Love of the Blog

Communication, Commercialism, and Commentary

Al Kaline’s Last Bat

635682646352205376-01-Kaline-final-at-batDennis Clotworthy’s outstanding book Al Kaline’s Last Bat Boy is a wonderful memoir of his growing up around the Detroit Tigers, filled with warmth and humor, and fascinating anecdotes about his time as the team’s batboy in the early 1970s.  During the 1974 season, Clotworthy witnessed the end of an era, with the release of fan favorite Norm Cash, Kaline’s 3,000th hit, and of course, his final at bat.  That at bat occurred on October 2 against the Baltimore Orioles and was, by all accounts, unceremonious.  Kaline was DH in that game, and was nursing a shoulder injury, and after his second at bat (a lineout to left), removed himself from the game.  Clotworthy’s account of that final game included this recollection:

“Mr. Kaline simply took a seat in the dugout about midway along the bench.  He had his Tiger warmup jacket on over his uniform.  The stadium was eerily quiet, and he was motionless as he stared out over the dugout steps and straight out toward right field where he had roamed for the past 22 seasons.  Bill Fundaro and I respectfully kept our conversation to a quiet minimum.  You could see that Mr. Kaline was taking it all in just one more time before he left the dugout.  I actually felt sad for him.  It was like a loss, an ending, no tomorrow.  After maybe about ten minutes, he came out of what seemed almost like a trance and began to look around to other areas of the stadium.  It was time for him to leave the dugout and go into the tunnel that led to the clubhouse and join his teammates.

Kaline Bat Barrel BrandNow, what happened next is way beyond me.  At least it’s certainly nothing I planned.  How I got the nerve to ask my question right at that moment, I’ll never know, but ask I did.  Maybe it was plain old genius on my part.  Anyway, as Kaline slowly got up from the bench and slowly headed toward the dugout tunnel, I asked, “Mr. Kaline, may I have one of your bats as a keepsake?”

He smiled, looked at me and simply said, “Sure.”

Well, at that point, opportunity certainly had knocked for me.  There were two of his bats still in the bat rack, along with the bats of maybe five or six other players.  I had purposely not put his away, because I had intended to ask him for one of his bats early in the game when it wasn’t such a final, final thing.  There were two bats, so which one do you think I pulled out of the bat rack and kept for myself?  Yep, I took the one he used when he flew out to left field in his second at bat of the game.”

Kaline Bat KnobPresented here is that bat, the cornerstone of the wonderful Dennis Clotworthy Collection of Detroit Tigers memorabilia.  The uncracked bat is in outstanding condition, a 1973-75 Louisville Slugger measuring 34.5″ in length and weighing 31.1 ounces.  The bat exhibits outstanding signs of use, including several ball marks and stitch impressions, along with an impression from a weighted batting donut.

The bat was signed by Kaline, and subsequently inscribed by Kaline with the date “Oct 2, 1974.”  The account of this is also included in Clotworthy’s book.  The bat itself, coupled with Clotworthy’s account of that final game, have resulted in an outstanding grade of GU 10 by John Taube of PSA/DNA.  Included with the bat and LOA is a signed and notarized letter from Clotworthy, along with a copy of his wonderful book.

Al Kaline is one of the most beloved figures in Detroit Tigers history, his 3,000th hit a milestone still fondly remembered by fans (remember, in 1974, 3,000 hits was an even more momentous achievement than it is today; Kaline was only the 12th player in baseball history and the first player in 49 years to reach that plateau).  His 1974 retirement truly was the end of an era, and he continues to be an icon not only in Detroit, but for baseball fans everywhere.

We are thrilled to offer this outstanding document of “Mr. Tiger” and his stellar, Hall of Fame career.  Full LOA from John Taube of PSA/DNA.

Kaline bat longview

T210 Old Mill Casey Stengel

T210 Stengel FrontAlong with the Series 8 card of Shoeless Joe Jackson, the Casey Stengel card is one of the two key rarities of the T210 Old Mill issue.  The first pro card of the future “Old Professor” is depicted here as an outfielder with the Maysville Rivermen of the Blue Grass League.  Stengel would play three minor league seasons with nine different teams prior to launching his legendary major league career with Brooklyn in 1912.

Culled from the issue’s sixth series, the Stengel is an extreme rarity, with approximately 15 examples known.  Due to its extreme rarity and desirability, the card rarely appears at public auction; we can find just three examples to come to auction in as many years.

Graded GOOD 30 by SGC, the card presents far better than many examples from the issue.  Some corner wear and edge chipping are present throughout, with a heavy crease traversing the front of the card from left-to-right, along the bottom third of the card.  Despite the crease being heavy, it is relatively unobtrusive due to its location on the card.  The reverse is clean, but off center.

One of the more widely desirable cards of all the tobacco issues, and certainly one of the more rare, the “rookie” card of Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel, one of the game’s most popular and lovable figures.

Gooooooose!

GooseExpectations were high for the New York Yankees entering the 1979 season.  Coming off two consecutive World Series victories and one of the greatest comebacks the game had ever seen, the Yankees had an All-Star lineup, had added All-Stars Tommy John and Luis Tiant to their pitching staff, and had a strong bullpen anchored by future Hall of Famer Rich Gossage.

The team failed to live up to its expectations.  While John and Tiant were exceptional additions, pitcher Ed Figueroa, coming off a 20-win season, would pitch just 104 innings and win only four games.  The team’s power numbers were off, and an early season fight between Gossage and backup catcher Cliff Johnson would keep Gossage on the disabled list with a tendon injury for three months.  Tragedy struck in early August, when team captain and All-Star catcher Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash.  The team, by that point 14 games back in the standings, never recovered, failing to win 90 games for the first time since 1975.

Goose ADespite the injury, the 27-year-old Gossage managed to pitch 58 innings during the season, posting a 5-3 record with a 2.62 earned run average and 18 saves.  All but three of those saves occurred after July 23, when he returned from the DL; Munson was gone just over a week later.

Goose BPresented here is an outstanding document of Gossage’s tumultuous 1979 season: a game-worn road jersey.  The jersey was obtained by a long-time collector quite some time ago, and despite being in outstanding overall condition, exhibits outstanding signs of wear, including considerable soiling and perspiration staining.  The staining alone is responsible for the MEARS grade of A-8, as they deducted two points from their 10-point grading scale as a direct result.  The jersey is otherwise original, with the proper tags and numbers.  Most notably, however, is the jersey’s left sleeve, which bears the black armband worn in tribute to Munson, the team’s fallen captain.

An outstanding jersey from a Hall of Fame pitcher and Yankees fireman, exhibiting outstanding signs of use, and bearing the black armband memorializing the team’s deceased catcher, as applied to each player’s uniform in August of that season.

The Dennis Clotworthy Collection of Detroit Tigers Memorabilia

Since our last catalog auction, we’ve made a number of references to the Dennis Clotworthy Collection.  With our spring auction right around the corner, it makes sense to provide a more formal introduction to the collection.

Dennis Book

Born in Malta, Dennis Clotworthy came to the United States with his family in 1963.  Settling in Detroit, he naturally became a Tigers fan, and in 1972 realized the dream of every young fan by getting his first job with the Tigers – first as a junior usher, then as a visiting team’s batboy, and in 1974 as the Tigers batboy.  Ultimately remaining employed with the Tigers until 1985, he experienced many milestones with the club, including Al Kaline’s 3,000th hit, the retirement of Kaline, the release of Tigers hero Norm Cash, the phenomenon of Mark Fidrych, and even the team’s World Championship season of 1984.

During the course of his career with the Tigers – and long after it as well – Dennis assembled a world-class collection of Tigers memorabilia (along with some Lions and Red Wings collectibles as well).  Game-used bats and equipment, autographed game balls, programs and tickets, and most notably, memorabilia from Tigers Stadium itself all graced his collection, all of which was displayed in a wonderful memorabilia room in his Detroit area home.

Al Kaline's last bat - used October 2, 1974 in his final at bat (PSA/DNA GU 10)

Al Kaline’s last bat – used October 2, 1974 in his final at bat (PSA/DNA GU 10)

Tiger Stadium right-centerfield outfield marker

Tiger Stadium right-centerfield outfield marker

In 2014, Dennis completed his memoirs and published Al Kaline’s Last Bat Boy – a wonderful collection of memories and anecdotes from his time with the Tigers.  All the ups and downs are there, from his childhood anticipation of getting his first job with the team to his final game at the end of the 1975 season.  Unlike most other first-person accounts of the big leagues, Dennis’ book tells the story from the wide-eyed perspective of a youngster, and because of that the book gives the reader the inside scoop without losing the sense of awe that comes with meeting and working with your childhood heroes.

Tiger Stadium 1999 commemorative outfield wall pad - one of only two made!

Tiger Stadium 1999 commemorative outfield wall pad – one of only two made!

Since sharing his memories with the hobby, Dennis has made the decision to share his collection as well.  We are thrilled to be the auction house that Dennis has chosen to facilitate the sale, and are pleased to present more than 100 lots of his collection in our upcoming auction.  It’s a tremendous find for any Tigers fan, any fan of 1970s baseball, and most importantly, any fan of memorabilia directly from old baseball stadiums.

Tiger Stadium Reserved Seat Row of 4

Tiger Stadium Reserved Seat Row of 4

Tiger Stadium 1948 Architect's Blueprint

Tiger Stadium 1948 Architect’s Blueprint

Tiger Plaza stadium sign

Tiger Plaza stadium sign

Tiger Stadium "Tiger Den" Seats

Tiger Stadium “Tiger Den” Seats

1972/73 game-worn cap collection - one for each AL team!

1972/73 game-worn cap collection – one for each AL team!

Tris Speaker Game-Used Bat: Attributed To Game 7 of the 1920 World Series!

Speaker Bat LongvilewIt took twenty seasons of American League baseball for the Cleveland Indians to capture their first pennant; a 98-56 record was sufficient to lead the second-place White Sox by two games and propel the club to its first World Series, against Wilbert Robinson’s Brooklyn Robins.  The club’s regular season success was marred by the death of shortstop Ray Chapman, beaned in an August 16 game against the Yankees.  After the incident, the club dropped as far back in the standings as 3 1/2 games before rallying to a 25-9 record over the season’s final month.

In his first full season as Indians manager, Tris Speaker had acclimated to Cleveland quite nicely after a nine-year career in Boston.  During his first full season in the Indians’ outfield, Speaker posted a career-high .386 batting average with a league-leading 211 hits and 41 doubles.  In 1920, he bested his career-high batting average by hitting an astounding .388, but it was his leadership that vaulted the ballclub out of its post-Chapman doldrums.  Coupled with the late-September indictment of eight White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series and the path was paved for Cleveland to reach its first-ever World Series.

Playing a best of nine Series, the highly-motivated Cleveland ballclub entered Game 7 ahead, four games to two.  The team had already accomplished two milestones in Game 5, posting the only unassisted triple play in World Series history (executed by Bill Wambsganss) as well as the first grand slam in World Series history (courtesy of Elmer Smith).  The October 12 game featured two eventual Hall of Fame pitchers in Stan Coveleski and Burleigh Grimes pitted against one another at Cleveland’s home park, Dunn Field.  While the game proved to be a pitcher’s duel, the Indians scored one run in each of the 4th, 5th and 7th innings, including a long RBI triple by Tris Speaker in the 5th.

Speaker WSUpon recording the game’s final out (a groundout to short), Cleveland fans and players alike began a frenzied celebration.  Manager Speaker initially raced into the owner’s box, where his mother sat, watching the game.  He kissed his mother and said a few words to fans and reporters nearby.  Meanwhile, 15,000 fans stormed the field, celebrating alongside the players.  Speaker, who required a police escort to bring him back to the field, signed autographs and celebrated long after the game’s conclusion.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 3.13.52 PMDuring the game, a young Ohio boy named Ken Robenstine sat just behind the Cleveland bench, watching his home team clinch the Championship.  Seated near or behind Speaker for the entire game, Robenstine participated in the postgame celebration, during which the Cleveland manager handed the young boy the most treasured of gifts: his baseball bat.

Robenstine kept the bat in his possession for more than 70 years, during which time he became a repairman and collector of vintage garden tractors.  It was in this capacity that he met our consignor, a fellow collector of tractors (and relative of another Hall of Famer, “Sunny Jim” Bottomley).  As the two collectors became friendly, Robenstine eventually told our consignor the story of that memorable game, giving him the bat as a gift.  Our consignor has kept the bat ever since.

Speaker Bat Barrel Brand

The bat is a lovely Louivsille Slugger “250” finish model, manufactured between 1919 and 1922.  It’s a club, measuring 35.75 inches in length and weighing in at 42.2 ounces.  Bats with the 250 finish were considered among the finest offered by Louisville Slugger.The uncracked bat exhibits signs of use including stitch impressions on the left and back barrel as well as cleat impressions on the upper barrel.  This, as well as the oral and written history provided by our consignor, has resulted in a grade of PSA/DNA GU 8.

When the bat was provided to us, there was some checking on the reverse barrel, as well as some overall dryness to the finish, for which we enlisted the services of a professional restorer.  While we consider this restoration to be immaterial, it is our policy to disclose any restoration performed on items we offer.

While it should be noted that there is no scientific way of unequivocally proving the bat was used by Speaker in Game 7 of the 1920 World Series, the oral history from our consignor is, according to PSA, “consistent and is an honest recollection of the events surrounding its acquisition and subsequent possession by the named owners.”  It is important to note that the bat, while certainly exhibiting signs of use and clearly ordered and owned by Speaker, may or may not have actually been used in Game 7.  Speaker may certainly have had multiple bats at the game.

For our own part, we conducted our own research into the consignor’s oral history and discovered remarkable consistencies with recorded facts.  A Kenneth Robenstine was an Ohio resident in 1920 and later attended Kent State University.  His own physical description of his appearance was consistent with yearbook photographs we discovered (i.e. he stated he had a “head shaped like a peanut”), and Robenstine’s passing in 1999 is consistent with the recollection of our consignor.

Tris Speaker was one of the game’s greatest hitters, ranking fifth on the all time list with a .345 lifetime batting average.  His 3,514 lifetime hits also ranks fifth, and his 792 lifetime doubles ranks #1 all time.  Among players of his era, his bats are very difficult to find, and are also quite desirable.  This example carries a tremendous story and outstanding provenance; a newly-discovered example dating back to the Cleveland Indians’ first-ever World Championship and one of the franchise’s most memorable stories.

Grades Are Coming In

Slabs

The first round of grades from our Texas collection is beginning to arrive!

As expected, there are a fair number of 7s and 8s among the 1959, 1961 and 1962 baseball and 1967 hockey sets, with a few higher.

This collection is loaded with fresh cards with fantastic eye appeal.  Stay tuned for more details!

This is what 625 autographed 1952 Topps looks like.

One of the most amazing components of our recent Texas Find was a massive cache of autographed 1952 Topps cards.

Not enough to be a complete set (no Mantle, for instance), the collector clearly acquired many duplicates to be used as trade bait.  The result is this enormous box of cards, each one autographed.

Autos

There are some pretty amazing treats in this box.  We’re reluctant to report on any of them in particular, until they’ve been authenticated, but suffice to say that this one will be in the first batch to go to PSA:

Campos

That is, of course, an autographed Frank Campos “black star” variation – it’s got to be the only one in existence, right?

1962 Topps from the Texas find

After going through the entire 1971 Topps set card-by-card, we were emboldened and decided to dig into another extremely condition-sensitive issue: 1962 Topps.

The “woodgrain” borders of the ’62 set are prone to chipping, much like the black-bordered 1971 Topps cards.  Atrocious centering exacerbates the condition issues with this set, as do 1960s Topps print flaws like snow, fisheyes and roller lines.

In the case of this set, however, the collector appeared to take great care to find the best possible examples for his set (though centering is still an issue throughout).  Much more so than with other sets, he appears to have taken great care not to handle the cards much at all prior to mounting them in the album.  Further, the cards do not exhibit the indentations from the corner mounts that some of the others have.  The result is a truly exceptional group of cards.  Sadly, many of the Hall of Famers suffered from poor centering, and the Mantle was the only card in the group that appeared to have been handled; its edges are clearly worn.  That said, we pulled a significant number of high-grade, well-centered examples from the set that we’ll be sending off for grading.

Here are some examples, presented to you in slideshow format.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We can’t imagine that any of the other vintage sets in this collection will be more fantastic than this one, condition-wise.  As we only pulled the best-centered examples (except the Brock in the above slide show) for grading, and rejected more than half what we pulled due to minor flaws, there’s no question that this is as gorgeous a “fresh” 1962 set as we will ever see.

Next up: 1968 Topps.

Some Black Beauties

1971 ClementeOver the past two days, I’ve been delicately removing 1971 Topps from their photo album.  Yet another stunning discovery from the Texas find, these cards were quite clearly collected in 1971, and carefully stored away in the album shortly thereafter.  The set is complete, each card in remarkably consistent condition.  The ever-present edge chipping is kept to a minimum; the primary post-production wear is related to corner dings that occurred when the cards were mounted in their photo corners, and, in some unfortunate cases, minor indentations in the cardboard resulting from the photo corners themselves.

Centering and rough cuts are another issue entirely, obviously, as Topps’ early quality control was clearly poor.  However, we have managed to pull out a significant number of gorgeous examples, each of which will be headed off to PSA for grading.  Whether they grade high or not, they are simply stunning cards, and absolutely need to be preserved in their current condition.

1971 Aaron1971 WS1971 Walton

 

 

 

 

 

1971 Johnstone1971 Monday1971 Quilici

Some 1967 Hockey from the Texas find

Over the past week or so, we’ve been culling through binders of mostly modern material from the Texas find, pulling out some of the key cards for grading.

Yesterday, we opened a binder that contained what we initially thought was a complete set of 1967 Topps hockey.  Upon further review, we discovered that the last 12 cards in the set (the all-star cards) were missing.  However, the remaining 120 were in stunning condition.

Included in the binder was a clipping from what looked like an old ad from Sports Collectors Digest for this collection, which was billed as a complete set and offered as a mail-order auction with an opening bid of $1,000.  The set was billed as GEM MINT, and judging from the condition of the cards in the binder, we won’t argue.  Though many of the cards exhibit flaws that were not considered flaws at the time (centering issues and print defects), the cards are exceptionally bright and sharp.  In this case, “pack fresh” doesn’t quite describe the cards, as they look as if they were taken right off the printing press.

That cards have survived in this condition for nearly 50 years, and have been part of the same collection since long before third-party grading had caught on, continues to amaze us.  Here are some examples of better-centered keys, along with the Gordie Howe.

All of these cards are headed off to PSA for grading.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.