Saturday, March 25, 2017

A look at the B-R Homer Log

George Gibson was known for being a defensive catcher. He was known for his ability to develop and handle pitchers. He was not known for being a home run hitter.

In his brief minor league career, there was some thought that he might be able to be a very successful major league batter. But it didn't pan out. In 1905 and 1906 he batted an identical, and unflattering, .178. In his next 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, Gibson would remain north of .200, but in his first season in New York, in 1917, he batted only .171. He'd end his career with a .236 average for his 16 seasons. Gibson clearly remained in the league for is other skills.

But back to home runs.

I was perusing Baseball-Reference recently (I spend more time on that site that I am willing to admit), and while there was reminded of the homer log.

I thought it might be interesting to look at some of Gibson's homers.
I won't talk about all of them, but here are some things that stood out to me:

According to the homer log, Gibson's first career homer came off of none other than Christy Mathewson. It was inside the park homer at the Polo Grounds on July 18, 1905. That's not even 3 weeks into Gibson's big league career; 4 days before his 25th birthday.

His next one came just about a month later, August 24, 1905. This time, it left the yard, and the victim was future teammate Vic Willis.

Gibson went homerless for all of 1906, and then hit 3 inside-the-park in 1907 within about six weeks: May 2nd, June 6th and June 10th. Gibson also hit 3 home runs in 1910, after hitting 2 in each of 1908 and 1909.

In 1913, Gibson hit his 13th career home run off of Rube Marquard.
George hit one other home run in 1913, and then his last career home run on August 19, 1915.

When it was all said and done, Gibson his 15 career home runs off of 15 different pitchers.
Seven of the fifteen were of the inside-the-park variety.
Six of the eight that left the park were hit in Boston.
Only one was hit at home (at Forbes, in 1909).

And maybe the most fun, is that 3 of the 15 home runs were hit off of pitchers that would eventually join the ranks of the hall of fame. In other words, 20% of Gibson's career home runs were off of hall-of-fame pitchers.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

For the rookie card collectors ...

Image courtesy of
In my last post, I touched on the end of George Gibson's career, in a way. The culmination of years of playing, managing, teaching and treating wounded fingers was his induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. This week, let's go back to the beginning. Or at least, closer to the beginning.

If you collected baseball cards in the 80's and 90's, then you almost certainly remember the rookie card craze: The hoarding of thousands of Donruss Rated Rookies or Topps Traded cards of a certain player and just waiting to cash in and retire to a life of luxury. Of course we know now it didn't play out that way. At least not for the majority; I'm sure somebody made some pretty good money off of those cards, though I'm guessing they cashed out like 30 years ago. My guess is that most people that invested in 1000 Gregg Jefferies or 500 Kevin Maas cards are still waiting for the right time to cash out.

Now, if you're like me, then even though you aren't looking to hoard and retire on rookie cards, you do still have some appreciation for them.

When it comes to pre-war baseball cards, labeling a rookie card becomes a bit of an challenge. For starters, what defines a card? Is it the dimensions? The material? Does it have to be available nationally? How is it packaged? Can it be round? What if it's mounted on something? Can it be a team photo? And once those questions have answers, we have to ask about the league. Can a rookie card be from the player's minor league team or does it have to be their major league? And what defines a major league? What if the player's major league debut was in that awkward 1901-03 era when the American League was forming? Or what if it was during the Federal League era between 1913-15?

To re-iterate the point: defining the rookie card for prewar players is tough. What card that I currently consider to be George Gibson's major league rookie card is the 1902-11 W600 Sporting Life Cabinet. It seems to be generally accepted that this card was issued in 1905. These cards could be ordered directly from Sporting Life Magazine; I assume researchers have noted that Gibson shows up as early as 1905 in the list of players that could be ordered. That's pretty good reaction time by Sporting Life, considering Gibson didn't debut with the Pirates until July 2, 1905.

Without knowing the first date Gibson's W600 became available, there might be one other contending issue for Gibson's rookie card as well. A 1901-17 Police Gazette Supplement was issued on August 12, 1905 of the Pittsburgh Pirates team. So it's possible that Gibson's rookie card was issued less than 6 weeks after he made his debut -- BUT -- that's only if Gibson is in the picture. I have yet to see a good, clear, scan of this issue to even confirm if Gibson is in it.

And again, all of this is really dependent on how you define a rookie card.
There are a few, extremely rare,  issues that feature George Gibson while he was still playing with the Montreal Royals in the Eastern League. If you're definition of rookie card includes minor league cards, then all of what I've just written is moot.

If you know of another issue featuring George Gibson that you would classify as his rookie card, share your thoughts, I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

1987: The year the ball hall called

When he was at his best, George Gibson was the best. From 1908-1912, Moon was among the premier catchers of the league -- a who's who of National League catchers with the likes of Kling, Meyers and Bresnahan.

Of the four men, Gibson yields the lowest career batting average and RBI total; anecdotally, it is said that Gibson could be counted on for hits when they counted, however. It was, of course, Gibson's defense and ability to handle pitchers that kept him in the conversation. From 1907-10, Gibson led the NL in games played by catcher. In 1909, 1910 and 1912 he was tops in the NL in fielding percentage. In 1909 and 1910 he caught the most base stealers in the NL (while also allowing the most base stealers in 1910). For his career, he's 10th for base stealers caught and 33rd among catchers in double plays turned.

Interestingly, from 1905-1913, one of these four men backstopped the National League representative in the World Series.

Of the four, only Roger Bresnahan has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (a quick read on Wikipedia has a quote from Bill James suggesting that his election was a mistake).

But the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame wasn't about to forget about George Gibson. He was inducted post-humously, in 1987, along with Fergie Jenkins, Rockey Nelson and Russ Ford. The image included in this post is the cover of the program from Gibson's induction. I picked it up recently and it's in very good condition. I was hesitant to scan any of this inside because I didn't want to crack the spine -- the contents are mostly ads, with a one-page bio of each player. Gibson's page contains the same information that is on his plaque at the hall...which you can see if you're ever in St. Mary's. Seriously, it's not a huge museum, but if you're ever in the area it's worth the visit. If you have some time right now, actually, it's worth visiting their site to check out what they've got going on, including their plans for a new, bigger, museum.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Gibson more rare than a Gibson more rare than Wagner

In the last post, I briefly spoke about the 1913 Voskamp's Coffee Pirates set. There are a lot of cool things about that set, and I'm sure the lack of information and overall rarity of the set only adds to the mystique. It's one of many very popular prewar card sets that are exclusively Pirates players.

Today, I'm going to talk about another set that isn't short on rarity -- both in terms of finding the cards, but also in terms of finding information about them.

Enter the 1909 Colgan's Square Proofs set.

The best description of these sets that I've seen comes from the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards:
"Though widely identified as being connected to the Colgan's Chips disc issues of 1909-12, there is nothing to tie these square cards to the gum company except for the shared use of player photos. The squares measure about 1-3/8" x 1-3/4" and are blank-backed. Black-and-white player portrait player portrait photos have a last name and team identification beneath. Many, but not all, of the surviving specimens have paper and/or glue residue on back, leading to speculation they may have been part of an advertising piece. The extent of the checklist is unknown, with verified examples listed here."
The book goes on to list 51 different examples covering 50 different players.

The player that appears twice?
George Gibson!

There isn't much difference between the Gibson examples in the set. The photos are the same, but the alignment of 'Gibson' and 'Pittsburg' relative to each other between examples is different.

I should note at this point, that the SCD guide doesn't tell the whole story. SGC's population report shows that they've graded two different Matty McIntyre cards, one with Detroit and the other with Chicago. That is particular baffling, though, as this set is obviously not just a 1909 set though that is how it's commonly catalogued. I suppose that's a discussion for another day.

Despite doing it for the second post in a row, I do hesitate to use population reports as a definitive measure of rarity. But as a general guide, well, I'm about to do it again, so I guess I'm saying it's okay!

The example shown here is one of the two graded by SGC. According SGC's population report there are only 2 Gibson examples graded (out of 52 graded by SGC for the entire set). PSA has never graded any Gibsons, but has graded 3 others (all different), and Beckett has graded 6 (no Gibsons) for a total of 61. Of those 61, 26 are the only one for that particular player. The other 35 cover 13 players, meaning at least 13 of the cards in the confirmed checklist have never been graded at all. The most commonly graded player is Dode Criss, with 4.

Last week I suggested that if only 25% of Voskamp's have been graded they're still more rare then the T206 Wagner. I really have no idea how accurate that guess is, so what follows will continue to remain highly unscientific ;)

There are 4 graded Voskamp's Gibsons between PSA and SGC, which means I'm suggesting there are 16 surviving Voskamp Gibsons.  The Gibson I showed last week is actually in a GAI holder, and over the years I've definitely seen a few raw examples. Surely there are some in collections that simply aren't public and/or haven't seen the light of day in years. 16 is a relatively safe estimate.

With the Colgan Square Proof, SGC says they've graded two. I have seen one raw one in 10 years (the variation I mention above). I have no idea if it's now the other SGC-graded Gibson, but if we say it's not, we're talking about a total known (by me) population of 3. I assume there are some in private collections still.

The truth is, you can find a Colgan Square Proof relatively easily. It's one of those sets that finding an example is easy, but finding a particular player isn't always so simple. Having seen 2 or 3 Gibsons in 10 years, and seeing that at least 1/4 of the set has never been graded even once, has me comfortable suggesting that more 20% of the surviving Square Proof Gibsons have been graded.

If that suggested assumption (see, very scientific) holds, then there are fewer than 15 surviving Colgan Square Proofs, and I'm counting both variations in that total, which is clearly fewer than my suggested 16 Voskamp's.

So there you have it. A Gibson more rare than a Gibson more rare than Wagner.

Oh, in case you were thinking about it, worry not, I am not a teacher, so my crazy methods are not being taught regularly to the leaders of tomorrow!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Gibson more rare than Wagner

In 2016, Marketside Pizza inserted baseball cards in pizzas they sold at Walmart in the USA. The move was a hit among bloggers and modern collectors, and was a bit of a throwback to something baseball card collector's haven't seen in a while.

In the 1980's and 1990's, baseball cards being distributed with food products was quite common. Cereal, bread, soft drinks and snack foods of all kinds ran promotions containing sports cards. As you work backwards from there, baseball cards being distributed with some product becomes more and more common. Though I am not clear on the exact method of distribution, a card set associated with food items that you may not be aware of is the 1913 Voskamp's Coffee Pirates, a regional 20-card set released by B.H. Voskamp's Sons Inc Wholesale Grocers.
It may be difficult to tell from the photo, but each card features a black/white posed image over an off-white background. The back contains the checklist for the 20-card set and the following note:
"When you have a complete set bring them or send them to us. We will return the photos to you and furnish you with one reserved base ball seat, Grand Stand, Forbes Field, or two general admission seats, or four bleacher seats."
Below that note is the B.H. Voskamp's name and their address in Pittsburgh, PA. There are surely earlier examples of this type of promotion using some kind of collectible set, but I can't name it right off of the top of my head. The formula was pretty simple: Entice people to buy your product and collect some cards, and then trade the complete set of those cards for some type of goods or service. It was also common to make the task of actually completing the set particularly difficult by including a 'chase' card.

In the case of this set, the chase card must be that of Ed Mensor, as the card has simply never been confirmed to actually exist. Hank Robinson also used to be considered 'unconfirmed' until recently, meaning the population of that card is exactly one.

Considering the cards were to be returned upon set completion, one would expect that even if rare, a few Mensor and Robinson cards would have survived. Surely more than just one Robinson, at least. Of course the set is over 100 years old, and it was only a regional promotion, so the quantities of the entire set is certainly much lower than any national promotion or collectible card of the time.
Prior to the internet, there probably weren't too many people outside of the Pittsburgh area with any experience with Voskamp's. Even with the internet, finding examples of this set isn't the easiest thing to do, though a few will sell at major auctions, and even on eBay, every year. Just how rare is this set, though?

Realizing the flaws in relying on SGC and PSA population reports (not every card has been graded, how reliably does either company remove cards from their reports when they are re-submitted or crossed-over, etc), consider this: To date, PSA and SGC have graded a combined total of 79 1913 Voskamp's Coffee Pirates cards (of those 79, 8 are Marty O'Toole). By contrast, the two grading companies have graded a combined 44 T206 Honus Wagner cards. In other words, for every 2 Voskamp's that have been graded, 1 Honus Wagner T206 has been!

Now, I think it's safe to assume that the T206 Wagner is probably more likely to be graded than a Voskamp's Coffee card. But even if only 25% of Voskamp's are graded and 80% of Wagners are, then even the most common 1913 Voskamp's Pirate has a smaller population than a T206 Honus Wagner!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mr. Wagner, will you kindly step outside for a moment?

As a George Gibson fan, I find myself reading a lot of books about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Inevitably, you'll cover much of the same games and seasons, but I do find it interesting to read from the perspective of different players. Plus, each new book seems to find one or two things that were completely unknown to me previously.

Last year, I finally got around to reading a biography about Honus Wagner. It's been on my to-do list for awhile. This past Summer, I was ordering some books from McFarland Publishing (I get a lot of baseball books from these guys; they're an awesome company to deal with) and decided to finally pickup the Wagner bio. They actually had a couple to choose from and for reasons I don't actually remember I went with Honus Wagner - The Life of Baseball's "Flying Dutchman" by Arthur D. Hittner.

In short, I really enjoyed the book. For anyone looking to read a biography of one of baseball's all-time greats, you won't go wrong with this one. This post isn't a book review, to be clear, but there was a particularly interesting story covered in the book that I wanted to share.
Here's a snippet of the book from page 192:
    For the first time in three years, Wagner attended the Pirates' training
camp in Hot Springs. He arrived late, his brother Al in tow. Now over 40 and
out of the game for two years, the elder Wagner worked out with the club and
played a creditable shortstop for the second stringers.
    Wagner disliked the public attention which he inevitably attracted at the
Arkansas resort. One day a photographer sought him out at the hotel. A clerk
directed the young man toward Wagner, who was chatting in the lobby with
teammate George Gibson. Uncertain which of the two was the legendary Pirate
star, the photographer took a chance. "Mr. Wagner," he inquired tentatively,
"will you kindly step outside for a moment? I want to take your picture."
Instantly, the camera-shy Wagner turned to Gibson. "Go ahead, John," he
motioned to Gibson. "All right," smiled Gibson picking up on the ruse, "come
on, take my picture until you drop." The Pittsburgh backstop then escorted
the photographer to the lawn outside the hotel where he posed for several
pictures as the Pirate shortstop. The cameramn returned the following
day with a cache of "Wagner" picture postcards, which he offered at a nickel
This story, regardless of who played the role of Wagner during the photo shoot, is amusing. Given the focus of this blog, it's that much more interesting that Gibson was doing the posing. And clearly required at least a little further investigation.

In the chapter notes, Hittner referenced an early 1911 edition of The Sporting News for this story, so I tracked down that copy of The Sporting News to read more.

Apparently, the story goes that a Pittsburgh newspaper ordered a photographer to head to Hot Springs in March of 1910 to take action photos of all of the Pirates. Absent that day were Gibson and Wagner, so early the next morning, the photographer headed to the hotel to complete his assignment. There is no mention of Gibson ever posing "as himself" for the photographer, but The Sporting News version of the story continues that when the "Wagner" photos of Gibson were being sold the next day, "Some of the players, to help the joke along, purchased, and it was not until several days had elapsed that the [illegible] learned of his 'mistake'."

The Sporting News copy that I'm reading (courtesy of is difficult to read, and what I am able to read does not mention the actual name of the photographer.

But suffice it to say, I'm now extremely curious if any examples of this postcard survived. Maybe more than any other season, it seems there are a number of 1910 Hot Springs photos of the Pirates in personal collections, on the internet and occasionally at auction, so it's not a complete impossibility, right? And if the photographer figured it out after a few short days, did he simply start to sell Gibson postcards?

Does anyone out there know more about these postcards?
Anyone out there have one in their collection that they can share a photo of?

That'd be awesome to see.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Enthusiastic about Coca-Cola

So it's well documented that Ty Cobb was a wise investor. And if you read past the claims that he was mean, dangerous, grumpy and all that, you'll find many examples of his generosity and willingness to help out old ballplayers who were down on their luck, or struggling financially. I doubt it's documented anywhere what his net worth was, or what his stock portfolio looked like, but there are two stocks he is very regularly associated with. It seems his Georgia roots allowed him to get involved with the Coca-Cola company relatively early on, and his ties to Detroit connected him to the Ford Motor Company.

If you read about the relationship between Cobb and other players, those that considered him a friend have been quoted saying that he handed out investing advice to anyone that would listen -- sometimes right in the middle of a baseball game.

How many players actually took that advice is obviously unknown.

One thing I have always wondered, though, is what Cobb's involvement was in recruiting ball players to appear in the series of Coca-Cola ads that ran in newspapers from at least as early as the 1910s and at least into the mid-1920's. Here's an example of George Gibson's ad below:

The top of the ad reads: "George Gibson of the Pittsburg Nationals (Champions of the World) let the League as catcher with a percentage of .983 and caught more games than any other catcher last year. He writes us that he is enthusiastic about Coca-Cola."

The image, in case you don't recognize it, appears to have been cropped from George's M101-2, as shown below:

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has documented the full checklist of players that can be found promoting Coca-Cola, but some of the big names of the day are available, including Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner, Frank Chance, John McGraw and Eddie Collins.  The set isn't all hall-of-famers, though. In addition to Gibson, Charles Dooin and Owen Bush are featured in ads, among many others.

Finding these ads isn't terribly difficult. They are regularly available on eBay and other sports forums and can be found in quite good condition for a very fair price (read: much cheaper than the tobacco and caramel cards of the era in many cases).

It's an easy way to add a period piece to a collection.