The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories — by Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala
For those with an interest in baseball cards, the T206 series of baseball cards is one of the most well-known sets ever to be produced. Loaded with Hall of Famers, marked by brilliant portraits of players and elevated by over 100 years since their debut.
Many fans, even those outside of the world of baseball card collecting, are familiar with the crown jewel of the set, the 1906 T206 Honus Wagner. In 2007, Michael O’Keeffe and Teri Thompson put out a book titled simply, The Card, which looked at the history of the most well-known card from this set, and possibly the most well-known sports card of all. With its combination of scarcity and a portrait of one of the game’s greatest players, it has recently fetched just under $3 million at auction.
But what about the rest of the set? What about those other players who had their image printed onto these little pieces of paper and inserted into packs of cigarettes? They now have a book dedicated just to them – The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories, by Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala.
If you’ve ever collected baseball cards, you’re familiar with the index card – the card that you dreaded getting in packs because all it did was list the other cards in the set and was designed to be a checklist for which cards you had and which you didn’t. Think of this book as an index card for the T206 collection, but with a hardcover and loads of brilliant photographs of the cards and baseball equipment from the early 1900s, as well as brief biographies of each of the players featured in the set.
The book starts out strong, featuring the 38 players who would end up going into the Hall of Fame from this set. Some of the game’s great names live in this chapter, like Cobb, Young, Mathewson, the Big Train, and many others. These are the jewels of the set – where name recognition is frequent and on-field accomplishments are plentiful.
The “could be, should be” Hall of Famers highlight chapter two, as the authors select 12 players featured on T206 cards who have on-field credentials that could, or in some cases should warrant admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Chapters three through six look at the lesser known players — divided up as “The Uncommons,” “The Bad Boys of Baseball,” “The Minor Leaguers” and “The Commons.” Each of the players featured in these chapters, as well as the preceding chapters, gets a short biography to accompany photos of the cards he appeared on, as well as list of the Major League teams he played for. While a bit short at times, I could certainly see this book becoming the inspiration for a reader to further investigate players of this era, as the authors give the reader just enough to give you an idea of who the player was, what he was known for, and leave you wanting to know more about many of them.
The book is wrapped up by an informative chapter written by Joe Orlando, president of PSA – Professional Sports Authenticator and PSA/DNA Authentication Services, as well as the editor of the Sports Market Report, titled “Understanding the Value Within the T206 Set.”
To my knowledge there is no other book on the market that gives this set of baseball cards the kind of treatment that the Zappalas and Orlando do, and it is a welcomed addition to the library of baseball knowledge. Few sets truly deserve this kind of attention – the 1933 Goudey and 1952 Topps being two that would – and the authors do it a great service and bring to light the rest of the set beyond the Wagner card.
If anything, layout of the chapters is my main gripe with the book — the authors chose to list players alphabetically, which unfortunately ignored some of the more natural connections that exist between players in the set. For instance, in the Hall of Famers section, the heralded double play combination of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs would seem a natural trio to feature together, yet they are separated by several pages.
Chapter three, which has the most promise as it looks at players from the era who were known for being “a little bit different,” as the authors eloquently put it, was weighed down simply by the length of the chapter – at 68 pages, it became a bit fatiguing to sift through all the players mentioned. Had it been broken down into two or three smaller chapters, the great stories would have had an easier time standing out – such as reading about the real Bull Durham, or meeting the man with the lowest on-base percentage with a minimum 5000 at-bats.
The standout of the book, at least from an informational standpoint, was the final chapter, penned by Orlando. As a professional who understands the factors that go into making certain cards more valuable than others, he breaks down the intricacies of the T206 set and gives the reader a feel for what factors had to come together to make the T206 such an appealing set and why it lives on as one of the greatest card sets of all time. It’s Orlando’s ability to explain the nuances of the set to the reader that adds context and to the pictures and biographies in the earlier chapters.
If you’re a fan of baseball cards but can’t manage a purchase of the entire T206 set, this book proves to be a worthy substitute, as it puts the 524-card set into a hardcover book worthy of placement on your coffee table that not only shows you the cards but will introduce you to the players whose images graced the set. There are some non-Hall of Famer names in this book you’ll likely recognize but likely many more you won’t, making this a great way to explore turn-of-the-century baseball and see connections to today’s game both on and off the field as well as through collectible pictures of ballplayers.
You can read more about this book and the authors at T206Players.com.