Card of the Day: 1940 Play Ball Mace Brown

Today’s Card of the Day is our first look at the popular 1940 Play Ball set in nine months. It’s a set that provides some great options for Pittsburgh Pirates cards. There are 20 Pirates cards total in the 240-card set, which included some all-time great retired players. One of the most popular cards in the set features the great Honus Wagner, who was still technically active as a coach, but he last played in the majors 23 years earlier.

Today’s card features one of the first true full-time reliever who wasn’t just there to do mop-up work, though you wouldn’t know that from this card. Mace Brown pitched for the Pirates from 1935 through 1941. He made 55 starts over his 262 appearances with the Pirates. He also pitched 125 times after leaving Pittsburgh without putting in another start. Brown was born on this date in 1909. He lived out a long life, passing away at 92 years old in 2002. He has appeared in this series twice before, but this is our first look at his 1940 Play Ball card.

Here’s the front of the card:

While the colors on these cards are boring, they did put some thought into the design. I like the look of these cards because you get the great old photos mixed with a design that looks like they were going for a throwback look way back then. There are a few older popular sets that used equipment in the design just like this card.

I’m almost certain that this is a 1938 photograph of Brown. The Pirates wore those particular uniforms during the 1938-39 seasons. The 1939 uniforms had a patch on the left sleeve that commemorated the 100th anniversary of baseball. The old fable that Abner Doubleday started baseball in 1839 was thought to be true back then, but earlier examples of the game being mentioned in print have been found since then. It’s safe to say that kids were already learning from adults who learned from other adults about baseball in 1839, but it makes for a good story. That’s why the Doubleday story has carried on in some form since then.

Anyway, that little history lesson was told because I don’t see the patch on the sleeve. I’m not 100% sure that the cropping here didn’t cut it off, but I believe we would see some of it if it was there. That’s why I think it’s a 1938 photo.

Here’s the back of the card:

I mentioned up top that Brown wasn’t a “mop-up” pitcher by today’s definition, but you can see that the Play Ball card manufacturers used that phrase for him back then. It appears that they are trying to say that he took over in long relief when the starter ran into trouble. A mop-up guy now would be finishing off a one-sided game so a key reliever didn’t need to do work in a meaningless situation. Brown is the first relief pitcher to be named to the All-Star team. He was by no means a “mop-up” guy by today’s definition.

This back here advertises new cards coming for Superman, skipping right over details about this set. While I don’t collect non-baseball cards, I do know that those Superman cards from 1940 are very valuable. It’s interesting to note that these cards are called Play Ball, while the Superman set is called “Gum Inc.”, which could obviously work here too, going by that final line.

If you’re interested in this Brown card, they are priced from $105 for an SGC 5, down to $19 for a low-grade/ungraded copy. You probably want to be around $30 if you want a nice ungraded copy. A PSA 6 recently sold for $155+tax.