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After two seasons shortened by Korean War service, 36-year-old Ted Williams entered 1954 Spring Training ready to recapture his diamond glory days ... but the stars were aligned against him. On the first day of workouts, Williams was palling around in the outfield with Jimmy Piersall when batter Hoot Evers laced a drive to left-center. "Teddy Ballgame" beelined for the gap but took a spill and heard a dreaded POP! in his collarbone. "I broke it," he said to Piersall, "I'm sure something's broken." Later, a section of bone was removed, a metal pin was inserted, and Williams' dreams of ballfield heroics were waylaid once again. He returned to the lineup two months later on May 5, 1954—still in pain—and in just 117 remaining games, managed to amass a stellar .345 average, .635 slugging percentage, 29 home runs, 89 RBI and 136 walks.
It was soon after his postponed start to the '54 campaign that the Splendid Splinter donned this Red Sox road jersey. Manufactured by the BoSox' long-time supplier McAuliffe sporting goods, the gray-flannel top demonstrates no alterations with the exception of a few inches cut off the tails—typically done by Williams himself (an alteration seen on a number of his authentic game jerseys)—to mitigate the excessive summer heat. The blue-felt "9" and "BOSTON," as well as the chain-stitching of "54 - Williams - 44-2" next to the manufacturer's label, are all completely original. In addition, the jersey is manufactured to Ted's known size-44 specifications, and it exhibits moderate game wear throughout, including incontestably proper wear on the left front shoulder where a left-handed hitter's bat would rest.
Nevertheless, this jersey represents the first time in our years working with MEARS that Mastro Auctions has presented a game-worn jersey at auction without an LOA from the esteemed authentication service. To be clear, MEARS does not deny the jersey's veracity or claim it to be fraudulent, but instead consider its status indeterminate due to as-yet inconclusive evidence. Their reasoning is based on the absence of an exact photo style match and the presence of several anomalies.
The first discrepancy centers on aspects of the chain-stitching. MEARS cites a post-game locker room photo from the '54 season showing one of Williams' Red Sox teammates wearing a jersey that displayed the individual's number, not his surname, on the tail. MEARS also notes that the chain-stitching is often known to carry the year as "1954" instead of "54", and that the McAuliffe tag is 1/8" smaller than most examples. However, it must be stated that McAuliffe has well-documented instances of tagging/chain-stitching variations, including rare occurrences of player's names stitched onto the tail, in particular for big-name stars like Williams. Specifically, another Williams' jersey auctioned more than a decade ago was briefly maligned for having the surname in the embroidering but later vindicated when the garment was definitively sourced to Williams.
The second question mark regards physical dimensions. MEARS determines that this offered jersey's size-44 designation (per the chain-stitched tagging) would have been unusual for a 1950s-era Williams top since by then the veteran typically wore size 46. Also, while this jersey matches up to size-44 manufacturing specifications in shoulder width and body length (extra long in Williams' preferred style), the span of distance from armpit to armpit actually corresponds to a size-52 construction. Here is where Williams' broken collarbone comes into play. It is logical to assume that due to muscular atrophy from two months of inactivity, Williams was issued a slightly smaller, size-44 jersey upon his return. And yet, the jersey still needed to be tailored to the still-tender injury by enlarging certain portions of the cut, namely the upper-mid-thoracic region, which was made more spacious (comparable to a size 52) to accommodate a supportive and protective strap-like brace as the collarbone continued to heal.
On a similar note, the sleeves are also engineered to provide greater freedom of motion. They are not of the standard-length or cap/half-sleeve design, but rather of an unusual quarter-length configuration, and what's more, they are "set-in" (sewn into an armhole) instead of the typical "raglan" style (extending to the neckline). MEARS and Mastro Auctions scrutinized available 1950s-era photographs for evidence of Williams in a Red Sox road uniform with set-in, quarter-length sleeves, but to no avail.
Lastly, all but one of the buttons are of the two-hole variety found on only a limited number of post-1940 jerseys, with the one exception being a four-hole button that is more standard for the 1940-1960 era.
By MEARS' own acknowledgment, a discovery of photographic matching, in tandem with the provenance in the jersey's favor—originality, McAuliffe's documented instances of variations, and collarbone-resultant adjustments—would be grounds for MEARS authentication. In lieu of this, Mastro Auctions confidently stands by the jersey's authenticity on the basis of our analysis and our extensive experience and expertise handling the hobby's most elite and expensive game-worn uniforms. The presented specialty "gamer" is a unique and noteworthy example from one of Williams' more intriguing seasons, and it was autographed by the Splendid Splinter for our consignor (whose LOA accompanies) at Spring Training in 1981. The prominent blue Sharpie signature—located, fittingly, in the collar—rates "9-10". It is easy to picture in the mind's eye how Williams' frame once filled out this jersey, with its trademark shortened sleeves, slightly cut tails, added body length and appropriate wear. LOA from Steve Grad & Zach Rullo/PSA DNA.
Estimated Value: $25,000–35,000