Airbrush > Airplanes

There’s a bit of a photo mystery going on with card #95 in the 1952 Topps set. Chicago White Sox pitcher Ken Holcombe is posing with his arms above his head in a stadium. What is odd about the picture is the lettering on his jersey, which seems to omit the letter “I” from Chicago.

Topps did not always use current photos for players appearing in the 1952 set. Some cards use images taken by a half dozen photographers that worked with the company, others make use of publicity stills provided by various teams. It is not uncommon for Topps to only have access to a picture showing a player in a previous team uniform. Holcombe was on his third MLB team by 1951 and had plenty more minor league experience.

All photography used in the 1952 set was black and white with color added later by contract artists. Adjustments to uniform design were frequently made during the colorization process, bringing images up to date with the team logo appearing on the card. It is possible that Holcombe’s photo did not originally portray him with the Sox and that the word “Chicago” was manually added.

Of course, all of this could just be an optical trick. There is an “I” present in the photo and it is entirely possible that a fold is obscuring the letter. Very few shadows are present under close inspection, making it difficult to make a definitive call. A closer view of the image shows the letters are not entirely even, consistent with a folded shirt. However, the blue ink of the letters is uniform across the city name with the exception of the letter “I”.

The long-sleeved undershirt being worn matches what the White Sox would have donned in the early 1950s and the logo on the cap is the most difficult to paint from scratch given the small interlocking letters used in the design. Perhaps the only shortcut taken is a lack of shading in the folds on the front of the jersey. The mystery behind this could be quickly wrapped up if I could locate the original photo used for the card. So far I haven’t found it.

Note: Another collector with a blog noticed the lettering issue before I did and wrote about it. I have since tried to find the post and provide a link but so far haven’t rediscovered it. There’s a hat tip owed to some anonymous individual out there.

That Jersey Soon Needed Another Update

Holcombe’s card appears in the second series of 1952 cards. By June of that year the St. Louis Browns claimed him off waivers from the White Sox. A month after that he was in a Boston Red Sox jersey. Holcombe bounced from team to team with regularity due to his somewhat random control of pitches and recurring elbow pain. Like future Boston right fielder and fellow ’52 Topps constituent Jackie Jensen, he avoided flying whenever possible. Limited transportation options made his pitching something the front office could do without and may have combined with health issues to hasten his exit from MLB the following year.

Holcombe’s Best Card isn’t MLB

Set-building considerations notwithstanding, I know exactly which Ken Holcombe card I would want if I was limited to only one. He appeared in Bowman’s 1949 Pacific Coast League issue, a set that highlighted the West Coast’s highest form of organized baseball. Nearly identical to the company’s MLB 1949 set, the card is much more difficult to find.