What you see: A game-worn Mickey Mantle Yankees baseball cap, circa 1968, size 7 3/4, inscribed by Mantle to his teammate, Tom Tresh. It also comes with a letter of provenance from Tresh, who died in 2008. Hunt Auctions estimates the cap at $50,000 to $100,000.
The expert: Dave Hunt of Hunt Auctions.
How rare is it to see any authentic game-worn garments from Mickey Mantle at auction, hats or otherwise? Game-used, game-worn, there’s different terminology used in our industry. Jerseys and uniforms come first, and that’s understandable, because [prior to the 1970s or so] there were a few sets issued per year [players got a home uniform and a road uniform each season], and few are in private hands. Then there’s hats and bats and the like. Hats are rare specifically because [provenance] is so hard. If you take a magic marker and write ‘7’ inside the hat, it could be attributed to Mantle. Here, the provenance is buttoned up. It’s so special. I’ve had two or three Mantle hats of any type over the last 26 years, and this is clearly the best one I’ve offered.
What makes this Mantle cap the best one you’ve offered? In today’s [Major League Baseball] world, everything is formally witnessed. It’s just different from the 1960s. You’ve got to get as close to the primary source as you can. To the degree that you can, this cap has every attribute that can be corroborated. You have “Mick 7” written underneath the bill with the inscription, “To Tom My Best Wishes, Your Friend Mickey Mantle.” You have a letter of provenance from Tom Tresh, his teammate.
Is it rare to have an inscribed game-worn hat from any well-known baseball player? I would say it’s unusual. You do see them.
How hard is it to document a period game-worn baseball cap? Fewer hats are documentable to the degree that meets [accepted third-party graders’] guidelines. We’ve had plenty of hats that could well be significant, but don’t have the documentation to prove it. We have one in the auction, a game-worn Brooklyn Dodgers hat with insertion plates [which were needed] because teams were beaning Jackie Robinson. A Brooklyn Dodgers employee gave it to his neighbor–we locked that up [that aspect of the provenance]. But there’s no 42 in it, and the size is off from Jackie Robinson’s hat size. [The lot notes state that the cap is 6 3/4, while Robinson’s documented hat size is 7.] It’s a beautiful hat, a rare hat with insertion plates. It may sell for $3,000 to $4,000, but if it had a 42 in it, it could be a quarter million plus. We clearly point out the inconsistencies that say that its not [not necessarily worn by Robinson]. That’s how to represent it.
How generous was Mantle with his game-worn hats? Did he give them away often? I don’t know. You do see, with a player of Mantle’s caliber, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays–they were the most popular people in the world. People sought them out and had access to the players and the field that we don’t have today. You could wait by their cars. Hats weren’t worth a lot then. It was a different world.
And Mantle gave this hat to Tresh because they were teammates? As far as we can tell. They clearly were teammates, they played during the same era, and they had a lot of chances to interact. What’s nice is there’s a personal letter from Tom [explaining how and when Mantle gave him the hat].
How do you know the hat dates to circa 1968? Yankee hats still are so stylistically similar to what they wear [now] that you go by tagging [period tags sewn inside the hat]. We had the advantage here of Tresh himself noting in the letter of provenance when he recalled getting it. The 1968 date is consistent with the tagging, model, and style. With the Tresh attribution, we feel comfortable in saying it’s circa 1968.
Game-worn clothes present a weird situation to collectors: you want them to show some wear, but not too much. What condition is the Mantle cap in? It’s very fine. It’s excellent. It’s not abused in any way, shape, or form. It does have cracking to the bill, which is normal. It has perspiration wear, but not abusively so. The top of the hat is navy blue in color, but muted. Why? Because of the sun. It’s a nice mix of honest use and the wear you want to see, but not with the condition issues that might hold the value down.
How did you arrive at the estimate of $50,000 to $100,000? It was actually a bit difficult. Mantle game-worn jerseys bring from a quarter of a million to $750,000. There are so few hats at this level that this hat–it’s tough. You could argue it’s $20,000 to $30,000. You could argue it’s $100,000 to $150,000. If it was a jersey, it would be one of the better jerseys.
Have you tried on the hat? No. Nope. (Laughs.) People have asked me that before with jerseys and hats, and I can honestly say in 26 years I don’t think I ever wore one. Not once.
How have you avoided the temptation? I don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with wearing them, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s baseball superstition. Maybe it’s reverence. Maybe it’s coincidence. But I don’t know.
As of July 6, 2018, bids on the Mantle cap have passed $15,000, with the close of the auction more than a week away. Does that mean anything? It really doesn’t. You can go through the auction and see things that are three times higher than the estimate already. It could sell for past that, or not any further. I wouldn’t say it’s completely irrelevant. It can be. But it’s by no means indicative of how it will end up.
Why will this Mantle cap stick in your memory? I’m a fan of the pieces of professional model equipment that have incredible provenance. When you have something so well-sourced, it not only does better at auction, you can go to the client and stand behind it and say this is the one to go for. On this piece, it’s the combination–it’s not just the “Mick 7,” or the inscription, or the size and the style being consistent with other Mantle hats, or the letter–it’s all of those things. It has all those boxes checked to make it one of the better pieces.
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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Hunt Auctions.
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