Postcard Album Update: Other baseball cards

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Every baseball fan has heard of Hank Aaron. Here he is with his brother Tommy. Both grew up in Mobile, Ala., and were a source of local pride, so it's not surprising that the Scenic South Card Co., Bessemer, Ala., printed this chrome card.

For those who love baseball collectibles but find the traditional “bubblegum” cards too pricey or too commercial, there’s a pleasant alternative: BASEBALL POSTCARDS.

It isn’t possible to find a postcard of every major league player who ever picked up a bat, but there are a surprising number of really nice cards for collectors who like searching for sports gems.

Major league stadiums are a good place to begin. In the 1930s and ’40s most, if not all, stadiums appeared on linen postcards, the best of which show an interior view with spectators and a game in progress.

Players are more likely to be found on later cards, especially standard-size chromes of the ’50s and ’60s. The Baseball Hall of Fame is another good source for player postcards.

There’s a lot more to baseball than the highly organized professional teams of today. The game evolved gradually from folk games that date back as early as the 14th century in Europe. In the United States, Abner Doubleday has largely been discredited as the inventor of the game. Rather, baseball as it’s played in modern times, gradually grew into a national mania with American roots in the 19th century.

The first rules were published for the New York Knickerbockers in 1845, and later in the century Brooklyn had the first fenced fields that allowed backers to charge admission to games. In the early years, the players were amateurs playing for fun, but in 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional team, recruiting players and traveling to find competition.

The Civil War did much to spread the game as bored soldiers and prisoners filled idle hours by playing a version of baseball. Whatever the history of the organized sport, it caught on in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Baseball fields became a traditional in towns and villages across the country.

Perhaps the best of all baseball postcards are those that document hometown teams playing for fun. If a sandlot player made it to the big leagues, he brought fame and glory to the people back home. But for every star, there were thousands and thousands of men and boys (and later girls playing mostly softball) whose lives were enriched by the game.

The sport spread to schools, military groups, semi-pro teams and even prisons. Basically it became an all-American recreation, and groups that were proud of their teams would record them on postcards. Like the team photos taken today, real photos of teams were mainly distributed to players and their families, making many of these scarce and choice.

Some particularly entertaining baseball cards show House of David teams. They barnstormed the country from the 1920s to 1955 playing both amateur and semi-pro competitors. Benjamin Purnell founded the religious cult in 1903, and weekend baseball began in 1913. The teams were one of many commercial efforts, and by the early 1920s better players were being hired. They didn’t have to join the cult, but they were required to play with long hair.

The House of David was split after scandals in the late 1920s but still fielded up to three teams. They owned a financial empire that included a popular amusement park where postcards could be purchased. (My mother-in-law was a close friend of a member who left the cult – the source of my interest.)

For those who don’t take baseball seriously, there are many baseball comics including some featuring children. Perhaps best of all, there’s always the chance of finding a rare or unusual image. Baseball has been part of the American scene for a long time, and the “other” baseball cards are well worth the attention of collectors.

More Images:

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The House of David Ball Team is shown on a real photo. They all have long hair, some extremely long, but not all are bearded. Were the hired players clean-shaven? Several books have been written about the cult, and much information is available on the Internet.
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Buchtel was an Ohio village and an early coal mining community. The mines closed when a better grade of coal was found elsewhere. Did the players shown here on a real photo postcard work the mines and play baseball on their days off? Whatever their history, they had uniforms with WS on the shirts, most likely standing for White Socks (which they all wore).

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