By Marty Appel
With the two world championship trophies earned by the New York Yankees in the last three years, the nation has been reminded again that for better or worse, love them or hate them, this truly has been America’s Team, the national franchise. With a legacy of Ruth – Gehrig – DiMaggio – Mantle stretching unbroken for nearly half a century, the team has produced arguably the four most famous names in the sport. They wear the most revered uniforms, play in the most hallowed stadium, and, as the inevitable side order, deliver the most coveted souvenirs and priceless memorabilia in all the land.
There are two special pieces of team history which are presumably, forever lost. One is the clubhouse safe, which was removed or destroyed by a wrecking crew in 1973 when the old stadium began its two-year remodeling adventure. The safe bore the painted names of the original 1903 team, the Highlanders, including “Keller,” “Chesbro” and Griffith, their Hall of Famers. Gone.
The other was recently rated one of the five most valuable “missing pieces,” by Josh Evans, founder of Leland’s Auctions, it being the hand-written speech notes of Lou Gehrig (the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech), delivered on Gehrig Appreciation Day in 1939. There are seven handwritten copies of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and none of Gehrig’s farewell address. It might be worth more and than Abe’s.
What follows is a random selection of Yankee memorabilia, in no particular order, which is known to be out there, and which has been spotted at auction houses in recent years. With the Yankees once again hot, so too are items like these, as perhaps they always will be.
1) Gary Cooper’s “Pride of the Yankees” jersey. Would the “luckiest man speech” have become as memorable as it is without the classic 1942 movie? This was the uniform created for Cooper, with his name, not Gehrig’s, stitched on the tail. Many still consider this baseball’s best movie, and Cooper got an Oscar nomination for making everyone cry.
2) 1956 World Series Press Pin. This was the year in which Don Larsen pitched his perfect game, and the year in which the Yankees avenged their ’55 loss to Brooklyn, in what would be the last subway series. The classic top hot design was first created for the Yankees in 1947.
3) 1958 World Series Press Pin. For many veteran players and officials, this was the most satisfying world championship of the Casey Stengel era, with the team coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Milwaukee and avenge the 1957 Series loss. Bob Turley, that year’s Cy Young winner, was the Series star.
4) 1953 World Series ring. This one has a big five in the center, marking five consecutive world championships, a feat unmatched and unapproached to this day. It made Stengel 5-for-5 as a manager; he, like Joe Torre, arrived without high expectations.
5) 1932 “Called Shot” ticket stub. Pointing to the Wrigley Field bleachers before homering may or may not have really happened, but it remains the stuff of legend, and here is a ticket stub from that great moment in Babe Ruth’s career from the ’32 World Series. A recent artist’s portrayal offered by Bill Goff Inc., captures the moment.
6) Team signed ball from 1998. This was a Yankee team that defied all previous championship clubs – because it was universally admired and even loved. No villains, no egos, only an incredible 125-50 in the W-L chart, and great leadership by Joe Torre, who has signed the sweet spot.
7) Full unused ticket from David Wells’s perfect game, May 17, 1998. Someone missed out on Beanie Baby Day – which turned into Wells’s gem. Second perfecto in team history, the other being Larsen’s in the Series. Wells and Larsen went to the same high school. What are the odds?!
8) 1996 World Series trophy. The Yankees won more games than any team in the 1980s, but came away with only one World Series appearance, that in strike-shortened 1981. So, this trophy ended a 15-year Series draught, and an 18-year world championship dry spell.
9) 1978 game used World Series baseball. The ’78 team overcame a commanding lead by Boston to edge the hated Bosox on the Bucky Dent homer, then whip the Royals in the ALCS and the Dodgers in the World Series in what was called the “greatest comeback season ever”.
10) Full ticket from 1951 World Series. This Series marked the team’s third straight world championship, but more importantly, the passing of the baton. It was Joe DiMaggio’s final season and Mickey Mantle’s rookie season.
11) Babe Ruth hand print. Taken by a “character analyst” in Atlanta, it’s daffy, but representative of how any item Ruthian becomes fascinating. When all the votes are counted, the Babe will be the century’s most unforgettable sports figure. Sorry, Michael. Sorry, Muhammad.
12) Derek Jeter’s All-Star uniform from 1998. Phil Rizzuto is considered the greatest shortstop in franchise history, but look out, this kid is just starting! In an era of great hitting and fielding shortstops, someone playing today may be the best ever. Jeter? Well, Rizzuto never dated Mariah Carey.
13) Babe Ruth game worn cap. The cap is flatter than the version worn today, but the classic NY remains unchanged and inspiring. David Wells bought this – and wore it for an inning in a game, making it, a Ruth-Wells game worn cap. Hmmmm. Next time, a Plexiglas case is recommended.
14) 1961 Roger Maris home jersey. Unlike McGwire, everyone rooted against Maris in his bid to break Ruth’s record. Older fans wanted the Babe’s mark to hold, younger fans wanted Mantle to break it. Roger prevailed and his record lasted longer than Ruth’s. No clumps of fallen hair on the shoulders, but this was a jersey that saw history. Did you know that the Yankees haven’t led the league in homers since ’61?
15) Reggie Jackson game-used rookie bat. He was with Kansas City when he used this, but Reggie’s 5 years with the Yankees were enough for him to say “put a Yankee cap on my Hall of Fame plaque.” The brief stay makes it hard to put him in the Ruth-Gehrig-DiMaggio-Mantle link, but when he was up, you never left the room. He became “Mr. October” as a Yankee.
16) Babe Ruth Wheaties Flip Book. Wheaties was once the principal sponsor of sports on the radio, and their promotional efforts included this fun flip book; very low-tech today, but kids loved it during the Depression. Thousands flipped through this, but no one ever learned how to hit a home run from it.
17) DiMaggio Sports Illustrated cover. Before there was the Sports Illustrated we know today, the name was used by a short-lived Dell publication. No fools they, they had the Yankee Clipper on this 1949 cover. The arm band on Joe’s sleeve was from the ’48 season, when Babe Ruth died in August. Joe continues to represent the best of Yankee style in manner and image.
18) Safe at Home Movie Poster. If “Pride of the Yankees” was the best baseball movie, all the others rest in between that and “Safe at Home.” Cashing in on the Mantle-Maris home run race of ’61, this was shot in Ft. Lauderdale Stadium before the new site even opened for its first spring training in ’62.
19) Lou Gehrig’s 1927 home jersey. Gehrig won the MVP in ’27, the “Murderer’s Row” season of perhaps baseball’s greatest team. There was no NY on the front, no numbers on the back, but the pinstripes were unmistakably Yankee during the team’s 5th season in Yankee Stadium.
20) Autographed baseball, 1927. Not only was this club destined for the history books, they did it all with only 25 players – not one roster change all season. Ruth’s 60 homers led the league, Gehrig was next with 47 – and then second baseman Tony Lazzeri was third with only 18.
21) 1938 World Series ticket. This was Gehrig’s final World Series. Note: Yanks won the pennant in 1936-37-38-39, then again in 41-42-43. They lost in ’40 by 2 games. That’s 2 games shy of 8 straight pennants under Joe McCarthy.
22) Stadium seat, old Yankee Stadium. Some things to know about original Yankee Stadium – it was the first triple-decked stadium, and the first to be called a “stadium.”
23) Mantle rookie card. Trading cards did not take on big cash value until long after Mantle retired, but the modern era of collecting began around the time Mantle arrived, and cards continue to be the “entry point” for young fans discovering sports. Mantle’s cards remain the most valuable of this era.
24) Daily News front-page with Berra-Steinbrenner reconciliation. As feuds go, 14 years was enough when George Steinbrenner visited the new Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State University in New Jersey to bury the hatchet, 14 years after firing the beloved Yogi as manager. Counting World Series, All Star Games and Hall of Fame as player, coach and manager, Yogi earned remarkable 39 rings!