May 6, 2011
Since it went on the auction block last month, a 1938 Lou Gehrig Yankee road jersey has been the subject of almost endless speculation and scrutiny by experts, collectors and hobby uniform aficionados. Disputed claims of alleged ”Photo Matches” by the auction house selling the garment tomorrow fueled speculation about the grey flannel jersey, which once sold in 1991 for a reported “world record” price of $220,000. But with a startling last minute discovery by John Rogers, founder of the JohnRogersArchive.com, one of the largest sports photo archives in the world, it could be a whole new ball-game.
Last year Rogers purchased the entire photo archive of The Sporting News and while browsing through a stack of some of his 3 million TSN images yesterday, he made a stunning discovery.
Rogers found a 1942 wire photo of a display case in a legendary New York City restaurant, which includes what appears to be the exact jersey being auctioned-off at Robert Edward Auctions this weekend. It looks like the same jersey with identical button placement and the exact same chain-stitching in the collar. The jersey was displayed in 1942, just three years after Gehrig’s consecutive game streak ended, with a handwritten index card written by ex-major leaguer and “Baseball Clown Prince” Al Schacht, that stated:
“THE LAST UNIFORM WORN BY LOU GEHRIG-WORLD SERIES 1939″
“I was just looking through a pile of photos and immediately I noticed how unusual this one was. We’ve found other images of early memorabilia on display in this collection, and I always take note, but on this one I was drawn immediately to the Yankee jersey. I got curious and took out a magnification loop and I was stunned to see what it said on the card,” said Rogers. Rogers added, “And then I looked at the chain-stitching of Gehrig’s name and I was able to see clearly this had to be the same jersey up for auction. I’ve done a lot of photo analysis using old wire photos to match up pinstripes, letters and numbers but this is the first time ever for chain-stitching.”
The wire photo Rogers found was of a display case at Al Schacht’s eatery in New York City when it first opened in 1942. In addition to Gehrig’s jersey, the case featured a hat worn by Hank Greenberg during 1938, Charlie Gehringer’s spikes, Schacht’s famous Top-Hat, Walter Johnson’s glove from the 1924 World Series and a ball signed by Honus Wagner and Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Rogers also referred back to his bound volume original issues of The Sporting News and found that the photo and jersey were also featured on the cover of a December 10, 1942, issue heralding the grand opening of Schacht’s restaurant. Rogers said he might find more if he had the time. ”My guess is my staff would find many more photos of the interior of Schacht’s restaurant and possibly other images of the Gehrig jersey,” he said.
When we wrote last week about the travels of the Gehrig jersey we had no clue where it had been between 1938 and 1991 when it sold at Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco. Rogers’ discovery of the Schacht photo adds significantly to the provenance of the jersey that was already highly regarded by uniform expert Dave Grob.
However, the Schacht restaurant photo discovery and its identification as Gehrig’s last jersey from 1939 also raises some interesting issues that will need to be addressed:
1. Gehrig didn’t play in the 1939 World Series, but he did suit up and sit in the dugout with his teammates.
2. Gehrig’s last appearance on a baseball field withdrawing himself from the Yankee lineup took place on the road in May of 1939.
3. Gehrig’s last World Series game played was in pinstripes for game four of the 1938 Series at Yankee Stadium.
4. The Gehrig jersey for sale has a “38″ chain-stitched in the tail denoting it was from 1938, not 1939.
With the auction ending late tomorrow, collectors and interested bidders will have little time to research and sort out all of the ramifications of Rogers’ discovery. The current bid on the jersey is $140,000 and if it were determined the jersey was Gehrig’s last from the 1939 regular season or World Series the jersey would, no doubt, become much more valuable.
Rogers had some time to review other photos of Gehrig during early 1939 and noticed that the road jersey he wore had significant similarities to the 1938 jersey being offered at auction (and in the 1942 display case photo).
Rogers said, “It looks like the button placement and sleeve length is consistent with the jersey in the auction, I don’t think you could rule it out based on what Schacht represented on that card.”
Uniform expert Dave Grob confirmed for us that it was possible for Yankee jerseys tagged for one season to be held over and used in the beginning of the next season. That would also be consistent with Gehrig’s possible use during the early 1939 season.
Haulsofshame.com did some further research and determined that Schacht’s claim that the jersey was worn by Gehrig during the 1939 World Series is highly unlikely. A photo we found in Jonathan Eig’s Gehrig biography, Luckiest Man, shows Gehrig on the Yankee bench signing an autograph for a young Frank Sinatra during game four of the 1939 Series at Cincinnati. Gehrig is wearing a grey flannel road uniform with much longer sleeves.
If the auction jersey is from 1939, it would be more likely to have been worn in Gehrig’s last regular season games of 1939. (Gehrig also continued to suit-up throughout the remainder 1939 season.)
“If this were the jersey worn by Gehrig on the day he removed himself from the lineup at Detroit in 1939, this jersey would go from six to seven figures for sure. From what I see and based on the Al Schacht provenance, I’d say it has a shot,” said Rogers.
Either way, Rogers’ find and his “photo match” of the REA jersey as the same one displayed at Schacht’s restaurant in 1942 solidifies its provenance and will, no doubt, increase its value. With some additional research, the winning bidder might find out that his Gehrig Yankee road jersey was a bargain, depending what the final hammer price is on Saturday night.
Rogers left us with a parting shot saying, “Heck, if we didn’t just buy the Boston Herald archive of over a million photos last week, I’d probably have some money to take a shot and bid on this jersey.”
The long and winding road-trip of the ”Iron Horse’s” Yankee jersey continues.
UPDATE, May 7th: We found another image of Gehrig wearing a very similar jersey in 1939 credited to Getty and the Baseball Hall of Fame/MLB: