Updated: Jun 25
While today even a single pack of the latest Topps cards can prove elusive, collectors of a certain vintage will remember when cards were seemingly everywhere. Topps? We got ‘em! Bowman? Yep, those too. Cards with pet food? Why not! Potato chips? You got it…and don’t forget cookies also!
Now some of you might already have a picture in your mind of exactly what I’m talking about. The cards many of us grew up with, right? In short, Junk Wax!
Well, not exactly. In truth, I was referring to that OTHER time when cards were everywhere: the early 1950s! Just for fun, let’s refer to this era as Junk Wax 1.0.
While future articles may focus on other Junk Wax 1.0 cards, this article’s focus will be the 1952 Mother’s Cookies Pacific Coast League set. In case you’re wondering if this is the same Mother’s Cookies operation that produced various team and player issues in the 80s and 90s as well—not to mention the GOAT of childhood snacks—the answer is yes.
To the casual collector, 1952 Mother’s Cookies cards might not match up to other sets of the era (or even future Mother’s Cookies releases), at least in terms of star power. After all, there is no Mantle, no Mays, no Clemente, or… [checks notes] … any major leaguer at all! That’s right. These cards exclusively featured the players and managers of the Pacific Coast League: Oakland Oaks, Hollywood Stars, Seattle Rainiers, and the like.
The most obvious appeal, therefore, is to Pacific Coast League buffs (and yes, there are some!), though the cards also add a dimension to various “hometown” collections. For instance, while I mainly collect Dodgers, I’ve recently taken an interest in the various professional teams that called Los Angeles home while my Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. The Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars from this set fit the bill, as do the Vernon/Venice Tigers from much earlier PCL issues.
However, the 1952 Mother’s Cookies set does include some hidden gems that transcend regional/local interest and would enhance just about any collection of vintage cardboard.
Hall of Famers
The set includes two Hall of Famers. One is Joe Gordon, who appears in the set as the manager of the Sacramento Solons, having wrapped up his stellar major league career with the Yankees and Indians. The second Hall of Famer was the National League’s all-time home run leader at the time of the set’s release, New York Giants legend Mel Ott. Having taken his last swings in 1947, Master Melvin appears in the Mother’s Cookies set as the manager of the Oakland Oaks.
In truth, there is another Hall of Famer, though you won’t find his bust in Cooperstown—at least not yet—despite a .349 career batting average and a 254-hit season. Lefty O’Doul, inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002, cracks both checklists as manager of the (original!) San Diego Padres.
And while we’re at it, there is also Memo Luna (Mexican Baseball HOF, 1988), Bob Thurman (Puerto Rican Baseball HOF, 1991), and Sam Chapman (College Football Hall of Fame, 1984), not to mention several other players who were inducted in various region or league-specific Halls of Fame. However,
none of these luminaries lay claim to the most coveted card in the set. That honor belongs to a man with only 215 big league plate appearances and a -0.8 lifetime WAR.
The Other Hollywood Stars
While the 1952 Mother’s Cookies sets featured eight Hollywood Stars—that is, player and manager cards for the PCL’s Hollywood franchise—the set also included a different kind of Hollywood star, most notably Chuck Connors, star of the popular television series “The Rifleman!” He appears in the 1952 set as the first baseman of the Los Angeles Angels. As this card is also the closest thing Connors has to a playing era major release, collectors should expect to pay triple digits even for lower grade cards. Though not nearly as famous as Connors, Al “Two Gun” Gettel also landed several roles in Westerns, including the Oscar-nominated film “The Tin Star.” In fact, his acting was what earned him the nickname “Two Gun.” Gettel appears in the 1952 set as a pitcher for the Oakland Oaks, though the front of the card has his name misspelled as Gettle. Interestingly, the cards of Gettel and Connors are back-to-back in the 1952 set as cards 3 and 4.
The set also gives us a pair of famous names from the world of entertainment, though the PCL ballplayers had no relationship to their more notable namesakes: Fred Sanford (character played by Redd Foxx on “Sanford and Son”) and Jim Davis (creator of the “Garfield” comic strip). Negro League Notables As with the Topps and Bowman sets of the early 1950s, the Black players in the Mother’s Cookies sets typically came with impressive Negro Leagues resumes. Here are the Negro Leagues alumni from the 1952 set. Artie Wilson, Seattle Rainiers Wilson was a phenomenal shortstop with the Birmingham Black Barons from 1944-48. During those five seasons he was an all-star all but once, playing in seven East-West games. He is currently credited with two batting titles, the first in his rookie year (.379) and the second in his final Negro Leagues campaign (.435). Assuming Major League Baseball makes good on its commitment to recognize Negro League statistics, Wilson’s latter mark would potentially make him, not Ted Williams, the last man to bat .400 (along with fellow Negro Leaguer, Willard Brown, who also topped the mark with the Kansas City Monarchs).
Not surprisingly, Wilson excelled in the Pacific Coast League as well, leading the league in batting average in 1949 and hits in 1950. His success resulted in a callup to the New York Giants in 1951, but he never had the chance to be successful. Used in a very limited role he collected only 4 hits in 22 at bats before being replaced on the roster by Black Barons teammate Willie Mays. Mays famously began his Giants career 1 for 26, but thankfully the club did not give up on him quite so quickly.
Thurman was a two-way star with the Homestead Grays, earning a ring with the team in 1948. However, he is best known for his exploits in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he remains the league’s career leader in home runs. To my knowledge he is also the only player to be a teammate of both Josh Gibson and Roberto Clemente.
Known as “Pee Wee,” Austin was a six-time all-star with the Philadelphia Stars and was one of the top hitters for average in Negro League history, if not one of the best offensive shortstops of all time, regardless of league or color. His .343 career batting average against official Negro League competition ranks 11th all-time among players with more than 1000 recognized plate appearances. A quick glance at the names above him on the list (source: Stathead) shows just how elite his batting skills were.
Known best as the Chicago Cubs double-play partner of Ernie Banks, Baker (like Banks) was originally a Kansas City Monarch who played under the legendary Buck O’Neil. Baker was also the first Black player to manage a (non-Negro Leagues) major league ball club, briefly taking over the Pirates on September 21, 1963, following the ejection of regular manager Danny Murtaugh.
Welmaker starred in the Negro Leagues in the 1930s and 1940s and was a batterymate of Josh Gibson for five seasons as a member of the Homestead Grays. Welmaker pitched in three different Negro League World Series (1942, 1944, 1945), highlighted by two complete game victories and a 1.00 ERA in the 1944 championship tilt.
* * * * * Mother’s Cookies followed up the 1952 set with a 1953 sequel but then went dormant—at least in the baseball card space—for thirty years. They finally resurfaced in 1983 with a San Francisco Giants team set, followed by one or more sets every year through 1998, typically focusing on specific teams but sometimes focusing on individual stars like Jose Canseco, Nolan Ryan, or Ken Griffey, Jr. As testament to the fact that there were cards for just about anyone and anything in the early 1990s, there was even a 1992 Mother’s Cookies set devoted entirely to Chuck Knoblauch. Of course if this former infielder goes on to star in Westerns like his 1950s namesake, we may one day look back and find his Mother’s Cookies cards the most coveted of the Junk Wax 2.0 era!