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Lot # 8 (of 1743)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1951 Willie Mays Minneapolis Millers Home Jersey

Starting Bid - $10,000, Sold For - $44,063

For a complete description of the 1951 Willie Mays Minneapolis Millers Home Jersey please go to: http://www.robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2011_preview/14.html

The following is a slightly edited (shortened) version. Presented is one of the most remarkable and historically significant baseball jerseys to ever surface: This jersey was worn by Willie Mays as he made the transition from the Negro Leagues to stardom in the Giants organization in the turbulent early days of integration in Major League baseball.

Minneapolis Millers home jersey worn by Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays in 1951, just weeks before he was called up to the New York Giants. Graded A8.5 by MEARS. This extraordinary jersey is the earliest-known Willie Mays professional jersey in existence and is all the more remarkable in that it can be conclusively photo-matched to Mays. Mays can be seen wearing this very jersey in numerous photographs taken during his tenure with the Millers in the spring of 1951. This very jersey “launched” the Major League career of one of the all-time greats of the game, Willie Mays, and has an enormous significance to the turbulent early days of integration in Major League baseball. Its historical significance is further evidenced by the fact that for the past five years this jersey has been one of the signature displays at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Minor League jerseys in the 1950s were often recycled, going from player to player, year to year, until the garment was basically unusable. Because of that, teams rarely had reason to stitch a player's name or a year designation in their jerseys. The jersey number was often the only identifier for a player during a given season. The offered jersey is no exception. Neither a player's name, nor year tag is present in the jersey. The only attribution to Mays is the uniform number, "28," which we know, with certainty (through photographs and copies of old scorecards), to be the number worn by Mays during his tenure with the Millers in 1951. A corresponding uniform number in such a case, however, without additional conclusive photographic evidence offers only a strong possibility and not proof. In this case, however, this jersey can be positively attributed with certainty to Willie Mays by the photographic evidence, with all qualities and elements a perfect match. The most easily seen identifier and one that can be appreciated by all is the presence of a very conspicuous team repair on the right sleeve. That repair, to a tear in the shape of an "L," can be clearly matched to an identical repair in the right sleeve of a Minneapolis Millers jersey Mays is pictured wearing on May 15, 1951. The two different photos used to make that identification (both of which accompany the jersey) were obtained from the Minnesota Historical Society and each pictures a close up of Mays posing for the camera in the clubhouse. In both photos, the repaired tear is clearly discernible and can be definitively matched to the tear on the offered jersey. The identification label on the back of each photo makes note of the date ("May 15, 1951") and the original source ("Photo by St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press"). In addition to the team repair, all of the many other aspects of the offered jersey, of course, also match up perfectly to the jersey worn by Mays in the photo, including positioning of the letters, font, buttons, and piping. The white flannel jersey is completely original and aside from the defining team repair on the sleeve, and another small repair on the reverse, displays no alterations. “Millers” is lettered across the front and the number “28” is featured on the reverse. All letters and numbers are appliquéd in black on orange felt. A “Wilson” label, a “44” size tag, and a wash tag are located on the left front tail. The jersey displays moderate wear, including the two aforementioned repaired tears, a few small holes under the right arm, and light staining on the front and back. Graded A8.5 by MEARS (base grade of 10, with a half point each deducted for the small holes under the right arm, the small team repair on the reverse, and the light staining).

This jersey has a fascinating history. It was first brought to the attention of the collecting community when a Minneapolis resident took it to the Antiques Roadshow on June 26, 2004. He had purchased the jersey for fifty dollars about twenty years earlier at a small collectors show. Over the years he began to wonder about which players might have worn the jersey. His excitement in finding out that Mays wore number “28” with the Millers in 1951 was tempered by the fact that his research seemed to indicate that this was a 1950-style Millers jersey. Mays only played with the Millers for thirty-five games in 1951. Undaunted, and knowing that teams recycled their uniforms, he continued his research and eventually found the two accompanying photos that prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Mays did indeed wear this jersey during his brief time with the Millers. A year later he sold the jersey at public auction for $49,306, where it was purchased by our consignor. Shortly after the auction, our consignor was contacted by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which inquired whether he would be amenable to loaning the jersey for display. For the past five years this jersey has been very prominently displayed at the museum, where it has been seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors, and used as a tool to teach American history, and the history of the game, to youngsters and scholars alike. Now that the loan agreement has ended, for personal reasons our consignor has elected to part with the jersey. It is his great hope that someone else will take over its stewardship and preserve it for the next generation of collectors and historians. With this in mind, we took it upon ourselves to contact The Negro League Museum to inquire that, if it were the case that the future owner was as generous as the past owner and would allow the jersey to be displayed once again (where it belongs!) at The Negro League Museum, would they be interested? The answer was a resounding yes, and we hope the winner will consider this course of action, which would put the jersey to its best possible use.

This is one of the most significant jerseys in existence from one of the most immortal legends of the game, and dating from an extremely important time in the history of America and the history of the game with reference to integration. Willie Mays was not just one of the greatest ballplayers to ever take the field. He was one of the most important pioneers in the integration of the Major Leagues, one of the few great stars chosen to bridge the gap between the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues, in the process experiencing great hardship but paving the way for his own great career and that of the others who followed. LOA from Troy Kinunen/MEARS. Reserve $10,000. Estimate $25,000+. SOLD FOR $44,063


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