Sandy Koufax's rookie-season Brooklyn Dodgers jersey realizes record-setting $1.8 million at Heritage Auctions

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Sandy Koufax's rookie-season Brooklyn Dodgers jersey realizes record-setting $1.8 million at Heritage Auctions
1955 Sandy Koufax Game Worn Brooklyn Dodgers Rookie Jersey, MEARS A9.5 & Photo Matched.

DALLAS, TX.- A century-old jersey worn by Walter Johnson, the Washington Senators pitcher who was among the first five inducted into baseball’s hall of fame, has one more story to tell: It sold at Heritage Auctions over the weekend for more than $2 million, a new record for the man Babe Ruth called “the best of them all.”

Johnson’s button-down wool pinstripe with a small “W” stitched into each sleeve was among numerous game-worn, game-used items that made history during Heritage’s May 16-18 Spring Sports Catalog Auction, which realized $21,393,221. The right-handed hurler was joined by a veritable Murderer’s Row of fellow Hall of Famers, among them fellow pitcher Sandy Koufax, whose photo-matched rookie-season Brooklyn Dodgers jersey realized a record-setting $1.8 million; Ty Cobb, whose game-used bat from his third and final season as a .400 hitter sold for $630,000; and Hank Aaron, whose fielder’s mitt — likely, the last he ever used — realized $210,000.

This auction marked Heritage’s first time offering one of Aaron’s gloves. Over the weekend, it became the most valuable game-used glove Heritage has ever sold.

“This auction had some incredible game-used material, and we saw some real strength in the performance of the game-worn fielder’s gloves, which is great to see,” says Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “It was inevitable that collectors would eventually turn their attention to gloves as that market continues to mature. Hank Aaron wore the photo-matched fielder’s glove as he was setting multiple records at the plate, but this glove likely represents more on-the-field time than any other game-used offerings from Hammerin’ Hank’s career.”

Johnson spent the entirety of his 21-season career as a Washington Senator, and his name is stitched into the jersey’s collar in red cursive, just below the A.G. Spalding & Bros. label that sat on his shoulders during the 1919-22 seasons. That’s when sportswriter Grantland Rice bestowed upon Johnson the moniker “The Big Train” — and when Johnson was teammates with another right-handed pitcher named Eric “Swat” Erickson, to whom Johnson gifted the jersey upon Erickson’s retirement from the big leagues.

Two known Johnson jerseys have survived from his storied days in D.C., during which The Big Train recorded 3,509 strikeouts (putting him ninth on the all-time list), 417 wins (the most all-time behind only Cy Young’s 511 victories) and 110 shutout wins (still the record). One of those jerseys, from 1927, is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The other was in this auction.

This jersey was previously sold at auction in 2006 for $352,000. But only days before Heritage’s Spring Sports Catalog Auction opened last month, Resolution Photomatching determined that the “one-time king of pitchers” — as Johnson was called in 1933’s Who’s Who in Baseball — wore this very jersey on April 29, 1920. That’s when the Nationals downed the New York Yankees 2-1 in front of 5,000 at the hallowed Polo Grounds — and when Johnson first faced one of the other five men who joined him in the first hall of fame class.

Johnson recorded eight strikeouts that spring afternoon in New York, two coming against a newly minted Yankee right fielder named Babe Ruth, who recorded just a single hit (and RBI) against Johnson. The Big Train, who batted last in the Senators’ lineup, also got a hit that afternoon — a triple. In his 1920 book The Home-Run King, Ruth wrote that Johnson was “the best of them all.”

Incidentally, the other three men inducted into the still-nascent Hall of Fame were Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Cobb, whose Louisville Slugger “drew a crowd of interested bidders with an eye for history,” as Sports Collectors Daily noted. In fact, the auction garnered 3,650 bidders worldwide on its way to near-sellout results.

The list of valuable Baseball Hall of Fame gamers to emerge from this auction was impressive. It included New York Giant Carl Hubbell’s game-worn MVP-season jersey from 1936-39, which sold for $87,000; a photo-matched St. Louis Cardinals jersey dating from Stan Musial’s MVP season of 1943, which realized $180,147; and a game-worn Warren Spahn Milwaukee Braves jersey photo-matched to the ’54 season, which realized $102,000. Mr. October also had a grand day in May when Reggie Jackson’s Oakland A’s uniform photo-matched to his career-high 57-home-run season of 1969 sold for $99,000.

Cobb’s bat wasn’t the sole slice of valuable lumber in this auction: A game-used Louisville Slugger from the earliest days of Hank Greenberg’s career as the Detroit Tiger’s Hebrew Hammer realized $102,000. This one is particularly special: It bears the side-written hallmarks of Hillerich & Bradsby pro player representative Henry Morrow and was among the bats Greenberg used and approved for duplication.

Greenberg’s lumber was joined in the bat rack by some other significant specimens, including Pete Rose’s Hillerich & Bradsby swung during his 1964 season as a Cincinnati Red, which realized $69,000, and a pine-tar-covered Louisville Slugger C271 used by none other than George Brett during the Kanas City Royals’ 1992 season, which sold for $48,000.

Brett’s rookie card was also an auction highlight: One of 11 Gem Mint 10s on PSA’s registry realized $150,000.

However, the cardboard news of note in this auction was led by the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle graded Near Mint+ 7.5 by SGC that sold for $564,000 — a new record for the grade. And a 1952 Topps master set, which included a PSA 6 Mantle, realized $264,000.

And, once more, collectors flocked to the still-sealed material, led by a sealed box of 24 packs of Fleer basketball cards that looks as though it just time-traveled from 1961-62. These cards were hard to find even then, given their limited production and even more limited distribution; indeed, they’re seldom seen in this condition in 2024. Yet a locker room’s worth of Hall of Famers is possible inside — among them, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Jerry West, K.C. Jones and Al Attles — all of which accounts for the $372,000 final price.

And a PSA Mint 9 Chamberlain from that same series for $198,000. That’s a guaranteed hit.

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