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Historically Significant Christy Mathewson Single-Signed Ball - Signed by Mathewson on the Day of his 1921 Testimonial at the Polo Grounds
Starting Bid - $10,000, Sold For - $44,438
Few items in the field of baseball autographs are as rare or as highly prized by collectors as this spectacular piece: a single-signed Christy Mathewson ball. The official National League (Heydler) ball has been signed by Mathewson in black fountain pen across the sweet spot. Mathewson's signature is boldly executed and although it is affected by a few minor surface abrasions it still manages to grade a "6/7" overall, with all of the letters still clearly legible. The date, "Sept/30-21," is written in vintage black fountain pen (not in Mathewson's hand) on the side panel to the right of Mathewson's signature. Any Christy Mathewson signed ball is an extraordinary prize. Few exist and Mathewson has always been the key rarity by far in the assembly of a complete set of single-signed baseballs of the first five Hall of Famers. The date on the ball (which is reasonable to assume is the date of its signing) makes this particular example an all the more fascinating and highly significant Mathewson single-signed ball.
September 30, 1921, was the date upon which the New York Giants held a special testimonial for Christy Mathewson at the Polo Grounds, prior to the last home game of the season against the Boston Braves. Mathewson had just recently been diagnosed with tuberculosis in both lungs resulting from his exposure to mustard gas in World War I. Subsequently, he was sent to Saranac Lake, New York, for treatment. Before he left, the Giants felt compelled to honor their greatest star with a rousing tribute, with all of the Giants' proceeds from the game going to Mathewson. Because the Giants had clinched the pennant days earlier, a special five-inning exhibition game between the Giants old timers and the 1921 club was scheduled prior to the regular season game in an attempt to increase attendance. What makes this ball especially intriguing is a passage found in legendary New York sportswriter Fred Leib's excellent baseball history Baseball As I Have Known It (originally published in 1977 by Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, New York). Leib was the chairman of the Christy Mathewson Testimonial Committee and he devotes an entire chapter of his book recalling the event. In the chapter "A Gamble for Rain - For Matty," Leib writes:
During the intermission between games we auctioned off three dozen balls signed by Mathewson and all of the 1921 New York Giants. Harry M. Stevens put some of his most eloquent peanut, hog dog, and scorecard salesman to work drumming up bids throughout the stands. The prize baseball was autographed by Mathewson, President Harding, Vice-President Coolidge, Governor Miller, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, George M. Cohan, Richard Mansfield, and several other actors, athletes, and politicians. It was the most autographed ball I ever saw and I auctioned it off myself from the concrete roof of the Braves' Dugout. It finally went for $450 to a persistent man I did not know.
What is not is not entirely clear is whether or not all of the balls auctioned off that day were signed by Mathewson AND the 1921 New York Giants. Is it possible that there were a number of Mathewson single-signed balls and 1921 New York Giants team-signed balls included in the sale as well? If so, could the offered ball have been one of the balls sold at the park that day to raise money for Mathewson? The date on the ball certainly suggests that possibility. In addition, the fact that the game was held as a fundraiser, with the knowledge that signed balls were to be sold that day, probably means that Mathewson was discouraged from autographing baseballs for fans that afternoon. Of course, this could also be one of a few special balls Mathewson signed for his close friends or old teammates who came out to honor him on his special day. Obviously, we will never know for sure, but the one thing that does appear certain is that this ball was signed by Mathewson on one of the most memorable and emotional days of his life. (Note: A period newspaper article exists that indicates Matty was not actually present at the game, in which case if true all the Mathewson signed balls sold at the game were obviously actually signed in advance of the game.) As Leib recalls in his book, the testimonial was a rousing success: "Exactly how much money the Mathewsons received from the game I was never told, but it was in the neighborhood of $45,000, the equivalent of $200,000 today [in 1977 dollars; when the book was written]...I was told it was the largest amount every raised for any actor or athlete up to that time."
Christy Mathewson single-signed balls are exceedingly rare. The fact that this ball can be attributed to his 1921 testimonial makes it a particularly fascinating and desirable example. Mathewson's reputation as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history is well founded. However, his legendary status today has more to do with his character, and the way in which he conducted himself both on and off the field, than his mound achievements. As Lieb writes: "Fans regarded him as the All-American boy...Christy Mathewson was the most admired player in baseball, the ones fathers would take their sons to see pitch on their first visit to a ball park." Even after all these years, Mathewson still holds a special place in the eyes of collectors and his signature in any form, especially alone on a baseball, remains one of the essentials for any advanced collection. It has been over ten years since Robert Edward Auctions has offered a Christy Mathewson single-signed ball and we cannot recall ever handling a more interesting and notable example. The ball exhibits light-to-moderate toning and displays a number of minor surface abrasions/blemishes. The manufacturer's labels are affected by the surface abrasions, but remain legible. In Very Good condition overall. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $10,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $44,438
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