Skip to main content

The next best thing to a baseball card of the guy

Yesterday, The Chronicles of Fuji asked readers whether they had a favorite old-time ballplayer who was not named Ruth, Gehrig, Young, Johnson, Cobb or Hornsby (he probably should have thrown Matthewson in there, too).

I was temporarily stumped, as I admit I don't think of the players of the early 20th century all that much. Part of me wanted to say, "Zach Wheat" or "Jake Daubert" just because they were Dodgers -- or, actually, "Robins" -- but I don't know a lot about them, so I can't say they are my favorite old-timers.

Then the mail arrived today and something in it made me scold myself: "Duh, of course! Bid McPhee!!"

Bid McPhee is my favorite old-timer.

Some of you may not know who King Bid is, even though he is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The item I received in the mail was another collectible from the present-day connection to TCMA, Andrew Aronstein. It is a commemorative Hall of Fame Induction Day envelope honoring the inductions of Bid McPhee and Turkey Stearnes in 2000.

It's a nice little collectible as I have admired McPhee for the last 20 years, which is how long it's been since I learned that someone from my newspaper's tiny little coverage area corner was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

McPhee didn't spend much time in Massena, N.Y., the same hometown of former Astros pitcher/current Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies, his family moved to Illinois when he was 6 or 7 years old.

But McPhee is the first person from our area to get the Hall call, 57 years after his death.

His election came in 2000 and it came with quite a bit of commotion. McPhee beat out eventual Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski for induction by a single vote and, wow, what noise came out in the press when it was learned that McPhee, a guy who played before the 1900s began, made it into the Hall instead of Mazeroski. Scribes screamed for the Veterans Committee to be overhauled.

That's when I wrote a story about McPhee's career and I tracked down a couple of McPhee experts, one who wrote a book about McPhee's exploits and another a SABR member and a big backer of McPhee. Both of them considered McPhee's induction justified and actually overdue.

That is the beginning of the article I wrote (I blacked out the byline. I know some of you know who I am, but I don't know if all the spammers should).

McPhee is a favorite of mine, not only because of where he came from, but because of all of the pre-20th century quirks that were part of his career.

McPhee was known as a gentleman in the game during a period (1870s through 1890s) when ballplayers were more often drunks, gamblers and carousers. He also was remarkable consistent during a time in which nothing about baseball was stable. Not only did McPhee player for Cincinnati for his entire 18-year career, but he played second base almost exclusively. And at the end of the 19th century, he was named the greatest second baseman ever.

McPhee's most famous aspect, though, is probably that he went almost his entire career fielding his position without a glove. He was one of the last players to field barehanded, adding a glove reluctantly in 1887 after suffering a finger injury. In my story, I found a quote from the Cincinnati Enquirer in which McPhee said:

"I have never seen the necessity of wearing (a glove), and besides, I cannot hold a thrown ball if there is anything on my hands. This glove business has gone a little too far. ... True, hot-hit balls do sting a little at the opening of a season, but after you get used to it, there is no trouble on that score."

How's that? Just throw a little salt on them and you'll be fine.

I have long wanted to own a card of McPhee for my collection, but every time I think to add one, all I see is sold-out options on COMC.

McPhee's most noted card is probably his 1887 Old Judge.

I wish myself good luck getting that one. I probably have less than a 1% chance.

There are loads of variations of this Old Judge card with McPhee in various fielding poses. He was much more well-known for fielding than hitting, even though he was a triples machine.

Here is a Perez-Steele Hall of Fame series postcard of McPhee.

The card at the top of the post is from the 1994 American Archives Origins of Baseball set.

This is a more recent card from 2013 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions. But of course, this has to be a short-print.

I could also pick up a trademark yellow Cooperstown postcard of McPhee and call it the McPhee card in my collection.

But I'd prefer the Goodwin Champions card, or American Archives, or ... heh ... the Old Judge card.

So the commemorative envelope is the next best thing, I suppose.

Also ...

How great are the envelopes TCMA Ltd. is sending out?


John Bateman said…
It looks like Bid McPhee and Deacon White are probably the last 2 players who primarily played in the 19th Century to make the hall of fame.
Bid is one of my PC cards, and there sure ain't much "available" out there.
Mazeroski shouldn't even be in the Hall. There, I said it.
bryan was here said…
Wow, I didn't know Bid McPhee was from Massena, New York. My family actually spent a couple days camping in Massena back around 1981-82 while on a road trip around Upstate New York. We visited the Fredric Remington Museum and the nearby Eisenhower Lock at the St Lawrence Seaway. That was a fun trip, which included a day at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
I'm hoping to get back up there soon. Maybe next summer.
Nick said…
Always enjoy seeing some 19th century guys get some love around the blogosphere! It's tough being a fan of guys like McPhee because they have almost no cards out there, of course. That postcard (and envelope!) is fantastic.
Jongudmund said…
Thats a nice commemorative cover. Also that's a great quote about not wearing a glove. You can almost hear him saying "This is a game for men!"
Fuji said…
Fielding without a glove? Very cool. Been a fan of baseball for over 40 years and never knew this was even a thing. Hadn't heard of King Bid either, but I'm glad I do now.

P.S. And when I recycle my post in ten years... I'll make sure to add Matthewson to the question ;D
AdamE said…
Not my favorite old time player but I saw something the other day about Ray Caldwell a pitcher for the Indians who started in 1919. You should look him up. It was the most eventful and crazy start in the history of baseball.
Stu said…
Don't know when Bid's career ended but I bought the home he built in 1919. I guess he was out of the game by then. I believe he died in 1946. I bought the house in 1986 and not much had been done to it. My neighbor at the time had lived in his house since 1926. The neighbor, Old Bill, died in 1992 at 92. He would tell stories about Bid. I also found newspaper as underlayment in the roof when did a remodel The paper was from Cincinnati date 1919. I use to tell my kids Bid still haunted the house. The home is in Ocean Beach, San Diego, Ca.