FORT WAYNE BASEBALL CARDS

Fort Wayne has a long history with baseball cards dating back over 100 years. Some of the earliest baseball cards featuring Fort Wayne players were produced in the late 1800s and early 1900s by cigarette and candy manufacturers as promotional items included in their products.

One of the earliest known Fort Wayne baseball cards features Lou Criger, who played in the major leagues from 1908 to 1920 primarily as a catcher for the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox. Criger was born in Fort Wayne in 1886 and broke into the big leagues at age 22 after being signed away from a minor league team in Evansville, Indiana. His baseball card featuring his photo in a Detroit Tigers uniform is from around 1909-1910 and was included in packs of Sweet Caporal cigarettes.

Other early Fort Wayne baseball cards include ones featuring Guy Zinn, who spent most of his 10-year major league career from 1913 to 1922 pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals. Zinn grew up in Fort Wayne and some of his baseball cards come from around 1915-1916 when included as premiums in packs of Allen & Ginter tobacco or Assorted Candy.

But it was in the 1930s-1950s that most of the Fort Wayne baseball cards were produced during the golden age of baseball cards. Many local players who made it to the major leagues during this time period had their own baseball cards as members of teams like the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies and others.

Some of the top Fort Wayne players to receive baseball cards from the 1930s-50s include Bruce Caldwell, Jim Mahoney, Roy Cullenbine, Frankie Hayes, Jerry Witte, Willie Jones, Chuck Tanner, Bill Greason, Marty Karow, Andy Seminick, Harry “Peanuts” Lowrey and Bob Usher. These players all born in Fort Wayne signed pro contracts in their late teens or early 20s and carved out careers in the major leagues for 5-10 years apiece.

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Bruce Caldwell had a 14-year MLB career from 1930-1943 primarily as an outfielder and first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds. He appeared on baseball cards from 1933 Goudey to 1942 Play Ball issues. Jim Mahoney spent over a decade in the big leagues mostly with Cleveland from 1937-1947 and had cards in 1937 Goudey and 1941 Play Ball.

Roy Cullenbine was a power-hitting outfielder for Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago from 1940-1953 with baseball cards in 1941 and 1942 Play Ball sets. Frankie Hayes was a light-hitting catcher who played 10 seasons from 1944-1953 split between Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and had cards in 1944 and 1945 Play Balls.

Jerry Witte enjoyed an 11-year MLB pitching career from 1947-1957 mainly with the Phillies and Indians and received baseball cards in 1947 Leaf and 1948 Bowman issues. Willie Jones was a speedy center fielder who played eight seasons from 1949-1956 for Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with baseball cards in 1951 and 1955 Topps.

Chuck Tanner managed over 20 MLB seasons with the White Sox, Braves, Pirates and Angels and also enjoyed a seven-year playing career as an outfielder/first baseman from 1953-1959 primarily for Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota. He appeared on cards from 1954 to 1959 Topps sets. Bill Greason pitched six seasons in the majors from 1956-1961 for Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland, getting baseball cards in 1956 and 1957 Topps.

Marty Karow played his entire four-year MLB career from 1956-1959 as an outfielder/first baseman for the Milwaukee Braves, receiving cards in 1957 and 1958 Topps. Andy Seminick pitched eight seasons between 1958-1967 for Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh and had cards in 1961 and 1963 Topps. Harry “Peanuts” Lowrey played parts of eight seasons from 1958-1966 as an outfielder and pinch hitter for the Reds, Phillies and Dodgers with baseball cards issued in 1960 and 1961 Topps.

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Bob Usher enjoyed a nine-year MLB career as an infielder from 1961-1969 mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers. His baseball cards came from 1962, 1964 and 1966 Topps. This completes just a sampling of the over 40 former Fort Wayne players who appeared on baseball cards during the golden age of the sport from the 1930s through the 1960s.

In the late 1950s and into the 1960s and 70s, Fort Wayne had its own minor league baseball team known as the Fort Wayne Wizards who were affiliates of various major league teams in lower classifications like A, AA and AAA baseball. This presented opportunities for even more local baseball players to potentially make baseball cards if they had success at those minor league levels.

Some Wizards alumni from the 1950s-70s who received baseball cards include pitchers John Boozer, BobMiller, Gary Nolan and Mickey Scott as well as slugging outfielders Sixto Lezcano, George Vukovich and Ron Plaza. Former Wizards like outfielder Bob Martinez, catchers Larry Haney and Al Loes as well as pitcher Doyle Alexander also received baseball cards during their stints in higher level minor leagues and brief MLB callups during this era.

One of the most prized Fort Wayne baseball cards for collectors remains the 1960 Topps #549 Sixto Lezcano rookie card. Lezcano was a slugging outfielder who began his pro career in 1959 in the low minor leagues before exploding at AAA Fort Wayne in 1960, batting .345 with 39 home runs and 118 RBI en route to being named International League MVP. He then spent parts of five seasons in the majors with Cincinnati from 1961-1965 and became one of the earliest notable Puerto Rican players. His 1960 rookie card in the traditional yellow Topps design remains a key item for baseball card collectors from Fort Wayne and beyond.

Throughout the 1970s, baseball cards continued to spotlight local players who were moving up the minor league ladder and occasionally reaching the majors such as pitchers Wayne Granger and Larry Biittner or catcher Alan Ashby. Cards were issued of them in 1970s sets from Topps, Donruss and others during their professional baseball careers.

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By the 1980s, the integration of baseball and introduction of free agency had made it much less common for athletes to play their entire careers for one team or in one geographic area like Fort Wayne. Nevertheless, occasional Fort Wayne natives still signed pro contracts and received baseball cards, such as pitchers Alan Knicely in 1987 Topps or Duane Theiss in 1991 Upper Deck among others in the late 20th century cardboard boom.

Into the 2000s and today, Fort Wayne does not always produce pro baseball players each year like it did consistently in the earlier decades of the 20th century. But when a local athlete does sign professionally, they have potential to still make baseball cards. Some examples from this century are pitcher J.D. Osborne with the 2005 Great Clips MLB Prospect card from Upper Deck or infielder Josh Harrison, who played for IPFW before a nine-year MLB career from 2011-2019 primarily with Pittsburgh, resulting in cards from 2012 to 2019 Topps series.

So in summary, Fort Wayne baseball cards date back over 120 years to the Victorian tobacco and candy insert era and continued proliferating through the golden age of sets from the 1930s to 1960s. Local minor league stars like Sixto Lezcano added to the legacy. Occasional Fort Wayne players still pop up in modern issues, showing the rich tradition and potential this northeast Indiana city has provided to the baseball card collecting realm for over a century. Fort Wayne remains an iconic American hometown known worldwide among those who enjoy the vintage hobby and history of the baseball card.

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