1911 Sporting Life Rube Waddell
1911 Sporting Life Rube Waddell

The 1910-11 Sporting Life baseball card series (M116) is long on historical significance and rarity, but short on quality control. Only 53 PSA Mint 9 examples and one PSA Gem-Mint 10 have been certified over the years, and even locating PSA Near-Mint to Mint 8 specimens is a challenge. "I once bought a large run of M116s from a major collection but no two cards were the same size," says Jim Betancourt of Sportscards Plus in Laguna Niguel, California. "It's much easier to find a Mint T206 card than something from the M-116 series."

Sporting Life was a competitor to Sporting News, a sports-only newspaper that flourished in the early 20th century. They offered this baseball card set by mail, in 24 series of 12 cards at the price of four cents per dozen cards. The cards measure 1-1/2" by 2-3/4" and include 287 different players and numerous additional varieties.

The portraits of the players are in black and white and hand-tinted. The name of the player and his team are below the picture. Many of the poses on the M116 cards are similar to those found on the T206 series.

The reverses of the cards carry advertisements for the newspaper. The reverse lettering is found black or blue. The last 72 cards in the series are rarer than the earlier issues and carry these additional words on the reverse: "Over 300 subjects."

The fronts of the cards also have a blue variety. The original cards offered a pastel (or a gray that is called "pastel") background to contrast against the player portrait, but a blue background was used in the second printing.

"The most popular cards are the blue background examples and the short-prints," Betancourt explained. "This is a pretty popular series, but it's nothing, relatively speaking, compared to the T-206 cards. The tobacco cards are definitely number one from this era."

The players featured in the 1910-11 Sporting Life cards include the greatest stars of the day. You'll also find players that would barely be remembered today if it weren't for this (and similar) collectible card series. Have you ever heard of Ed Abbaticchio, Ginger Beaumont, Kitty Bransfield, Chappy Charles, Patsy Dougherty, Peaches Graham, Dick Hoblitzell (misspelled on the card -- how did that happen?), Ham Hyatt, Johnny Lush, Orval Overall, Farmer Ray, Wildfire Schulte, Al Schweitzer (no, not THAT Al Schweitzer), Kaiser Wilhelm (honest!) and many others.

The "star cards" of the M-116 series are classics. They include a roll call of super-greats, such as Home Run Baker, Chief Bender, Mordecai "Three-finger" Brown, some fellow named Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Hughie Jennings, Walter Johnson, Addie Joss, Napoleon Lajoie, Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Hans Wagner, Smoky Joe Wood and Cy Young.

Other Sporting Life series include the Team Composites that began in 1902 (W601) and ran through 1911 and the Sporting Life "Cabinets" (M110) that were issued in 1911. The Cabinets series contained only six cards in a large 5-5/8" by 7-1/2" format, but what a sextet they are: Frank Chance, Hal Chase, Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner.

Bruce Amspacher has been a professional writer since the 1950s and a professional numismatist since the 1960s. He won the OIPA sportswriting award in 1958 and again in 1959, then spent eight years in college studying American Literature. This background somehow led him to become a professional numismatist in 1968. Since then he has published hundreds of articles on rare coins in dozens of publications as well as publishing his own newsletter, the “Bruce Amspacher Investment Report,” for more than a decade. His areas of expertise include Liberty Seated dollars, Morgan and Peace dollars, United States gold coins, sports trivia, Western history, modern literature and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. In 1986 he was a co-founder of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).