Update: The Ted Williams cleats sold for $70,745. Hooray!
What you see: The cleats Ted Williams wore during his final at bat of his Major League Baseball (MLB) career on September 28, 1960, at Fenway Park. SCP Auctions estimates them at $50,000-plus.
The expert: Mike Keys, chief operating officer of SCP Auctions.
Who was Ted Williams? He was a Red Sox great and one of the best hitters in MLB history. He played 19 seasons with the Red Sox, primarily in left field. He had a tremendous career and was a Hall of Fame player.
Lots of baseball players enter their final career at bat without knowing it. How well-telegraphed was this event? Had Ted Williams announced he would retire at the end of the 1960 season? He had announced his retirement on three different occasions–in 1951, again in 1954, and in 1960. He had had injuries in the early 1950s, but 1960, that was it. People knew it would be his last at bat. He came up in the eighth inning. It was not likely he’d get another at bat, and it was his last game.
So it’s September 1960. No internet, no smart phones. Is Fenway Park full? In 1960, the Red Sox were not the best team. There were 10,454 fans in the stands.
Was that its capacity? I don’t believe so. [Keys is correct. Baseball Almanac says Fenway’s capacity was 33,368 at the time.]
What happened during Ted Williams’s final at bat? How did it go? The first pitch, he took for a ball. A lot of sluggers watched the first pitch anyway then. The second pitch was a high fastball. Ted Williams swung really hard at it. There was no doubt he was swinging for the fences. The third pitch he hit for a 440-foot home run.
That is a long home run, like you only see in the Home Run Derby contest in the All-Star Break. Or Mike Trout. But yeah, he nailed it.
So the crowd goes nuts. Then what happens? He runs the bases very humbly, very business-like, with his head down. He shook the catcher’s hand and got into the dugout quickly.
How do we know these are Ted Williams game-worn cleats, and how do we know he wore them during his last major league at bat? It ties in to Jim Carroll. He and Ted Williams were friends going back to at least five years prior to the home run. Carroll would cruise around town in Ted’s Cadillac and shepherd him around. After the game, Carroll was there to take Williams to the airport. The provenance is Jim Carroll. [Carroll wrote a letter of authenticity for the cleats in 2007 that reads in part: “After the game, Ted started to take off his cleats and uniform to take a shower. Ted cantankerously threw his cleats in a barrel nearby. I sheepishly went to grab them and figured what a great collectible these would make. The equipment manager Jonny Orlando for the Red Sox turned and said “Hey, what are you doing”, Ted then turned around and stated, “No, that’s okay, let the Bush (my nickname to Ted) have ’em.”] They were originally sold in 2007, in a joint auction with SCP and Sotheby’s, and Carroll wrote the letter at that time. Other attributes of the cleats check out–the Spot Bilt tagging, the number 9 inside the tongue.
What did the Ted Williams cleats sell for in 2007, when SCP and Sotheby’s joined forces on that auction? $51,000.
I’ve seen any number of game-worn baseball jerseys that predate 1970, and a few pairs of pants. This is the first pair of cleats I can remember. How rare are vintage game-worn baseball cleats, generally? They don’t come around that often. In 2019, a pair of Babe Ruth cleats sold for $72,000, and had provenance from the Ruth family. Other than that, none have come up for sale. There are more jerseys out there than cleats. Unless they’re from a player like Ruth or Williams, or from a significant game, you don’t see cleats pop up. And game-worn jerseys are easier to authenticate. There aren’t too many cleats authenticators out there. That’s not really a thing that’s done.
Let’s talk about the condition of the Ted Williams cleats and how condition works when we’re talking about game-worn clothing. How do you assess a piece for which you want to see some wear, but not so much that it looks like it’s been dragged behind a bus? You do want a lot of wear on some game-worn items. You don’t want them to look like they were run through a wringer. You want dirt and creasing and evidence he was running around in them. With these ones, in particular, you can see dust and dirt speckling off, still. You can assume it comes from Fenway. It’s still there. They’re well-made leather cleats. They’re by Spot Bilt, a manufacturer of cleats back then. The tagging inside is vintage, everything about the cleats is vintage.
Did I hear you say the Ted Williams cleats have Fenway dirt in them? There’s some dirt in the nooks and crannies of the seams. Not big chunks–dust. We can assume it’s from Fenway.
What are the Ted Williams cleats like in person? What eludes the camera? They’re just special in person. You can see the little grains of dirt and dust, and looking at the cleats part is interesting. They have six spikes coming out of the soles, and they look welded on. It’s really cool to have them in front of me on my desk. You can feel the difference. There’s an aura about these items when they come around.
What is your favorite detail of the Ted Williams cleats? I love the spikes. You can also see the stitching at the bottom of the shoe. These things were just made differently.
What size are the Ted Williams cleats? Size 9 to 9 1/2. That’s Ted’s size.
That’s convenient, seeing as that was also Ted Williams’s number. [Laughs]
Have you tried them on? They don’t fit my feet, but we wouldn’t put them on, the same way we wouldn’t swing a Babe Ruth game-used bat. We’ve put on jerseys before, but we haven’t tried on the cleats.
Well, they’re leather. That’s an organic material. Who knows when and whether they’ll crack? And they’re an old artifact. Since 2007, they have had shoe horns inside that have kept their shape.
So when you were figuring out a presale estimate for the Ted Williams cleats, you looked to the results from when they sold in 2007? It’s based on itself because there’s really no comparables out there. They’re one of a kind. There are no other Ted Williams last home run cleats out there. $51,000 was a big price at the time, and it has already reached that price.
Whoa, you’re right. We’re speaking on March 19, 2021, I’ve just refreshed the lot page, and they’re at $53,594. With the premium, they’re over $63,000.
How meaningful is that–it’s more than two weeks before the auction ends, and they’ve already exceeded the price they fetched the last time they were auctioned? We’re excited about it, of course, and we hope it keeps going, but it’s really a crapshoot. Sometimes, at auction, you see something reach a number and sit there and never move from that bid. Sometimes things go absolutely crazy toward the last day. But we’re glad the cleats are where they are now.
What’s the world auction record for a pair of game-worn baseball cleats? It’s a pair that Michael Jordan wore while playing in minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons. They sold for $93,000 in May 2020. To my knowledge, his are the highest priced game worn baseball cleats. Michael Jordan kind of owns the shoe world.
Do you think these Ted Williams cleats could set a new record? If they beat $93,000, we’ll be ecstatic. They’re already halfway there. They could certainly get there.
Why will these Ted Williams cleats stick in your memory? Because I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. They probably won’t come up for sale again [in my career]. I hope whoever wins really cherishes them and takes good care of them.
Images are courtesy of SCP Auctions.
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