Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mantle's changing sig caused contract controversy

The evolution of Mickey Mantle's signature, so well documented in the baseball card/memorabilia hobby, once created a kurfuffle among team owners.

At a press conference on Feb. 27, 1963, at the Yankees' spring training headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Mantle signed his 1963 Yankees contract -- as television cameras rolled -- calling for a salary of $100,000.

With Mantle's permission, the team had engineered the unprecedented publicity stunt to advertise the fact the Yankees were so successful that they could make Mantle the highest-paid player in baseball.

Later, "photostatic" copes of the contract were sent to the print media. 

Immediately, San Francisco Giants president Horace Stoneham questioned the legitimacy of the contract. He contended that the image of Mantle's contract promulgated by the Yankees was not the "real" contact, intimating that the Yankees were not paying Mantle $100,000 for the '63 season.

Stoneham had a vested interest in the matter because he had recently agreed to terms with Willie Mays for the 1963 season at a reported salary of $100,000. Mays, however, had not yet signed his contract in late February so Mantle was in actuality at the top of baseball's salary scale.

The Giants' executive no doubt felt compelled to question the Yankees' deal with Mantle because New York had garnered the publicity that Stoneham was expecting when Mays inked his 1963 contract.

It seemed to be Stoneham's contention that Mantle's "real" contract was at a figure less than 100 Gs. 

Writing in the March 16, 1963, issue of The Sporting News, San Francisco baseball writer Bob Stevens said Stoneham "indicated a slight doubt as to its authenticity by saying out loud, 'Mickey doesn't print his signature; he writes it.'"

Stevens commented, "A closer inspection (of the contract) supported this theory." 

Giants catcher Ed Bailey pointed out that on the contract shown to the media, the date of Mantle's acceptance had not been filled in, nor did the document carry the authorizing signature of  Roy Hamey, the Yankees' general manager.

At the end of the article either Stevens, or possibly a Sporting News' editor, wrote, "A comparison of Mickey's signature on the new contract with that penned in The Sporting News' annual book, 'The Baseball Register,' also strongly indicated that the Yankees had not shown the real McCoy to newsmen."

Accompanying the TSN article was a picture of the Mantle contract on which the paper's editors had superimposed the image of Mantle's signature from the Register

Today's collectors will recognize that the Register signature is consistent with Mantle's style early in his career; on his 1952 Topps card, for example. The signature shown on the body of his 1963 contract is in the style evolved later in his career and generally used for the remainder of his life.

Responding to Stoneham's veiled accusation, Yankees' exec Hamey told The Sporting News, "I've got the contract in my safe. And it's the same one he signed for the TV cameras that day.

"It's as real as the Rock of Gibraltar," Hamey added. "There never was a more legitimate $100,000 contract than the one Mickey signed at the press conference. When one of our ball players is good enough and box office enough to earn a $100,000 contract, we want the whole, wide world to know it's the real McCoy and not a publicity stunt."

Since 1963, the once-controversial contract has made its way into the sports memorabilia hobby. It was publicly sold as early as 2005 in an American Memorabilia auction. In a Grey Flannel Auctions sale on June 5, 2013, it sold for $17,216. 

The auction lot description addressed those 1963 Giants concerns that the contract was undated and did not bear G.M. Hamey's signature. "The procedure in sealing this agreement entails three separate, but identical, contracts - one for the player (signed by a franchise executive), another for the team's files (usually penned by the player only), and yet another (signed by both parties) submitted to the President of the American League, who ultimately sanctions the contract. This is presumably the team's copy as it bears Mantle's signature only."

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