1939 Play Ball Baseball Cards

1939 Play Ball Baseball Cards


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Had World War II not intervened, 1939 may have been seen as a starting point for the modern hobby era. That year saw the first baseball cards from a company that would later become known as Bowman. Gum, Inc.was founded by Warren Bowman around 1930 in Philadelphia. Despite the economic issues brought by the Great Depression, the company grew each year. They entered the card business in 1938 with Horrors of War, which was considered controversial because it showed graphic images of war scenes. It was such a success in terms of sales, Bowman decided to get into the baseball card business the following year with the release of 1939 Play Ball Baseball.

In 1939, no other gum companies were actively releasing regular baseball card sets. That immediately gave Gum, Inc. a boost and established the upstart company as a leader. Naming the set Play Ball - America, the cards were made to be slightly larger than what Goudey had been issuing earlier in the decade.

The set, designated as R334 in the American Card catalog, used a simple design that utilized crisp, black-and-white photographs of the player and no other elements: no name, team name, position or autograph was added to the front. Measuring 2-1/1" x 3-1/8", the cards were adorned with only a white border. Between Gum, Inc. and their later sets as Bowman, the company would return to this design concept often (1939, 1948-'50, 1953). The backs featured the player's full name and an extensive biographical write-up. At the bottom, an advertisement mentions that there were 250 cards in the set, which is incorrect.

Instead, the set is numbered to 162, in reality, there are only 161 total card. Card #126 was never issued and was thought to be a purposeful decision in an attempt to keep people purchasing in an attempt to complete the set. The 1939 Play Ball  set contains several cards within the first couple of series with back variations. Those cards feature the player name either entirely in capital letters or in capital and lower-case letters. Most checklists for the set will indicate which cards have that variation. Cards numbered 115 and above are considered high numbers. They are significantly more scarce and therefore more valuable. Sample cards are occasionally found in the hobby; which are stamped with the word "Sample" on the back. These cards were inserted into packs of other Gum, Inc. products as a "cross-selling" promotion.

The set features most of the stars of the era. Among them are a rookie-year card of Ted Williams (card #92) and a popular card featuring Joe DiMaggio (card #26). Earl Averill (card #143) is the only Hall of Famer included in the high-numbered series, so his card is given a boost in value that might not otherwise be attached to his cards. An interesting card in the set features Al Schacht (card #113) clowning around which was fitting as he was known as "The Clown Prince of Baseball". He was a former player and coach who eventually became a comedic entertainer, performing for the audience in the same manner as Max Patkin did later on and mascots still do today.

A favorite among pre-war collectors, the only critique most collectors have of the 1939 Play Ball Baseball set is the omission of Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Ernie Lombardi, Johnny Mize, Joe Cronin, Luke Appling and Bob Feller. Despite that oversight, there are still plenty of marquee players to pursue. For those attempting to complete a higher grade set, the most noticeable condition issue is centering which was very common for the time period. Perfectly centered examples command a significant premium on the secondary market. This is particularly true for the key cards in the set.

Top eBay Listings

1939 Play Ball #106 Albert "Dolly" Stark Umpire Ex-Mt!

1939 Play Ball #63 Emmett Dutch Mueller Phillies Ex-Mt!

1939 Play Ball #64 Wally Moses Philadelphia A's Ex!

1939 Play Ball High #150 Jim Walkup RC Tigers Excellent

1939 Play Ball #67 Edwin Eddie Joost VG-EX Cincinnati Reds

1939 Play Ball #108 Frank Hayes VG-EX Philadelphia Athletics

1939 Play Ball #27 Fred Ray Ostermueller EX Boston Red Sox

1939 Play Ball #66 James Jim A Ripple VG-EX New York Giants

1939 Play Ball #97 Robert Bob Johnson VG-EX Philadelphia Athletics

1939 Play Ball #21 Emil Leonard VG Washington Senators

1939 Play Ball #31 Samuel Sam West EX Washington Senators

1939 Play Ball #55 Floyd Arkie Vaughan VG-EX pittsburgh Pirates

1939 Play Ball #89 Lloyd Waner EX Pittsburgh Pirates

1939 Play Ball #58 Louis Peo Chiozza VG-EX New York Giants

1939 Play Ball #43 Melo Almada EX St Louis Browns

1939 Play Ball #91 John H Knott VG-EX Chicago WHite Sox
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Set Checklist

1939 Play Ball Baseball Set Checklist

Base Set Checklist

Featuring 161 cards. Card #126 does not exist.

1 Jake Powell RC
2a Lee Grissom RC
2b Lee Grissom RC
3a Red Ruffing
3b Red Ruffing
4a Elden Auker RC
4b Elden Auker RC
5a Luke Sewell
5b Luke Sewell
6a Leo Durocher
6b Leo Durocher
7a Bobby Doerr RC
7b Bobby Doerr RC
8 Cotton Pippen
9a James Tobin RC
9b James Tobin RC
10 Jimmie DeShong
11 Johnny Rizzo RC
12 Hersh Martin RC
13a Luke Hamlin RC
13b Luke Hamlin RC
14a Jim Tabor RC
14b Jim Tabor RC
15a Paul Derringer
15b Paul Derringer
16 John Peacock RC
17 Emerson Dickman RC
18a Harry Danning RC
18b Harry Danning RC
19 Paul Dean RC
20 Joe Heving RC
21a Dutch Leonard RC
21b Dutch Leonard RC
22a Bucky Walters RC
22b Bucky Walters RC
23 Burgess Whitehead RC
24a Richard Coffman
24b Richard Coffman
25a George Selkirk RC
25b George Selkirk RC
26a Joe DiMaggio RC
26b Joe DiMaggio RC
27a Fritz Ostermueller
27b Fritz Ostermueller
28 Syl Johnson RC
29a John Wilson RC
29b John Wilson RC
30a Bill Dickey
30b Bill Dickey
31a Sam West
31b Sam West
32 Bob Seeds RC
33 Del Young RC
34a Frank Demaree
34b Frank Demaree
35a Billy Jurges
35b Billy Jurges
36a Frank McCormick RC
36b Frank McCormick RC
37 Virgil Davis
38a Bill Myers RC
38b Bill Myers RC
39a Rick Ferrell
39b Rick Ferrell
40 Jim Bagby RC
41a Lon Warneke
41b Lon Warneke
42 Art Jorgens
43 Mel Almada RC
44 Don Heffner RC
45a Merrill May RC
45b Merrill May RC
46a Morrie Arnovich RC
46b Morrie Arnovich RC
47a Buddy Lewis RC
47b Buddy Lewis RC
48a Vernon Gomez
48b Vernon Gomez
49 Eddie Miller RC
50a Charlie Gehringer
50b Charlie Gehringer
51a Mel Ott
51b Mel Ott
52a Tommy Henrich RC
52b Tommy Henrich RC
53a Carl Hubbell
53b Carl Hubbell
54a Harry Gumbert RC
54b Harry Gumbert RC
55a Arky Vaughan
55b Arky Vaughan
56a Hank Greenberg
56b Hank Greenberg
57a John Hassett RC
57b John Hassett RC
58 Lou Chiozza RC
59 Kendall Chase RC
60a Schoolboy Rowe RC
60b Schoolboy Rowe RC
61a Tony Cuccinello
61b Tony Cuccinello
62 Thomas Carey RC
63 Heinie Mueller RC
64a Wally Moses RC
64b Wally Moses RC
65a Harry Craft RC
65b Harry Craft RC
66 Jimmy Ripple RC
67 Eddie Joost RC
68 Fred Singleton RC
69 Elbie Fletcher RC
70 Fred Frankhouse
71a Monte Pearson RC
71b Monte Pearson RC
72a Debs Garms RC
72b Debs Garms RC
73a Hal Schumacher
 73b Hal Schumacher
74a Cookie Lavagetto RC
74b Cookie Lavagetto RC
75a Stanley Bordagaray RC
75b Stanley Bordagaray RC
76 Goodwin Rosen RC
77 Lew Riggs RC
78a Moose Solters
78b Moose Solters
79a Jo-Jo Moore
79b Jo-Jo Moore
80a Irwin Fox
80b Irwin Fox
81a Babe Dahlgren RC
81b Babe Dahlgren RC
82a Chuck Klein
82b Chuck Klein
83a Gus Suhr
83b Gus Suhr
84 Lamar Newsome RC
85 Johnny Cooney RC
86a Dolph Camilli
86b Dolph Camilli
87 Milburn Shoffner RC
88 Charlie Keller RC
89a Lloyd Waner
89b Lloyd Waner
90a Bob Klinger RC
90b Bob Klinger RC
91a John Knott RC
91b John Knott RC
92a Ted Williams RC
92b Ted Williams RC
93 Charlie Gelbert RC
94 Heinie Manush
95a Whit Wyatt RC
95b Whit Wyatt RC
96a Babe Phelps RC
96b Babe Phelps RC
97a Robert Johnson
97b Robert Johnson
98 Pinky Whitney RC
99a Wally Berger
99b Wally Berger
100a Buddy Myer
100b Buddy Myer
101a Doc Cramer
101b Doc Cramer
102a Pep Young RC
102b Pep Young RC
103 Morris Berg
104a Tommy Bridges
104b Tommy Bridges
105a Eric McNair RC
105b Eric McNair RC
106 Albert Stark UMP
107 Joe Vosmik
108a Frankie Hayes
108b Frankie Hayes
109a Myril Hoag
109b Myril Hoag
110 Freddie Fitzsimmons
111a Van Mungo RC
111b Van Mungo RC
112a Paul Waner
112b Paul Waner
113 Al Schacht
114a Cecil Travis RC
114b Cecil Travis RC
115a Red Kress
115b Red Kress
116 Gene Desautels RC
117 Wayne Ambler RC
118 Lynn Nelson
119 Willard Hershberger RC
120 Rabbit Warstler RC
121 Bill Posedel RC
122 George McQuinn RC
123 Ray Davis RC
124 Walter Brown
125 Cliff Melton RC
127 Gilbert Brack RC
128 Joe Bowman RC
129 Bill Swift
130 Wilbur Brubaker RC
131 Mort Cooper RC
132 Jimmy Brown RC
133 Lynn Myers RC
134 Tot Pressnell RC
135 Mickey Owen RC
136 Roy Bell RC
137 Pete Appleton
138 George Case RC
139 Vito Tamulis RC
140 Ray Hayworth RC
141 Peter Coscarart RC
142 Ira Hutchinson RC
143 Howard Averill
144 Henry Bonura RC
145 Hugh Mulcahy RC
146 Tom Sunkel RC
147 George Coffman RC
148 Bill Trotter RC
149 Max West RC
150 James Walkup RC
151 Hugh Casey RC
152 Roy Weatherly RC
153 Dizzy Trout RC
154 Johnny Hudson RC
155 James Outlaw RC
156 Ray Berres RC
157 Don Padgett RC
158 Bud Thomas RC
159 Russell Evans RC
160 Gene Moore RC
161 Linus Frey
162 Whitey Moore RC
1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio

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Chris is an avid vintage sports card collector who is The Cardboard Connection's resident expert of all things vintage.

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