Card of the Day: 1888 SF Hess N338-1 Pete Meegan

Today’s Card of the Day would qualify as being as rare as hens teeth. I have six hens, and they occasionally bite me when I try to feed multiple out of my hand at the same time. It never hurts. They have no teeth. That’s much like me not having any N338-1 cards in my collection, even though I have more 19th century baseball cards than 99.999% of humans.

Today’s card is from the 1888 N338-1 SF Hess set, which features minor league players from California. It’s one of two sets from California put out by the company that year. The other one is labeled the N321 set. Those numbers you see are just catalog numbers assigned long after these sets were released. Long enough ago that it’s the only way you’ll see these sets referred to now, but you wouldn’t have been searching the general stores asking if they had N338-1 cards back when these were new.

The N321 set is slightly easier to find, and it features cards that have artwork for each player. The set we are looking at today has real photos. There’s also an N338-2 set that has real photos from 1888, but that one only features Major League players. What’s great about today’s set is that we can look at a player like Pete Meegan, who pitched for the 1885 Alleghenys. There are no sets that had photos of 1885 Alleghenys players. He was born on November 13th, so this is a perfect day to look at this set that doesn’t include any players who were on Pittsburgh at the time, but it does have Meegan.

Meegan holds a record in team history that he doesn’t get credit for now, though it’s a good reason. I searched all over old newspapers for any mention of what hand he used while throwing a baseball towards the plate. I got no answers, which technically gave me my answer (99.99% sure). If someone threw left-handed back then, you knew it. Papers would constantly mention it. Meegan was mentioned in articles multiple times with pitchers who were referred to as lefties or southpaws. He was not mentioned in articles that named all of the lefty pitchers in the league that he was in at the time. You can find numerous 1885 articles that tell you Ed Morris is a lefty, and he was on the same pitching staff as Meegan. That pretty much guarantees that Meegan was a right-handed pitcher.

Meegan struck out 15 Baltimore Orioles players on July 15, 1885. Right now the recognized franchise record for strikeouts by a right-handed pitcher is 14 by Bob Moose and Jose DeLeon. Meegan should hold the record, but it would be nice to find proof first, other than detective work that basically proves it. The problem is that as much as papers mentioned when pitchers threw lefty, they had no reason to mention when they threw right-handed because most of the league was right-handed, so they almost never mentioned it.

I’ve talked a lot already, so here’s a look at the card. The back here is blank, so no need for that scan. The price section is also useless, because you’re at the mercy of people with deep pockets showing up if this card was ever for sale. If two people want it bad enough, it’s easily a five-figure sale. The final sale price is up to whoever hates losing more.

Here’s the front:

This is a sepia-toned photo, showing Meegan on the San Francisco Haverlys. Back in 1888, San Francisco was baseball crazy. There’s really not a modern comparison because other sports have places now among athletes, even in the most baseball crazy town/city/country. There was an entire top league in San Francisco, to the point that all of the teams were named San Francisco and the Haverlys would just be called by the team name because saying San Francisco was obvious. You had to be a great player back then to play in the California League, but you didn’t have to be great to play baseball regularly. There were plenty of other teams around too, allowing players to face strong competition, while they waited for a “big league” spot to open up in the California League.

The California League designation written at the top helps you tell these cards apart from the Major League players, though all of the big league players were portrait style photos. The California League players were all outdoor poses. It’s a great set to get the only known photos of some players, while also showing them in full uniforms. These cards measure 2-7/8 x 1-1/2. There are currently 23 cards known in the set, but you can’t rule out a new one showing up. New ones have been added to the checklist within the last ten years.

This isn’t a set I’ll cover again likely, though there are other options for former Pirates players, so I won’t totally rule it out. If you like the cool old baseball photos, check out more of the set here.