Recently, I was offered an opportunity that only a fool would have turned down. Through channels I am not free to discuss, I was extended an invitation to visit a private holding of sports ephemera, belonging to perhaps the world's foremost collector of same. I can reveal neither the paper collector's identity nor the whereabouts of the collection ... not that I know either. I was never given the collector's name, nor was I allowed to see where I was taken to view the items. For these reasons, I can refer to what I saw as only The X Collection.
My viewings took place in a well-lit room, to which I was brought blindfolded. Once there, I was made to don gloves and a respirator. Items from the collection were placed before me, one at a time, and I was given three minutes per piece to look them over. I was allowed to take one photograph of each item, which, given all the restrictions, I thought generous. Although I was watched constantly, I was still strip-searched each time I left the room for a rest break.
The special gloves gave my hands a terrible rash and the respirator eventually caused hallucinations and oxygen depletion, but these were small prices to pay so that I might bear witness to the vastness and diversity of what this person has accumulated. I cannot begin to do its volume and quality justice. Just when I thought I had seen it all, another trolley bulging with wonders was wheeled in by a caretaker.
I asked my liaison with the collection's owner if I could report on my findings and was told that this was out of the question. "At least let me reveal a small portion of what I saw," I pleaded, "so that humanity will be enhanced by the experience." More pleas and refusals followed until, finally, they relented. I was told that I could share my findings in a public fashion provided I not debase these relics by trying to place a value upon them.
To this I agreed, and set the course which leads us to what you are seeing today. In this first installment, I bring you a number of baseball-related pulp magazine covers from the 1930s and 1940s, along with brief descriptions that will, ideally, add value to your experience. In the coming dark months of winter, I will present other items from the collection, including trading cards, programs and yearbooks, postcards, and so on.
Baseball and drinking have long been bedfellows and it was with this in mind that Alcoholic Baseball was launched not too long after the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933.
Big Baseball Stories
One of the hallmarks of any pulp worth its salt was an arresting visual on the front cover. This could help overcome any shortcomings that might be found inside. This is a prime example of the practice, featuring a runner being menaced while at his most vulnerable. It was a visualization that all men have had - much to their detriment.
Topicality was not always possible in a magazine industry adhering to long lead times, but exceptions could be made in light of especially stirring current events. The doings in Europe in the spring of 1940, for instance, produced this cover. The story it illustrated contains lines like, "Before Frenchy knew it, the enemy base runner was already past him and headed home," and "The score being what it was, Frenchy realized there was little point in continuing with the contest."
Many pulps filled their pages with short stories about life in the bush leagues, and Exciting Baseball was no exception. This issue included a tale pulled right from the headlines of the day: A minor circuit trying to eke out an existence in the face of brutal dust storms.
Free Food Monthly
In a country beset by Depression, it was no wonder that a portion of the publishing industry dedicated itself to the procurement of basic sustenance. Among these publications, Free Food Monthly stood tall. In this issue, readers were encouraged to pursue jobs as umpires, and then make lousy calls intentionally, so that fans would throw food at them, as was customary at the time.
With so many baseball pulps on the market, editors were sometimes forced to depart from the standard fare, and seek out writers better known for other literary aspirations, as evidenced by this issue of Baseball Stories.
I'm sure you are as surprised as I was to learn that not only was Wins Above Replacement a thing in the 1940s, but that there was an entire publication dedicated to the topic.
Man Sport Magazine
Another of the many pulps aimed at perpetuating masculinity in society, Man Sport took a hard editorial stand on anything that might bring change to any sport as it then currently existed. All rule alterations were suspect, especially those wherein participant safety was improved.