By Arnold Bailey
The auction description for a Eddie Bennett autograph posed a great baseball trivia question.
It was lot 343 in Leland’s winter 2015 auction: A signed photo of a guy in a New York Yankees uniform, wearing a baseball glove and jumping for joy.
The accompanying narrative described it as “The Toughest 1927 Yankee Signature.”
For extra emphasis, it was characterized as “the rarest signature of all the 1927 Yankees” a few sentences later.
That Yankees team was loaded with great hitters, fielders and pitchers whose signatures have come to be coveted by collectors. For trivia’s sake, who is your choice as the rarest autograph from that ’27 team?
There was Babe Ruth, who slammed his then-record 60 home runs that season. There was young Lou Gehrig whose 175 runs batted in led the American League. There was outfielder Earle Coombs who led the AL with 231 hits, 648 at-bats and 23 triples. There was righty Waite Hoyt who led the league with 22 wins, and Wilcy Moore with his league-leading 2.28 earned run average.
Then, add outfielder Bob Meusel who batted .337 and knocked in 103 runs, infielder Tony Lazzeri who hit .309 while knocking in 102 runs, lefty Herb Pennock with a 19-8 record and righty Urban Shocker who was 18-6. And pint-sized Miller Huggins, the team’s manager, developed quite a following, too, en route to the Baseball Hall of Fame along with Ruth, Gehrig, Combs, Lazzeri, Hoyt, Pennock and team owner Jacob Ruppert.
After all, this was the Yankees team with a batting order dubbed “Murderers’ Row.” These Yankees were in first place every day in the 1927 season, rolling to a 110-44 record, which left the second-place Philadelphia Athletics 19 games behind in the pennant non-race. The World Series was equally non-competitive with the Yankees bombing the National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates four games to none. Some reports described the Yankees power as so impressive that the Pirates team was beaten even before the games began. It has been reported that the Pirates convinced themselves that they’d lose after watching the New Yorkers take batting practice the day before the Series opener.
At least two members of the ’27 Yanks might have autographs classified as “scarce,” because they aren’t as well-known – or as talented – as their teammates. Infielder Julie Wera got into just 19 games and batted just .239. And pitcher Walter Beall played in just a single inning of a single game and neither won nor lost.
But the 8”-by-10” wirephoto Leland’s was selling pictured none of the above. Nor did it portray any of the other 16 players who suited up in Yankees pinstripes from time to time during that memorable season. Nor did it picture the two coaches who helped Huggins keep this team interested and interesting.
The picture’s image was of Eddie Bennett, the team’s bat boy, described in the Leland’s catalog as “the most famous mascot in the world.”
The auction catalog narrative revealed more about Bennett’s life and the years he spent in baseball: “Eddie Bennett was the 1927 New York Yankees bat boy. The rarest signature of all the ’27 Yankees, this is one of only two signed photos known and this is by far the best. The number of Eddie Bennett autographs can be counted on one hand. Both the autograph and the Type I 8”X10” wire photo are authenticated/slabbed by PSA/DNA. Fabulous image shows him leaping in his New York Yankees bat boy uniform circa 1927. Some chipping to edges, but contrast is perfect.
“The autograph in white is personalized to George Hogg, perhaps the Titanic survivor. A hunchback dwarf, Eddie’s path with storied teams is legendary. Working for the league champion 1919 ‘Black Sox’ and the 1920 Brooklyn Robins, he moved across the river to Yankee Stadium. It was kismet, as both Bennett and the Yankees were born in 1903. Eddie died of alcoholism in 1935 at the age of 32. Most recently, Bennett’s life was eulogized by billionaire Warren Buffet in 2002. Buffet stated at his annual shareholder’s dinner that Bennett was a key role model during Buffet’s career in investing. “A winner at every cost.’”
As Bennett’s life had been a tale of tough luck. A spine injury as a baby in a carriage accident left him with a hunchback and had stunted his growth. His parents died in a flu epidemic when he was just 15 years old. After a dozen years with the Yankees he was seriously injured when struck by a taxi-cab. He then lived with constant pain, which he tried to ease by drinking. He died of alcoholism in 1935, penniless and alone, but surrounded in his rented room by the memorabilia and memories of his time in baseball. Ruppert made sure the Yankees paid for his funeral.
As the auction catalog suggested, Bennett may well be the “most famous” bat boy in history. But he’s likely the second most famous among baseball card collectors. The object of their bat boy affection would have to be Leonard Garcia, though some may not know his name.
Garcia was the bat boy whose image appears on card No. 653 in the 1969 Topps set that was supposed to picture Angels’ third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez. There have been several theories about how that mix-up occurred, but none stifle collectors’ interest in the unusual “error” card.
Arnold Bailey is a a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.