Bid Now In Heritage Auctions May 16-18, 2024 Spring Sports Catalog Auction

Countless offerings among the almost 3,200 available in Heritage’s May 16-18 Spring Sports Catalog Auction could serve as its centerpiece, its highlight — that one thing that belongs in a museum, if not a Hall of Fame. Like, say, the road New York Yankees jersey worn by Mickey Mantle during his final season in 1968, then signed and inscribed to a Yanks batboy. Or the photo-matched road Brooklyn Dodgers jersey Sandy Koufax wore during his rookie season in 1955 when he was not yet known as The Left Hand of God. Or the bat Ty Cobb used in 1922, his third — and final — season as a .400 hitter.

The list of must-sees and must-owns is seemingly endless, whether it’s a box of unopened Fleer basketball cards from 1961-62 or the pair of Adidas Crazy 8’s photo-matched to Kobe Bryant’s first All-Star Game in 1998. As has become tradition, the Spring Sports Catalog Event brims with the jerseys, sneakers, gloves, bats and helmets worn and used by some of sports’ most towering titans, from Willie Mays to Lionel MessiReggie Jackson to Gale SayersWarren Spahn to Tom BradyHank Aaron to Jim PlunkettCarl Hubbell to Terry Bradshaw. The abundance of photo-matched jerseys in this auction alone qualifies it as historic, as do the cards featured throughout, among them a near-mint 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, a gem-mint Ty Cobb from the fabled Black Swamp find and the only known Elgin Baylor Topps card from 1969 graded a perfect 10.

But to begin, the relatively plain flannel jersey in this auction — gray, pinstriped, a small “W” stitched into each short sleeve — draws the eye first. It’s also a century-old jersey that still has tales to tell.

 

Collectors have always known who wore it: Walter Johnson, who spent all of his 21 seasons in the sun as the right-handed hurler for the Washington Senators. Johnson’s name is stitched into the collar in red cursive, just below the A.G. Spalding & Bros. label. We’ve always known, too, when Johnson wore it: during the 1919-1922 seasons, when the man sportswriter Grantland Rice called “The Big Train” was teammates with another right-handed pitcher, Eric “Swat” Erickson, to whom Johnson gifted the jersey upon Erickson’s retirement from the big leagues following his 1919-1922 stint with Washington.

Only days before this auction opened, Resolution Photomatching determined that the “one-time king of pitchers” — as Johnson was called in 1933’s Who’s Who in Baseball – wore this very jersey on April 29, 1920. That’s when the Nationals downed the New York Yankees 2-1 in front of 5,000 at the hallowed Polo Grounds.

Johnson recorded eight strikeouts that spring afternoon in New York, two coming against a newly minted Yankee right fielder named Babe Ruth, who recorded just a single hit (and RBI) against Johnson. The Big Train, who batted last in the Nats’ lineup, also got a hit that afternoon — a triple. In his 1920 book The Home-Run King, Ruth wrote that Johnson was “the best of them all.”

Earlier this month, Resolution photo-matched the jersey to a photo distributed by news agency Underwood & Underwood, whose caption heralds Johnson as “the unsurpassable speed twirler of the Nationals.” The photo also notes that Johnson’s “remarkable speed ball aroused all balldom several years ago” and that he pitched against the Yankees that April afternoon “with the same ‘pep’ that characterized his name.”

Two known Johnson jerseys have survived his storied career, during which The Big Train recorded 3,509 strikeouts (putting him at ninth on the all-time list), 417 wins (the most all-time behind only Cy Young’s 511 victories) and 110 shutout wins (still the record). One, from 1927, is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The other is in this auction.

“We have had the opportunity at Heritage Auctions to offer some incredible and museum-worthy jerseys over the decades,” says Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “But this Walter Johnson example, photo-matched to his first dual with the great Babe Ruth in Yankees pinstripes, certainly qualifies it as a cream-of-the-crop rarity.”

The Koufax and Mantle jerseys are no less significant, as they serve as sort of spiritual bookends to two mythical Hall of Famers who were each a king of New York — at least until the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after Koufax’s three seasons playing for his hometown team.

The Dodgers jersey — worn by the native son of Borough Park, Brooklyn, when he was a 20-year-old rookie who made his debut in the fifth inning of a game against Milwaukee — has been photo-matched to two spring training games in 1956, when it was common for ballplayers to reuse the previous season’s uniforms. It has Koufax’s name embroidered into its tail, inside which Rawlings sewed washing and drying instructions — right next to the tag that reads “Set I 1955.” It hails from the collection of James Harwell, a Louisiana hurler who played minor-league ball for the Dodgers in the 1950s.

(The jersey would pair well with the PSA Mint 9 Koufax rookie card in this auction, one of just 25 of his 1955 Topps cards to receive the grade — with just three graded higher.)

The road gray Yankees jersey, on the other hand, comes from the very end of a fabled career, as evidenced by the “New York” and the No. “7” on the outside and the “Wilson 1968 Set 2” inside. This button-down top was among the last jerseys Mantle wore before hanging up his spikes at the end of the season during which he hit .237 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI — and played in one last All-Star Game before retiring to his Dallas home. In time, this jersey made its way into the hands of Bill Hongach, who served as a bat boy for the Yankees in 1972 and ’73, as evidenced by the bold blue inscription Sharpied into the cloth: “To Bill, Best wishes, Mickey Mantle.”

Mantle appears throughout this auction — not just on mythic cards (some signed!) but legendary lumber. In the 1953 World Series, when the Yankees bested the Dodgers in six games to log their fifth consecutive title, The Commerce Comet recorded two home runs — including a Game Five grand slam against Russ Meyer in Brooklyn, the only one in Mantle’s post-season career. Mantle came armed with his signature model Hillerich & Bradsby K55.

At season’s end, Mantle donated the bat to a YMCA Junior Baseball banquet, where it wound up in the hands of a young man named Robert Nance, the top seller of tickets to a local all-star baseball game. As Nance wrote in his notarized letter accompanying the bat, “I was allowed to choose first and I selected the bat that Mickey had donated. As Mickey Mantle introduced himself to me and presented me with the bat, he told me that he used this bat the year before in the 1953 World Series and that the paint streaks on the bat were from the dugout at Yankee Stadium.”

You can’t swing a bat in this auction without hitting historic lumber, with Ty Cobb’s 41-ounce Hillerich & Bradsby signature model C28 atop the pile. Look no further than the PSA/DNA letter that accompanies this spike-scarred, tobacco juice-stained Georgia Peach: “To date, this is the only Ty Cobb bat we have examined that can be placed to a season in which Cobb batted .400 or more” — in this case, 1922, when the Detroit Tigers’ centerfielder hit .401 while driving in 99 runs. “This aspect and the outstanding player characteristics displayed place this Ty Cobb bat with the finest Cobb bats that we have had the pleasure to authenticate.”

Here, too, is one of the finest wax boxes of basketball cards Heritage has ever had the pleasure to offer: a sealed box of 24 packs of Fleer cards that looks as though it just time-traveled from 1961-62. These cards were hard to find even then, given their limited production and even more limited distribution; indeed, they’re seldom seen in this condition in 2024. Yet a locker room’s worth of Hall of Famers is possible inside: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Jerry West, K.C. Jones and Al Attles, among so many others.

For those who want to guarantee a hit from that series, there’s a PSA Mint 9 Chamberlain in this auction. Only three Wilts from that fab Fleer set have ever graded higher. But that sealed box is like this auction: full of endless treasures and boundless possibilities.

News by Company & Category

Featured Auctions

(*) Indicates Auction in Progress
(*) Alt Liquid Auctions: May 10 - May 23
(*) Fanatics Auctions: May 10 - May 23
(*) Goldin: May 14 - May 23
(*) MeiGray Auctions: May 1 - May 23
(*) RR Auction: May 2 - May 23
(*) 44 & More Auctions: May 12 - May 26
(*) Heritage Auctions: May 12 - May 26
(*) Icons Auctions: May 20 - May 26
(*) Pristine Auction: May 1 - May 26
(*) Pristine Auction: May 20 - May 26
(*) PWCC Marketplace: May 16 - May 26
(*) Queen City Cards: April 22 - May 26
(*) Auction of Champions: May 23 - May 29
(*) Goldin: May 21 - May 30
(*) Sirius Sports Cards: May 20 - May 30
(*) Goldin: April 19 - June 1
(*) 44 & More Auctions: May 12 - June 2
(*) Collector Connection: May 15 - June 2
(*) Heritage Auctions: May 19 - June 2
Icons Auctions: May 27 - June 2
Pristine Auction: May 27 - June 2
(*) PWCC Marketplace: May 23 - June 2
(*) Queen City Cards: May 1 - June 2
(*) MeiGray Auctions: May 1 - June 3-4
Fanatics Auctions: May 24 - June 3-6
Auction of Champions: May 30 - June 5
(*) Clean Sweep Auctions: May 2 - June 5
Alt Liquid Auctions: May 24 - June 6
Goldin: May 28 - June 6
(*) MeiGray Auctions: May 15 - June 6
(*) Gotta Have Rock & Roll: May 15 - June 7
(*) Goldin: May 10 - June 8
Iconic Auctions: June 1 - June 8
(*) 44 & More Auctions: May 12 - June 9
(*) Grey Flannel Auctions: May 20 - June 9
Pristine Auction: June 3- June 9
PWCC Marketplace: May 30 - June 9
Classic Auctions: May 24 - June 11
RR Auction: May 24 - June 12
(*) Heritage Auctions: May 23 - June 13
Sirius Sports Cards: June 3 - June 13
(*) Goldin: May 20 - June 15
(*) 44 & More Auctions: May 12 - June 16
Fanatics Auctions: June 7 - June 17-20
Alt Liquid Auctions: June 7 - June 20
PWCC Marketplace: June 6 - June 20
RR Auction: May 24 - June 20
2024 Full Auction Schedule