Description1960-61 Yogi Berra Game Worn Catcher's Mitt. When the young Berra returned from combat in World War II, where he had served on a rocket boat that capsized off Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the Yankees quickly snapped up the stocky young backstop. Though he served as admirably in his early years in pinstripes as he had in the uniform of the United States military, his predecessor behind the plate remained unconvinced. "Right now, Berra does about everything wrong," Hall of Famer Bill Dickey explained, "but Casey Stengel warned me about that. The main thing is he has speed and agility behind the plate and a strong enough arm. He just needs to be taught to throw properly. I know he can hit. I'd say Berra has the makings of a good catcher. I won't say great, but certainly a good one."
Clearly hindsight is twenty-twenty, and Dickey happily ate those words long before the three-time American League M.V.P. headed to the plate with this mitt on his left hand. An integral part of the machinery that brought an incredible ten World Championships to the Bronx, Yogi excelled both behind and beside the plate, and though his catching duties had largely been turned over to the great Elston Howard as of the time he used this mitt, the strong use suggests that this was Berra's one and only gamer in the seventy-eight games for which he called the pitches during 1960 and 1961.
The "Spalding 1457 personal model EZ-Flex" mitt has been confirmed by noted glove expert Joe Phillips as proper both for the era and for Yogi specifically. Phillips notes that it was manufactured in 1960 and exhibits "considerable use," and that the lack of personal markings (Berra's name or number) is not surprising given the fact that Berra was the only Yankee catcher using "Spalding" brand leather (and his name was already stamped on the glove by the factory). In all major attributable regards, Phillips has found this glove to be characteristic of those used by Berra during the period.
The provenance is equally convincing, with the mitt deriving from the same source that brought us the 1961 Mickey Mantle World Series game worn cap sold in our May 2005 Signature auction. Both pieces derive from the estate of Randy Nicklas, the sole charter pilot for the New York Yankees and New York Football Giants from 1958 to 1968. A notarized letter from the pilot's son details the close relationship his father had with the top athletes of the day, how he sat in the dugout or on the bench when he attended games, and how as a child the son was taught to pitch by Whitey Ford and Ryne Duren. The final two paragraphs of the letter read, "Yogi Berra gave my dad his glove following the final '61 World Series game as a token of his gratitude for always delivering the team safely to their destination. This glove sat on our mantle for over 20 years and my father passed this to me as a symbol of his hard work and good fortune. I hope that the person who acquires this glove has the same good fortune. Please consider this letter as testament that the Spalding 1457 catchers mitt it accompanies is genuine, and was used by Yogi Berra during the 1961 season."
Also included in the lot are photocopies of two 1958 letters sent to the pilot Nicklas by United Airlines complimenting him on his service to the New York Yankees and Football Giants. LOA from Dave Bushing.
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