From team roster shots to original wire photographs to autographed portraits of legends like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, vintage baseball photos are a fun and accessible collectible.
Team roster cabinet cards from the late 1800s and roster photographs from the early 1900s are great for fans who want to celebrate the roots of their hometown teams. Roster photos are also favorites of general baseball enthusiasts, who use such photos to tease out details about the game and how it was played back in the day: Weren’t those uniforms hot in the summer? Did they really catch line drives with those gloves? Can you imagine sprinting for third in a pair of those shoes?
Wire photos taken by AP and UPI photographers are the prints that were developed before an image would be sent out over the wires to sports desks around the country. These glossy prints are generally of high quality and offer the collector rich detail. The best of these photos are dated and identified on their backs.
Alternatively, some people like to collect the newspapers that wire photos appeared in. In general, collecting newspapers is less expensive than collecting actual photos, but newsprint is fragile compared to a photographic print that has been properly stored, so storage and handling is more of an issue.
Another popular type of baseball photograph is the picture-day photo. Since the middle of the 20th century, baseball clubs have hosted picture days, when fans were given free photos of their favorite players. During the rest of the year, similar cards and photos were sold at souvenir stands. These photos were often the ones that got signed by players during batting practice or immediately after a game—sometimes a player would find himself signing his name alongside his machine-signed scrawl. Since picture-day photos were often reprinted from year to year, dating them can be tricky.
Other examples of baseball photos include giveaways, such as the photographs that were printed on tin trays and glued to the backs of Wheaties boxes in the early 1950s. Stan Musial and Phil Rizzuto are just two of the hall-of-famers who got the Wheaties treatment. Meanwhile, soft-drink companies used the promise of a 5” by 8” glossy of Mickey Mantle to sell bottles of soda pop.
Naturally many baseball fans want to collect vintage photos of their heroes that are signed, but autographs are notoriously easy to fake. So buyer beware!