Lifetime passes were the brainchild of NL President Ford Frick; here’s a pictorial history

June 18th, 2016

A newspaper man turned league publicist turned league president came up with a brilliant idea in 1934 — reward longtime National League players with a lifetime pass to all NL games. Senior Circuit owners approved Ford Frick’s proposal at the league meeting in December of ’34.

A few months later, Frick sent out ornately decorated paper Lifetime Passes to the NL’s greatest players. He even sent one to Babe Ruth who appeared in all of 28 games for the Boston Braves in 1935. A 21-year veteran of the American League, the Babe was grateful if not surprised when he remarked, “At least the National League has a heart”. An image of the original paper pass presented to Hall of Fame outfielder Sliding Billy Hamilton can be seen below.

Perhaps shamed by Ruth’s remarks, the American League joined forces in 1936 to issue a pass to all Major League contests. Players with twenty or more years of service received a solid gold pass. Seventeen men qualified for the true “golden ticket” — Ruth, Fred Clarke, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Bill Dahlen, Harry Davis, Red Faber, Walter Johnson, Sam Jones, Nap Lajoie, Rabbit Maranville, Herb Pennock, Eppa Rixey, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Bobby Wallace and Cy Young. An images of Wallace’s gold card can be see below as well as thank-you notes to Frick from Clarke, Johnson, and Wagner.

Thee hundred and eighty-six players with at least ten years in the big leagues but less than twenty received solid silver passes. Images of Hamilton’s pass and Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell are below along with brief stories on each of the men.

Through the years the passes have changed — see below for the different passes in the collection — but the prestige associated with the honor remains.

In The Collection:

National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues lifetime pass issued to HoFer Bobby Wallace

National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues lifetime pass issued to HoFer Bobby Wallace

Shortly before Major League Baseball presented lifetime passes, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues issued passes such as the one pictured that belonged to Hall of Fame shortstop Bobby Wallace. For a

Letter sent to recipients of NL lifetime passes in early 1935

Letter sent to recipients of NL lifetime passes in early 1935

At a Tuesday meeting on December 11, 1934, the National League voted in Ford Frick’s proposal to give a lifetime pass to all players with at least ten years of service.

The passes were made of paper and good only for N

The first lifetime passes were made of paper and only good for National League games

The first lifetime passes were made of paper and only good for National League games

Above is the 19th lifetime NL pass ever issued. This one to Sliding Billy Hamilton. A veteran of 12 National League seasons, Hamilton scored 198 runs in 1894, a record that still stands. The fleet-footed star stole 100 or more

Honus Wagner's handwritten thank-you note for his pass

Honus Wagner's handwritten thank-you note for his pass

Honus Wagner, one of the first five inductees into the Hall of Fame received a pass much like Billy Hamilton’s shown above. The hitting instructor for the Pirates at the time he received the pass, Wagner took the time to thank Ford Frick in April of 1935. The letter, dated April

This letter accompanied the solid gold or solid silver Lifetime Passes

This letter accompanied the solid gold or solid silver Lifetime Passes

Letters such as the one above were sent out along with solid gold or silver passes to players fortunate enough to receive the paper NL passes. Only players who received the original paper passes received these letters. The “Permanent

Only 17 solid gold Lifetime Passes were initially issued; one is in the collection

Only 17 solid gold Lifetime Passes were initially issued; one is in the collection

Playing 20 or more years in the Major Leagues earned a player a solid gold Lifetime Pass. At the time they were first issued, only 17 players fell into that category — Fred Clarke, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Bill Dahlen, Harry

Walter Johnson pens a handwritten letter to Ford Frick for the pass

Walter Johnson pens a handwritten letter to Ford Frick for the pass

The Hall of Fame’s first induction class featured Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and the man who wrote this letter — Walter Johnson.
A career American Leaguer, Johnson pitched all 21 of his big league seasons with the Washington Senators.

Fred Clarke's thank-you letter to Ford Frick for one of the first 17 solid gold passes

Fred Clarke's thank-you letter to Ford Frick for one of the first 17 solid gold passes

Fred Clarke was so appreciative of receiving his gold Lifetime Pass that he sent this letter to Ford Frick. The date and the mention of American League president William Harridge points to this as a thank-you note for the the dual AL-NL pass. Clarke also

Solid silver replacement for Billy Hamilton's paper pass

Solid silver replacement for Billy Hamilton's paper pass

Sliding Billy Hamilton was one of the game’s best players in the late-1800s and early part of the next century. He was rewarded with an original National League pass and the following season with this solid silver pass. 

Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell also qualified for a solid silver Lifetime Pass

Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell also qualified for a solid silver Lifetime Pass

A 14-year veteran of the American League, Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell qualified for a solid silver Lifetime Pass. With a career that spanned from 1920 to 1933, Sewell was

Leather MLB lifetime passes are rarely seen, here's Ned Garver's

Leather MLB lifetime passes are rarely seen, here's Ned Garver's

Major League lifetime passes provide an outstanding collectable though they rarely leave possession of the player or his family’s estate. Shown here is one of Ned Garver’s passes in the sledom-seen

Metal lifetime pass issued to Ned Garver circa 1958

Metal lifetime pass issued to Ned Garver circa 1958

This toned and worn lifetime pass belonged to former All Star pitcher Ned Garver. One of the most overlooked and underrated seasons in baseball history belonged to Garver. In 1951 his lowly Browns won

Harvey Haddix lifetime pass

Harvey Haddix lifetime pass

Through the years, the design of the Lifetime Passes has evolved. Here is a pass from the early 1960s given to pitcher Harvey Haddix. A three-time Gold Glove Award winner, a three-time All-Star, and winner of 136 games, Haddix is

Seldom seen leather lifetime pass

Seldom seen leather lifetime pass

Many lifetime passes remain in the family long after a player has passed away, others are donated to the Hall of Fame. The pass shown above is an ultra-rare leather pass. Internet searches yield little or no information about passes of

HoFer Dick Williams' lifetime pass from the NAPBL

HoFer Dick Williams' lifetime pass from the NAPBL

This National Association of Professional Baseball League pass was awarded to Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams after 25 years of service to professional baseball. Williams enjoyed

Lifetime pass for Dave Parker

Lifetime pass for Dave Parker

Many believe the career of Dave Parker warrants induction into the Hall of Fame. Taking a look at his trophy case, it’s easy to see why. He has two World Series rings, an MVP award, three Gold Gloves, an All Star MVP award,

Lifetime pass for The Cuban Comet, Minnie Minoso

Lifetime pass for The Cuban Comet, Minnie Minoso

Any time Minnie Minoso cared to attend a professional baseball game in America, all he had to do was present this Lifetime Pass at the ticket window. The pass is good for Minoso and a guest.

Joe Cronin's lifetime pass to all of professional baseball issued in part by Cronin himself as AL President

Joe Cronin's lifetime pass to all of professional baseball issued in part by Cronin himself as AL President

This pass differs greatly from the others shown in that it’s for all of professional baseball rather than simply American

The reverse of this pass has writing on the back

The reverse of this pass has writing on the back

Most Lifetime Passes have blank backs. Not this one. Here baseball’s policy is clearly stated, “GOOD FOR ALL REGULAR SEASON GAMES. NOT HONORED FOR EXHIBITION, ALL STAR, PLAYOFF, OR WORLD SERIES

Most current rendition of MLB lifetime pass, this one issued to Gold Glover George Scott

Most current rendition of MLB lifetime pass, this one issued to Gold Glover George Scott

The first images on this page show the original lifetime passes issued by Major League Baseball in the 1930s. The image above shows what the passes look like as of 2017. This one, issued to former All Star and Gold Glover George Scot

Skipper Joe McCarthy's Lifetime Pass to the Hall of Fame

Skipper Joe McCarthy's Lifetime Pass to the Hall of Fame

Among the perks in receiving baseball’s highest honor is free lifetime admission to the Hall of Fame. In the collection is this pass presented to Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy upon his induction. It’s easy to make th

Lifetime pass to the Hall of Fame presented to 300-game winner Early Wynn

Lifetime pass to the Hall of Fame presented to 300-game winner Early Wynn

As an inductee to Cooperstown in 1972, Early Wynn received this Lifetime Pass to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Passes such as this rarely hit the market. Simple math tells us why. There are 312 members of the Hall of Fame as of 2016.

2 responses to “Lifetime passes were the brainchild of NL President Ford Frick; here’s a pictorial history”

  1. Milko says:

    Are these passes all in one private collection? Where are they on display? I’d love to see this collection live.

  2. Jim Smiley says:

    We do put pieces on loan at times and have showings by appointment. Feel free to email JSmiley@CooperstownExpert.com. Thank you for your interest.

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