Denny McLain’s earned run average in 1968 was 1.96. It might have been just a little lower if he hadn’t voluntarily surrendered a late-season home run to Mickey Mantle. The story behind the gesture to an aging slugger by baseball’s last 30-game winner is playing out in an auction that could result in a record price for a Mickey Mantle jersey.
The road grey flannel jersey that’s being offered by Heritage Auctions was identified by Mantle himself as the jersey he wore on September 19,1968, when he became the beneficiary of McLain’s desire to give the veteran switch-hitter a proper sendoff in Detroit.
McLain was putting the finishing touches on one of the finest seasons ever authored by a Major League pitcher, a year in which he would post a gaudy 31-6 record – still the most recent season in which a pitcher has won 30 or more games. The Tigers had a comfortable lead against the New York Yankees when Mantle headed toward the plate.
With Detroit several runs ahead, and knowing that the plate appearance would be Mantle’s last in Detroit, McLain acknowledged the Yankee legend. He approached catcher Jim Price – within earshot of Mantle, who was standing near home plate – and said he wanted Mantle to hit a home run. Price agreed. Not only would it give a small Tiger Stadium crowd something to remember, it would also break a tie between Mantle and Jimmie Foxx for third on the all-time home run list.
Years later, Mantle told the story in the video below (but erroneously referred to the catcher as Bill Freehan).
Mantle apparently hung onto the jersey he had worn that year, eventually gifting it 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 the jersey, which he inscribed to Catal on the upper chest, “To Tom, A Great Friend Always, ‘The Mick.'”
Mantle hit one more home run a little over a week later for a career total of 536. He reported to spring training with the Yankees in 1969 but announced his retirement before the start of the regular season.
“Beginnings and endings have always carried special intrigue in the collecting community, and this is a particularly nostalgic relic for the millions of Baby Boomers who consider Mickey Mantle a childhood hero,” Heritage Sports Auctions Director Chris Ivy said. “The McLain ‘gift’ so perfectly illustrates the enormous respect and adoration that ‘The Mick’ enjoyed at the end of his career. It’s also entirely possible that this was the jersey he wore as the fans at Fenway Park sent him into retirement with a standing ovation Sept. 28, 1968, a week after that historic Detroit home run.”
Including the buyer’s premium, bidding on the 1968 jersey was at $384,000 as of late Monday afternoon with an expectation the final price could reach nearly twice that before bidding closes this weekend. In 2015, Heritage sold a 1954 Mantle jersey for $406,000. A jersey from his Triple Crown season of 1956 sold for $430,200 in 2014.