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1954 Al Kaline Detroit Tigers Game-Used Rookie Road Jersey
Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $21,150
Historically significant Detroit Tigers road jersey, with no alterations, worn by Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline during his 1954 rookie season. Graded A9 by MEARS. This particular jersey is not only one of the most important postwar Hall of Fame jerseys we have ever offered, but one of the most well documented. It has been consigned directly from a former ballplayer in the Detroit Tigers organization who was issued the jersey, along with the accompanying Detroit Tigers pants, socks, and hats, during spring training in 1956. (The pants, socks, and two hats have no attribution to Kaline and are offered here simply as further provenance for the jersey.) During the 1950s, as well as earlier and later, Major League teams routinely recycled their uniforms. Normally, the previous season's uniforms were reused the following spring (or springs) before eventually being sent to one of the team's minor league affiliates. Such was the case with this Al Kaline jersey. Our consignor received this jersey as a young Major League hopeful in the spring of 1956 while he attended training camp with the Tigers down in Florida. As fate would have it, the equipment manager just happened to give him the jersey Kaline wore two years earlier during his 1954 rookie campaign. After our consigner was reassigned to the Tigers farm club in Jamestown, New York, he and his fellow teammates continued to wear the old Tigers uniforms while playing in exhibition games en route to New York. Once in Jamestown, the team received different uniforms and our consignor was allowed to keep the offered jersey, as well as his pants, socks, and hats, as a memento of his brief time with the parent club. All of this information is formally documented in an accompanying letter written and signed by our consignor in which he details the jersey's history. (It should be noted that independent research confirms that our consignor was indeed a member of the Tigers organization in 1956 and that he did play with the minor-league Jamestown Falcons that year. It was his only season of professional ball.)
It's ironclad provenance aside, this is also a near perfect Al Kaline rookie jersey that easily stands on its own merits. The gray flannel jersey is lettered "Detroit" across the front and features Kaline's number "6" on the reverse. All letters and numerals are appliquŽd in blue on orange tackle twill. A "MacGregor 42" label appears in the collar, while a flag tag, located on the interior right-front tail, reads "Set 1 1954." The jersey is all original, with no alterations, and displays heavy wear consistent with it having been worn all season by Kaline, and then again by other players during subsequent spring-training camps. There is a light orange stain on the right breast, just below the "D" in "Detroit," and both the letters on the front and the numbers on the back display a few moderate tears along the stitch seams. Graded A9 by MEARS (10 point base grade, with a half point each deducted for the stain and seam tears to the letters and numbers). Al Kaline jerseys are rare, especially those dating from the 1950s. As a point of reference, this is one of only three graded Al Kaline jerseys listed in the MEARS database and it is by far the earliest example (the other two, from 1968 and 1971, are both graded A10). Jerseys of this significance rarely surface and are seldom seen at public auction. This is one of the finest Hall of Famer game-used jerseys we have ever had the privilege of offering. The fact that it exists at all, let alone exactly how it has happened to survive, consigned by an original source, is remarkable! We also cannot imagine a more desirable Al Kaline jersey than one worn during his rookie campaign. As it normally does with all historically important jerseys, MEARS has issued a special two-page letter of opinion for this Kaline jersey which provides more detailed information regarding its conclusions (the letter can be viewed in its entirely on our website).
Al Kaline, nicknamed "Mr. Tiger," was one of the greatest players in history: a "five-tool" player who could run, throw, catch, hit, and hit for power. Kaline, who was signed by the Tigers in 1953 at the age of nineteen, was one of the many "bonus babies" of the 1950s and as such he was required by league rules to be on the Tigers' Major League roster. He made his debut with the club shortly after signing, on June 25th, but played sparingly that season, appearing mostly as a pinch runner. While the lack of minor-league playing experience hindered the development of many bonus players during that era (most notably Sandy Koufax), Kaline had no trouble breaking into the Tigers starting lineup in 1954. He finished his rookie season with 4 home runs, 43 RBI, and a .276 batting average. Those numbers, especially his power totals, would be the exception rather than the rule for the remainder of his career. In 1955 Kaline batted a league-high .340, and in so doing became the youngest player in history to win the American League batting title (he beat out Ty Cobb by one day for that honor). He also totaled 27 home runs and 102 RBI that year, numbers which helped him finish second in the MVP voting to Yogi Berra. For the next nineteen seasons Kaline reigned as one of the best all-around outfielders in baseball. Numbered among his many achievements are fifteen All-Star Game appearances, ten Gold Glove Awards, one batting title, 399 home runs, and 3,007 hits. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980, just the tenth player in history to be inducted during his first year of eligibility. Kaline holds the record for most games played and most home runs hit by a Detroit Tiger player and is without question not only the greatest living player in team history, but the most popular as well. In 1980 his number "6" became the first number ever retired by the Tigers.
The jersey is accompanied by a pair of Detroit Tigers road pants, stirrup socks, and two caps issued to, and worn by, our consignor during his one and only season as a member of the Tigers organization in 1956. The gray flannel pants feature blue piping down the side of each leg. A "MacGregor 34" tag is located in the waistband. Affixed just below the waistband, in the rear, is a small strip tag bearing the number "43" chain-stitched in red. The pants are heavily worn, including small tears and team repairs. Each of the two pro-model Tigers caps, one blue, the other black, features a "D" on the front in orange felt (stylized in "Old English"). The blue cap features a "New Era" label in the leather headband (no size listed) and the number "157" written in black marker on the interior front. The black cap features a "Wilson" tag in the cloth headband and is size "7." Both caps display moderate-to-heavy wear. The blue stirrup socks display two orange stripes and show moderate wear. LOA from Troy Kinunen/MEARS. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $21,150
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