Monday, December 28, 2009

Tales of T212 #26 : William (or Walter) B. Stevens

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. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.

The evergreens in the background of Stevens' 1910 Obak card (it was his only year in the cigarette company's three years of issues) just scream Northwestern League. It is those backdrops that give the Obaks a unique look that attracts many collectors.

Now we just have to figure out who the guy on the card is. My file card indicates that it is William B. Stevens. The SABR Minor League Database thinks it is Walter B. Stevens. Could both be the same guy? Their records in the SABR database don't overlap, they were both outfielders and there is no biographical information about either Bill or Wally.

The player identified as Walter B. Stevens debuted with Duluth (Minn.) of the Northern Copper Country League in 1906, then took a big step from that Class C circuit to Milwaukee in 1907, My research failed to turn up the Duluth connection, but does note that Stevens was traded from the Brewers to Spokane of the Northwestern League for 1908. During the 1909 season he went from Spokane to Tacoma, for whom he also played in 1910. That's where the SABR data loses track of Walter Stevens and picks up the record of William Stevens.

Both SABR and I agree that Stevens (whether William or Walter) began the 1911 season with Helena in the Union Association (Class D). When the Boise Irrigators released Stevens, he went to Boise, from whom he was purchased by Rock Island of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.

The 1912 season found Stevens back in the UA, with Ogden. His baseball trail ends there.

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