The Game-Worn Jerseys of Greats Highlight Heritage’s Feb. 25-26, 2023 Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction

From Feb. 25-26, 2023 Heritage will hold its annual Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction – the All-Star Game of auctions, nearly every lot the stuff of legend or a story recounted so often its memory has become myth. This is an event overflowing with the jerseys, sneakers, caps and helmets worn and used by some of sports’ most towering titans – Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Willie Mays, Mario Lemieux, Larry Bird, James Harrison and Julius Erving, among many others.

Yet only one item was once worn by one legend paying tribute to another.

For the first time, Heritage Auctions is offering a photo-matched 1948 Joe DiMaggio road gray New York Yankees flannel with a black armband on its left sleeve – a tribute to Babe Ruth, who died on Aug. 16 that year after a battle with throat cancer. Ruth was 53 years old when he died, and just two months removed from his return to Yankee Stadium, where his No. 3 was retired and his uniform was sent to Cooperstown.

DiMaggio, named an All-Star for every one of his 13 seasons in the sun, and Ruth met for the first time a decade earlier: on Jan. 24, 1938, at a sports banquet in New York City. Still a robust figure not yet rendered a frail shadow by his illness, Ruth shook the hand of the 24-year-old centerfielder who would hit .324 that year while knocking in 32 home runs and 140 RBI. A decade later, Richard Ben Cramer wrote in Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life, that the Yankees were “represented at [Ruth’s] final rites by DiMaggio,” who immediately left the funeral in a borrowed limousine to catch a flight to Washington, D.C., where the Yankees were losing 1-0 to the Senators. DiMaggio helped the Yankees win that game – and, eventually, the first back-to-back-to-back World Series title in baseball history.

Twice before in team history, the team paid its respects to a fallen player with the black armband affixed to a jersey: in 1920 (in honor of Ray Chapman) and 1929 (for Ruth’s manager Miller Huggins). Over the years, DiMaggio jerseys have surfaced bearing evidence of the mourners’ armband removed, as was the practice when the jerseys were later reused. But this size-44 road-gray Wilson flannel – with DiMaggio’s name embroidered in script inside the collar, “NEW YORK” on the front and the retired “5” on the back – is the only known intact survivor, its condition so extraordinary Memorabilia Evaluation and Research Services has deemed it “complete, unaltered, all original, and show[ing] optimal wear while remaining in the same condition as last worn by player.”

“Game-worn offerings from the heroes of the game represent some of the most desirable memorabilia in the entire sports collectibles market, and we have dozens of amazing offerings in this Winter Platinum Night sale, this DiMaggio flannel chief among them,” says Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “It’s the centerpiece of an event filled with them, and we are honored present this extraordinary jersey, as well as every other game-worn offering in this auction, to new owners who will cherish, protect and celebrate both them and the men who wore them.”

Were this the lone DiMaggio jersey in this auction, that would suffice. And yet it’s joined by a flannel almost as historical: a photo-matched road jersey DiMaggio wore during his tenure with his hometown San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. He also signed its inside collar more than 50 years after his 1932 debut with the minor-league ballclub for which he played until 1935.

The DiMaggio jerseys are joined by historic tops game-worn by a Murderers’ Row of Hall of Fame legends, among them: a San Francisco Giants jersey worn by Willie Mays in 1971, when one of baseball’s greatest outfielders, then 40 years old, actually spent 48 games at first base; a Los Angeles Dodgers jersey sported by Duke Snider during the 1960 season; and, from the same year, a Willie McCovey San Francisco Giants jersey worn during the post-season’s Tour of Japan with the patch to prove it.

And among the Yankees’ legends of yesterday, here stands a titan of today: Aaron Judge, represented by a jersey from his rookie year of 2017 photo-matched to four games – and two home runs. Resolution Photomatching has matched this road-gray top from Judge’s unanimous American League Rookie of the Year season to July 20-23, during which Judge blasted a three-run game-winner off Aaron Moore and hit a solo shot off Steve Cishek during a loss.

Jerseys like these from the Bronx’s best can only be topped, as it were, by the Yankees cap worn by Mickey Mantle during the historic 1961 season that ended in a World Series win by one of baseball’s most storied teams. The Mick himself once insisted that “the best team I ever saw, and I really mean this, was the ’61 Yankees,” with which baseball historians seldom argue. This was the season during which Mantle and teammate Roger Maris battled it out over Babe Ruth’s single-season home-run record, with Maris eventually capturing the crown.

This particular well-worn crown was Mantle’s, worn at the very least during the final weeks of that historic, World Series-winning season – then passed on to Randy Nicklas, who flew the Yankees and New York Football Giants’ charter planes from 1958-1968. Nicklas was tight with most of those teams’ players. As Nicklas’ son writes in a notarized letter accompanying this cap, Mantle gave it to his father “as a token of his gratitude for always delivering the team safely to their destination. This hat sat on our mantle for over 20 years, and my father passed this to me as a symbol of his hard work and good fortune. I hope that the person who acquires this hat has the same good fortune.”

Even more extraordinary gifts find their way into this historic auction, among them sneakers worn by basketball’s greatest during landmark moments in fabled careers

Making their auction debut are the signed Jump Man Swifts that LeBron James wore during the 1999-2000 Ohio High School Division III Championship Game between undefeated Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and Jamestown Greenview. James was a 15-year-old freshman on the St. Vincent-St. Mary team in Akron, Ohio, when he scored 25 points and snared nine rebounds to garner the title and, for the first time, the nation’s attention.

Weeks before this auction even opened, these sneakers – the earliest game-worn James material known – generated headlines in the sports media and far beyond. As Chris Ivy told Barron’s in December, “There is no doubt that the global basketball market has taken off of late, as we’re seeing unprecedented international demand for elite James material.”

And these shoes fit the bill: James gifted them to the man who once served as his father figure, Eddie Jackson, who writes in an accompanying letter that “LeBron gave me these shoes after the championship match and signed them for me.”

Another auction first comes from Michael Jordan by way of Bobby Knight’s son: the Converse sneakers MJ wore during the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 when the pre-Dream Team won the Gold Medal under the legendary coach.

Jordan, not yet a Bull but well on his way to basketball immortality, gifted these low-tops to Bobby Knight’s son Patrick in the locker room after the 96-65 victory over Spain in the tournament final. As Patrick notes in his accompanying letter of provenance, he cannot state with absolute certainty these heavily used sneakers were worn during that gold-medal game, as two ball boys received identical pairs from the fledgling legend during that celebration.

Jordan’s Air Jordan VIII Sneakers worn during the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals-clinching Game Six are also featured among this dream team of game-worn offerings. And these come from the daughter of Tom Boerwinkle, the Chicago Bulls center-turned-radio broadcaster, who writes that after the Bulls beat the New York Knicks on June 4, 1993, to clear the path to the teams’ first three-peat, her father handed her the shoes.

“He said, ‘Michael said to give these to you,’” Boerwinkle wrote. “The first thing I did was smell them (my dad gave me a very strange look). I don’t remember any distinct smell, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was so excited to have such a rare and special piece of memorabilia. I promptly went home and put them in a cabinet with my other collectibles as part of my personal collection. However, I think the time has come to pass them on to someone who will appreciate them as much as I have.”

Basketball’s Greatest of All Time meets football’s GOAT in this extraordinary event, as Heritage is thrilled to offer a New England Patriots jersey worn by Tom Brady during the team’s Oct. 17, 2010, comeback overtime win at home over the Baltimore Ravens. This signed jersey, first offered by NFL Auctions and among the few Brady gamers to come to auction, has been photo-matched to that game by the experts at MeiGray using two different images from the Associated Press.

Here, too, is the very San Francisco 49ers jersey Colin Kaepernick wore during the record-setting NFC Divisional Game when he led the team to a stunning 45-31 upset win over the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 12, 2013. So remarkable was his achievement that the victory landed Kaepernick on the covers of Sports Illustrated and ESPN: The Magazine, which Resolution Photomatching used to match this signed jersey to that game during which the quarterback ran 16 times for a record-setting 181 yards – and accounting for another 263 yards in the air, in addition to two touchdown passes and two on the ground.

And here is Brett Favre’s game-worn, signed NFC Championship “Bountygate” jersey from 2009, which pairs nicely with James Harrison’s Pittsburgh Steelers jersey worn when he made the Immaculate Interception during Super Bowl XLIII the same year – a jersey that comes directly from Harrison’s collection.

Jerseys worn on the hardwood and the ice can also be found throughout this auction, which is loaded with game-worn wardrobes.

Here, for instance, is a game-worn and signed Julius Erving jersey won during his title-winning tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers, alongside a 1995-96 Mario Lemieux game-worn Pittsburgh Penguins jersey photo-matched to a game against the Mighty Ducks. Which is but the beginning of the beginning of the historical offerings in a sale that has something for everyone from everyone a sports fan could ever dream of.

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