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Historic Offerings From The Mick Highlight Heritage Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction

Heritage Auctions’ Feb. 26-27 Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction is now open for bidding.  A familiar favorite returns to Heritage Auctions, this time with a new story to tell more than a half century since it last saw action.  Twice the Dallas-based action house has had the honor of offering the jersey Mickey Mantle wore when he struck his 535th home run on Sept. 19, 1968 – the so-called “Gift” served to the New York Yankees slugger by Detroit Tigers ace and 30-game-winner Denny McLain. Mantle’s penultimate homer remains the ultimate show of sportsmanship from a young great to a legend at sunset. And each time the jersey was sold – first in February 2017 for $486,000, then in August 2020 for nearly twice that – that is how its tale was told: This is the flannel The Mick wore when he hit No. 535.

As it turns out, that milestone moment – the night McLain winked at The Mick as he trotted the base path – is likely only one chapter in the jersey’s legend.

The grey flannel jersey was a gift from Mantle to his friend Tom Catal, once president of the Mickey Mantle Museum in Cooperstown, New York, to whom the message was inscribed: “To Tom, A Great Friend Always, ‘The Mick.’” And since last it crossed the auction block, additional research and photo-analysis has revealed this is also the jersey Mantle very likely wore when he appeared in the All-Star Game in Houston’s Astrodome in July 1968 and clubbed home run No. 534 on August 21, 1968.

More important, research also shows this is the jersey Mantle pulled on when he played at Fenway Park on Sept. 28, 1968 – his final game.

That jersey from his last game, along with one of the best-known examples of The Mick’s 1952 Topps debut, long one of the hobby’s most coveted cards, will be offered in Heritage Auctions’ Feb. 26-27 Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction.

“We, along with many collectors, long suspected this jersey saw far more action than that penultimate homer,” says Chris Ivy, founder and president of Heritage Sports. “That alone made it historic. But to find out that it saw action in the final game of The Mick’s storied career makes it even more significant, and we’re thrilled to bring it back to auction alongside the stunning example of the ’52 Topps card that remains one of our hobby’s holiest grails.”

As Heritage’s listing for this jersey notes, “That confirmation is the result of a difficult and painstaking study of the limited photography and television footage from the Mick’s last stand that uses the unique arch of the ‘NEW YORK’ lettering on the chest and the positioning of the fabled number ‘7’ on verso to establish a definitive match. The thick ream of paperwork that documents this conclusion will be available to all interested parties in its entirety.”

Home run No. 534 was certainly among the significant dingers in The Mick’s career.

The season was long gone by late summer 1968, with the 103-win Detroit Tigers the American League’s top team and, soon enough, the world champs. But when Mantle came to bat in the top of the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium, history was just one swing away.

Left-hander Jim Merritt, two years from his lone All-Star season with the Cincinnati Red, was on the bump for the Twins that day in Minnesota, and about to wrap up a two-hit 3-0 shutout when Mantle walked up to the plate as a pinch-hitter. With nobody on and nobody out, Mantle took one pitch before bashing the second over the left-field fence.

The Yanks lost that day, 3-1. But with home-run No. 534 in the books, Mantle tied legendary infielder Jimmie Foxx for third on the all-time home-run list.

Mantle’s final game as a Yank proved to be rather anti-climactic, all things considered: It was in Boston, home of the rival Red Sox, and the 2,401st game of an 18-season career that began in Yankee Stadium on April 17, 1951 – against, of all teams, the Boston Red Sox.

On Sept. 28, 1968, Mantle was just three weeks shy of turning 37 years old. As the Society for American Baseball Research would later note, The Mick was playing “with knees that a Social Security recipient wouldn’t envy having, such was the toll on his body, thanks to a regimen of grueling tasks on the ball field followed by nighttime activities revolving around alcohol.”

In his bestselling autobiography The Mick, Mantle devoted only a few words to that final game – one whole paragraph about his pop out to Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli.

He wrote that a week after his final homer, “I came up in the first inning [against Boston], made an out, and returned to the bench. Ralph [Houk, then the Yankees manager] sent Andy Kosco in to replace me. I sat back and watched the kid limber up. I knew I had reached the end of the line. After a few moments I headed through the runway into the locker room, took off my uniform, and went home.”

Mantle actually wasn’t sure going into that final game whether he would be returning for a 19th season. In fact, years later Mantle wrote in his autobiography that he went to spring training in Fort Lauderdale in 1969 “to convince myself that it was totally over.” All it took was “just a little running” to help Mantle make up his mind – which is why his 1969 Topps card notes that “The All-Star announced his retirement from baseball on March 1st, 1969.”

His final Topps card dates from a season during which he never swung a bat.

Which brings us back to his Topps Chewing Gum Company debut in 1952.

That was the series that launched the modern card-collecting hobby – the cards that “changed the game,” Tom and Ellen Zappala wrote in their book Baseball & Bubble Gum: The 1952 Topps Collection. “Maybe not the game of baseball itself, but it certainly ushered in a completely new era of collecting” as Topps took on chief competitor Bowman.

The Mantle No. 311 offered in the Feb. 26-27 Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction is graded PSA NM-MT 8, making it one of the best ever offered at auction – considering there just 35 known at this high grade and only 14 graded higher. If there was any doubt of its continued dominance, look no further than last year’s record-smashing $5.2 million sale of a 1952 Topps Mantle graded Mint 9 – the very card Heritage sold in 2018 for $2.88 million.

Though Mantle’s card is easily the best-known of the 407-card set, it was actually among the last released, as it was included in the sixth and final series – which was short-printed and available in far more limited quantities than those that preceded it. That’s because retailers believed there would be a fall-off in interest as the baseball season entered its waning days – a fear that was proved right once football season kicked off that year.

So dismal were sales that Topps couldn’t give the cards away, though exec Sy Berger – creator of the cards – certainly tried. As his son Glenn recounted in Baseball & Bubble Gum, Sy would frequently hand visitors to his office a ’52 Mantle as a keepsake.

“How was I to know that Dad had loaded much of the 1952 card production onto a barge and dumped the cards into the bay because they were not selling and the storage capacity at Topps was limited?” Glenn wrote. “If he had only saved 1,000 Mantles for the family!”

Indeed, as Bleacher Report noted in 2013, Berger and Topps art director Woody Gelman took their cards to the garbage barge and “loaded these burdensome cases – some 300 to 500 according to Berger’s statement in a 2001 copy of Tuff Stuff magazine’s Topps 50th Anniversary Issue. And within a few minutes, this barge waved farewell to the shoreline, carrying with it thousands of Mantles, Jackie Robinsons and Eddie Mathewses.”

The Hudson River wound up devouring the world’s most valuable collection of baseball cards.

And yet here, in this auction, alongside this historic jersey, is one of those surviving cards – and in near-mint to mint condition, no less. History for the taking.

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