Saturday, September 15, 2018

C46 Degrees of Separation: Bill O'Hara

A few months ago, I was looking at C46s, and Ed Phelps caught my attention. I've looked at so many cards in this set. I used to own over half of it, so I'm not sure why it took so long for me to make this connection, but it did: Ed Phelps. He caught for Pittsburgh while George Gibson was there. It made me wonder how many other guys in this set played with or against Mr. Gibson.

And so, here we are. A friendly spin on the whole "6 Degrees of Separation" thing, with a particular focus on connecting as many players in the C46 set, as possible, to George Gibson. Without any further ado, I present to you, C46 Degrees of Separation.

Up first, is the first man in the set. Bill O'Hara. A pretty excellent place to start, if I don't say so myself. If you know your T206s, then you're already thinking about the O'Hara St. Louis variation in that set, and maybe even know that he played only a few games with St. Louis in 1910, but played most of the 1909 season with the New York Giants. Well, did you also know that O'Hara is Canadian?

That's actually why his C46 is so great to me. It's Canadian through-and-through. O'Hara is also a pretty excellent place to start, because it should be easy to connect him to George. Bill's professional playing career started in 1902, and continued until 1915, at which point, he joined the war effort. When he returned from the war, he returned to Toronto and was involved with the club in a non-playing capacity. I don't actually know a lot about those years, but since Gibson managed in Toronto in 1919, it seems likely that they'd have crossed paths.

But I can do better than that. Bill played 14 games for Baltimore in the Eastern League in 1905, and George was with Montreal for part of 1905. There's a chance they crossed paths there, but I didn't look. In 1909. Bill played 115 games with New York of the National League, and George, of course, set his iron man record, appearing in 150 games with the Pirates.

That leaves us with 1910, while Bill is with St. Louis in the National League, and George is with Pittsburgh. According to baseball-reference, Bill appeared in 9 games with St. Louis in 1910. I have no reason not to believe that's true, and it sure explains the scarcity of that darn T206. So the question is, did St. Louis play Pittsburgh in any of those 9 games? As you've surely figured out by now, the answer is yes.

Opening day for both Pittsburgh and St. Louis, in 1910, occurred on April 14th at St. Louis. Pitching for St. Louis that day, was former Pirate, Vic Willis. In the bottom of the ninth, Willis' spot came up in the batting order, and he was lifted for a pinch hitter. And so, with Gibson behind the plate, and Howie Camnitz on the mound, none other than William A. O'Hara stepped to the plate. Gibson and Camnitz would work together to turn O'Hara into a strikeout victim, on their way to preserving a 5-1 lead, and an eventual Pirates win, which isn't a great story for O'Hara, but it does connect him to Gibson, right?

O'Hara would end the season in Toronto, playing 122 games there. He remained in Toronto for another 5 seasons, including 1912 when he batted 0.304 and helped his club to the first ever International League championship.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, July 2, 2018

113 years ago today...

Yesterday was Canada Day, marking Canada's 151st birthday.

113 years ago, yesterday, a young Canadian was in Pittsburgh, set to make his major league debut for the hometown Pirates, who were hosting St. Louis. It would have been a nice little bit of trivia; Canadian ball player making their first appearance in the big leagues on Canada's 38th birthday. But it rained, and the game was not played.

That Canadian, of course, was George Gibson. That night, he boarded a train with his new Pirates teammates, and made off for Cincinnati. It was there, 133 years ago, today, that he made his big league debut. Pitching for the Bucs was Deacon Phillippe.

According to newspaper reports, Phillipe out pitched his counterpart, Bob Ewing, but 5 errors by the Pirates were his undoing. One of those errors was awarded to Gibson, who in an attempt to catch a would-be base stealer, chucked what he thought was a decent ball down to second base, only to have it arrive before either SS Honus Wager, or 2B Claude Ritchey, could get there. The ball went into centre field, and Gibson was awarded an error.

The play is well documented in Lawrence Ritter's excellent book, The Glory of their Times. As Gibson tells it, he figured Wagner and Ritchey missed the ball on purpose, because he was a rookie, when in fact, they missed it because they were used to the slow rainbow throws from the injured Heinie Peitz. Following the inning the three man sorted the play out, and Wagner advised Gibson to keep throwing the ball the way he had.

Over course of the game, the Reds stole three bags on Gibson, and he went 0-for-3. Nonetheless, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, liked what he saw. As reported by the Pittsburgh Press the following day (July 3, 1905):
"President Dreyfuss says the lad is still green, but expresses the belief that he will learn quickly, and be a mighty valuable man."
Gibson, of course, did prove to be mighty valuable, and remained with the Pirates for eleven more seasons, before joining the New York Giants.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Time to solve a RMYstery

If you're at all interested in baseball photos -- whether it's learning about them, looking at them, or trying to collect them, you should check out They describe themselves as an "industry leading auction site for vintage collectable photographs." They are. They've been running auctions since 2013, I believe, and I've always been amazed at the scope and quality of images they auction.

If you're interested in reading baseball books, then you should also check out The Glory of their Times, by Lawrence Ritter. The book contains interviews with old-time ball players. The original version was published in 1966. It was re-released in 1984, and another four interviews were added. It's a very easy read, and the interviews are so candid and honest. Even if you don't want to buy it, your local library almost certainly has a copy.

Back to photos, though. This past December, RMY's 2017 Holiday Premier Auction contained a George Gibson photo. It's one I'm well aware of, as it the basis for a number of George Gibson cards.

Here are some such cards:

And here is the image upon which they are based: 

I've wanted to track down a copy of this image for a long time. When I saw this in RMY's auction, it didn't take long to decide to go after it. And lucky for me, I won it for what I consider to be a very reasonable price.

Now here's the RMYstery. Look at the back:

When I first saw the back of this photo, I didn't think much of it. I mean, I was interested in the front, obviously, so I don't think much about the backs of photos. I know that the back of the photo can help you authenticate it, but honestly, I don't know what I'm looking at/for, and I trust RMY.

At some point, I was checking on the auction and the back did catch my attention. Specifically, "#1 in George Gibson chapter." George Gibson chapter? What George Gibson chapter?

And then it hit me. I came racing upstairs to my office and grabbed my copy of 'The Glory of their Times'. I flipped to the "George Gibson chapter", and guess what I found?

Page 71. I'm not going to scan the page in case there's some copyright reason I can't, but sure enough. The bottom half of that page is this photo. Below it is the caption "George Gibson around 1910".

So now I'm thinking, well wait a second...does that mean this is the actual physical photo that Lawrence Ritter used for his classic book? That can't be. Can it?! I flipped through the book a bit more, and eventually I landed on a page titled 'Picture Credits'.

The page starts with, "Many of the pictures in this book were obtained from the personal albums of the players themselves. the sources of the others are as follows:"

So I went through the list of photo sources, and page numbers.

Guess which page number isn't in the list? Page 71. Keep in mind the auction is still going at this point. But now I'm thinking the photo in this auction was used for the book, AND, it came right from George Gibson?! That couldn't possibly be, could it?

So there's my RMYstery. Where did this photo come from?

After the auction ended and I paid for the photo, I emailed RMY and asked for some more info about where they got the photo. I haven't heard back, though I'm sure I will. With 1100+ lots in the auction, plus the holidays fast approaching, I can only imagine how much work it would be collecting payments, packaging, shipping, dealing with inquiries, paying consigners, etc. And the truth is, while I do believe this photo was used in the book, I really don't believe it came from George Gibson, so I'm fine to wait for a response.

BUT....what if?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Noticeably Absent

In 1913, the Ligget and Myers Tobacco Company of New York issued a sweet set of baseball cards. Catalogued as 1913 T200 Fatima Team Cards, the set consists of 16 team cards, one for each of the 8 NL and 8 AL teams in 1913.

According to Chuck Paris' excellent T200 page, the set depicts a total of 369 players, managers and mascots. That's a huge number of players for only 16 cards. Probably wouldn't be cheap, but putting together this set would almost give you the whole league! At 2 5/8" x 4 3/4, I can't help but wonder if some of the details of the team photos are tough to make out, but I've never so much as seen one in person. Still, I wonder how cool this set would look displayed all together. If you have the money and the patience, there's also a premium version of this set, which is the same images but in a much larger premium format.

When I first started to compile an extensive list of George Gibson cards many years ago, I just assumed the T200 would be on the list. I looked forward to being able to add the Pittsburgh Club card to my collection.

And then I found a scan of the card, and, well, look at this:

Noticeably absent from the team picture, after batting .240 and leading all NL catchers with a .990 fielding percentage in 1912, none other than George 'Moon' Gibson.


Yep, you read that right. No Gibson. This was a disappointing discovery. It still is.
Gibby was on the Pirates in 1913, but he only caught 48 games. Mike Simon (yep, that Mike Simon), played in 92 games.

For a long time I wondered why Gibson would be missing. Eventually I learned that Gibson broke his ankle early in 1913 and missed a couple of months of the season. Since I don't know when this photo was taken, I can't say for sure that the broken ankle is the reason Gibson is missing, but it's a simple enough explanation to bring closure to this for me. And besides, whether I have the sure answer or not, Gibson will remain noticeably absent from the team picture, and that card will remain noticeably absent from my collection.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Things that make you go hmmmm.... T207 Edition

When it comes to old tobacco cards, I don't think it's unfair to say that George Gibson is well represented. He's got a T3, a T201, 6 T202s, a T205, T206 (more than one if you count the backs), T216s and even some stamps (T330-2 and T332).

But one set whose checklist does not contain Gibby is the 1912 T207 Brown Backgrounds. And while you might expect that he'd be in the set because he's in the T205 and T206 set, to expect that is to not fully understand the T207 set. Which isn't to say that anyone really understands the T207 checklist.

The T207 Brown Backgrounds are interesting. After the colourful T205 and T206 issues, the T207 set might be considered bland, by some. They are, well, very brown. This isn't to say they aren't popular, they're nowhere near as popular as T206s to be sure, but there are some die-hard T207 collectors out there. While some argue that the colour palette a little bland, others believe that it's part of the set's charm.

At 200 cards, the T207 set is about the size of the T205 set, but less than half of the size of the T206 set. For some, the checklist lacks the appeal of other sets of the era. The T207 issue is a chance to build an early set without having to buy a Honus Wagner, an Eddie Plank, or 4 Ty Cobb cards. In fact, this set is missing many of the major stars of era. Walter Johnson is probably the key to the set. Tinker and Chance are here, but Evers is missing. So is Mordecai Brown. McGraw and Bresnahan are present, Mathewson is absent. Tris Speaker and Eddie Cicotte got cards, Jake Stahl got left out. The list goes on.

The Pirates representation is particularly interesting.
Based on numbers from, here are the Pittsburgh players that played the most at each non-pitching position in 1911:

C      100   George Gibson
1B    104   Bill McKechnie
2B    137   Dots Miller
SS    130   Honus Wagner
3B    153   Bobby Byrne
OF    129   Max Carey
OF    110   Fred Clarke
OF    148   Chief Wilson

And for 1912:

C      95    George Gibson
1B    148   Dots Miller
2B    111   Alex McCarthy
SS    145   Honus Wagner
3B    130   Bobby Byrne
OF    77     Mike Donlin
OF    152   Chief Wilson
OF    150   Max Carey

Here are the position players represented in the T207 set

Bobby Byrne
Max Carey
Mike Donlin
Ham Hyatt
Billy Kelly
Alex McCarthy
Bill McKechnie
Dots Miller
Tommy Leach
Mike Simon
Chief Wilson

Between 1911 and 1912, the most active players, by position, not included in this set are:

George Gibson
Honus Wagner
Fred Clarke

Wagner missing is probably expected. For whatever reason you believe he was pulled from the T206 set, he was likely also left out of T205, and, had bigger stars been included, would have likely been passed over in T207. Clarke is in both T205 and T206, but didn't actually play any games in 1912 as his career was winding down. I suppose it's possible that American Tobacco knew he wouldn't play (ie. I don't know if anything was announced to that effect), so maybe his absence makes sense.

But what about Gibson? He is in the T205 set. He is in the T206 set. In 1912, he is at the height of his stardom, and, in 1911 he caught more Pirates games than backup catchers Mike Simon and Billy Kelly combined. Combined!

And in case you didn't scroll back up to check, both Kelly and Simon are in this set.

Here are their cards:

Now the fun part -- and the reason for this whole post. I got a text from my buddy Marty yesterday telling me to check out the back of Simon's T207 card. Total aside, but if you wanna see a great Gibson collection, paired with an awesome collection of Canadian players, check out Marty's collection.

Check this out:

The back of Simon's card labels him as "George Gibson's efficient understudy". The bio mentions Gibson twice more. Is this the back of a Simon card, or the back of a Gibson card?

Once Marty put this idea in my head, I went and checked out the back of Bill Kelly's T207.
It's not quite as Gibson-oriented, but his name gets dropped here too. Look at this:

"Before the season of 1912 was two months' old Kelly had supplanted the veteran Gibson as leading receiver for the Pirates."

I've not checked the numbers to see if this is true, but if you look at the numbers for the entire season, nobody supplanted Gibson. He appeared in 95 games, compared to 48 by Billy Kelly, 42 by Mike Simon and 1 by Earl Blackburn. Just like in 1911, Gibson caught more Pirates games than all of Pittsburgh's other catchers combined.

The American Tobacco Company, and more specifically, those that put together the T207 set in 1912, are obviously aware that Gibson is the catcher in Pittsburgh, why didn't they include him in the set?

And secondly, how do I not add these cards to my collection?

Thanks for the post idea, Marty!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Here's something you don't see every day

Summer is flying by, and I've spent very little time here on the blog. Best laid plans, I guess.

Now that I'm sitting down to post something, I figured I could play off of my own scarcity, and show you something else you don't see every day: 1972 Classic Cards.

This set consists of four series, each of 30 cards. They are catalogued as a 1972 issue. The cards themselves, are on a thin, cream coloured cardboard, and were issued by a company out of Flint, MI. And honestly, that's nearly everything I know about them. You can find a checklist online easily enough -- the set contains a lot of pre-war hall-of-famers.

And of course, the set contains George Gibson.

I added this one to my collection sometime back before 2008 -- back when Yahoo had an auction site (I'm assuming they no longer do). Cost me $15 to buy the entire series and I couldn't have been happier at the time. This series came with Wagner, Lajoie and a few others. I kept Gibson and Bill O'Hara (another Canadian), and sold/traded/gave every other card away.

And that was the last time I saw a 1972 Classic Cards Gibson for sale. Actually, that's the only time I've ever seen this card for sale. At times I have seen other cards from the set for sale, but not often. I'm sure this card isn't that rare -- I'm sure it's just one of those sets that nobody figures anyone wants, and they don't bother to try to sell them. But honestly, I don't know.

If you have any of these cards, or know more about the set, drop a line in the comments. I'd love to learn more.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

On this day...

Today is July 22, 1917.

One hundred and thirty-seven years ago, today, George Gibson was born in London, Ontario (or at least that's the most commonly accepted place; there are some that disagree, claiming he was born in one of the surrounding towns).

He would remain in that area, working construction, and playing baseball on various town and picked teams. In his early twenties, he ventured off to Buffalo, and played the end of the 1903 season in the Eastern League for George Stallings' Bisons. In 1904, he was acquired by Montreal, where he played for the Royals of the Eastern League until mid-1905. That's when Barney Dreyfuss bought his contract and made him a Pirate.

George made his major league debut on July 2, 1905, in Cincinnati. The Pirates lost that game, 4-1. Gibson would go on to play 44 games, but bat only 0.178 in his rookie season. Dreyfuss and Pirates Manager Fred Clarke had seen enough to know they had something, though.

From 1907-1910, Gibson caught more games than any other NL catcher (from 1907-12, Gibson averaged 124 games).

In 1909, Gibson set career highs in hits (135), doubles (25), triples (9), RBIs (52) and stolen bases (9). His 150 games caught was a record, and lead the National League in fielding percentage (0.983) and caught stealing percentage (52.9). In the World Series that year, Gibson backstopped the Pirates to a title in over Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers. For the first time in World Series history, it took the full seven games to decide the winner. Gibson caught every inning for the Pirates without a single error. He held Ty Cobb to only 2 stolen bases, and stole just as many himself.

Gibson remained among the elite defensive catchers, again leading the National League in fielding percentage in 1910 (0.984) and 1912 (0.990). Gibson was second in 1911 (0.979).

In 1913, Gibson suffered a broken ankle and only played in 48 games (his lowest by far since his rookie year). Gibson was back in 1914 and 1915 playing 101 and 118 games respectively, but his fielding percentages dropped off. Part way through 1916, Gibson was released, and his contract was purchased by John McGraw, of the New York Giants. Gibson refused to report, and instead went back home to his farm in London.

By the time the 1917 season rolled around, McGraw and Gibson had worked things out, George was re-instated (he had been banned from baseball for not honouring the 1916 release purchase), and he joined the Giants. There he remained for two seasons, helping manage the pitchers and play the odd game (Gibson appeared in a total of 39 games in 1917 and 1918). When the Giants played the Chicago White Sox in the 1918 World Series, Gibson coached but was not part of the playing roster.

At the end of the 1918 season, McGraw released Gibson so that he could manage the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League for the 1919 season. The team finished with a 93-57 record, good enough for second place, but still 8 games behind the powerful Baltimore Orioles.

In the Winter of 1919,  Barney Dreyfuss came calling. He was in need of a Manager. Gibson ended up joining the Pirates, and from 1920-1922, he managed the big league club. In the middle of the 1922 season, Gibson resigned his position, handing the reigns over to future Hall-of-Famer, Bill McKechnie.

In 1923, when Donie Bush joined the Washington Senators as their manager, he hired George Gibson to be one of his coaches. Gibson was fired before the end of the season. In 1925, Gibson joined the Chicago Cubs as a coach. When Cubs Manager Rabbit Maranville was fired near the end of the season, Gibson took over as Manager. He did not return in 1926.

Gibson remained largely out of baseball until 1931, when Dreyfuss again came calling. From 1932-34 George served his second tenure as Pirates coach, until he was fired mid-season. Another future hall-of-famer took over for him again, this time it was Pie Traynor.

George returned home to London, and remained active in baseball locally.

In 1948, Fred Lieb, in his book, "The Pittsburgh Pirates", labelled Gibson as, "Pittsburgh's greatest all-time catcher."

In 1958, Gibson was named Canada's baseball player of the half century, and was the first baseball player elected into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

George Gibson died on January 25, 1967 and is buried at Campbell Cemetery in Komoka, Ontario.

In 1987, he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2001, The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranked Gibson 95th all-time among catchers.
In 2002, he was posthumously inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame.

When David Finoli and Bill Ranier released the second edition of "The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia", George Gibson was still ranked 78th all-time in Pirates history.

The entrance to the main grandstand at Labatt Park in London, prominently displays a commemorative plaque in Gibson's honour.

Happy Birthday, George.

Sources: Wikipedia, Baseball-Reference, and years of reading about George Gibson and the Pittsburgh Pirates.