1959 Thomas Connolly Single-Signed Ball

Sold For: $3,525

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1087

Item Year: 1959

Category: Autographed Baseballs/Flats/Photos

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Official American League (Harridge) ball signed by Hall of Fame umpire Thomas Connolly. The distinguished arbiter has inscribed the ball in black fountain pen (grading "6/7") across the sweet spot "Tommy Connolly/1894 - 1959." The years noted by Connolly represent his first season as a professional umpire (1894) and the time at which the ball was signed (1959). Thomas Connolly single-signed balls are exceedingly rare and this is the first example we have ever offered. The primary reason for their rarity is the fact that Connolly was an umpire. Umpires have never been the object of great affection by fans, most of whom vociferously invoke the age-old refrain of "Kill the Umpire" whenever a call goes against the home club. Consequently, few fans had any desire to seek out umpires for autographs, especially alone on a baseball (baseballs cost real money and all by themselves represent an expensive outlay for collectors). However, in 1953 autograph collectors were forced to change their ways when, for the first time ever, the Baseball Hall of Fame elected two umpires to its rank of immortals: Bill Klem and Thomas Connolly. Since Klem was elected posthumously, his signature alone on a ball is even rarer than Connolly's, but the window of opportunity for obtaining Connolly's signature would be short. Connolly passed away in 1961 at the age of ninety one, thus leaving collectors with just seven short years to seek acquire his signature. This particular ball dates from the 1946 to 1959 manufacturing period, and the fact that Connolly has listed the year 1959 below his signature corroborates that fact that he signed this ball in 1959, just two years prior to his passing. Thomas Connolly was an Englishman who never played baseball, but during his youth he displayed an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the game's rules. Because of that, he was sought after to umpire local games in Natick, Massachusetts. After observing Connolly at the amateur level, New England League president Tim Hurst hired him in 1894 as an umpire in his minor-league circuit. In 1898 his skill earned him a position as an umpire in the National League. A man of high principles, he abruptly quit his job in mid season of 1900 due to what he perceived was a lack of support for the umpires by the League president. In 1901 he returned to the Majors, signing with Ban Johnson’s newly formed American League. He remained one of baseball’s top umpires for the next thirty years before becoming the League’s first supervisor of umpires, a position he held until 1954. At the time of his retirement he was considered to be the foremost expert on baseball rules. Today, he is one of only six umpires currently enshrined in Cooperstown. The ball displays only the slightest surface wear and is in outstanding Excellent to Mint condition. This is one of the finest examples of a Thomas Connolly single-signed ball one could ever hope to find and one that would make a world-class addition to any advanced Hall of Fame or single-signed ball collection. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $1,000. Estimate $2,000+. SOLD FOR $3,525

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