Teach PA History
Explore PA History
Related Stories
Related Markers
Visit PA Regions
Baseball Cards
Equipment & Supplies
  • Access to computer with sound capability and internet Popcorn or Cracker Jacks for class snack on final day Baseball Cap or T-shirt (if school dress code will allow)

Day One:

Begin the lesson by reading marker Source 1: Thirties Baseball, a section from the short story written by Robert W. Creamer. Ask the students to Think-Pair-Share their thoughts and reflections about this story, particularly focusing on the different ways the children interacted with and used the baseball cards. Write student ideas on the board. Here are possible student responses:

Baseball Card Uses in "Thirties Baseball" Story:

  • played street games (e.g. miniature version of baseball)

  • carried them in their pockets

  • tossed them for distance

  • tossed them for accuracy

  • flipped them

  • captured opponent's card

  • wrote on them

  • crossed out name of team if the player was traded and wrote in new team

  • put rubber bands around them

  • kept them in a shoebox or placed them in a drawer

Conclude remarking at how well-used the cards were. Next, ask the students to think about how people today use baseball cards. Baseball cards are no longer used as they were in the 1930s. They are collector's items, some with great value. It should be noted that baseball cards today are not purchased for gum; they are not used as a way to play a game in the street; they are not used as a "notepad" to keep track of trades and current statistics as they change throughout the season. Today, many cards are sacred, stored in clear plastic containers. These cards are only to be looked at and admired for their monetary value. They are an investment.

Next, show the children Source 2: 1910 Honus Wagner Baseball Card. Tell the children that the card is valuable. Ask them why they think the card is so valuable. After all, it doesn't "look" expensive. It is not shiny like a diamond or a new car or big like a house. What makes something valuable? You may get a variety of answers from your class. Be prepared to talk about the value of objects, both from the economic standpoint and the more subjective lens of sentimental or personal value. [Economic value occurs when a lot of people want something that is in short supply. Things that are rare are often valued–natural perfection (e.g. a gemstone) or knowledge (specialized skill like a neurosurgeon) or superior athleticism (pro-athletes). Objects may also have personal value. These objects may link you to your past–family heirlooms, for instance–or hold good memories that remind you of a special person or place.]

Then, tell your students that one of the reasons the Honus Wagner baseball is valuable is because it is rare. It is also valuable because of the story that goes along with this particular card. Now, tell the children the story of Wagner and how great a baseball player he was using the information from the Honus Wagner Marker Page. He was "hailed as baseball's greatest shortstop and one of its finest all-around players" and considered by Giants manager John McGraw "the nearest thing to a perfect ballplayer." Inform the students Honus Wagner was so popular that companies, such as the gum companies they read about in "Thirties Baseball," put baseball cards in their products. Ask the children why companies would do that. They may guess to sell products. Ask the students if they were Honus Wagner, would they allow their name to be associated with just any product? Why or why not? What product would they endorse (support)? Allow students to raise hands and volunteer several responses.

Now pass out marker Source 3: Wagner a Wonder, from The Sporting News (October 24, 1912) and the original page from The Sporting News, included as Student Handout 1. This original documentation tells the story of Wagner's refusal to allow his image to be sold by tobacco companies. Allow students to pair up and read the article. Then ask the children, according to the article, did Wagner allow his image to be sold to the tobacco company? (Popular sentiment suggests that Wagner was a non-smoker who believed selling baseball cards in cigarette packages was setting a bad example for children collecting baseball cards.) Ask your students whether they agree with Wagner's decision. Inform the class that when Wagner denied the American Tobacco Company permission to use his picture on a baseball card to be included in cigarette packages, the cards that were already printed had to be destroyed. Some of the cards, however, managed to slip through. They are now extremely valuable; a 1910 Honus Wagner card in mint condition previously owned by Wayne Gretzky was the first to hit the million dollar mark and has since more than doubled in value!

Now ask the following questions to your class:

  1. What impact do you think the inclusion of baseball cards had on the sales of cigarettes?
    (increased sales, particularly targeting the younger segment of society)

  2. What are the implications (or consequences) of a child having access to cigarettes at such a young age?
    [Children can become addicted to cigarettes at an earlier age. Health implications include: shortness of breath; lung damage; loss of sensitivity in taste buds; aging of skin; increased risk in a multitude of health issues including cancer (particularly lung, but other types as well), eye disease (cataracts, macular degeneration–disease that leads to blindness), hearing loss, diabetes, etc.]

While still in their pairs, have students share with their partner thoughts about these questions. Write their ideas on the board and have the students take notes. Discuss the answers to these questions with your students. Then explain to your students the following:

Tomorrow in class you are going to pretend that you are Honus Wagner and write a letter to stop the sales of baseball cards with cigarettes. Your two choices are:

  1. Write a letter to the cigarette company telling them why you do not want your baseball card sold with cigarettes.


  2. Write a letter to your teammates telling them why they should not allow their baseball cards to be sold with cigarettes.

In order to prepare for writing this persuasive letter, you will receive two prewriting activities for homework tonight.

Pass out Worksheet 1: Prewriting Activities. Using the notes from class as a start, have students complete the organizational chart and outline for homework.

Day Two:

Begin the lesson with a retelling of what was learned in the last lesson: Honus Wagner's decision to withdraw his card from being sold with tobacco products. Now, review with the students the prewriting homework assignment. Inform students their homework will help them with today's activity. Then hand out Worksheet 2: Persuasive Writing Checklist. This checklist contains an overview of standard persuasive writing elements and will help students self-monitor their task. Distribute and let students use the rest of the class period to work on Worksheet 3: Persuasive Writing Assignment to write their persuasive essays about Wagner's decision. Encourage the children to refer to their homework assignment and use those ideas when writing. As students work, be available to all students for help and guidance.

If students do not complete the assignment in class, they should do so for homework. They should be prepared for a sharing session the following day. Also, if it does not violate school dress policy, encourage children to wear their favorite baseball hat or team t-shirt to school the following day.

Teacher's assignment for Day Three: Prepare a fun atmosphere for the sharing of the persuasive letters the next day. Bring a baseball hat to wear during the sharing and perhaps popcorn or Cracker Jacks to share with the class as a special ballpark treat. Also, have "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (found on the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences website) playing as students come in to class.

Day Three:

Students join in a circle, wearing their baseball hats and t-shirts. Pass out any ballpark treat. The children now share their persuasive essays with the whole group. Have students turn in their work when they are done presenting. You may assess the persuasive writing assignment using the Pennsylvania Writing Assessment Domain Scoring Guide.

Other opportunities for assessment in this lesson include: class participation, prewriting assignments, and class presentations.

Back to Top