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Lot # 983 (of 1743)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1892-1894 James O'Rourke New York Giants Contract - Earliest Hall of Fame Contract In Private Hands!

Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $17,625

Four-page fold-over contract, dated December 3, 1891, between James O'Rourke and the New York Ball Club, signed in black fountain pen by "Jas. H. O'Rourke" (slight brushing to the "R" in "O'Rourke," otherwise grading "10") and "John B. Day" ("10"), owner of the club. Also signed by Nicholas Young ("10") in his capacity as president of the National League. One of the most extraordinary baseball contracts in existence, this O’Rourke contract was long ago one of the highlights of the personal collection of concessionaire and famous "Hot Dog King" Harry M. Stevens. It is the earliest Hall of Famer contract known in private hands. (All earlier examples known are in institutional holdings.) The three-year agreement, for the seasons of 1892 through 1894, calls for O'Rourke to receive $3,500 per year for the first two seasons and $3,000 for the final season. (The multiyear status itself is very unusual for a contract from this era.) All of the clauses regarding the duration of the contract and O'Rourke's yearly salary are handwritten in black fountain pen. Very few nineteenth-century baseball player contracts are known, even of non-Hall of Fame players. The fact that the player contract is for legendary Hall of Famer James O'Rourke and features his signature is remarkable. Even a simple signature of O'Rourke is one of the most elusive prizes sought by Hall of Fame autograph collectors. A player contract would qualify to most as the single most significant example that could possibly exist of one of the nineteenth-century baseball's rarest Hall of Fame signatures. The fact that it also features the signatures of John B. Day and Nicholas Young is also extremely significant.

Nicknamed "Orator Jim" for his acute verbosity, O’Rourke played in the National Association, the National League and the Player's League over the course of his nineteen-year career. One of the top hitters of his era, he finished his career with a .310 lifetime average and one batting title (1884 with Buffalo). He is also noteworthy for having made the first hit in National League history in 1876. Twenty-eight years later, at the age of fifty-two, O'Rourke again made history by becoming the oldest player to play a complete game in the Majors. Coaxed out of retirement for one game by John McGraw, O'Rourke caught all nine innings for the Giants in a game against the Reds at the Polo Grounds on September 22, 1904. O'Rourke had one hit in four at bats as the Giants defeated the Reds 7-5 to clinch the National League pennant. O'Rourke originally retired after the 1893 season but remained in baseball in a number of capacities: managing in the minors, umpiring for one year in the Majors, and serving as president of the Connecticut League (which later became the Eastern Association). O'Rourke passed away in 1919 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945. Although O'Rourke served in an official capacity for a number of years, his signature is one of the most elusive of all Hall of Fame players. John B. Day was once a millionaire tobacco magnate who at one time owned both the New York Metropolitans of the American Association and the New York Giants of the National League. Unfortunately, he suffered a number of financial setbacks and died penniless in 1926. Nicholas Young was instrumental in helping form the National Association of Professional Baseball Players in 1871 and later served as president of the National League from 1885 through 1902. He passed away in 1916. The contract (8.5 x 14 inches) displays three horizontal folds and has undergone professional restoration to a number of tears along both the vertical and horizontal folds (it appears that the document was once completely separated along the main vertical fold and two of the horizontal folds). In Very Good condition overall. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $5,000. Estimate $10,000+. SOLD FOR $17,625

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