Six athletes/figures have cards in both the original Goodwin Champions set and the one that was released this year. From that group, 3 are baseball players, 1 was a boxer, 1 was a horse jockey, and 1 was a Cowboy / Wild West Showman.
King Kelly was the first baseball player (he’s card #1 in the 2011 set). I’ve covered him before in my Gypsy Queen set review. Kelly was still one of the better players in the game, but his very best years were already behind him by the 1888 season. He was still one of the most popular players in the game, but had already been sold by Albert Spalding to the Boston Braves in an effort to purge the Chicago ball club of all the drinkers on the team. Known for his chicanery on the diamond and his “lack of discipline” off it, he also is the subject of what is known as the first pop song, “Slide Kelly Slide”. Kelly would have 2 more good years in the National League. In Boston, he did pick up a second career as an actor, but his career and life began going downhill. He died of pneumonia in 1894 one year after being relegated to the Minor Leagues. Kelly was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.
These three baseball players represented 75% of the 4 best players in the game in the 1880’s. Next up was another Hall of Fame player, Dan Brouthers. I also featured Brouthers in a Gypsy Queen review I did – he or Roger Connor were really the best argument for top player at the time this set came out. In 1888, Brouthers played for the defending champion Detroit Wolverines, who had bested St. Louis, the class of the American Association. Unfortunately, it would be St. Louis that lasted, as they would later move to the National League. Meanwhile, the Detroit club did not fare as well in 1888 and disbanded for financial reasons. Brouthers actually joined Kelly in Boston in 1889 and solidified his status as the game’s best a year later; like Kelly, he was also elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.
Finally, the last of the three baseball players is probably the most famous. Cap Anson certainly had the longest career of any player in the 19th century; counting his tenure in the National Association, he played for 27 seasons, from 1871 to 1897. Even in his final season, at the age of 45, he played in 114 games and hit .285. This was only his third season out of those 27 where he hit under .300. He was the first member of the 3,000 hit club, and depending on whether or not you count the National Association statistics, Anson retired with around 2,000 RBI (give or take) and around 1,900 runs scored (give or take). He was a player-manager for Chicago for 20 of those 27 seasons, winning over 1200 games and 5 NL pennants – the Colts (now the Cubs) were baseball’s first dynasty. Anson truly was baseball’s first immortal. That said, he had one of the biggest impacts of any figure in keeping baseball segregated; he famously refused to take the field against Moses “Fleetwood” Walker on multiple occasions. Walker was the last African-American to play in a major league until Jackie Robinson did so in 1947. 8 years before that, Anson was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
The next athlete is a famous 19th century boxer (a sport known as “pugilism” in the 1888 set). John L. Sullivan, known as the “Boston Strong Boy”, was the last heavyweight boxing champion from the time when boxing was a bare knuckle. No gloves – eesh. In the 1880’s, Sullivan was widely considered the best boxer in the world. He had fought in nearly 500 fights throughout his life, the most famous being the last recognized bare knuckle boxing match against Jake Kilrain that went 75 rounds. As no one defeated him with bare knuckles after that point, he’s thus considered the last linear bare knuckle champion. He eventually lost his title to Jim Corbett in a match where the two men wore gloves. It was the only recognized loss of his professional career. As an American fighting in a sport that had been dominated by foreigners, Sullivan is often considered one of the first American sports heroes. He was elected to the boxing Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1890.
The final athlete is an 18th century jockey, Isaac Murphy. Murphy was an African-American born in Kentucky. His father fought for the Union in the Civil War, and after he died, Isaac became a jockey at the age of 14. He was the first rider to win the Kentucky Derby 3 different times, and is credited with winning over 30% of his rides. His record for winning has never been matched and probably never will.
He was the first jockey inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame and the inaugural member of the National Jockey Hall of Fame.
While there are 5 athletes in both sets, there is also one “showman” in the set – Bill Cody. “Buffalo Bill” was a scout in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, and served as a scout until 1872. At that point, he began a career as a showman that earned him his fame and fortune. He started a show called “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in 1883, which included pomp, pageantry and famous acts like Annie Oakley as a sharpshooter. He was one of the most recognizable people in the world, and is credited with popularizing the culture in the Wild West. Plus, the original football franchise in Buffalo was named after the famous showman. Bill has been recognized by induction into the “Cowboy Hall of Fame”.