As iconic and important as Negro League Baseball is in the pantheon of America’s favorite sport, it occupies an even more illustrious place in our nation’s history for its role in advancing the case for desegregation.
Many of professional baseball’s greatest players of the latter-19th century and first half of the 20th century were deprived the chance to play major or minor league ball purely because they were African American. It was a grave injustice, but it didn’t stop them from forming their own teams and dazzling crowds with their spectacular athletic prowess.
The first known baseball game between two black teams was held in 1859 in New York City, when the Henson Base Ball Club of Jamaica, Queens, defeated the “Unknowns” of Weeksville, Brooklyn, 54 to 43. During the reconstruction period that followed the Civil War, a black baseball scene began to develop in the Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states, with many of its teams comprised of former soldiers.
In the decades to follow, many more clubs were formed, some having greater staying power than others. Several leagues competed to dominate black baseball, including, most famously, the Negro National League (NNL) and the breakaway Eastern Colored League (ECL), which both rose to prominence in the early 1920s.
As those two leagues grew and prospered, there was an increasing call from both the fans and the press to establish a post-season championship series to determine the World Champions of Colored Baseball. Finally, as the 1924 season was winding down, the long-feuding owners of the NNL and ECL decided to set their differences aside and organize a post-season “Best of 9” series to crown the champion for 1924. This series became known as the “Negro League World Series,” pitting the two regular-season champs of the two different leagues against each other. Those teams were the Kansas City Monarchs and the Hilldale Giants.
The hotly contested World Series not only went 9 games – one of them a tie – it even ended up going to a tenth and deciding game, which was ultimately won by the Monarchs. It was a magical moment in history when future Hall of Famer Jose Mendez was named MVP.
The Monarchs would go on to win the Negro National League championships for the next two seasons and became widely regarded as the best team of the 1920s in Negro League Baseball. Hilldale also had a very successful run, winning another ECL championship the following year and even defeating the Monarchs for the 1925 World Series. But it is the 1924 series that will forever be regarded as the landmark event in the evolution of baseball.
Of the memorabilia that exists from that series, perhaps none is more cherished than the panoramic photo taken on Oct. 11, 1924 prior to Game 5, showing both teams alongside their managers and owners. Taken by noted photographer J.E. Miller of Kansas City, it includes 41 individuals including eight future Baseball Hall of Fame selectees, more than are seen in any other surviving original Negro League Baseball photograph. It is widely believed that the original photographic prints were distributed directly from the photo studio to participants of the 1924 Negro League World Series. Very few examples are known to have survived, and none has appeared in the auction marketplace since 2011.
In their March 13-14 auction, Hake’s will end the long drought by offering collectors one of the extremely rare original 1924 J.E. Miller photos. The 7”x35” photograph has been professionally cleaned and mounted to archival backing to ensure its future integrity. Additionally, it has been attractively framed using conservation materials.
“The image quality is phenomenal. Rarely do you see a crystal-clear panoramic that is nearly 100 years old, but that’s the case with this photo, which we regard as the ultimate piece of memorabilia to own if you could only have one item to represent the history of Negro League Baseball,” said Hake’s President Alex Winter.
The auction estimate is $20,000-$35,000.
Other highlights of the auction include:
- Henry Clay, T. Frelinghuysen and Joseph Markle Pennsylvania coattail campaign flag, 26 stars in 5-point-star formation, pre-Civil War, est. $20,000-$35,000
- Fabled Harry S. Truman 8-ball lithographed button from 1948 presidential campaign, est. $10,000-$20,000
- ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson baseball card, one of 150 Cracker Jack baseball cards from 1914-15 entered in Hake’s auction, est. $10,000-$20,000
- Mike Dringenberg original comic book page art from Sandman #14, published by DC’s Vertigo imprint March 1990, initialed and dated by the artist, est. $5,000-$10,000
- Rob Liefeld original comic book page art from New Mutants #98, Feb. 1991, the issue featuring Deadpool’s debut, $20,000-$35,000
- Greg Hildebrandt original cover painting featuring Thanos, variant cover for first issue of Infinity Wars Prime published by Marvel, Sept. 2018, est. $10,000-$20,000
- Only known example of 1930s Blue Ribbon Books store display for Pop-Up Books; lot includes a reading copy of The Pop-Up Mickey Mouse Book, est. $2,000-$5,000
- Buck Rogers 25th century character pinback button, 1936 newspaper premium, NM condition, by far the best of four examples known to Hake’s, est. $2,000-$5,000
- Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Bespin Alliance 3-pack series, AFA-graded 75 Ex+/NM, 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd., est. $10,000-$20,000
- Star Wars Luke Skywalker 12 Back-A double-telescoping lightsaber action figure, AFA-graded 80 NM, 1977 copyright, est. $10,000-$20,000
For additional information, call toll-free 1-866-404-9800. View the full auction catalog online at www.hakes.com.