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Baseball Cards in Big Leagues of Art

July 18, 1993|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — As Yogi Berra might say, it's deja vu all over again at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a new permanent exhibition highlights nearly 75 years of baseball cards--from 1887 until 1959.

It opened this month in the American Wing, the first time that baseball cards from the museum's Burdick Collection have been on view for the general public. Besides Berra, the cards on display include such notables of the game as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ted Williams.

The cards, which will rotate every six months, are being hung lower than usual for the benefit of younger visitors.

The earliest of the framed sets of cards--originally designed as collectible inserts for tobacco packages--date to 1887, some 18 years after the Cincinnati Red Stockings organized the sport's first professional team. That year's D. Buchner's "Gold Coin" Tobacco issue shows merely the names of players and generic figures for each position on the diamond.

One year later, Allen and Ginter Tobacco's "World Champions, Second Series," features a full portrait--complete with mustache--of William (Buck) Ewing, leading New York Giants slugger.

Also on display is a rare Honus Wagner card from a 1909-1911 series, which became famous when Wagner asked that his card be withdrawn because he disapproved of the use of his picture to help promote cigarettes.

A Goudy Gum series in 1934--"Big League"--includes Babe Ruth at bat in 1933, as well as aphorisms from Lou Gehrig. Of the pitcher Jerome (Dizzy) Dean, Gehrig said, he "made the White Sox dizzy trying to bat against him."

Gehrig is also quoted in the 1934 series as saying, "I love the game of baseball and hope to be in there batting them out for many years to come." Five years later, the "Iron Horse" developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and retired.

"All Star Baseball," issued in 1948 by the Leaf Gum Company of Chicago, features Joe DiMaggio, Honus Wagner as a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and longtime New York Yankees announcer Phil (Scooter) Rizzuto, described on his card as "the second-best shortstop in the American League in 1948."

The exhibition opened to the public July 1, and will rotate every six months.

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