A newly uncovered sheet of autographs from an obscure series between Negro League players and their National League counterparts in 1932 has revealed one of the rarest signatures of any Baseball Hall of Famer.
Now, that pencil scribble of a Negro Leagues great is headed to the open market.
Heritage Auctions says it will offer the page that includes Smokey Joe Williams and other stars of the day in its upcoming Fall Auction. The Williams signature is one of only two known to currently exist, according to Kevin Keating, a long-time collector and a lead authenticator for PSA/DNA. Now authenticated and slabbed, it’s expected to sell for $60,000 or more.
The story behind it is an interesting one.
Part of a group of autographs from an estate collection that made its way to Heritage, the lot contains signatures of big league players and Negro Leaguers on two separate sheets. Attempts at unraveling their origin led to some detective work by the auction house. All appeared to be signed at the same time, using the same writing tool, yet there appeared to be no connection between the players on both sheets.
The album page measures 8.5 inches by 5 3/4″ inches and also includes Judy Johnson, Jimmy Crutchfield and others.
Eventually, online research led to local newspaper coverage of a seven-game series between the Negro League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords and a squad of National League All-Stars including Hack Wilson. Apparently a Depression-era fundraiser in the Altoona, PA area, the autographs were apparently gathered by a fan at the game. Despite his age—46 at the time—Williams pitched for the Crawfords. While he was roughed up for 19 hits in the late September start, Williams had been a legendary pitcher during his prime, considered by some historians to be better than Satchel Paige.
Born in 1886, Williams entered the professional game in 1907 and toiled for several top teams including Chicago American Giants and Homestead Grays. In various barnstorming games, he had squared off against Walter Johnson and other white pitchers, tossing a no-hitter against John McGraw’s New York Giants during a 1919 exhibition game. Along with other Negro Leagues greats, Williams’ career was finally rewarded in 1999 when he was elected to the Hall of Fame. He died in 1951 at age 64.
The lot also includes the page with the signatures of Wilson and a few of the other National Leaguers.
Bidding will open November 19.