“Sorry Mickey, but because of the way you lived on Earth, you can’t come in. But, before you leave, would you autograph these baseballs for HIM.”– Mantle quoting St. Peter at the Pearly Gates
How can you measure the impact of a cultural phenom?
Dollars are a good place to start. It’s usually impossible to quantitively assess the cultural impact of a celebrity. But in Mantle’s case, the eye-popping numbers headlining record-setting auctions for his cards, jerseys, and memorabilia, paint a compelling picture.
Over half a century since he last played a baseball game and nearly 30 years since his death, the records keep coming for the kid from Commerce.
There’s no point in burying the lede: The single most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold was a 2-5/8” x 3-3/4” piece of cardboard with Mantle’s face on it.
It fetched $12.6M back in August 2022. That means Mantle surpassed every single icon of sport to ever live in the eyes of collectors and investors. More than Jordan, despite Mantle remaining conspicuously absent from any Covid-era docuseries. More than Brady, Gretzky, Ruth, Ali, Pele… everyone. Of course much of this is due to the lore of his 1952 Topps Card, many of which were part of a batch of unsold inventory dumped in the Hudson leading to increased scarcity and desirability. But it would be short-sighted to dismiss Mantle’s stature atop the collectibles heap as merely the result of a freak story behind one card.
Honus Wagner’s T206 Card, which once held the title for the most valuable baseball card in the world, shares a similar tale driving its collectability and sky-high prices. Though Wagner’s Hall of Fame career doesn’t cast nearly the same shadow on the market for his memorabilia as Mantle’s, with none of his cards, bats, or jerseys touching the upper-echelon of the industry other than those few dozen T206 Cards which have taken on a life of their own.
For Mantle, his out-sized presence in the collective American memory does not yield at a single card — it spans the industry.When the jersey Mantle wore when he broke the World Series homerun record in 1964 sold in 2018, it hauled in $1.32M — a mark that fell 2nd all time only behind Babe Ruth for any baseball jersey. Just a few months ago a Mantle jersey sold to the tune of $4.68M, which would have been the most valuable baseball jersey ever sold just a few years ago, though once again was beaten to the punch by a $5.64M Ruth jersey in 2019.
Not bad company.
Same theme goes for bats, with a 1956 Mickey Mantle All-Star bat cracking the leaderboards after a $384K 2019 sale, placing it in the top 10 all-time, only behind Ruth, Gehrig, and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who used the bat in question for the majority of his career.
We could go on, signed baseballs, interesting questionnaires (iykyk), and plenty more Mantle artifacts continue to make their way from the auction house to the newspapers at a clip no other player can hold a candle to.
As the backbone of an industry that is projected to grow to $227.2 billion by 2032 according to an August 2023 report by Mark Decipher, Mantle’s memorabilia shows no signs of fading from the limelight.