A pair of historical, game used professional model baseball bats, both graded by PSA/DNA, sold over the weekend via Heritage Auctions and both fetched amazing prices. The players connected to the bats, Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente, were incredible in their own right which certainly helped propel both bats to even greater heights.
MANTLE’S 1956 ALL-STAR GAMER: $384,000
Batting leadoff was a vintage 1956 Mantle gamer that the Yankee phenom used in that year’s MLB All-Star game, which was played on July 10 at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Though the N.L. team bested the A.L. squad, 7-3, the 24-year-old Yankees center fielder blasted a solo home run in the sixth inning off Milwaukee Braves southpaw Warren Spahn to close the gap to 5-3. It was Mantle’s only hit of the day and that was as close as the Junior Circuit would get. Interestingly, since Mantle was issued two Louisville Slugger S2 model bats for that year’s Mid-Summer Classic – and used both clubs during the game – speculation abounds as to which one actually lifted the round-tripper out of Griffith Stadium.
In 2014, another Mantle gamer (graded PSA/DNA GU 10) issued from the 1956 All-Star Game battle sold at auction for $430,200, which many believed was the home run bat. But upon further inspection, could this bat, which sold for $384,000 on Saturday, actually be the one Mantle used to hit the dinger off Spahn? Of the two bats, the one that was auctioned in 2014 was sporting no tape on its handle when it sold, while this one is covered in game-used tape in a spiral pattern. Archival photos show that the bat that victimized Spahn was indeed taped, so one can’t help but ask the question: Did the bat that sold in 2014 also have tape on its handle that was subsequently removed at some point?
Either way, leading PSA/DNA bat expert John Taube characterizes the game use on the latter, 35-inch, 31.6-ounce piece of ash lumber as “excellent,” and reports that ball marks and stitch impressions can be found on either side of its barrel. For the record, Mantle did indeed bat from both sides of the plate in the ’56 All-Star Game. Cleat marks likewise dot these areas. A repaired handle crack adds further mystery to the case, as Taube reports there was never any mention of Mantle cracking a bat during the MLB All-Star Game’s radio broadcast. In the end, bidders from this weekend wrestled with the same information and went back and forth throughout the evening placing a total of 39 bids before the anonymous winner outdistanced the pack. For the record, the sought-after bat received a grade of PSA/DNA GU 9.5.
CLEMENTE’S 1971 WORLD SERIES BAT: $198,000
The great Roberto Clemente played in two World Series during his 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1960, he helped the Bucs defeat the vaunted New York Yankees in seven games by batting .310 after going 9-for-29 with three runs batted in. But it would be 11 years later when the aging, 37-year-old Clemente’s star shined brightest in the postseason. This time around, squaring off against the 101-win Baltimore Orioles in the ’71 World Series, Clemente batted .414, collecting 12 hits in 29 at-bats including a pair of home runs. For his stellar play, which included some defensive wizardry in right field, he was named the WS MVP.
From the latter World Series comes this majestic piece of lumber that Clemente used against the Orioles. The Clemente signature model Hillerich & Bradsby U1 edition, which has been graded PSA/DNA GU 10, is a standard format, 36-inch, 36.6-ounce ash bat and not one specially issued for World Series play, which makes perfect sense since most players stuck to their time-tested models when competing in the postseason. His legacy was cemented by his heroics in the ’71 World Series as Pittsburgh’s No. 21 would be lost forever just 14 months later. On December 31, 1972, he died in a plane crash while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was just 38 years old when this humanitarian effort took his life.
The outstanding game use on this bat suggests that it served its owner well, bearing numerous ball marks, light scoring on the barrel, light pine tar on the uncracked handle and green rack streaks. A black marker number “21” and red slash appear on the bat’s knob. On Saturday evening, a total of 49 bids were placed against it before the final winning bid was generated. Including the buyer’s premium, the final realized price was $198,000 – an impressive figure for an extraordinary player and a remarkable human being.