Sunday, April 26, 2020

Researching a Photo of Mickey Mantle: A Lot More Information Makes a Lot More Desirable

In their Spring 2020 Premium Auction, Goldin Auctions offers this composite photograph as Lot #1430:

The photo comes with this description:

Offered here is a composite 8 x 10 photograph of the great Mickey Mantle. This black and white photograph shows Mantle in his home white Yankees’ uniform in two poses – the first image on top is of Mantle loading up his right-handed swing and the bottom image is of Mantle and his swing right at impact. The image can be dated to 1951, the season he wore number “6”, which is clearly evident from the bottom photo. The back has “M. Mantle” and the number “1168870” handwritten in pencil with the “International News Photo” stamp in faded red ink on the bottom. This composite photograph has been encapsulated and authenticated by PSA (84188301) and classified as Type III.
While the description is correct when it states that “the image can be dated to 1951,” the folks at Goldin Auctions missed a rather important fact about these pictures that would probably be of interest to potential bidders and certainly would be advantageous to both the seller and auction house. With a little research, the exact date of the pictures can be determined, and given this more detailed information the photo undoubtedly becomes far more desirable and valuable.

Here’s the step-by-step research:

Who’s at bat?

That’s an easy one. It’s clearly Mickey Mantle.

Not only does the batter look like Mantle, but he is wearing a Yankees cap and Yankees pinstripes, the uniform number 6 is on his back, and his left sleeve is adorned with a 1951 American League Golden Anniversary patch.

Yankees Bobby Brown and Billy Martin wearing jerseys with the American League Golden Anniversary patch, 1951

Only two Yankee players wore number 6 in 1951: Bobby Brown and Mickey Mantle. Not only does the batter not look like Bobby Brown, but Brown batted exclusively left-handed. Our right-handed batter is most certainly Mickey Mantle.

Of course, Mantle is best known for wearing number 7. After all, that is the number the Yankees retired on June 8, 1969, to honor the beloved Yankees slugger.

Mickey Mantle in the Yankee Stadium clubhouse on the day his uniform number was retired, June 8, 1969.

But when Mantle first made the big league club, famed clubhouse manager Pete Sheehy gave the 19-year-old the number 6, the number previously that had been worn by third baseman Bobby Brown since 1948. On July 15, the struggling Mantle was optioned to the American Association Kansas City Blues and Brown regained number 6.

Brown flourished wearing his old number. During Mantle’s nearly six-week stint in the minors, Brown boosted his average from .244 on July 15 to .280 on August 25, the day that Mantle rejoined the Yanks. Understandably, Brown kept his good luck number 6, so Sheehy gave Mantle number 7. The rest is history.

As far as the photo goes, we have thus far established that:

  • the year is 1951, because he is wearing the American League 50th Anniversary patch;
  • the location is Yankee Stadium, because the batter is wearing home pinstripes;
  • the batter is Mickey Mantle, because he is wearing uniform number 6 and bats right-handed.

Who is the opposition and when did they visit Yankee Stadium?

Turning our attention to the catcher, we see that his stockings are dark with a pair of broad, white stripes. This particular style was worn by just one major league club in 1951: the Boston Red Sox

The 1951 Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park

A quick look at the schedule of games played at Yankee Stadium reveals that during Mantle’s stint wearing number 6 (from the beginning of the season through July 13), the Boston Red Sox played at Yankee Stadium just five times: April 17, April 18, June 29, June 30, and July 1. And of these games, Mantle participated in just three: April 17, April 18, and June 30. But we can additionally eliminate the date of April 18, as the Red Sox pitchers that day were Harry Taylor and Ellis Kinder, both right-handers. As such, the switch-hitting Mantle would have batted lefty the entire day, not righty as seen in the photograph.

Thus the pictures of Mantle batting must have been taken on one of two dates: April 17 or June 30, 1951. The former was Opening Day at Yankee Stadium and marked the major league debut of the highly touted rookie. The latter was a run-of-the-mill contest in which Mantle pinch-hit for starting pitcher Bob Kuzava in the eighth inning, grounding out to second base for the first out.

What is the date?

So which date is it: April 17 or June 30?

One might hope that identifying the catcher would help out. After all, the Red Sox used no fewer than seven different catchers during the 1951 season. But for both the April 17 and June 30 games, the catching duties were exclusively performed by former Yankees backstop Buddy Rosar, playing in the last of his 13 big league seasons.

Red Sox catcher, Buddy Rosar

To determine which date was correct, it was necessary to scour contemporary newspapers in hopes of finding these pictures of Mantle in print. It turns out that on April 20, 1951, the Des Moines (IA) Register (as well as a number of other newspapers) ran these very Mantle pictures, as well as a third in which Mantle is seen completing his follow through, the number 6 prominently shown. This effectively eliminates June 30 as a possibility, clinching the date as April 17, 1951.

Des Moines (IA) Register, April 20, 1951

In fact, the Register’s caption reads: “Here’s a three-picture sequence of the highly publicized rookie getting his first big league hit.” Assuming the caption is indeed correct, we are seeing Mantle hitting a sixth-inning single.

Scorecard from Opening Day Game at Yankee Stadium, April 17, 1951

The Conclusion

Any photograph showing Mickey Mantle during his rookie season is likely to be of great interest to a baseball fan, let alone a collector. And as far as Goldin Auctions notes in its lot description, that is what you’d be getting with this composite photograph. But by digging a bit deeper, the story behind the pictures becomes far more engaging, for we now know that the photograph offered shows one of the greatest baseball players of all time in his major league debut.