Man, the summer of 1941 was really something special, huh?
OK, maybe you don’t actually remember that season, near on 80 years in the rearview now, but, still … you’re a baseball fan.
You’ll never forget the 1941 season.
That was the year when Joe DiMaggio put together his 56-game hitting streak.
It was also that year that Ted Williams hit .406, still the last player to maintain .400 for a full season, yet lost out on the American League MVP award (to Joe D., of course).
And, it was the last season before the United States officially joined the fray of World War II, which decimated every aspect of American life, including Major League Baseball. Scores of players lost playing time to military service from 1942-45.
Baseball card collectors, few as there may have been, felt the pinch, too.
Find 1941 Play Ball paper cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Find 1941 Play Ball paper cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
But first …
After a decade of scant and mostly unimpressive issues due to the ravages of the Great Depression, hobbyists were treated to a colorful 1941 Play Ball set.
The 72-card set was a veritable masterpiece compared to the black-and-white or sepia issues that surfaced in 1939 and 1940, and there really hadn’t been too much pizzazz since the mid-1930s when Goudey dominated … other than Goudey’s own 1938 Heads Up set.
Not only did 1941 Play Ball bring back a rainbow of painted images, but it featured all the stars of the day — Williams, DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Gomez … even a Pee Wee Reese rookie card.
Things were looking up, and there was more!
Somewhere along the line, Gum, Inc. (who made Play Ball), apparently decided a little promotion was in order. They fired up the printing presses and cranked out a run of paper sheets featuring 24 of the cards from the base Play Ball set … the first 24 from the set.
Printed as two 12-card sheets, these flimsier versions are identical to the “real” 1941 Play Balls, and the general consensus among hobbyists who have collected and discussed them over the years seems to be that they were salesmen samples. First-hand knowledge or from-the-source evidence is pretty much nonexistent, though, considering that eight decades have passed.
Every once in awhile even today, complete sheets pop up on the market, as do single cards (paper slips), which have been cut from sheets at some point.
And, while DiMaggio may have gotten the upper hand on Williams during the 1941 season, Teddy Ballgame won this paper-card Play Ball battle.
That’s because Williams checked in at #14 in the base set, well within those first two dozen cards, while Mr. Coffee didn’t show up until card #71, waaayyyyyy at the end of the set, between fellow Yankees Gomez and Bill Dickey.
And so, as America rocketed toward war, collectors got one last taste of Ted Williams, the final mainstream issue for one of the greatest hitters of all time until the first of the Baby Boomers were in diapers.
Wow! Wax of the Day
It may not be a Play Ball, but the glimpse of a 1954 Bowman Teddy Ballgame peering out from behind \cellophane wrapping has to make any longtime collector’s pulse tick up, just a bit. That’s what you get with this eBay lot, a 1989 Bowman rack pack with a Williams reprint right there in the third panel:
Not worth a ton in cold, hard cash, but also not your average “junk wax” thanks to the historical aspect. Check out the full eBay listing here (affiliate link).