The Men of T206, New Book Reveals the Tales of Players Featured in the Storied Set

The next time you're at your favorite sports bar with friends, toss out the names of Stoney McGlynn, Kitty Bransfield, Dode Paskert, or Hunky Shaw. Unless you are sharing a cold one with hardcore baseball historians or serious card collectors, you'll probably get a lot of blank stares.

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Then, casually ask if the name Dummy Taylor rings a bell. When you get more questioning looks, tell your buddies all about this New York Giants pitcher who was completely deaf and is credited with establishing the use of hand signals so pitchers could communicate with catchers and players could send signals to one another in the infield.

By this time, your friends will either be amazed with your baseball knowledge, or ready to toss you out of the place for being a know-it-all. If the latter is threatened, remind them to be careful because Bugs Raymond died of a fractured skull at the age of 30 after being involved in a bar brawl.

Since the very first stitched-sphere was tossed towards a lumber-lugger, baseball fans have loved stories about the men who play the game. We love these stories because they reveal the real human beings behind the larger-than-life legends. They remind us that when these men walk off the field, they have faults, problems, various interests, and lives just like all of us. They take us back, to the long-gone summer afternoons of our childhood, when we sat staring up into the blueness of the sky, running our fingers over red stitches, dreaming about being those men who professionally threw, caught and hit baseballs.

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It is those men and their stories that inspired Tom and Ellen Zappala to write The T206 Collection: The Players & Their Stories, (Peter Randall Publishing, 2010) a book that tells the tales of the men who were featured on the most storied baseball card set in history – the T206.

Considered to be the granddaddy of all baseball cards, the T206 offerings were issued from 1909 to 1911, in cigarette packs and loose tobacco pouches, through 16 different brands owned by the American Tobacco Company. Renowned for the beauty of its color lithographs, the set has also become revered within the hobby for its size, and romanticized for its cards that include some of the most sought-after in the history of the sportscard hobby.

While the book was the brainchild of the Zappalas, this beautiful hard cover, coffee table offering was also made possible by Professional Sports Authenticators President and "Sports Market Report" Editor Joe Orlando, and sportswriter Lou Blasi. It approaches the men of the T206 collection in a way that has never been done before.

While at first blush it appears to be a book for card collectors, it is really a book for anyone who loves history and The National Pastime. It offers short biographical information and professional stats on various T206 players, and shows the diversity of where these men came from, who they were, and how they left their mark on baseball. The book's final chapter was written by Orlando, who covers the grading aspect and values of various cards within the set.

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"This is a book about 38 Hall of Famers, and another 353 players, who were featured in the T206 set and helped shape baseball," said Tom. "This book chronicles some of the contributions they made that can't be measured by looking at their batting averages."

Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the production of the T206 cards, readers will close the book knowing more than they did about the high-profile players, while having been introduced to others, who had it not been for the T206 cards, may well be names and stories lost to the ages.

As for the man behind the book, Tom Zappala is affable and articulate. His crisp, non-rhotic accent is an immediate giveaway that he is a native New Englander. Passionately obsessed with the history of baseball, he has been working on compiling a complete T206 set for the past two decades. A businessman in the Greater Boston area, he is also the co-host of a popular talk radio show broadcast in northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. The father of four children, he says he is most content when he is watching his beloved Boston Red Sox, while sipping a Grey Goose Martini with two baseball-size olives.

"Sports Market Report" recently sat down with Tom Zappala to learn more about the man who has given baseball and sportscard fans the gift of this fascinating book. We began our conversation by asking him to tell us a bit more about himself:

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Tom Zappala: My primary business is my family business – we're in the lumber business, and I run the commercial division of the company with locations here in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I'm also part owner of a company that imports items from Italy to the United States. Besides that, I'm the vice president of a multi-media marketing and consulting firm headed up by my wife called ATS Communications. I also host a radio show, "The Sicilian Corner," which is a two-hour talk show with a humorous spin. I really enjoy that – doing that show is a lot of fun.

SMR: And you have time to collect cards and write a book?

TZ: (laughing) The collecting of the cards is my passion. That's what keeps me sane.

SMR: Compiling a T206 set is not for the fainthearted collector. How is your set coming along?

TZ: The T206 cards are the only ones I collect. I started my collection about 22 years ago. I had been at the Baseball Hall of Fame with my son. We were in a little antique shop in Cooperstown and I found an old box that had some T206 cards inside. I thought they were really unique. I didn't know much about them, but I really liked them and decided to collect them, which of course became easier with the advent of the Internet and eBay. That has been my passion for the past two decades. I currently have 320 cards, and I am currently on the lookout for a Honus Wagner. I am not concerned about the condition. I don't care if it's worn or whatever, but my goal is to own a Wagner card. Actually, my goal is to complete the entire set and, while I want to be particular about the condition of the cards I get, I also have to be realistic.

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SMR: What was it that attracted you to the T206 cards?

TZ: I'm a baseball fanatic and historian – a student of the game in the truest sense. Because of that I am perhaps one of the few T206 collectors who is more intrigued with the personalities of the players than I am with the actual cards themselves. My interest and intrigue is in learning about these men, as opposed to, probably the other 99% of people who collect T206 cards, who just love the cards. That's not to say I don't love the cards. I do. But I've always been more interested in the stories behind the players, and I got my wife interested in their stories also.

SMR: Your wife has a rather fascinating story herself.

TZ: Ellen was in the newspaper publishing business for years. She was the publisher of six newspapers, the past-president of the New England Press Association, and is now the president of ATS Communications. So, with her news background she really became intrigued with the stories behind the players. She had a special fascination with the players that overcame great odds to make it to the big leagues. She really got hooked on learning about their backgrounds. They were business men, bankers, college boys, farmers, dentists, Vaudeville performers – they came from every imaginable walk of life.

SMR: Was that how the idea of the book came about?

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TZ: The idea for the book came to me one day as I was sitting looking at my Lena Blackburn card. I knew absolutely nothing about Blackburn. So, I started doing some research on him and found out that he was not a very good player. He was a catcher who was very marginal. But the thing I found to be interesting is that he started the Lena Blackburn Mud Company which provides the proprietary mud that is used to this day to take the shine off baseballs that are used in Major League games. That all started because there had been a lot of complaints from players that baseballs had too much of a shine. Blackburn found an area in the Delaware River where he got some mud that worked to remove the shine from the ball and started this company. After learning that, I never looked at his card the same way again. To me, that's where the intrigue is. There are stories like that behind every player in the set. As I mentioned before, to me the cards are secondary, not that they are unimportant, but it was the stories about the men on the cards that led us to start this book.

SMR: How did the project begin?

TZ: The first thing I did was to get together with Lou Blasi who is a well-known sports writer in the Greater Boston area. Lou has hosted a radio show here for 12 years and is the senior analyst for Insiderbaseball.com. He's done work for Chicago Sports Review, MLB.com, ESPN Radio – and he was the program director for a sports radio station in Florida. I told him about my idea and he was intrigued. So, Lou, Ellen and I began digging around to find out anything and everything we could about the players. Well, the more digging we did, the more intriguing it became. Ellen and I eventually handed the research off to Lou who got into it very seriously.

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SMR: What resources were used to do the research?

TZ: Little did we know, when we started out, just how difficult the research would be. The reason it was so difficult was due to the fact that these players have been gone a long time, and many of them, especially the Minor Leaguers, have been forgotten. There was just not a lot of information ever compiled on them. That made it very difficult. To answer your question, in some cases we searched out relatives of the players, and worked with the Baseball Hall of Fame. We also got a lot of great input from Rico Petrocelli who was an All-Star shortstop and is a Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer. He helped us with some great suggestions and helped open the door for us on many occasions. A lot of things just fell into place.

SMR: How did Joe Orlando become involved with the project?

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TZ: As we were working on the book – as the project was moving along – I decided to contact Joe Orlando, whom I didn't know personally. I just dropped him an e-mail to introduce myself. I told him about the project and asked if I could send him our manuscript to get his opinion. He returned my e-mail saying he was interested. So, I shot it off to him and he loved it. After that, we got to taking and the rest is history. I always felt that Joe was the natural person to do the foreword for the book being as that he is a recognized figure in the hobby. He is the person collectors think of when they think of PSA and graded cards, and PSA has made the hobby legitimate. We all know the collectibles business has had a checkered past due to some unsavory characters. Joe Orlando and PSA changed that. Joe has an integrity that is above reproach. His integrity has clearly been passed down and instilled in the people who work for him. Along with the foreword, I also asked Joe if he would write the book's last chapter to tie it all together. The first six chapters deal with the stories about the players and then Joe's chapter talks about the cards, grading and their values.

SMR: As a guy who loves the stories behind the players, were there any that really took you by surprise?

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TZ: (laughs) Almost all of them! You know a lot of those players, because of their antics, brought about the rules of the game that are still in place today. You take guys like "Turkey Mike" Donlin. You look at Donlin's stats, and you think, this guy should be in the Hall of Fame. You don't know why he's not until you do some digging on him and learn that he, as with so many of the players in the T206 set, had issues that are similar to the issues that face current players – salary issues, health issue, family issues, personality issues, substance abuse issues. Donlin had posted great numbers, but he drank himself out of the league. He got bounced out of baseball, went to jail and then resurfaced as a Vaudeville performer. There are a lot of stories like that. Take Ed Abbaticchio. While this guy was a solid baseball player, he was also one of the first professional football players. There are just so many stories, like Heinie Zimmerman, another guy who would have most likely been in the Hall of Fame had he not been caught up in the Black Sox scandal and "Three Finger" Mordecai Brown. He had lost two fingers in a farming accident, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise being as that he was able to throw the nastiest off-speed pitch imaginable. The stories just go on and on.

SMR: Fans of the T206 cards will love the way you present the information about the players.

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TZ: What we decided to do with the information we found was to condense it into a brief narrative, just like what you would find on the back of a typical baseball card. Remember, the T206 cards don't give any information about the players. So, I thought it would be a great idea to present their stories in this format. We have also designed a prototype card called a T206 Stat Card, which will be a reproduction of the cards with the narrative on the back. We've already sent some samples out and they have gotten great reaction – but that will be down the road a bit.

SMR: Will you be doing any book signings?

TZ: Yes, Peter Randall Publishing has arranged for us to do book signings at both Major and Minor League ballparks throughout the 2010 season. We also plan to attend a couple shows this year, and we have quite a few signing events lined up in the Greater Boston area. By the way, speaking of our publisher, Peter Randall Publishing and the National Book Network have really embraced this project and are very excited about the book. They have done so much to make this a reality.

As I mentioned before, things just really fell into place to make this book a reality – we owe a lot of credit to Lou, Joe, and also to Richard and Adam Cohen, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude for allowing us to use the images of their incredible T206 collection.

 


"The T206 Collection: The Players & Their Stories" is available in all major book stores, and on Amazon.com. You can also order your copy by sending a check or money order for $38.00 to: ATS Communications, 105 River Road, Merrimacport, MA 01860. Shipping is free of charge, allow three weeks for delivery. For further information on the book, and scheduled signing events, log on to: www.t206players.com. Photos provided by White Point Imaging.