Home / News / ‘One of the True Grails’: 1951 Mickey Mantle Photograph That Became His Rookie Card Bats Leadoff in Heritage’s Type 1 Photo Event

‘One of the True Grails’: 1951 Mickey Mantle Photograph That Became His Rookie Card Bats Leadoff in Heritage’s Type 1 Photo Event

Heritage Auctions

Some 35 years ago, Jack Kramer asked a dear friend a favor: Would she make a scrapbook out of his mementos so he could relive fond memories stashed away and nearly forgotten long ago? The friend happily obliged Kramer, who was a solid right-hander in the majors from the late 1930s until the early 1950s — in fact, he won Game 3 of the 1944 World Series as a St. Louis Brown.

Kramer’s box contained newspaper clippings, programs, some baseballs — the usual keepsakes. But there was also something extraordinary in that box: the photograph of Mickey Mantle that became his 1951 Bowman rookie baseball card — a photo that’s “one of the true grails of Type 1 collecting,” according to no less an authority than Professional Sports Authenticator.

That photograph bats leadoff in Heritage’s Photo Legends Type 1 Showcase Auction on April 7.

While assembling that scrapbook, Kramer’s friend discovered a plain brown envelope bearing the New York Yankees’ logo, Yankee Stadium’s Bronx address and a handwritten note: “Pictures of 1952 New York Yanks all individuals.” Inside was an original, freshly printed set of 8-by-10 glossy black-and-white photos featuring members of the 1951 Yankees, for whom Kramer played his final season in the big leagues. They were taken by the team’s photographer, Bob Olen. Kramer was there alongside the legendary likes of Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and a 19-year-old kid from Oklahoma named Mantle.

The photo is among the most defining of his career: Mantle wearing No. 6, with a bat perched on his right shoulder as he stares into the distance as though awaiting a pitcher’s delivery. This same image, colorized but otherwise barely altered, was used on Mantle’s first baseball card: the 1951 Bowman, the second-most valuable Mantle behind only the 1952 Topps card that reshaped a hobby. This immortal image was so perfect it was used time and again — for Mantle’s 1952 Berk Ross card and his 1953 Topps offering.

This photo, only the fourth known example of that iconic image, remained in that brown envelope for decades, sealed in a Ziploc bag and stored in a cedar chest. It has never been available at auction until now.

Olen’s 1951 photo of Mantle joins an auction rife with makers of monumental moments depicted in more than 120 familiar, beloved and iconic images developed from the original negative.

That’s how PSA defines Type I photos: “A 1st generation photograph, developed from the original negative, during the period (within approximately two years of when the picture was taken).” They have become among the most coveted collectibles in recent years, as desired as any Ansel Adams landscape of the American West, Dorothea Lang Depression-era portraits or Annie Lebowitz celebrity session, given their role in documenting history in the present tense.

Shortly after PSA authenticated the Mantle photo, they proudly posted it to social media. The offerings in this auction are all PSA-authenticated, and they run the gamut from triumph to tragedy, sports to space, entertainment to editorial. Many were used in newspapers and magazines and meant to be disposable — publicity photos promoting Jane Fonda’s star-making turn as Barbarella or the latest James Bond movie or a new TV show called Star Trek, news photos of President John F. Kennedy in his limo driving through Dallas or lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, portraits of Mantle’s Yankee teammates or a 1978 party pic of KISS’ Gene Simmons with a young Brooke Shields.

About Jerry Milani

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Jerry Milani is a writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 30 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and as a freelance professional. His PR clients have included Wizard World and FAN EXPO, which produce pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America, USA Wrestling, the National Lacrosse League, Strat-O-Matic Media, the Pacific Life Open and Pilot Pen Tennis tournaments and dozens of others. Milani is also the director of athletic communications for Caldwell University. He is a proud graduate of North Rockland High School and Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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