“Home Run Derby” kicked off with a battle of the titans.
Filmed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles in December of 1959, the TV show paired sluggers against each other in competition for cold hard cash just before Christmas and the first episode, which aired several months later, pitted Mickey Mantle against Willie Mays.
A newly discovered studio photograph taken during the production of the show is the RMY Auctions Photo of the Day. Offered for the first time, it’s one of several hundred vintage photos in the company’s June Collectors Auction.
A silver gelatin original, the photo was in the archives of United Artists, which owned the rights to the show after buying Ziv Television, which had produced it. A small code on the lower left front reads “HRD1-20” identifying it as the 20th photo taken during episode 1.
The photo shows Mantle and Mays posing with host Mark Scott, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1960 at age 45. One of the driving forces of the show, Scott’s death was one reason the show didn’t return to production the following year.
Twenty-six episodes of Home Run Derby were filmed, with players squaring off against each other to see who could sent the most baseballs over the fence. Winners received a check on camera for $2,000 with the loser getting $1,000. Other bonuses were paid as well.
Nineteen players competed in the Derby including nine who would go on to the Hall of Fame. Mantle appeared in five episodes, winning in four of them and smacking 44 homers. Mays lost the initial contest to Mantle, but finished 3-2 and hit 35 homers. Hank Aaron was the most successful contestant, finishing with a 6-1 record and earning $13,500.
The show later aired in syndication during the 1980s, creating a new generation of fans. It even spawned a baseball card set that was handed out at auto dealerships.
The auction continues through Saturday at RMYAuctions.com.