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Lot # 854 (of 1641)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1950 Trenton Giants Team-Signed Ball and Photo - Both Signed By Willie Mays!

Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $5,036

Willie Mays was not just one of the greatest ballplayers to ever take the field. He was one of the most important pioneers in the integration of the Major Leagues, one of the few great stars chosen to bridge the gap between the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues, in the process experiencing great hardship but paving the way for his own great career and that of the others who followed. Presented is a remarkable pair of newly discovered items signed during his transition from the Negro Leagues to stardom in the Giants organization in the turbulent early days of integration in Major League baseball. Each of these items is of enormous historical significance.

1950 Trenton Giants team-signed ball and photo, each including the signature of nineteen-year-old outfielder Willie Mays, who was making his minor-league debut that year. These two items almost certainly represent both the earliest known team-signed ball and photo bearing Mays' signature, each of which is the first example we have ever seen. The only other Willie Mays autographed item we are aware of dating from his brief tenure with the Trenton Giants is a ball bearing his signature and that of three of his Trenton teammates. That example, which appeared as Lot 535 in Robert Edward Auctions' May 2006 auction, sold for $5,800. This collection also has the special provenance of originating from a longtime Trenton, New Jersey, resident, who just recently discovered the items among her parents belongings. They have not seen the light of day for over sixty years and are new to the modern collecting world.

Mays began the 1950 season as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro League club he had been with since 1948. Shortly after the season began Birmingham sold Mays' contract to the New York Giants, which assigned him to its affiliate in Trenton (a Class B member of the Interstate League) where he remained for the rest of the season. At the time, Mays' arrival in Trenton was a historic occasion. Unbeknownst to many fans today, Mays was the first African-American ballplayer in Interstate League history and therefore had to endure many of the same trials and tribulations faced by Robinson on his way up to the major leagues. Despite the burdens of playing for a new club (thousands of miles from his home) in a then all-white league, and in front of often hostile fans, Mays flourished. He finished the season with a team-high .353 batting average (in eighty-one games) and the following spring 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.

The official Interstate League baseball has been signed in blue ink by twenty team members, including Mays and two other players who later played in the majors: Rinty Monahan and Eric Rodin. Mays' signature (grading "8") appears on a side panel, partially atop the Spalding logo. Signatures range from "6" to "9," averaging "7/8," and the ball is in Excellent to Mint condition. The 8 x 10-inch photo, which captures the club in a classic team pose, has also been signed in blue ink by twenty team members, plus the two bat boys. Each player has signed the photo either atop or adjacent to his respective image, including Mays (grading "6/7"), Monahan, and Rodin. (Fifteen of the twenty players who signed the ball, as well as manager Frank Genovese, have also signed the photo.) The photo displays a number of minor creases (many of which can only be seen when observed at certain angles) and a light stain near the upper border (not affecting any of the images or signatures). In Very Good condition overall. Also included is a 1949 Trenton Giants team-signed photo (8 x 10 inches) featuring the blue-ink signatures (averaging "8") of twenty team members. Ex. This is both a rare and historically significant collection dating from Mays' first season as a member of the New York Giants organization, featuring what are undoubtedly two of the earliest examples of his signature. Total 3 items. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $5,036

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