It's heartbreaking to read the back of Lou Gehrig's first card (#37) in the 1934 Goudey Baseball set.
Oblivious to the cruel fate that awaited him, the then-30-year-old first baseman was optimistic about his future.
"I love the game of baseball and hope to be in there batting them out for many years to come," Gehrig is quoted on his card back. "Fortune has been kind to me... "
As we know, fortune wasn't kind to him in the ensuing years. Just seven years after these cards were released, the Yankees slugger was dead from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a savage disease that robs the body of its motor skills while leaving the mind largely unaffected.
In 1934, however, with Babe Ruth's age and lifestyle catching up to him, Gehrig emerged as the Bronx Bombers' most potent hitter. That year, the "Iron Horse" won the American League batting title, smacked 49 home runs and knocked in 166 runs. Consequently, the Goudey Gum Company capitalized on this by making him the focus of their 1934 issue.
The legendary first baseman is the only player to be highlighted on more than one card in this set, and in collaboration with his agent, Christy Walsh, 84 of the set's 96 cards showcase quotations from him.
But given that the quiet and reserved Gehrig was often overshadowed by the impulsive and bombastic Ruth, it seems fitting that the 1934 Goudey set commands far less attention than the company's trailblazing 1933 offering, which was anchored by four "Bambino" cards.
Ruth is not featured in the 1934 Goudey set and no one is certain why. Some speculate that it had to do with the frosty relationship that developed between Gehrig and Ruth after Gehrig's mother reportedly made derogatory comments about how Ruth's daughter was dressed one day when she visited.
Others suggest that Walsh, who served as an agent for both Gehrig and Ruth, may have orchestrated a deal with Goudey so that the spotlight would finally be shone on Gehrig. And in some collectors' estimation, this might not have sat well with Ruth.
"I think it just could've been a case where Ruth was in the twilight of his career and here's Gehrig in the midst of several outstanding seasons," said Richard Rosamond, who owns the No. 12 Current Finest, 1934 Goudey set on the PSA Set Registry. "It could have been that Gehrig just took over the spotlight."
Whatever the reason is for Ruth's absence, it has hurt the popularity of the set.
Some contend, however, that the design of the 1934 Goudey cards is actually better than that of the 1933 Goudey pasteboards. Like the 1933 singles, the white-bordered fronts of the 1934 cards present the player's name at the top and boast color art reproductions of the players. In fact, several of the pictures are the same as those employed in the 1933 set. The cards once again flaunt colorful backgrounds, but if you look closely, you'll observe that the 1934 backgrounds fashion baseball scenes.
The main difference between these cards and their Goudey predecessors is the banner along the bottom. Instead of saying "Big League Chewing Gum," the banner on 84 of the 96 cards in the 1934 issue is blue and exhibits a likeness of Gehrig, along with the words "Lou Gehrig says... " The other 12 cards (#80 to #91) display a red banner with a head shot of slugger Chuck Klein followed by the words, "Chuck Klein says... " It's interesting to note that Klein only offers quotations on National League players, while Gehrig comments on players from both circuits.
"The reason I got into the 1934 Goudey set is because I really like the way the cards look," explained Chuck Fieland, who has been working on his No. 5 Current Finest set on the PSA Set Registry for close to 20 years. "I love the 'Lou Gehrig says... ' banner down at the bottom, and I enjoy reading the quotes on the backs."
The backs of the 1934 Goudey cards flaunt green text. The card number, series, player and team names are displayed at the top, followed by a quote from either Gehrig or Klein that offers biographical information about the card subject. Walsh's name doesn't appear on the backs until card #25.
The "quotes" on the 1934 cards are more formal than the text on the backs of the 1933 Goudey cards, although there are some folksy interludes. For example, on the Mark Koenig card (#56), Gehrig is quoted, "Mark used to play on the Yankees with me, but he was sold to Detroit and later went to the Pacific Coast League. Did he come back? I'll say he did!" The card backs also offer some long-discarded baseball terminology. On Cliff Bolton's single (#65), it states, "It takes a good man to go up to bat as a pinch-hitter and come through with a bingle." A "bingle" is apparently a base hit.
You'll also find trivia questions on the backs of cards #73 to #84, with the corresponding answers on cards #85 through #96. The bottom of the card backs reintroduce the "Big League Chewing Gum" brand, but unlike the previous year, which describes the card as one of 240 in a series, it isn't specified how many cards were in this series.
The 1934 Goudey cards were printed on three 24-card sheets (#1 to #24, #25 to #48, #49 to #72) and a final, 25-card sheet (which harbored the high-number series #73 to #96). The last sheet contained 25 cards because it also housed the storied Nap Lajoie single, which represented the elusive card #106 in the 1933 Goudey set. The Lajoie card boasts the 1934 Goudey front design (without the Gehrig or Klein banner) and the 1933 back design.
The 1934 Goudey cards were released in penny packs with gum and were distributed at different periods throughout the year. Cards from the third sheet (#49 to #72) were released after May 16, 1934. We can conclude this because the Wesley Schulermich single (#54) mentions his trade from the Phillies to the Reds which occurred on that date. And the last series cards (#73 to #96), which are widely considered the toughest to find, were not rolled out until at least late June or early July because the Homer Peel card (#88) states that he was "recently released" from the New York Giants to Nashville. Peel played his last game with the Giants on June 25, 1934.
It appears that Goudey planned to manufacture more than 96 cards for this issue, but some believe that there was turmoil during the production process. While a bulk of the star players (with a few exceptions) are featured on cards #1 to #37, most of the remaining cards highlight relative no-names. This seems to indicate that the set was constructed on the fly to some degree.
It's also important to keep in mind that at the time, the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression, so families didn't have a lot of disposable income. And as if finding children with the means to purchase these cards wasn't challenging enough for Goudey, the National Chicle Gum Company emerged as a competitor in 1934, releasing the Diamond Stars and Batter-Up series. Though the Diamond Stars set didn't feature cards of Ruth or Gehrig, it did offer cards of 17 Hall of Famers that were not in the 1934 Goudey set (see accompanying chart).
But the fact that the 1934 Goudey set is only 96 cards appeals to some of the registry set collectors.
"I collected the 1934 Goudey set rather than the 1933 Goudey set because I just thought that the 1933 set would take way too long," explained Rosamond. "I saw that this set only had 96 cards and I thought, 'Gee, I could probably complete this in two or three years.'"
Fieland was also drawn to this set by its size.
"I really like the design of the cards, but I also like how small the set is," he said. "There are only 96 cards, as opposed to those bigger sets where you have 700 or 800 cards in a set, so it was really easy to just focus on getting high-quality cards."
There's no specific sequence to the cards in the 1934 Goudey set, but there are several instances where teammates are featured back-to-back within the set. There are 20 cards (including the two Gehrig cards) that highlight Hall of Famers in this set, but just one Hall of Famer single can be found after card #62.
"One of the peculiarities of the set is that the first 24 cards are all veterans," shared Larry Mayer, who's assembling numerous vintage baseball sets on the PSA Set Registry. "The rest of the set consists almost entirely of players that were not in the 1933 set."
The two Gehrig cards are the keys to this set. Card #37 presents a portrait image of the Yankees legend and is one of the most iconic sports cards ever manufactured. It's also the tougher of the two Gehrig singles to uncover in top condition. Of the 738 submitted, there have been three PSA MINT 9s and 31 PSA NM-MT 8s.
The second Gehrig card (#61) features him in a batting pose and is slightly less evasive in flawless form. There are four PSA 9s, one PSA NM-MT+ 8.5 and 35 PSA 8s.
Aside from the Gehrig cards, the most coveted single is the Jimmie (Jimmy on the card) Foxx (#1), which leads off the set. Often subjected to additional wear and tear being on top of collector piles, this card is rarely found in high grade. Of the 382 submissions, there has been just one PSA 9 (and no PSA GEM-MT 10s).
The Hank Greenberg rookie (#62) is another highly desirable single.
"Along with Gehrig and Foxx, Greenberg was certainly one of the greatest first basemen of the era," said Mayer. "And because he was the first Jewish baseball superstar, he has a huge following in the collecting community."
Others offer similar observations about Greenberg noting that his rookie is a big card in the set in terms of historical significance.
There is one PSA 10 Greenberg rookie, three PSA 9s and 26 PSA 8s.
Mayer points out that two other Hall of Famers - Luke Appling (#27) and Ernie Lombardi (#35) - also have rookie cards in this set.
"Some might argue that Arky Vaughan and Joe Cronin are up there with him, but I would say that Luke Appling is probably considered the greatest shortstop of that era," noted Mayer. "And his card is an extremely tough card. It's one of the best cards of the 1930s."
Fieland owns one of the 10 PSA 8 Appling rookies.
Among the other Hall of Famers in this set are Mickey Cochrane (#2), Dizzy Dean (#6), Carl Hubbell (#12), Lefty Grove (#19), Bill Terry (#21), Charlie Gehringer (#23), Chick Hafey (#34) and Kiki Cuyler (#90).
"The toughest Hall of Famer card in the set is the Chick Hafey card, which is one of the more underrated cards of the era," explained Mayer. "It only has nine PSA 8s and two cards graded higher."
Like the Foxx card at the beginning of the set, the last card, Jim DeShong (#96), is also elusive in top condition. Of the 139 submitted, there has been one PSA 9 and 11 PSA 8s.
With just seven PSA 8s (and no cards grading higher) the Ray Benge single (#24) is the toughest card to obtain in PSA 8 or better condition.
"That's [about] the same number of PSA 8s that the Benny Bengough (#1) has in the 1933 Goudey set," noted Mayer. "The Benge card is an extraordinarily tough card to find in pristine condition and no one talks about it."
With eight PSA 8s and no examples graded higher, the Ed Brandt single (#5) is the second toughest card, followed by the Charlie Grimm (#3) with nine PSA 8s.
Because they're over eight decades old, raw 1934 Goudey cards are often found in rough condition.
"I didn't see a lot of centering problems when I was going after most of these cards," shared Rosamond. "It was mostly corner issues. The cards are 80 years old, so it was typically things like bad corners that were more of a problem for me than centering."
Mayer has had a similar experience.
"Toning is a big issue and then obviously wear," he said. "I've always found that toning is a bigger issue than centering on these cards."
These condition obstacles, combined with the demand for the Hall of Fame cards, make the 1934 set difficult to assemble in top condition, but it's not as daunting as the 240-card, 1933 Goudey set.
"I would think that if you're looking to start a set from the 1930s, you have to look at this set and say, 'Why not?'" said Rosamond. "It's a beautiful set. It has two Lou Gehrig cards and a lot of Hall of Famers in it. I just love this set. When I take my cards out and look at them, I just get a really great sense of completion. I think it's a real sleeper. It's a great looking set and it's attainable."
The set also serves as a fitting cardboard tribute to Gehrig, an underrated baseball legend, who, when these cards were released, did not yet know the cruel fate that awaited him.
"I just love Lou Gehrig. He was dedicated to the sport. He never did anything to blemish his name," said Rosamond. "I just think he was a great guy."
For more information on the 1934 Goudey set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/CardFacts/Set/136/1934-goudey-baseball-cards.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of October 2015.
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