Denny McLain offers up "The Gift" to a departing legend
1968 Mickey Mantle Game Worn New York Yankees Jersey Attributed
to 535th Home Run, MEARS A10.
It was an enormously significant season for the two combatants, but for decidedly different reasons. At the plate was the iconic Mickey Mantle, the leading figure of the most glorious age in New York Yankees history, but now struggling to pay the tab on a lifetime of injury and excess to an unforgiving Father Time. On the mound was a young superstar named Denny McLain, the Detroit Tigers ace wrapping up one of the greatest pitching seasons in baseball history, a campaign which remains the last thirty-win season ever recorded.
It was the top of the eighth inning at Tiger Stadium on September 19, 1968, the last of a three-game series with the Yankees that would be the final contest of the season between the two clubs. The Tigers had clinched the American League pennant in the first of those three games, and McLain had recorded his thirtieth victory in his previous start five days earlier. With one out in the frame and nobody on, Mickey Mantle stepped to the plate for what would almost certainly be his final at-bat in Detroit. Staked to a five-run lead, late in a meaningless contest, McLain decided to honor the departing slugger with a pitch forever after known as "The Gift."
Mantle overheard the discussion between McLain and Tigers catcher Jim Price as he dug in, but wasn't sure if it was a ruse or not until the first delivery came straight over the center of the plate, belt high, fat as a basketball. The Mick took the pitch, and then a confused look from McLain. Now certain that the fix was indeed in, Mantle swung at the second rail-straight offering but didn't quite square it up, fouling it back into the stands. But the third time was the charm, and Mantle blasted the zero-and-two delivery high into the upper deck to break his standing tie with Jimmie Foxx for home run number 535, the penultimate round-tripper of his storied career. Mantle spoke glowingly of the occasion in the video viewable at our online lot page, recalling how McLain gave him a wink as he rounded third base near the end of his home run trot.
The presented road grey flannel gamer was identified by Mantle himself as the jersey he wore as he became the beneficiary of that touching display of sportsmanship and respect. He gifted the jersey to his close friend Tom Catal, a name that should be familiar to any serious Mantle collector as the source of some of the most significant Mantle relics to enter the hobby, and the former president of the Mickey Mantle Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Catal's lengthy handwritten letter of provenance recounts their friendship, and Mantle's representation of this garment, which he inscribed to Catal on the upper chest, "To Tom, A Great Friend Always, 'The Mick.'"
The jersey's understated design has been a team staple for nearly a century, with a navy felt block-lettered "New York" on chest and the immortal number "7" on reverse. Interior collar holds embroidered "Mantle" swatch, while lower left front tail holds twin "Wilson" brand labeling reporting size "42" and "1968 Set 2" respectively.
The jersey exhibits moderate game wear and presents in 100% original and unaltered condition, garnering the highest possible rating from the experts at MEARS. It should be noted that, due to the simplistic design of Yankee roadsters, MEARS has been unable to definitively link the jersey to that final game in Detroit, but they also stress that they have found nothing to exclude it either. The attribution is based entirely upon Mantle's own recollection, as reported to Catal.
We have every reason to believe Mantle's tale, though clearly the garment is extraordinarily significant simply as a closing bookend to one of the most important careers in American sports. For millions of Baby Boomers, the retirement of Mickey Mantle signaled the end of childhood. Ownership of this jersey could go a long way toward bringing it back. LOA from MEARS, A10. LOA from Heritage Auctions. Full LOA from PSA/DNA (autograph). Full LOA from James Spence Authentication. Letter of provenance from Tom Catal.
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