In researching my article on the 1933 Goudey set, there was an unusual subset cards that caught my eye. Sprinkled among the legendary cards of Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, and other HOFers were 15 cards of minor leaguers! Other than one very famous name, I hadn’t heard of a single one of these guys either. I was curious to find out whether these were top prospects along the lines of Donruss “Rated Rookies” or simply minor league lifers who might have made names for themselves in the cities around the country with no MLB ball club.
Although minor league stats for these players are largely missing or incomplete, it seems clear that none of the players were top prospects. Several appear to have been very good minor leaguers, but these generally weren’t players who parlayed minor league success into Big League call-ups. Rather, these players tended to parlay their lack of success in the Majors into second acts on an easier stage.
We’ll start with a quick look at each of the players, then highlight the minor leaguer Goudey should have included, and finally finish with a quick theory on how so many minor leaguers made it into a set of baseball stars.
Earl Clark, Albany Senators, #57 (Sheet 5)
Earl Clark was an outfielder with the Boston Braves from 1927-1933 and resurfaced in 1934 with the St. Louis Browns. In limited action, Clark was a career .291 hitter whose best year came in 1929. That season, he batted .315 in 279 at bats. For the rare collector chasing a signed 1933 Goudey set, I have to imagine Clark would be on the toughest cards. Besides playing only briefly after the release of this card, he also died in 1938 at the age of 30.
Horace Lisenbee, Buffalo Bisons, #68 (Sheet 5)
Horace “Hod” Lisenbee began his big league career in grand fashion, going 18-9 for the Senators and leading the league in shutouts. Things rolled downhill from there as he followed up his debut with five bad seasons (17-39 overall) in Washington and Boston before heading down to the minors.
Whatever tips he received in Buffalo didn’t seem to help, as Lisenbee would go 1-7 in his 1936 return to the majors. Likely due to the number of first-rate big leaguers gone to military service, Lisenbee made one last return in 1945 at the age of 46 (!), compiling a 1-3 record. All told, the man who began his career 18-9 would go 19-49 the rest of the way.
Pete Scott, Oakland Oaks, #70 (Sheet 5)
Pete Scott of the Oakland Oaks was by far the western-most player in the Goudey set. Scott played three years in the National League from 1926-1928, hitting well enough to wrap up his short career with a .303/.377/.450 slash line. His MLB career was a thing of the past by the time the Goudey set came out, but he could at least take pride in being “one of the most dangerous batters in the Pacific Coast League.”
Heinie Sand, Baltimore Orioles, #85 (Sheet 5)
Before you say, “Hey, wait a minute!” I’ll remind you that the Baltimore Orioles were a minor league squad for the majority of the 20th century (and some would say 2018 post-Machado trade). This is the same team that gave Babe Ruth a cup of coffee and his first baseball card back in 1914.
Sand played major league baseball from 1923-1928, finishing 18th in the 1925 NL MVP voting. (His .278/3/55 slash line didn’t quite match up to Hornsby’s .403/39/143.) Sand was also one of FOUR men named Heinie (Schuble, Manush, Sand, Meine) in the 1933 set! In fact, with Heinie Manush earning three cards in the set, a full 6 of the 240 (2.5%) cards were Heinie cards. This may be a record!
Phil Todt, St. Paul Saints, #86 (Sheet 5)
Phil Todt cracked the Goudey checklist as first baseman for the St. Paul Saints. Todt spent 8 seasons in the big leagues, mainly with the Red Sox, and racked up MVP votes three straight years from 1925-1927. Kitchen table sabermetricians of the era declared the MVP award total garbage when Todt’s .236/.280/.337 slash line and -0.9 WAR still placed him 25th in the MVP vote.
Frank O’Rourke, Milwaukee Brewers, #87 (Sheet 5)
Brewers manager Frank O’Rourke was a veteran of 14 fairly non-descript MLB seasons between 1912 and 1931. In his top season, 1925, O’Rourke batted .293 in 482 AB. O’Rourke is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Russell Rollings, Atlanta Crackers, #88 (Sheet 5)
Fans who learn about the Negro Leagues eventually come across a team (oxymoronically?) called the Atlanta Black Crackers or ABCs. The name is better understood when one realizes Atlanta also had an all-White team called the Atlanta Crackers. Manning the infield duties for these latter Crackers was a man whose name suggested he was made to don the leather: Russell “Red” Rollings.
Rollings spent parts of the 1927 and 1928 seasons with the Boston Red Sox and then reappeared crosstown as a member of the 1930 Boston Braves. A lifetime .251 hitter, his first season was his best, batting .266 in 184 at bats.
Tris Speaker, Kansas City Blues, #89 (Sheet 5)
Tris Speaker is one of three retired Hall of Famers in the 1933 Goudey set. (I’ll give you the other two at the end of his write-up in case you want to guess.) While the card front shows Speaker swinging a bat, he was in fact manager and part-owner of the Kansas City Blues.
His major league career finished half a decade earlier in 1928 with the Philadelphia Athletics. (If you’re looking for more trivia, name the SEVEN Hall of Famers on that 1928 Philly roster, not counting HOF manager Connie Mack!)
And if you’re still wondering who the two other retired HOFers were in the 1933 Goudey set, one is Eddie Collins, who at that time was a vice president and business manager for the Red Sox, and the other is of course Nap Lajoie!
Jess Petty, Minneapolis Millers, #90 (Sheet 5)
Before the Millers boasted a young Willie Mays, Jess Petty was the man the fans came to see! If the back of his card is to be believed, Petty was “one of the leading pitchers of the American Association.” Petty played seven seasons scattered between 1921 and 1930, winning in double digits from 1926 to 1929. Perhaps foreshadowing the analytics movement that would come 80 years later, Petty finished 23rd in the MVP vote despite a 13-18 record.
Warren Ogden, Montreal Royals, #174 (Sheet 7)
Thirteen years before Jackie Robinson joined the team, the Montreal Royals boasted Warren “Curly” Ogden. While many collectors will prefer the Waner brothers, Curly and his older brother John provide collectors with another set of brothers in the 1933 Goudey set. (And would you believe both Ogden brothers were born in Ogden, PA!)
Ogden the Younger spent five years in the American League (Athletics, Senators) from 1922-26. None of his seasons were spectacular, but he was actually Washington’s starting pitcher in Game 7 of the 1924 World Series, the year of the Senators’ only world championship. What’s that, you say? Didn’t Walter Johnson get the win that day? True enough, but Curly was still the starter in a move repeated nearly 100 years later by the Brewers in the 2018 NLCS–
“With Johnson unavailable [to start], Bucky Harris had no obvious choice to pitch Game Seven. So he tried to deke McGraw. He started right-hander Curly Ogden, but planned to replace the 23-year-old in the first inning with the veteran George Mogridge, a lefty. Harris’s goal was to neutralize Bill Terry, the Giants’ left-handed first baseman, who was 6 for 12 in the series with a home run and a triple.” — SABR.org
Dan Howley, Toronto Maple Leafs, #175 (Sheet 7)
Goudey evidently determined one minor league manager (Frank O’Rourke, Brewers) wasn’t enough, hence this manager card for Dan Howley of the Toronto Maple Leafs. MAPLE LEAFS??? MAPLE LEAFS!!! I know what you’re thinking…shouldn’t that be Maple Leaves? Hey, I just work here.
At the time of the Goudey set, Cowley was 47 years old, managing in Canada, and two decades removed from his brief cup of coffee in the Big Leagues. A quick review of his stat line may fail to impress, but don’t sleep on this man running the bases. Sure he almost never got on (.222 OBP) but his lifetime 1.000 stolen base percentage places him ahead of Ty Cobb, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, and pretty much everyone!
John Ogden, Baltimore Orioles, #176 (Sheet 7)
John Ogden, the second Ogden brother in the minor league subset, made his debut with the New York Giants in 1918 at the age of 20, pitching in 5 games before heading to the minors for a full decade and becoming one of the most accomplished pitchers in minor league history. He was back in the majors with the St. Louis Browns from 1928-29 and Cincinnati Reds from 1931-1932. He won 15 games in his best season (1928) but critics like to point out that he also lost 16 games that year.
Back to his minor league career, Ogden went 213-103 with a 3.36 ERA, teaming with the great Lefty Grove for five of his seasons with what was then a Baltimore dynasty. Ogden won 20 or more games six times, leading the International League in victories four times.
Walter French, Knoxville Smokies, #177 (Sheet 7)
Walter French of the Knoxville Smokies is another player whose best days were behind him. He made his MLB debut in 1923 as a centerfielder with the Philadelphia Athletics and strung together three straight .300 seasons from 1925-1927. French finished his career with a lifetime .303 average but never again saw a big league roster after 1929.
Eddie Moore, New Orleans Pelicans, #180 (Sheet 7)
Long before Anthony Davis ever showed up (oh wait, wrong spot), the New Orleans Pelicans boasted Graham Edward “Eddie” Moore. (Oddly, the back of his card gives him a different name.) Moore’s big league career stretched from 1923-1934, highlighted by a pretty good 1925 with the Pirates (.298, 163 hits) immediately following a very strong debut the year before (.359 in 209 AB).
Andy High, Columbus Red Birds, #182 (Sheet 7)
Like many of the other minor leaguers in the Goudey set, High had already spent many years in the big leagues. He debuted in 1922 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, batting .283 in 579 at bats. His career peaked in 1924 when batted .328, only .096 points behind Hornsby’s .424. (Believe it or not, the Rajah wasn’t the MVP that year! I swear. Look it up!) All told, High played 1314 major league games and collected 1250 hits.
A quick note on High’s minor league squad from 1933. The Red Birds that season won 101 games and are considered one of the top 50 teams in minor league history. For his part, High lived up to his name, batting .340 in limited action.
The one that got away!
As Goudey searched the country far and wide for top minor league talent, it’s a shame they didn’t cross the Bay from Oakland and take a look at a young outfielder on the San Francisco Seals. His 1932 season didn’t exactly set the world on fire but by the summer of 1933 he had hit in 61 straight games, a record he almost matched 8 years later as a New York Yankee.
Why these guys?
One possible reason for the inclusion of the minor leaguers was to enhance the geographic appeal of the set. The map below shows the ten cities with Major League Baseball teams in 1933. (There were 16 teams but NYC had three of them while Philly, Chicago, St. Louis, and Boston had two apiece.)
Now here is an updated map that includes the minor league cities included in the Goudey set. There are now 24 cities featured instead of just 10 (or 23 if you want to combine Minneapolis and St. Paul).
I proposed a second theory in my earlier post on the 1933 Goudey set, which I’ll summarize here. My main hypothesis was that the 1933 release was originally intended to be much smaller than 240 cards, with remaining cards to be offered in 1934. One possible stopping point for the set would have been at 96 cards, specifically the 96 cards released on Sheets 1, 2, 3, and 5. A second possible stopping point would have been at 168 cards, specifically the ones released on Sheets 1-7.
You may have already noticed in the card write-ups above that all 15 minor league cards came from only two sheets, Sheet 5 and Sheet 7, the most natural intermediate stopping points for the 1933 release.
Before continuing, let’s use black to highlight our 15 minor leaguers on these two sheets. In the case of Sheet 7, we’ll also use put an orange star on repeats of major leaguers already released on previous sheets.
I believe the heavy use of minor leaguers on these two sheets and reuse of major leaguers on Sheet 7 was an effort to ensure the 1934 release would still have an abundance of brand new players. So many of the game’s top players of the era (Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, Chuck Klein, etc.) had not been released yet, so under normal circumstances they would have been no-brainers to include here if the original plan for the set had been a single-year release. On the other hand, if the original plan had been a multi-year release, it would have been nuts to put all the best players into the 1933 release, leaving only benchwarmers and minor leaguers for 1934.
As further support of this theory, one would imagine that if the only goal of the minor league cards was to enhance geographic appeal, the minor leaguers would have been scattered across several of the 1933 sheets, not to mention the 1934 set as well. However, all 15 appear on just two sheets from 1933 and not even random ones at that.
Naturally, there is no need to choose between the two theories I’ve offered for the inclusion of minor leaguers. Though we may never know, my best guess is that both are true at once.