by Martin Jacobs
Back in the 1960s I was an avid Willie Mays fan. After I had watched my beloved Giants bumble from fiasco to disaster in the 1962 World Series, after Bobby Richardson snapped Willie McCovey’s line drive for a 1-0 game seven win ended the Giants’ hopes of bringing a title to San Francisco, I was very frustrated.
So at age 19, I was hired as a Giants concessionaire —while never missing a single play selling food and novelties at Candlestick Park, hustling everything from peanuts, popcorn, hot dogs, coffee and souvenirs. I also started accumulating a massive collection of Giant’s game-used uniforms which included the great Mays, and Marichal, McCovey, Cepeda, Davenport, Haller, Hiller, Pierce, Sanford, O’Dell, Larson, Perry, Miller, Pagan—28 in all.
Mays’ 1962 home jersey alone, which I got from a Giants trainer for $1,000, has a value today worth more than my entire collection. By today’s standards, that’s about $40,000 under market value for an authentic game-used Mays jersey.
While working at the ballpark, I came up with which I thought was a creative idea about producing a big blow-up poster of Mays, and hopefully selling it at the games. After the 1968 season, I scheduled a meeting with the popular outfielder at his home in St. Francis Woods, in the city.
Willie was very accommodating and liked my poster idea. So we signed a two-year contract that allowed me—d/b/a All Star Posters— to publish a large poster to be printed on glossy poster stock. We agreed on a price and I advanced Mays $13,000 plus a 6% royalty from each poster sold. And for an additional 5% Willie would act as an agent for me and sign other players to poster contracts. Willie even gave me another one of his jerseys (from 1964) from his closet, and a dozen autographed balls.
In March of 1969, I spent a week with Mays at his condo in Scottsdale, and I got firsthand experience of what it was like to hang out with a living legend. We ate together, watched movies, drove around in his Cadillac convertible, and I watched Willie in his spring drills. I had a ball!
I also did a photo shoot of Willie and I captured the future Hall of Famer in one of his signature poses for the poster. After a few months, I was in business.
Sales of the Mays poster started out with a bang, as the Giants souvenirs supplier, Stevens Enterprise, ordered 3,000 of them.
It was just the beginning.
Local department stores like Macy’s, Emporium, and local sporting goods stores placed orders, and within a few months I had enough orders to buy myself a brand new car. Soon after, Juan Marichal was added to the line, as well as Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron.
Then I got a call from the Giants telling me they wanted to use the poster as a premium giveaway at Candlestick. And they were talking in the 50,000 range. I had visions suddenly of becoming instantly wealthy.
Just six months after Mays signing the non-exclusive contract with me, I get a phone call from Giants team President, Chub Feeney. He asked me to bring my Mays contract down to his office ASP.
I immediately drove down to the ‘Stick and met with Feeney and a representative from Poster Prints, a Philadelphia business I had never heard of. I was told Poster Prints also had a Mays poster in its line of 57 stars.
Suddenly, I had competition.
The long and short of it was Mays had a contract with the MLB Players Association, which in turn had the rights to use Mays’ likeness in advertising and promotions, or merchandising campaigns to benefit its players association. Still, my contract with Willie was a valid one, signed just three weeks before Poster Prints had done with the MLPA.
After about 6 months, Players’ Association president Marvin Miller offered me $7,500 to have me step aside and avoid a legal battle. I took his offer and I sold out my Mays and Marichal inventory to Poster Prints for about $15,000. After expenses, I think I netted about $10,000, but it got me off the ground to a successful career with Sports Locker Room, a mail order company and Bay Area retail shops called Sports Stop selling pro sports souvenirs all through the 1970s and 80s.
The joint venture with Willie was a learning experience. One lesson I learned about dealing with super-stars such as Mays, is that they are owned by others, and most likely have agents who generally handle their business.
I was young back then, and now I’m 68, with a ton of knowledge and wisdom. Today I still have the jersey Willie gave me when we signed the poster deal. It’s one of my most valued collectibles.
There is some irony of producing the first Willie Mays poster. Recently I searched eBay for my Mays poster just to see what it was worth. Surprisingly, one came up. It had sold for $350! Considering the poster cost me a dime each to print back in ’69, it may have been quite a profit for the seller.
Martin Jacobs, a San Francisco resident has been an advanced collector of San Francisco Giants memorabilia for 56 years. He has established himself in the hobby as a respected market authority in virtually all major areas of the advanced sector.