Four baseball players have cards in both the original Goodwin Champions set and the one that was released by Upper Deck in 2014.
King Kelly was the first baseball player (he’s card #1 in the 2011 set). I’ve covered him before in my Gypsy Queen 2011 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 back in 2011 – 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.
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 final player was Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap, an excellent second baseman in the 1880’s who will never be confused with a Hall of Famer. He had one truly great season leading the St. Louis Maroons to the pennant in Union Association’s only year of existence. He led the league in batting, runs scored and home runs, and would have been the league’s MVP had they had such an award. St. Louis moved to the National League the next year, and their performance in 1885 is the best evidence that the Union Association shouldn’t be considered a Major League; they finished in last place. Dunlap never had nearly the year he’d had in 1884, but he was still as solid defender and the best player on a bad team. Later in his career, he was a grizzled veteran on the World Champion Detroit team.