Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Frank Owen Can't Catch a Break


Poor Frank Owen. He can’t catch a break.

Here’s a pitcher who notched over 20 wins in three straight seasons for the White Sox (1904-1906), became the first American Leaguer to toss two complete-game victories in one day (July 1, 1905), and on July 29, 1904, clouted his first-ever big league home run in the 10th inning to give himself the victory.

 
Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1904

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who has ever heard of the fellow. But to make matters worse, even back in his own day he got the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. Not one, but two, contemporary baseball cards misidentified him.

Here are the sad stories:

1) The Fan Craze Error

In 1904, the Fan Craze Company of Cincinnati issued a low-budget baseball card playing game. Each card had revealed a baseball play (“strike,” “home run,” “out at first,” etc.). Players turned over cards one-by-one to determine the outcome of each play.



In 1906, the company released a high-end version of their popular game, a pair of sets known as the “Art Series” and billed as “an artistic constellation of great stars.” One set (known as the WG2 set among baseball card collectors) had blue backs and consisted of 54 cards, each bearing the likeness of an American Leaguer. The companion set (WG3) had red backs and numbered 51 cards, each adorned with photos of National Leaguers.

 
Geyer’s Stationer, May 3, 1906

The images on each card were reproductions of photographs taken by Carl Horner, a Boston-based cameraman who the weekly sports newspaper Sporting Life called the “official photographer of the major leagues.” Today, Horner is probably best remembered for taking this photo of Honus Wagner:



You’ll likely recognize that this photo was used for the Pittsburgh shortstop’s famous T206 card of 1909, but it was also used for his Fan Craze card from a few years earlier.



A number of cards in the “Art Series” have players misidentified. For example, George Winter is misidentified as George Winters, Norman “Kid” Elberfeld’s last name is misspelled “Elberfield,” and Terry Turner’s card erroneously labels him as “Roy Turner.”







Frank Owen suffered a similar fate. His card is captioned “Billy Owen,” but there was no major leaguer by that name.



The discovery of this gaff and the correct identification of the player as Frank Owen were made by the folks at the Baseball Games web site, the go-to source for collectors of vintage baseball tabletop games. Alas, at the time of their research, they didn’t have the luxury of comparing the “Billy Owen” Fan Craze card to this original Carl Horner photograph of the pitcher:



To summarize, the “Fan Craze” WG2 card identified as “Billy Owen” is, in fact, Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Owen.

2) The Sporting Life Cabinet Error

While the “Fan Craze” WG2 error has been known for a while, this next mistake is a new discovery.

Starting in September of 1902, Sporting Life began advertising the availability of “cabinet sized phototypes of celebrated base ball players.” Over the next few years, issues of the newspaper regularly featured these ads, with new players made available on a regular basis. These cabinet cards (designated W600 in the card hobby) are popular collectibles and number well over 600. Some players are featured in more than one card and such was the case for one of the era’s most popular big leaguers: Mike Donlin. (For those wanting to learn a bit more about Donlin, I blogged about him back in 2010.)

Here are Donlin’s two Sporting Life cabinet cards: his Cincinnati card (at left) was made available in 1902, while his New York card (at right) was offered only after he was traded to Cincinnati in August of 1904.



But the two players pictured are not the same person. The player at right is indeed Mike Donlin. Compare that picture of him to the image below.

 
Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-003778. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

So who is the player at left? Take a close look. Amazingly, it is our old friend Frank Owen, misidentified once again. Poor Frank Owen. He can’t catch a break.



To summarize, the Sporting Life W600 cabinet card identified as Mike Donlin with Cincinnati is, in fact, Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Owen.

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