When I was kid one of my favorite things was exploring my grandmother’s house and looking at all the old stuff in the backs of office drawers. Most of it was junk to me but every once in a while I’d find something cool—typically old coins.* While these were always welcome I was much more interested in baseball cards.
*This should probably be its own post but among the wheat sheaf pennies, buffalo nickels, and Mercury dimes were some pretty cool finds both in terms of old US coinage as well as interesting international coinage.
Much to my dismay there never any sports ephemera. I knew that neither my dad nor my uncle collected cards but I always held out hope that they’d accumulated even a dozen or so anyway. No dice. Then one day I pulled out a pile of paper and two 1.75″×3.75″ cards fell out. I still remember getting goosebumps. They weren’t worth anything much—two 1917 Zeenut commons—but for a kid whose oldest card was a 1960 Topps* just having any baseball card that old was exciting as all hell.
I hadn’t thought much about those cards until SABR Baseball Cards’ recent Johnny Lindell post reminded me. In the over two dozen years since I found them I have a lot more resources to figure out what they are and who they depict. So that’s turned into a fun day of poking around the web.
Del Baker turned out to be pretty simple. The Seals were a stable franchise which never moved or changed names until the Giants came to town in 1958. And Baker was not just a catcher for the Detroit Tigers but went on to manage them to the 1940 pennant. This card is from his only season in San Francisco although he later ended up playing in Oakland.
I also found it interesting that he stayed in the game long enough to get his own Topps baseball card in 1954. While 1903 is the beginning of modern baseball history there’s something about how integration with Jackie Robinson in 1947 and Topps baseball cards becoming a thing five years later produced a game which feels much more familiar to me than anything pre World War 2.
Bert Whaling meanwhile was a lot more work. First, the spelling variation in his name meant searching for “Walling” got me nowhere and I needed help in order to find him. Second, he only played for Vernon in 1916, not 1917 and his career wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Still it was cool to find out that he also played a few seasons for the Boston Braves.
What was more interesting was finding out about the Vernon Tigers. Unlike the Seals, the Tigers are an example of the way that franchises were moving around all the time. They started off in Vernon (and Venice) because those were the only wet cities in otherwise-dry Los Angeles County. Once Prohibition hit there was no reason to be in Vernon so they moved to San Francisco and become the Mission Reds—taking the place of the San Francisco Missions who had previously moved to Salt Lake City. That didn’t work out so they moved back to Los Angeles and became the Hollywood Stars—replacing the previous Stars who had moved to San Diego.