Nestled away inside a display case at a Holiday Inn located in tiny Baxter Springs, Kan., approx. population 4,500) for nearly 40 years and until the late 1990s was a virtual treasure trove of New York Yankees baseball gloves used by Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. Some might estimate their worth today at a half-million dollars, if the price Billy Crystal paid for a Mantle glove ($239,000) is any indication.
In fact, the Mantle glove that once reposed in a showcase in the tiny Kansas town now resides in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and is owned by Dennis Esken. While four or five of the highly popular Mantle gamer gloves have come to light on the memorabilia market, Maris gloves are even scarcer than cheap gasoline. This is the guy who broke Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 dingers in 1961. It was about this time that the gloves were placed in the Baxter Springs display case.
One of the other gloves there, a Berra catcher’s mitt, was purchased some eight years ago by Dr. James DeLeo, a Florida physician, who is now placing his mitt in a Heritage Sports Auction. DeLeo spotted another game-used Berra mitt sold in a previous Heritage auction in May and sent his along for consideration.
“I’ve been a big Yogi Berra fan and bought the mitt for that reason,” Dr. DeLeo said. “I wish now that I would’ve purchased some of the other gloves in the auction. That would have been quite a find.” Dr. DeLeo has decided to sell his mitt to help pay his son’s expenses in medical school.
The appearance of DeLeo’s 1960 Berra mitt provided an excellent opportunity to view what are possibly back-to-back game mitts of Berra. Photos of Berra in the late 1940s and early 1950s, showed he had evidently used Rawlings mitts extensively before gradually switching to Spalding after he began endorsing with the company. He had little trouble adapting to the Spaldings as they were identically made mitts from both companies by the late 1950s.
However, there was a departure in styles in the early 1960s for Yogi, as he changed from the double-break Spalding 1457 to the newly introduced single-hinge style of the 1413.
So how did these gloves wind up in a small-town motel? Persuaded by his friend Harold Youngman, Mantle, it seems, became a partner at the local Holiday Inn franchise there and evidently talked his Yankees buddies into placing their old gamers into a little showcase/museum there in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Along with the Spalding Berra mitt, the HH Rawlings Mantle glove and the Ford glove, was the Maris glove, an early, virtual prototype XPG7, six-finger glove that glove designer Rollie Latina would call the “Trapeze.”
Mantle had a history at Baxter Springs, which is on the southeastern tip of Kansas and just a few miles from his hometown of Commerce, Okla. He had played shortstop for a semipro team there called the “Whiz Kids” in 1947 as a teenager where he was spotted by a New York Yankees scout.
I had taken a call in the late 1990s about these gloves from dealer Joe Esposito of B&E Collectibles, who had purchased the Whitey Ford gamer and was wondering if that and the Mantle, Maris and Berra mitts all sounded legitimate. Esposito, when recently interviewed, still doesn’t remember exactly which gloves he had seen, only the Ford, which he says, a friend of his had purchased. He also sold the Berra mitt to Dr. DeLeo. “The Maris glove was a good-looking glove. I do remember that,” he recalled.
Esposito’s letter, which DeLeo has included with his mitt to Heritage and is signed by Esposito and Drew Caparelli, reads, “To Whom it may concern RE: Yogi Berra. We have fully inspected this early 1960’s N. Y. Yankees game-used glove of Yogi Berra’s. Berra used this beautiful ‘Spalding 1413’ mitt in the early 1960s.
“This mitt was obtained along with other Yankee gloves, from Wayne Metcalf, president of the Baxter Springs Little League in Kansas. This mitt was obtained in 1961 from Harold Youngman (a business partner of Mickey Mantle), and the later donated it in 1982 to the Little League Museum.
“The mitt shows very good game use, in our opinion, this is an authentic, game-used catchers mitt worn by long-time Yankees great Yogi Berra during the 1960s.”
The Spalding 1457 mitt only shows up in the 1960 catalog. Which makes sense that Berra had used it for a year or so before adding it to the other collectible gloves in the motel.
Maris has been pictured with another Trapeze (six-finger) style glove, a Spalding, so this glove styling was evidently popular with the Yankees outfielder. In an interview with Ford about five years ago, he confessed to having his last game-used glove made into a lamp base. Berra has been pictured with Rawlings and Spalding mitts and one of his gamers has been bronzed and placed in his museum.
The Maris glove did show up in Scott Goodman’s SportsWorld Auction held March 26, 1998. A highly impressive array of game gloves was pictured on the same page as that of the Maris. These included the gloves of Roberto Clemente, Roy Campanella, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Johnny Bench, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Willie Mays and Steve Carlton.
Game-used gloves are reaching new popularity levels and prices, especially in the past 10 years. Like their “country cousins,” the store or retail-issued gloves, a firm base of collecting has been established with gamers of the of major leaguers usually selling at 10-times or more of the price of an endorsed and stamped glove of the same player.
And today, there seems to be a ready market for current players who have discarded their gloves in several manners. With only two or three gloves a year given to the players for many years, these are far rarer than game-used bats, where dozens were shipped to the players and certainly definitely harder to find than the mass-produced, store model gloves.