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Mickey Mantle’s $1,150 bonus check from Yankees up for auction

David Brown
Big League Stew

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(Heritage Auctions)

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.' "

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(Heritage Auctions)

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.

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(AP)

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.

[Also: Yankees legend Mickey Mantle was offered meager signing bonush]

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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