Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tales of T212 #3 : Fred Abbott

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.
At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.
I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here.

Abbott? Vandemann? What's the Difference?

Back at the turn of the last century it was not all that uncommon for players to change their names. Some did it to avoid disgracing their families by participating in such a low occupation. Some were trying to hide from abandoned wives, hungry creditors, contracts made with other teams or arrest warrants. As with most, we'll probably never know why Frederick Harold Vandemann, as he was named at birth in Versailles, Ohio in 1873, played pro ball under the name of Harry Abbott.

Abbott got a rather late start in pro ball, debuting with New Orleans in 1901-1902, after signing a contract with the Cleveland Naps. He spent the 1903-1904 seasons with the big club, then was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for a final major league stop in 1905. He was a light-hitting backup catcher who played an occasional game at first base.

He spent the 1906-1910 seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens, splitting time behind the plate with other catchers.

His only Obak baseball card (he's in a few other contemporary sets, including the famed T206) came in 1911, when he was with Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League for his final season in Organized Baseball at the age of 36.

He died in Hollywood in 1935.

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