Card of the Day: 1934 Batter Up Arky Vaughan

Today’s Card of the Day comes from the 1934-36 Batter Up set. It was a set that was printed over three years, with cards that actually came in slightly different sizes during that time. The cards made in 1934 stood 2-3/8″ by 3-1/4″. The next two years saw cards produced that were 1/4 inch shorter. A total of 192 cards are in the set. One of those cards features Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan, who is considered by those who know what they’re talking about, as the second greatest shortstop in baseball history.

Vaughan had a somewhat abbreviated career because he quit baseball for three years during the war. His quitting had less to do with WWII and more to do with his war with Brooklyn management. According to modern metrics, he compiled 78 WAR during his career, which currently ranks 70th all-time. However, his abbreviated career shows just how valuable he was when he played.

We all know Honus Wagner is the greatest shortstop ever. You’ve never had to debate that fact with someone who was also smart enough to operate a can opener. The second and third best players for WAR on the Pittsburgh Pirates are two legendary outfielders in the game, Roberto Clemente and Paul Waner. Clemente averaged 0.039 WAR per game in his career. Waner averaged 0.033 WAR per game for the Pirates. Vaughan averaged 0.048 WAR per game for the Pirates/0.043 WAR per game for his career. That’s a significant difference between him and two greats of the game.

There are only really comparable Pirates players to him in that stat. Barry Bonds has a tick higher WAR per game with the Pirates, but 401 fewer games. Honus Wagner put up 0.049 WAR per game, though he played 1,022 more games than Vaughan. Those are two all-time greats who get the recognition they deserve, doing roughly the same as a man who doesn’t get enough recognition. If you want to see more about how Vaughan compares to other shortstops, here’s him compared to Hall of Famers. If you want me to just get to the Card of the Day, here we go…

Here’s the front of the card:

One of the reasons for the long intro is that there isn’t a lot to talk about here. That’s especially true when you see the back. This is a great in action photo of Vaughan, leaping to make a catch. These cards are meant to be folded so they stand on their own, with the player separated from the background part above the crease that is mid-card. Topps used this idea a few other times.

You can see where the “Batter Up” name comes from for the set. You might notice right below that name that they misspelled Vaughan’s name. They got the Pirates shortstop part correct. He’s card #21 in the set, which is interesting. Vaughan wore #21 for most of his time with the Pirates. That’s probably why his number isn’t retired by the Pirates, even though other teams have multiple players with the same number retired. In retrospect, it should have been retired for Vaughan long before it got attached to Clemente. If it did, then whatever number Clemente wore instead would now be iconic, not just for the Pirates. You wouldn’t even notice, because you’d be attached to the other number. The Pirates could still right this wrong by retiring either #3 or #5 for Vaughan. He wore both numbers briefly, and neither has a player attached who might get their number retired by the Pirates instead.

Here’s the back of the card.

I wasn’t going to include the back because it is blank, but I thought it would be interesting to show the outline of Vaughan on the back as the only thing you can see here.

These cards vary in prices by condition. If they were never used as intended, then they could be worth a good deal more if the condition is strong. The current prices on Ebay show $250 for a PSA 4, and three ungraded ones in the $60-$70 range. It’s hard to gauge whether the PSA price is good, because there aren’t comparable sales on Ebay recently. Those ungraded prices don’t seem bad though, as two lower grade copies have sold in the last three months for $46 and $51.