Vintage toys: Take me to the ballgame

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

The game of baseball is "The National Pastime", but when was it invented? The exact date has been open to debate for over 150 years. Whenever it was, it was soon followed by the first baseball board and card game. Information indicates that a crude hand drawn cardboard baseball game was registered with the U.S. Patent Office in 1871. The board features a green playing field with fielders and batters. The top game of the prewar World War I era was manufactured by McLoughlin Brothers. This Zimmer’s Base Ball Game is valued at over $30,000.

Since 1871, there have been several hundred versions of baseball games sold in various venues department stores, toy stores, at the various baseball stadiums, and some as mail in giveaways for so many baseball card gum wrappers or other products.

In the beginning the games were very generic, but as baseball became more popular in the early 20th Century, various game companies and the baseball teams themselves began to recognize that marketing would increase sales and interest fans to come out to the ball park. On board games and card games player names began to appear on the game boxes. The popular baseball brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner are pictured on the front of the baseball board game that bears their name - Waner’s Baseball Game. Paul was known as "Big Poison" and Lloyd, who was younger, was "Little Poison." Both played the majority of their careers with the Pittsburgh Pirates and are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This game would sell in the $800-$1,000 range.

Many of the early ball games are difficult to date, but there are some clues. A game where it is "Base Ball", written as two words, is usually pre 1920. Other clues can be found by looking at the uniforms, bats, and gloves to try to determine a date. If there are numbers on the uniforms, the game was made after 1927, as that was the first season players had numbers on the back of the uniform. The New York Yankees made that innovation.

The employment of a famous players’ name on a game became very popular in the 1920’s, which became known as the "Golden Age of Sports". That included not just baseball, but football, boxing and bicycle racing. The famous Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators, was one of those players, as were Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth. There was a pin ball type game using a metal ball called game "Poosh-em- Up Tony", named after Yankee great Tony Lazzeri.

Collecting baseball games is collecting a snapshot of the United States in that period. In the 1930’s prior to television, there was the "Official Radio Baseball Game". The best players of those years are featured on the front box cover. Many baseball card sets of that era are valuable today due to the shortage of many of the players’ cards. Special giveaway baseball games could be secured by sending in so many baseball bubble gum wrappers or in some instances, a set number of player cards. In 1935, O-Pee-Chee of Canada offered, "send in five wrappers and receive a baseball game." Other companies had the same type offer. It has been felt that in one way the companies wanted to create demand for the player cards or wrappers as the free offer encouraged individuals to basically return the material for something else. This type of offer continued into the 1980’s.

After World War II some game covers began to feature the new announcers of television. Dizzy Dean the famous pitcher of the St. Louis Cardinals was one such former player. He was featured on the front cover behind the microphone.

Game board covers and graphics in the 20th Century were miniature scenes of the ball park. The 1950 Parker Brothers Baseball Game featured a ball park scene with a grass playing field, fans in the stands and even vendors selling soda and hot dogs. The image of the men in their seats was priceless. They were wearing coats and ties and fedoras.

1950 brought the Jim Prentice "Electric Baseball". "One ad appeared on the back cover of the September 14, 1950 issue of the Treasure Chest comic book. On the front was "Here Comes Harmon", referring to the famous Michigan football player. The back was a full page ad for Jim Prentice. Full of sports hyperbole: "True to Life Action Electric Baseball Game." "Big League Thrills - Right in Your Home." Fellas! Get Up A League, Play A Series of Games. Each fellow represents his favourite team. Set up a schedule, with double headers, keep scores and standings." That is the beauty of the baseball game it can be played all season long and even when the snow and cold winds outside are howling.

The Marx Toy Company of 200 Fifth Avenue New York City manufactured a plastic bagatelle game in the late 1940`s. Black and white marbles were shot around the playing field. Runs and outs were recorded depending on where the black or white marble landed.

In 1950’s there was a game named for the famous baseball announcer, Red Barber’s Big League Baseball Game - ($1,700,) Willie Mays of the New York Giants "Say Hey" ($1,000.) Mickey Mantle’s Big League Baseball by Gardner, Mickey Mantle’s Action Baseball and Roger Maris’ Action Baseball by Pressman. Mantle and Maris had duelling baseball games in the same way that they were competitors for the home run title.

The most valuable postwar game is the 1963-64 "Challenge the Yankees" manufactured by Hasbro at $2,000. The box cover features a beautiful color scene of famous Yankee Stadium from above. It is painted in bright, vibrant colors. The value is partially in the short production period run of the game, but the major factor is the picture cards with which the game is played. 25 New York Yankees including Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and others from that fantastic team were included. The 25 opposition players are made up of All-Stars including Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and others. The 50 picture cards make the game very desirable, especially in a complete set.

The other major game of the period was CADACO All-Star Baseball. This company was in Chicago, Illinois started in 1941, and their game was marketed through toy stores. It had been developed by former baseball player Ethan Allan. Each year new player discs were sold, but the game board stayed the same. In fact it was Wrigley Field, Chicago - home of the Chicago Cubs. As well as new discs, every year the previous player stats for batters and pitchers were upgraded. This aspect gave the game a true baseball feel to it. If a player only hit a few home runs it would be represented on his disc. If he struck out many times it would be so represented.

Baseball card games were issued in packs of baseball cards, which in 1968 included a stick of gum. The Topps Gum Company of Brooklyn, New York released a 33 card set. One card was inserted in each pack of gum. Big name players were represented such as Carl Yastrzemski, (Boston Red Sox,)( Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh Pirates,) and (Harmon Killebrew,) Minnesota Twins. The front of each card featured a photo of the player and whether the card represented a single, homerun or out.

In 1969, the New York Mets won the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. The following year, the Gil Hodges Pennant Fever Baseball Game hit the stores. Hodges had taken the Mets who had finished in 9th place in 1968 to the World Series victory in 1969, gaining them the moniker `The Miracle Mets`. The game sells in the range of $150. Sadly, Gil Hodges died not too long after the game hit the market.

Baseball games continue on into the 21st Century, but the majority are played on computers or some other electronic device. Gone are the days of the beautiful box art cover which drew the player into the game. Also the simple nature of playing a game with dice, cards or spinners is now gone. The days when kids passed the hot summer days by playing baseball board games at home, the beach, or cottage. We had regular leagues in the 1950’s when the American and National League consisted of ten teams each and only the American and National League leader made the World Series. But, not all is lost: one of the top 50 toys that has been on the market unchanged for 50 years is still the APBA Baseball Game. It still is right up there with Lincoln Logs, the Jetfire balsa wood airplane and the ant farm.

NB: The Baseball Hall of Fame located in Cooperstown, New York has a large Collection of baseball games. Usually some of the games are on display in the Museum.

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