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Lot # 535 (of 1411)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1950 Willie Mays Signed Ball - The Earliest Known Mays Signed Baseball

Starting Bid - $1,000.00, Sold For - $5,800.00

This extraordinary official Interstate League baseball dates from 1950 and was signed by Mays at the age of nineteen during his one season with the Trenton Giants, a Class B member of the Interstate League. This is the earliest signed Willie Mays baseball in existence. Mays' signature, which is one of four player signatures on the ball, appears in blue ink ("8/9") on a side panel and reads "Willie Mays Jr." This is the only baseball we have ever seen or heard of signed with his early "Jr." style signature. Mays abandoned the practice of including "Jr." with his signature when reaching the Majors one year later. While the signature style is significant, it is the notation written below his signature that also sets this ball apart from other early Mays signed items, and highlights the true significance of this ball. There, printed in in blue ink, enclosed in parenthesis, is the word "colored." Mays was the first black ballplayer in Interstate League history and that fact was important enough to warrant the written distinction. It also illustrates the fact that even though integration in organized baseball was well under way by 1950, it had not yet progressed to the point where a black man on the diamond was the norm. This is an extraordinary relic from the earliest days of integration. Willie Mays was so great that today people often forget that he was not just one of the greatest stars to ever play the game; he was one of the pioneers of baseball's integration. The history of this ball is related in two accompanying copies of newspaper articles that quote extensively from the original owner, Dan Worchach. According to Worchach, this ball was obtained by his uncle at a Sunbury A's home game against the Trenton Giants on July 2, 1950. At that game his uncle was fortunate enough to catch a foul ball, which he then later had signed by the three players who homered that day as well as the player who hit the foul ball. Mays was one the players who homered, thus the inclusion of his signature on the ball. Much of the information relating to its unique provenance is literally spelled out in the form of vintage blue-ink notations on all four panels. One panel reads "Trenton Giants vs. Sunbury A's," while the opposite panel is lettered "All These Players Hit Homers In This Game." A third panel reads "July 2, 1950" and features the signatures of "Eric Rodin" and "Ted Heitschmidt," with the latter signature followed by the notation "Fouled This Ball" (spanning across the ball label). The fourth panel bears Mays' signature and that of "Ace Bell." Mays began the 1950 season as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro League club he had been with since 1948. Shortly into the season his contract was sold to the New York Giants and they opted him to their affiliate in Trenton, where he remained for the rest of the season. Mays finished the year with a .353 average and the following spring he was promoted to the Minneapolis Millers. Mays torrid start (a .477 average in thirty-five games) with Minneapolis led to his promotion to the Giants on May 25, 1951, where he helped lead the club to the National League pennant. Before superstardom in the Major Leagues, Willie Mays played baseball for the first time against white players with the Trenton Giants of the Interstate League. This unique ball dates from these early days of his career, when integration was still a work in progress, and Willie Mays Jr. was on the forefront of a battle that was still being waged. The notations on the ball are all perfectly legible ( "7"). The three other signatures grade "8/9." The ball, an official Interstate League baseball, exhibits moderate to heavily soiling, indicative of its former game-use. This is an extremely historic signed item dating from May's first season in organized baseball with a unique and very detailed provenance. LOAs from James Spence/JSA and Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez & Zach Rullo/PSA DNA. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $5,800.00

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