Frigid temperatures, blizzards, high winds, gray skies … yup, it’s January.
The new year has brought with it new hopes, new dreams, and more than 320 unique items that Pristine Auction is glad to offer in this month’s Elite Auction.
We’re naturally excited about all of the items we have to offer collectors, but a few pieces always catch our attention and makes us exclaim, “WOW! Look at that beauty!” One of those auction items this month is an American League baseball boasting high-grade signatures from the New York Yankees’ “M&M Boys” — Mickey Mantle (D. 1995) and Roger Maris (D. 1985). The Rawlings OAL sphere (Lee MacPhail President) is hand-signed in blue ink — Mantle on the sweet spot and Maris on a side panel — to create a highly desirable and rare dual-autographed baseball. It includes an official James Spence Authentication (JSA) hologram and matching LOA for authenticity purposes.
Without a doubt, this is a very nice example with high-grade autographs. The ball shows some typical natural even toning from age, but let’s focus on the historical importance of this sphere. Next to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, there are no two Yankees — no more memorable duo in all of the National Pastime — than Mantle and Maris.
If you love baseball, you already know the story of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. If you don’t … then you’re missing out on one of the greatest adventures of 1961 … and baseball history. Allow us to enlighten you.
It was 56 years ago this season, and one of the M&M Boys were poised to become baseball royalty as the two Yankees made an assault on Babe Ruth’s revered single-season home run record — 60 slammed back in 1927.
It’s a paltry number today, but in 1961 it seemed like an impossible task. First off, the record had held firm for 34 season. Most of all, anyone who toppled it would be replacing the great George Herman “Babe” Ruth — an obscene thought.
If anyone could do it, however, we figured it would be that fair-haired boy from Oklahoma. He was, after all, “The Mick.” In 1956, Mantle had already challenged Ruth’s record for most of the season. By 1961, it seemed inevitable that one Yankee legend would surpass another for the title.
And they were right. It just wasn’t the Yankee they were expecting.
Maris was batting third in the line-up and Mantle clean-up at the start of the ’61 campaign. With pitchers reluctant to pitch around him, Maris started to see some pretty good balls. At first, it didn’t matter, and Maris hit only one homer in April, then 11 in May and 15 in June. Mantle, as expected, started off strong, hitting 14 home runs by the end of May and 11 more in June.
And then, the unimaginable happened. Maris passed Mantle on August 15 for the final time that year and led the home run race for the rest of the season. In September, Mantle was unexpectedly hospitalized due to an abscess on his hip and ended the season with “only” 54. Maris made history by hitting a record-setting 61 home runs.
Maris was the new single-season home run king.
Fickle fans cried foul. This wasn’t how the story was meant to end. Maris wasn’t a “true” Yankee, and he only had a handful of great seasons. He had played for Cleveland and Kansas City before receiving the honor to don Yankee pinstripes. Mickey was a Yankee through and through!
All along the way, there were those who believed more than 60 homers in one season was such a lofty goal, it was unreachable. Even Maris himself told a reporter that season, “Nobody will touch (Ruth’s record) … Look up the records and you’ll see that it’s a rare year when anybody hits 50 homers, let alone 60.”
To add insult to injury, the new record was challenged by Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick (who was Ruth’s friend). Frick declared that Maris needed to break the record in 154 games instead of the current schedule of 162 games in order for it to truly be a record. The result: a famed asterisk placed after the Roger’s record … a slap in the face, as if to say “we know who really” still owns the record.”
For his part, Mantle was nothing but supportive of his teammate. They were both Yankees, but more importantly, they were friends. Mickey publicly supported Roger’s bid and ultimate success, but the public wasn’t interested.
True, Maris was named top athlete of the year in 1961, and captured American League MVP honors. Yet he had to deal with the stress of not only replacing Ruth, a beloved National Pastime icon, but besting Mantle in the process. This resulted in more hate mail than he cared to read and reportedly causing some of his hair to fall out.
In a 1980 interview, Maris told a reporter, “They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing.”
Looking back, Yankee fans … and the baseball world … recognize the M&M Boys as one of the greatest offensive pair of teammates in the history of the game, with their combined 115 home runs in a single season one of the very few baseball records that will never be broken.
In 1991, Commissioner Fay Vincent declared that there was only one single-season home run record, and that it was held by Roger Maris.
Roger’s accomplishment of 61 home runs in a season came back to the forefront in 1998, when the record was broken by both Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66). Those records, and a subsequent record-setting 73 homers set in 2001 by Barry Bonds, were viewed as tainted by many baseball fans after the trio were all alleged to have to used performance-enhancing drugs during their respective campaigns.
That leaves Maris as the “true” heir to the Bambino’s home run crown.
Maris wasn’t one of the most outgoing players during his career, and was almost fanatically private after hanging up his cleats. He was a guy who just didn’t sign much. He never had the chance to capitalize on the sports memorabilia boom that began in the late 1980s. Two years after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Maris died at the fairly young age of 51 in 1985.
In June 1995, the Mick (who always thought he’d die young) underwent a liver transplant to replace the organ that was severely damaged by alcohol-induced cirrhosis, as well as hepatitis C. Prior to the operation, doctors also discovered he had inoperable liver cancer. In July, he had recovered enough to deliver a press conference and noted that many fans had looked to him as a role model. “This is a role model: Don’t be like me,” a frail Mantle said. He also established the Mickey Mantle Foundation to raise awareness for organ donations. Soon, he was back in the hospital, where it was found that his cancer had spread. Mantle died the next month at age 63.
Mantle tried to tell people he wasn’t a role model. Ironically, “fans” spent years telling Maris he hadn’t really earned the right to be a role model.
We strongly disagree on both counts.
This Mantle/Maris collectible is just one of more than 320 unique pieces that are available for bid at Pristine’s Elite Auction through Sunday, January 29. Be sure to bid early and often!