Before Bryce. Before Junior and Doc. Before Robin. Before Tony C. Before Mantle. Before Rapid Robert…
There was Melvin.
No, the teen big leaguer is not a new concept and Mel Ott was among the first youthful phenoms of the post-World War I era. An early photo of the Hall of Fame slugger in a New York Giants uniform is on the auction block, one that pre-dates his official rookie cards by several years. It’s one of more than 1,200 images in the newly-launched Mega Collectors online sale at RMY Auctions.
The 8×10 photo from World Wide News shows the 18-year-old Louisiana native posing for a photographer two days after playing in an exhibition game prior to the start of the 1927 season.
Signed by John McGraw as a high school/semipro player in January of 1926, the small but powerfully built Ott was a pet project of the famed Giants manager, his coaches and veteran players. Never playing in the minor leagues because McGraw wanted to be sure they wouldn’t ruin him, Ott had a quiet 60 at bats in 1926. He was still so unknown in the spring of 1927 that the original caption, still attached to the back of the photo, seems to indicate Ott’s exhibition appearance was his first in a pro uniform.
While the powerhouse Yankees of 1927 hogged the baseball headlines, Ott’s development continued. He hit the first of his 511 home runs that season, then blossomed into a major star in ’28 after teammate Ross Young’s death from kidney disease opened up a spot in the lineup.
New York photographers were still taking his photo 22 years later, at the end of a Hall of Fame career. When he retired, Ott had over 200 more than any other National Leaguer and his career total was exceeded only by Ruth and Jimmie Foxx. Ott hit 348 of his home runs in New York, more than any player in history including Babe Ruth.
He was not only small in stature but also in name, something he joked about later in life.
“Every time I sign a ball, and there have been thousands, I thank my luck that I wasn’t born (Stan) Coveleski or (Bill) Wambsgnass or (Roger) Peckinpaugh,” he said.
Auction bidding continues through May 11 at RMYAuctions.com.