts. Most of the cards went directly to collectors, so condition is usually excellent and a high percentage bear autographs. You could argue being alive was the main criteria for set inclusion, as some of the players pictured weren't anything close to great. (Even Sewell's a marginal HOFer, if less so than others.)

Barely 30 years old, the set's a nice way to pick up vintage players at cheaper prices, especially compared to anything from their own playing days. The cards turn up often enough in oddball bins at shows and a basic eBay search returned 500+ lots available for clicky puchasing. The photos vary considerably in composition, with many using a simple head-and-shoulders shot. Collectors looking for "more" will do best with pitchers and catchers, who frequently get full-length action shots.

Trivia note: Rube Marquard is in this set, but died soon after, in 1980. He holds the distinction of being the last living player from the T206 tobacco set. As far as I can tell, Diamond Greats was the last to feature him while alive, taking his card history from 1908 - 1979, an impressive 69 years on vintage cardboard.

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