When you pick up a baseball card, do you wonder about the player whose picture is staring back at you? What was he like? What did he do after baseball? This curiosity is especially true with the famous T206 card set, now at its 100 year anniversary, and arguably the most fabled baseball card set in history.
The set was released between 1909 and 1911 and contains the most valuable trading card in the world, the legendary Honus Wagner. Beyond Wagner, the set also contains other Hall of Fame members including Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker as well as more obscure players from–over 500 cards in all.
The T206 set is the subject of a stunningly beautiful and informative new book, called The T206 Collection, The Players and Their Stories. This book has taken the card series and put together thematic chapters tying like cards together. For instance, there are separate chapters on the Hall of Famers, those overlooked by Cooperstown, The Bad Boys of Baseball, The Minor Leaguers and the Uncommons. The book’s contents are beautifully laid out and contain exhaustively-researched stories about the players in the set.
A story within the Uncommons chapter about Lena Blackburne examplifies the great stories within the book.
No baseball can go into a Major League game without being rubbed with Lena Blackburne mud. Lena, a player from the T206 set (see graded card to the right), was a unremarkable Major Leaguer and during the 1930s, was the third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics. At this time, baseballs came from the factory with a gloss. Pitchers couldn’t grip them, so they applied shoe polish, tobacco juice, and dirt. Lena brought some mud from his home in Palmyra, N.J., and soon all of the American League was using it.
The mud farm is in south Jersey–that’s all anyone will reveal. According to Bintliff, you more or less skim the sediment off the top of the riverbank with a shovel. The Army Corps of Engineers did a study and found a high content of feldspar, which is just fine enough to remove the gloss without scratching the leather at all. Apparently, Rawlings once tried to replicate the mud but couldn’t do it.
Now the farm is being run by Jim Bintliff, the “Mud Man”. You can find out more about the current mud farm at http://www.baseballrubbingmud.com and in the video at the bottom of this article.
This coffee table books is a beautiful homage to this great card series. In addition to Blackburne, the book has uncovered many of the players’ stories and brought them back to life. I can’t recommend this book more highly.
Books on Baseball Rating: Home Run (this book is a “must have” for any serious baseball fan or card collector)