Early Innings in American Baseball

Today’s post is about the turn of the century baseball cards recently posted by the Library of Congress.

Goodwin & Co., Sponsor. Ned Hanlon, Detroit Wolverines, baseball card portrait. , 1887 to 1890. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007686521/.

Our modern baseball players are very fit and polished, by comparison. The players in these pictures weren’t especially muscular or toned.


Can you imagine the reaction if one of these players was signed today?  A few of these guys – at least – must have had day jobs and probably just played ball for a hobby.


For instance, the fellow on the left looks a lot like someone who works at the 7-Eleven near where I work. (I also have a day job.)


Another interesting thing about the cards is that they are sponsored by cigarette companies.

Allen & Ginter, Sponsor. John M. Ward, New York Giants, baseball card portrait, 1887. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007678538/


This is Mr. C.F. McDowell from the Newsboys League. I initially thought he was pretty funny (the belt is so great!) but I did a little digging and learned McDowell wasn’t a ball player – he actually was a newsboy for the Rochester Post Express! The SF Hess tobacco company ordered this photo as part of an unusual set featuring several newsboys from eight cities.

S.F. Hess & Company, Sponsor. McDowell, Rochester Post Express, baseball card portrait. , 1888. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007680747/.

Before you get too excited about Mr. McDowell, take a look at Mr. Harry Lord.

Harry Lord, 1909, Boston. What on earth is he wearing?


Next up, we have Ned Williamson, third baseman and shortstop for the Chicago White Stockings. You might not guess it from this card, but he was one of the best players of his era. His batting average was .255 – which wouldn’t stop the presses these days – but he also set the home run record in 1887 and it remained in place until Babe Ruth broke it in 1919.

D. Buchner & Company, Sponsor. Ned Williamson, Chicago White Stockings, baseball card portrait. , 1887. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007680755/.

Ned Williamson’s life and career came to a premature end. After his career was cut short by a knee injury in Paris in 1889, the baseball great was forced to retire. He immediately contracted tuberculosis (consumption) and traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas, hoping to be cured.

Unfortunately, the treatments failed and he died at age 36. The one-time baseball great was sent home to Chicago, where he was buried in an unmarked grave in Rosehill Cemetery.


This was the first dual baseball card I ever saw. Richard Marquard (L) and John T. Meyers (R) played for the New York Giants – the same team though both the illustration and the picture create the impression they were on different teams. I’m puzzled about the picture in the middle: is this the real Marquard and Meyers? If so, the American Tobacco Company probably should have invested in a better illustrator. But it seems just as likely the picture is of different people – the men are wearing different uniforms and the fellow on the right is wearing what looks a little like an Oakland A’s jersey.

American Tobacco Company, Sponsor. Richard Marquard/John T. Meyers, New York Giants, baseball card portrait. , 1912. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2008678451/.

Fun fact: The Oakland A’s were established in 1901 in Philadelphia. The team moved to Kansas City in 1955 and then to Oakland, California in 1968. The team’s official name is still the Oakland Athletics, but most people call them the A’s. 



Another example of the dual baseball card! This one tracks with the first – Clyde Milan (L) and N. Elberfield (R) were on the Washington Nationals team in 1912 – but the illustrations show them in different uniforms. The picture in the middle is even more curious than the Marquad/Meyers card. This definitely doesn’t look like two players on one team, though the guy sliding in on the right does look like the illustration on the right.

American Tobacco Company, Sponsor. Clyde Milan/N. Elberfeld, Washington Nationals, baseball card portrait. , 1912. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2008678508/.





This is Jimmy Ryan, center fielder for the Chicago White Stockings. The Chicago White Stockings were not forerunners of the White Sox, as you might have guessed. In 1890, they changed their name to the Chicago Colts. They officially became the Chicago Cubs in 1907.

I was a little surprised to find out that Mr. Ryan, whose nickname was Pony and who was the literally the poster boy for Yum Yum Cigarettes, was actually a pretty tough guy. He had a couple of high-profile altercations with reporters. In 1887, he threw a single punch at a reporter during a trip to Pittsburgh. Five years later, he actually beat up another reporter. In 1896, he punched a train conductor and then hit a second conductor who attempted to intervene.

Jimmy Ryan batted right but threw left. He had a successful 18-year career, playing his last game in 1903. Two years later, he published an article under his own byline advising men not to go into baseball. “Baseball is not a permanent business,” he wrote. “Look in the newspapers and you will see that a baseball player 35 years of age is considered an old man.”

Here’s an actual photograph of Jimmy Ryan:

Jimmy Ryan, center fielder and Yum Yum cigarettes enthusiast

It’s the little changes that are the most interesting. How would the picture be different if it were taken today?

Game Faces: Early Baseball Cards from the Library of Congress

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