Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cut to the Chase

The famous, rare and much sought-after Honus Wagner baseball card is just one of well-over 500 cards that are part of what is known as the T206 White Border set. The cards were issued as premiums in tobacco packs from 1909 through 1911 and feature colorful images of both major and minor league baseball players. While the Wagner card garners most of the press, it is a different card in the set that has me intrigued: that of legendary first baseman Hal Chase.

Actually, there are a few different Hal Chase cards in the set:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0969f

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0968f

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0970f

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0971f

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0972f

It is this last card, often noted on T206 checklists as "Hal Chase (Holding Trophy)," that has me wondering. The image on the card is clearly based on a photograph, though the background is just as clearly the result of artistic license. Does a copy of that photo still exist? And just what is that trophy?

While I haven't been able to track down the photo upon which the image was based, I did manage to determine the story behind Chase's hefty hardware.

Back in spring training of 1909, the New York American League club (often called the Highlanders, but rarely known as the Yankees) was barnstorming their way back home for the opening of the American League season. In Augusta, Georgia, Chase fell ill and it was initially reported that he had malaria. Actually, he had varioloid, a relatively mild form of smallpox.

It was reported that Chase had contracted the disease from some bellboys at a hotel in Macon, Georgia, where the team had previously stayed. So, while Chase was quarantined in a hospital in Augusta, his teammates were vaccinated and their belongings "fumigated." The hope was that this would protect the Highlanders against infection and, perhaps more importantly, reassure the various host cities, opposing players, and fans that it was safe to play against and attend exhibition games as the big leaguers worked their way north.

The club met with some resistance along the way and there even were fears that the opening of the season might be delayed. However, no games were canceled and the club played its Opening Day game on April 12 as originally scheduled.

Chase was released from the hospital near the end of April and made his season debut on May 3. As he approached the plate for his first at bat of the game, former manager Kid Elberfeld interrupted the proceedings with a short speech, followed by the presentation of a silver "loving cup," the very one depicted in the T206 card.

That's the story behind the picture. Now all that is left is to track down the original photo of Chase holding the cup.

Update of December 30, 2014:

Baseball Researcher reader Graig alerted me to the following photo at the Detroit Public Library Digital Collections:

Detroit Public Library Digital Collections, Resource ID: hr002587

The photo, taken by famed baseball photographer Charles Conlon, is obviously the one used as a model for the Chase T206 card. Chase wears the home uniform of the 1909 Highlanders and he's posed at Hilltop Park, May 3, 1909.

Case closed.


  1. Do we know if there's more to the story? I know the Deadball Era was big on trophies, but a random presentation of a loving cup still seems weird. Was the cup indicative of some sort of achievement from the 1908 season or was it simply one hell of a get-well present?

    Anyway, my favorite Hal Chase card is the third one from the top in this post, the one where he has that evil Hal Chase sneer on his face, the one that says "I'm throwing this game, suckers, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it."

  2. Regarding Eric Enders' question "Was the cup indicative of some sort of achievement from the 1908 season or was it simply one hell of a get-well present?" All contemporary sources imply that the cup was a welcome back gift to Chase for his having missed the first month of the season with smallpox.
    I suspect, however, that there was more to the gift than meets the eye. There was longstanding animosity between Chase and Elberfeld, and in a very public feud with the club, Chase actually left the club at the end of the 1908 season to play in the outlaw California State League. For these reasons I suspect that the cup was also an attempt to smooth things over between Chase and the Highlanders.

  3. Don't know if you ever ran into this link, as it's been over five years since this wonderful post was published, but have at thee:


    WONDERFUL collection of stuff in there, especially all of the Conlons (I see a TON that no longer have their negatives in existence, according to what John Rogers and co have now).

    1. Graig - Can't thank you enough for tracking down this photo. I've updated my post to reflect your find.
      Thanks again.