This might be the coolest piece of auction memorabilia The Stew has ever publicized: The $1,150 check Mickey Mantle received from the New York Yankees to cover his signing bonus in 1949. If that price sounds a little low for Mickey Mantle (even in 1949, when $1,150 could buy about $11,100 of goods), you're right. The Yankees ripped him off!
Within the Heritage Auction description of the check, which is cleanly endorsed by a then-17-year-old Mantle, the Mick himself explains why the sum was so low:
Excerpted from "Mickey Mantle: Rookie in Pinstripes" by Fred Glueckstein (2008):
One one of the check's lines, it read simply, 'Bonus.'
Mickey was asked later why he signed for such a modest sum. Other 'bonus babies' were signing for amounts of seventy-five to one hundred thousand dollars.
'Why did I sign for peanuts during a time when kids, a lot less known than myself, were getting fabulous bonuses? Well, I'll tell you why,' Mickey told Ben Epstein of the New York Daily Mirror. 'Nobody offered me one.' "
A list of bonuses at Baseball America shows that, three years earlier, the Yankees paid infielder Bobby Brown (future cardiologist and AL president) $56,000. In 1948, the Braves paid left-hander Johnny Antonelli $75,000. The Tigers paid catcher Frank House the same amount. By 1950, the $100,000-plus bonus era had begun. The Yankees were taking advantage of Mantle from the start.
You also might wonder why the check was issued from the Independence (Kan.) State Bank. Well, Mantle's first minor-league team was the '49 Independence Yankees of the Class D Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League.
The check is described as being in primo condition, with no folds, tears or stains. The current bid (as of Wednesday night) is $8,000. When the auction concludes Feb. 23, the check might be worth $20,000 or more, Heritage guesses. Too rich for me, but worth every penny to someone who can afford it.
Note: It's possible the person selling the check used to be related to the secretary of the Independence ballclub. On this episode of Antiques Roadshow in 2008, a woman saying she was a granddaughter of the secretary brought in a Mantle payroll check for appraisal — from later in 1949 — and was told it was worth $31,000-$50,000.
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