While most of the player-managers who have earned a spot in the Hall of Fame have done so because of their exploits on the field or in the dugout, few earn inclusion for both.
While John McGraw was a solid player during his 16 seasons as a player, make no mistake about it, his ticket to Cooperstown was punched because of his efforts outside the lines. McGraw posted an impressive .334 batting average to go along with 1,300 hits. But once his playing career ended, McGraw quickly found that his true calling was as a manager, and his 31 years of turning in his team’s lineup card confirmed it.
John J. McGraw
New York Giants manager John Joseph McGraw died on Feb. 25, 1934. With his death the greatest strategist in the history of the game slipped into immortality. Since the beginning of the game, no man knew more about the intricacies of the game than manager McGraw.
Known as “Little Napoleon” or “Mugsy” (two names he despised), McGraw was, to say the least, a keen student of the game. He was a member of the fabled Baltimore clubs of the 1890s and a giant (pardon the pun) of the Cobbian era. McGraw made his managerial debut in 1899 with the Orioles winning 86 games. In 1902, he would secure the position of skipper for the Giants and remained there for the next 31 years. He would rack up 2,784 wins against only 1,959 losses, good enough for a winning percentage of .587, still one of the highest in baseball history.
Demand for McGraw’s signature is very strong and it has always been coveted by collectors of vintage baseball autographs. McGraw is a scarce signature, but I would not classify him as rare. His signature is generally limited to album pages, team-signed baseballs, documents, and signatures removed from checks. He is considered extremely rare on photographs and single-signed baseballs. I have never seen genuinely signed equipment of any kind. In all my years of collecting, I have never seen an authentic signed baseball card. It should be noted that many forged T206 tobacco cards have been in the market for years so caution is warranted.
McGraw signed in a bold and confident hand. His handwriting is angled and results in a pronounced signature. Example 1 and 2 are early examples of his signature; note the excellent eye appeal. As McGraw entered the 1920s, his hand slowed substantially. During this period his writing became slightly labored. Examples 3 and 4 were signed in the last five or 10 years of his life; they do not have the same flow as the earlier examples. McGraw’s slower hand makes authentication difficult. His post-1920 signature is easy to forge, resulting in a market that has many well-executed forgeries available for purchase. The vast majority (at least 95 percent) of the McGraw signatures in the market are forged.
Fortunately for collectors, McGraw’s long association with the Giants as a manager and team executive correlates into a good supply of signed letters and documents. This is the best way to collect McGraw.
Late 1920s team-signed baseballs of the Giants are rare but available. These are an excellent source of McGraw signatures and make a fine addition to any collection. It’s about the only way you will find McGraw on a baseball. Single-signed balls are near nonexistent. I have seen only one genuine McGraw single-signed ball in my lifetime. Forged McGraw baseballs have been floating around for years and, in my opinion, many have wrongly been certified as genuine by the major authentication companies, so careful examination is needed.
John McGraw and Hughie Jennings
Several years ago, a small group of baseballs bearing forged signatures of McGraw and fellow Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings entered the market. I have examined at least three different specimen. Each forgery occupies its own side panel. The signatures are overly large. The McGraw forgery is signed “J.J. McGraw.” To the trained eye (which this hobby seems to be sorely lacking), they are easily identified. Every once in a while, one of these forged McGraw/Jennings balls will turn up in a major auction catalog, so caution is warranted. Given the extreme rarity of Jennings-signed balls, it is doubtful that just this duo exists on a baseball.
McGraw is extremely rare on bank checks. I have only seen one in my entire life. However, signatures removed from checks do exist and are a fine way to obtain a McGraw signature. Several years ago, McGraw’s wife would honor requests from collectors for her late husband’s signature. She would graciously comply and cut a signature off a canceled check and send it to a very grateful collector. These check cuts are scarce but not rare. I have seen dozens in my 24 years of collecting.
McGraw is valued as follows: A signature will sell for $600-$750, as will signatures removed from checks. A typed and signed letter sells for $1,200-$1,500. A full-page, handwritten letter sells in the $2,000-$2,500 range. A full bank check is very rare and would likely sell for $5,000. A nice photograph should start at $3,000. A single-signed baseball is a true rarity and should sell for $10,000 – $15,000. Values of other mediums are not known.
John Wesley “Colby Jack” Coombs
Jack Coombs was one of the great pitchers from the Cobbian era. Coombs began his big-league career in 1906 with Connie Mack’s Athletics. He pitched for 14 years and secured 158 kills. What makes Coombs stand out in baseball history is his 1910 season where he won an amazing 31 games against only nine loses. He died on April 15, 1957, in Texas.
Being a member of the exclusive 30-game winners club makes Coombs’ signature highly sought after and in much demand. His signature is illustrated in Examples 5 and 6 and has very nice eye appeal. Coombs is a scarce signature and generally limited to government postcards, index cards and items that could be signed through the mail. He should be considered rare to very rare on letters and photographs. I have never seen a genuinely signed baseball card or single-signed baseball.
Fortunately for collectors of dead ball-era material, Coombs authored a book titled Baseball, Individual Play and Team Strategy. First published in 1937, Coombs signed many copies, usually with long inscriptions on the end paper. Today, signed copies of this book are scarce and make a wonderful addition to any collection. They can be purchased for $300-$400.
A Coombs signature is valued at $100, with a government postcards selling for $150-$175. Signed pictures are typically limited to small book pictures and sell for $200-$300. A typed letter signed sells for $200-$250, while a handwritten letter is valued at $500-$600.
For years I have been told that The Baseball Register published by The Sporting News is a good source for illustrations of baseball autographs.
The Baseball Register is issued on an annual basis and gives the statistics of the then-current players, umpires, managers and a select few retired stars. Each player’s biography features a picture and a facsimile signature. Some of the earlier editions feature signatures of deceased players from the 1800s.
Several collectors I have spoken with use these books as reference when c omparing signatures. My advice is to avoid The Baseball Register when authenticating a signature.
I went to my trusty baseball library (every baseball fan should have one) and retrieved two Registers from the shelf. They were the 1949 and 1952 editions.
These two particular editions are lavishly illustrated with facsimile autographs, but unfortunately about 95 percent of them carry no value whatsoever. The problem is that while the editors of the Register did obtain signatures from the ballplayers, just about all the signatures were altered.
Most of the signatures were traced over with an opaque black ink pen. This was done so the signature (when published) would be dark enough to print. In essence what you are seeing is a trace of the signature but not the actual signature. There is little value in using these illustrations as they all evidence a labored and shaky appearance.