Monday, February 16, 2015

1914 T222 Fatima Baseball Players #5, Ed Reulbach, Jimmy Archer, Larry McLean, Oscar Vitt

2015 vintage card forums continue to bustle with gossip and check-ins, as collectors take the temperature of what their market likes on a regular. Buyers (and thus, sellers) appreciate certain teams or players today more than our forebears and there's a continual hunt for discoveries in dusty estates or cigar boxes. Part of advanced collecting is feeling poised on the edge of new cardboard territory, even when "new" means "compared to Abner Doubleday."

I'm ten-plus years into the type collection, but discovered a new-to-me, century-old, Turkish cigarette entry just this week: T222 Fatima Baseball Players, a follow-up to their unnumbered T200 Team Cards. As seen in this excellent gallery, four of its players feature a "5" below their name and team, which is good enough to pique my curiosity.

The first #5, Ed Reulbach, would be a special find as one baseball's hardest-to-hit pitchers. He threw one of its finest curves and is the only man to pitch a doubleheader shutout (Sept 26, 1908); much more at his SABR bio.

How difficult is it to capture catcher Jimmy Archer in a single sentence? This Irish-born member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame could gun down base-stealers while crouched thanks to an industrial soap vat accident that bestowed upon him the proportional powers of a spider shortened and quickened his throwing arm. That's about three different novels in one guy.

While I don't own any of the #5s yet, The Trader Speaks' set gallery showed me what all four guys look like. How do they look? They look warm.

Phew, the sweating! Those dark woolens on Larry McLean speak to season after season of humid afternoon games, dreaming of 21st-century light-knit uniforms and cool evening start times.

(If Larry looks like a tall drink of water in that photo, it's because he stood 6'5", still the tallest catcher in MLB history.)

Like Billy Martin, Ossie Vitt's antagonistic managing style eclipsed his skills with the bat and glove. The public kerfuffle over his handling of Cleveland's Crybabies made the 1940 season especially juicy for fans of tight playoff races.

Despite its claimed "Collection of 100 photographs," collectors agree only 52 baseball players exist. Eight other athletes and cinema stars round out the T222 set at 60 total and there's a full checklist at Sports Collectors Daily.

Not a #5, but T222 Vic Saier is the most gleeful prewar card you'll see today. Omg weeeeeeeeeee!

Value: HOFers Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander fetch 4-digit prices, but non-star singles can run under $100. (I hope to find the #5s for below $50.)

Fakes / reprints: Fatima cards are old enough and interesting enough to be a high risk for reprinting. How to detect the bad ones? Fatima cards are real photos, so won't show any dot-printing pattern under magnification. Also, as with most prewar shopping, know your dealer when buying type cards.

Monday, February 2, 2015

1948-49 Caramelos "El Indio" Cuban Baseball #5, Orlando "Tango" Suarez

With the loosening of Amerca's decades-old Cuban travel and trade embargo on our horizon, I dusted off a dormant entry for one of my type collection's White Whales: the Caramelos El Indio cigarette set. These black-and-white photos celebrate Cuba's 1948-49 Winter League, a warm-weather haven for baseball pros from a time before Castro's revolution. This particular #5 features Orlando "Tango" Suarez, catcher for the Almendares city team and veteran of several Cuban pro seasons.

Multiple Latin American and Caribbean countries hosted "winter leagues" between November and February, so Cuba wasn't the only such off-season league. Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama, and others  have hosted similar leagues on-and-off since the early 20th century.

On the collectibles front, various tobacco, photo, and magazine publishers printed cards or stamps to support these winter league seasons. The 96 cards packaged with El Indio products show 24 players for each city in Cuba's 1948-49 league: Almendares, Cienfuegos, Havana, and Marianao.

The bio text notes Suarez played regularly for the Havana Cubans of Florida's International League (a Cuba-Florida crossover) and this Havana club served as a low-level affiliate for the Washington Senators for several years.

Baseball Reference has a starter profile for those new to Cuba's league history, though its easiest demarcation is pre- and post-1961, the year Fidel Castro banned pro sports nationwide. This socialist shift also put an end to the scouting connection between MLB teams and Cuban winter league rosters, though some players took the risk of defecting to America when they felt baseball success was within their grasp.

Tango's APBPA card for the 1949-50 season reflected his move to America's Southwestern minor leagues and he appeared on their pro rosters through 1953, though he never made the bigs (minor league stats).

This isn't a union card, as the APBPA's a fraternal assistance organization for current and former players; find the summary of their mission at

Why is this type card a White Whale? In short, rarity. Very few El Indio cards survived to reach modern collectors hands. As of writing, PSA's report lists just six total, with half-a-dozen players graded once each. Old Cardboard's set profile says a collector album exists, but I've never seen a scan for it. As with many vintage winter league sets, completing something from this era's almost impossible, no matter how much money you can throw at it.

Value: Low grade El Indio singles have auctioned for $40-50 at, with much higher prices expected for Hall of Famers or Negro League stars. Many of the Negro Leagues' best played in Cuba and other winter leagues, which sported integrated teams well in advance of an American equivalent.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be hard for fakes or reprints to surprise advanced collectors, so I doubt you'd see something so rare faked for the marketplace.