Author’s note: This is the second in a series of posts that digs deeper into one of the Ten Mysteries of the 1934 Goudey Set.
While the 1933 Goudey set includes second, third, or even fourth cards of some of the players, the 1934 Goudey set is much stingier when it comes to multiples. Only a single player has more than one card in the set: Lou Gehrig.
In a set where all other players had only one card (or none!), was there a reason Goudey gave two cards to the Iron Horse? Here are some possible explanations.
Note: In the sections that follow, the first Gehrig, card 37, will be referred to as the yellow Gehrig, and the second Gehrig, card 61, will be referred to as the green Gehrig.
Gehrig was the star of the set
This is the most conventional theory. A full 84 of the 96 cards in the set carried the “Lou Gehrig says” banner, and Gehrig was featured in several promotional items associated with the set such as this wrapper.
This “star of the set” explanation makes so much sense that I don’t imagine any further elaboration is needed.
What? No Ruth!
As is already well known the 1934 Goudey set had no Babe Ruth card. File this one firmly under the conspiracy theory umbrella, but it’s at least a fun thought. Imagine in some early version of the checklist the Bambino had been slated for card 61 and then…
BOOM! Word came from Ruth/Gehrig super-agent Christy Walsh that Ruth would not appear in the set under any circumstance. Well shoot, back to the drawing board. Who’s the next best guy you got? Enter the green Gehrig.
I know, I know. I’m not buying it either.
Triple Crown year
1934 was of course Gehrig’s Triple Crown and all-around best season. Is it possible the torrid pace of the Iron Horse prompted Goudey to rush out another card of the Yankee hero?
First off, I’m not sure kids were following the stats the same way we do today. Second, the green Gehrig came out early enough in the season that the Triple Crown or even an MVP season was hardly a lock. I estimate that the third series that included the green Gehrig came out in early July. Given the time it would take to adapt the set to his killer season, I imagine a decision would have been needed by early June.
Through the end of May, the Iron Horse was batting .344 with 12 home runs and 44 runs batted in. Obviously these are incredible numbers, but I don’t think they were “stop the presses” numbers, particularly in that era.
More Knot Hole!
This next theory draws inspiration from the 1976 Shakey’s Pizza baseball set, which had two Earl Averill cards. The first, card 147, was more or less a standard card in the set. the second, numbered “A,” doubles as a coupon/redemption card and was presumably in the set to help sell even more pizza.
So what does that have to do with Goudey and Lou Gehrig? Well here’s the thing. The green Gehrig wasn’t just a regular baseball card in the set. Here’s the back of the card. In place of the standard ballplayer bio (or in Gehrig’s case, auto-bio), we get a sales pitch for the Knot Hole League. (For more information on the Knot Hole League, see this terrific post at the Number 5 Type Collection blog.)
As such, the green Gehrig differs from the yellow Gehrig and the set’s other 94 cards in that it’s as much an advertisement as a baseball card. Buy those 20 packs and send in your wrappers, kids! Lou Gehrig really wants you to join the Knot Hole League!
Granted, today it would seem far fetched to pay full price for a pack and land an ad card. (Or not! I’m looking at you, 2019 Topps…)
Either way, this was 1934, not 2019. Any ambitions for a clean 96-player checklist would definitely take a back seat to selling more stuff. (Now aren’t you glad you weren’t buying packs in the 1930s?)
The “Gehrig as the star” explanation certainly makes sense and is the safe choice here. Still, I like the idea even more that Goudey was giving the Knot Hole League a boost. The prior year’s set included numerous instances of repeated players. In all instances the bios were either identical (e.g., the two Foxx cards) or updated (e.g., Hornsby as a Brown or the World Series cards). It would have been easy enough to do similar in 1934 and give the both Gehrig cards the same bio. That Goudey changed course for the second Gehrig suggests there was more at play than simply wanting another Gehrig.
I don’t think the primary driver was a second Gehrig, with the Knot Hole ad a synergistic by-product. Rather, I suspect the main driver was the Knot Hole back itself, with Gehrig simply the logical (and literal) front man. I know some would say I’m putting the cart in front of the Iron Horse here, but I think it makes the most sense in this case.