Extraordinary 100% original 1968 New York Yankees road jersey worn by Hall of Fame outfielder Mickey Mantle during his final season in baseball. This is one of the finest Mickey Mantle jerseys in existence, and one that is especially noteworthy for its outstanding provenance, historical significance, and remarkable condition.
The jersey originates from the personal collection of Bill Hongach, who was a New York Yankees batboy in 1972 and 1973. During that time, one of his last jobs with the club was helping longtime Yankees clubhouse man Pete Sheehy clean out the locker room in preparation for the stadium's impending two-year renovation. (The Yankees played in Shea Stadium in 1974 and 1975.) As Hongach recalls, basically everything that wasn't going to be used by the club the following season was literally being thrown out, including nearly all of the former uniforms that had been kept in storage. The discarding of old uniforms ("rags" as Sheehy always referred to them), even those of legendary players such as DiMaggio and Mantle, was not strictly predicated upon lack of storage space at the time; style also played a factor. In 1972, the Yankees, like most clubs, adopted knit uniforms, making the older flannels completely obsolete. Even though most of the club's former uniforms were routinely sent down for use in the minors, Sheehy still had a large number of older uniforms, some going back decades, that he kept in storage. Hongach received nearly all of the uniforms destined for the trash bins (including the offered Mantle jersey, two complete Joe DiMaggio uniforms, and those of many other star players) simply by asking Sheehy for them. Nearly all of the jerseys Hongach obtained at that time are long gone and no longer part of his collection. Most of them were sold or traded away in the 1970s and 1980s.
This jersey is no exception and was originally offered by Hongach in an auction conducted by his company, Renata Galasso Inc., in 1985. Incredibly, the jersey is accompanied by a copy of the original advertisement for that auction that appeared in the March 15, 1985, issue of the Sports Collectors Digest
. As one can plainly see in the photo of the advertisement on our website, the offered jersey is listed as Lot #11 in that sale. Further supporting the jersey's provenance is Mantle's signature on the left front tail. During his time as a batboy, Hongach became good friends with Mantle, whom he first met at a Yankees Oldtimers' Day game. A few years later, Mantle graciously signed the jersey, adding the personalization "To Bill/Best Wishes."
Prior to the start of the Renata Galasso auction in 1985 (but not before the SCD
publishing deadline for the March 15th issue), the company withdrew the Mantle jersey from the auction and sold it privately to well-known hobby pioneer Ken Slater (of C & S Sports Nostalgia), who, in turn, immediately "flipped" it to our consignor (a copy of a letter from Slater to our consignor, on C & S Sports Nostalgia stationery, dated February 27, 1985, also accompanies the jersey). It has remained in our consignor's sole possession since that time. As such, this jersey is basically new to the hobby in that it has had only three owners (one of whom was simply a dealer who had possession of it for only a few days) and has not seen the light of day for nearly thirty years!
The fact that the jersey dates from 1968, which was Mantle's final season, makes it especially significant because it may also represent the last jersey he ever wore in a regular-season game. Mantle's final appearance occurred on the road, on September 28, 1968, in a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. While we have not been able to obtain any photos of Mantle from that game with which to photo-match the garment, just the fact that Mantle's last game as a Yankee occurred on the road allows for the possibility that this might have been Mantle's final jersey. Mantle started at first base for the Yankeesin that game and had one plate appearance (he popped out) before being replaced in the lineup by Andy Kosco. On September 29, 1968, which was the last game of the season for the Yankees, Mantle did not appear in the club's 4-3 win over the Red Sox (but he was present in uniform). Given the events, this jersey may have been worn by Mantle in either one of those two games, or possibly even both. Hopefully, one day, an appropriate photo of Mantle from each of those two games will be found, which will then confirm or refute the offered jersey's "final game" status. However, just the possibility that it could have been worn by Mantle in his final plate appearance makes it one of the most desirable Mantle jersey's imaginable.
Adding to the jersey's appeal is that it is 100% original, with no alterations. As noted earlier, by good fortune this jersey originates directly from the New York Yankees clubhouse in 1973 and was never sent down for use in the minor leagues, which was a common fate for most surviving Mantle jerseys. While we do not know exactly how many completely original Mantle jerseys exist today, we have seen only five other examples at auction in the past fifteen years. Clearly, unrestored Mantle jerseys are uncommon, making them particularly highly prized by advanced collectors. Also, we are aware of only one other 1968 Mickey Mantle road jersey. That example, which was photo-matched to the jersey he wore while hitting his 535th career home run, was also unrestored and sold at auction in 2012 for $366,967.
The gray flannel jersey is lettered "New York" across the front and features the number "7" on the reverse. All letters and numerals are appliquéd in navy felt. The name "Mantle" is chain-stitched in blue upon a gray strip tag in the collar. Located on the left front tail are a "Wilson 44" label and a second Wilson label reading "1968 - Set 2." Mantle has inscribed the jersey "To Bill/Best Wishes/Mickey Mantle" in blue Sharpie (grading "9/10") on the left front tail, directly above the manufacturer's labels. The jersey is completely original, with no alterations, and displays moderate wear, including minor staining in the collar and a few light, scattered soil stains on the front and reverse. LOA from Dave Bushing (for the jersey) and LOA from James Spence/JSA (for the autograph). Reserve $50,000. Estimate $100,000++. SOLD FOR $201,450
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