1869 Trophy Ball - Mutuals vs Gothams

Sold For: $5,288

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1155

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Rare and historically significant green-painted trophy ball commemorating a victory by the Mutuals over the Gothams in a game played on June 8, 1869, in New York. As was the custom of the day, this is the actual game ball used during that match, which was later decorated and presented to the winning club for display in its clubhouse. The professional-quality leather "belt-style" ball has been decorated in white lettering and reads: "Mutual 33 - Gotham 15 - June 8, '69." The ball displays normal crazing to the green paint, including a few small chips and a moderate abrasion (affecting the "J" in "June"). The lettering that reads "Mutuals 33" is light, but legible. Ideally, this match between the Mutuals and Gothams (two of the most prominent New York baseball clubs at the time) did not go unnoticed by the press. The game was fully covered in the June 9, 1869, issue of the New York Herald , a reprinted summary of which accompanies the ball. In full:

The veteran Gothams, who have so long been quiet, appeared yesterday, for the first time this season, in a contest with the Mutuals. The Gothams presented a fair nine, with Mr. Vincent as pitcher. The Mutuals found little trouble in batting against him and in three innings scored thirty-two runs. Goodspeed then went in to pitch and by a little Martinizing he succeeded in preventing the Mutuals from making more than one run in two innings. The game was not remarkable for any very brilliant displays on either side and at the end of the fifth inning was called, the score standing - Mutual 33; Gotham 15. Up to the fifth inning the score looked bad for the Gothams, as they had scored but five runs; in the last inning, however, they battled in very lively style, and aided by some rather loose play on the part of the champions, managed to add ten runs to their score.

Trophy balls, in addition to their rarity and inherent aesthetic appeal, are also desirable in that they are among the most significant surviving relics from the earliest days of our national pastime. The offered ball is unusual in that most surviving 1860s-era trophy balls involving prominent teams are from one of just several teams (and slightly different in style from this example) whose trophy balls were long ago scattered to the four corners of the collecting world. Occasionally a ball such as this example surfaces that is from a team (and trophy case) from which very few trophy balls are known. That fact that it also relates to the Mutuals, one of the top clubs in New York (and therefore the country at the time), makes it one of the most significant 1860s trophy balls we have ever seen. The Mutuals were not only one of the best teams on the East Coast at the time, but one of the most infamous as well. Political historians will note that the Mutuals were owned by notorious Tammany Hall politician “Boss” Tweed, one of the most corrupt politicians in New York City history. Even his ball club was a drain on the city coffers, as Tweed rewarded membership on his team with no-show jobs as city street sweepers. Not surprisingly, in their earlier years the Mutuals also had a reputation for dishonest play and in 1865 were involved in what is recognized as baseball's first major gambling scandal. By 1869 the club had cleaned up its image somewhat and was regarded, along with the Brooklyn Eckfords and Brooklyn Atlantics, as the best New York had to offer on the baseball diamond. Another extremely noteworthy aspect of this trophy ball concerns its date: June 8, 1869. This game was in all likelihood a tune-up for what was ultimately the "game of the year" that season between the Mutuals and the legendary undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball's first all-professional team. In that historic contest, held just one week later on June 15th in New York, the Mutuals proved their mettle in a heartbreaking ninth-inning loss to Cincinnati. In what was the closest contest to date for the Red Stockings, the Mutuals tied the game 2-2 by scoring one run in the top of the ninth, only to see the Red Stockings pull it out with two runs in the bottom half of the frame. (In that era, the home team was decided by a coin flip prior to the game, and teams continued to bat in the bottom of the ninth until three outs were made, regardless of the score.) To show just how powerful the Mutuals were at the time, Cincinnati easily defeated both the Atlantics (32-10) and the Eckfords (24-5) in their other two New York contests. The success of the 1869 Red Stockings signaled profound changes in the game and the following season the Mutuals dropped their amateur status and joined the growing ranks of professional baseball clubs. In 1871 the Mutuals became a charter member in the National Association, the first all-professional baseball league. Five years later, the Mutuals once again made history by becoming one of the eight original members of the National League in 1876. This is a remarkable trophy ball from a game between the Mutuals and the Gothams, two of baseball's most important and legendary teams, dating from the dawn of professional baseball. Reserve $2,500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $5,288

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