Monday, November 2, 2009

Tales of T212 #15 : Dutch Schafer and Walter Schmidt

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.

Walter Schmidt, a "better" little brother

Perhaps it is because his older brother, Charles "Boss" Schmidt had his major league career at the peak of the tobacco-card issuing era and that he played on three American League championship teams in the 1900s, but baseball card collectors generally are more familiar with Boss Schmidt than with his kid brother, Walter.

In actuality, Walter had a longer and slightly better, statistically, career than Charles, even though he never hit more than two home runs in a season (OK, it was the deadball era) and hit over .300 only once.

Walter J. Schmidt was born in Coal Hill, Arkansas, in 1887. He turned pro with Class D Helena of the Arkansas State League at the age of 21 in 1908. He played with Winston-Salem of the Carolina Assn. in 1909, and with Roanoke of the Virginia League in 1910.

In 1911 he moved west to the AA Pacific Coast League, where he was the first-string catcher for the San Francisco Seals through the 1915 season. He had made his baseball card debut the previous year in the Contentnea (T209) and Old Mill (T210) cigarette series, but in 1911 was pictured on his only Obak card.

After the 1915 season, Schmidt was called up to the big leagues, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he played nine years before moving on to St. Louis for 1925. He appears on a number of contemporary candy and other card issues from that era.

In 1926, Schmidt returned to the PCL as playing-manager for the Mission Bells. He moved behind the plate for Seattle, still in the PCL, for 1927-28, then ended his pro career back with San Francisco as a 42-year-old catcher.

After retiring, Schmidt evidently remained out in California, where he died in 1973.

George "Dutch" Schaefer, I struck out on him

Other than the notation that his name was George, his nickname was Dutch, and that Obak misspelled his name as "Shafer," my notecard for this Vernon Tiger is utterly blank.

Thanks to the SABR Minor League database, however, we can fill the blanks on Dutch's pro career. A pitcher throughout his playing days, he compiled a 93-95 record in 10 minor league seasons.

Schaefer began his pro career with the South Bend Greens of the Central League from 1903-05. He remained in that Class B circuit with Wheeling in 1906 and Terre Haute in 1907-08. Those teams had two of the more unusual nicknames in that era. Wheeling was known as the Stogies, and Terre Haute as the Hottentots.

Schaefer made his way to the West Coast in 1909, pitching for Vernon in 1909-10, and for Los Angeles in 1911.

His last year as a pro was 1912, with the Class D Ludington Mariners of the Michigan League.

Even though he was in the PCL for all three years of Obak cigarette card issues, the 1910 card was his only appearance in T212, and probably his only baseball card.

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