I have often considered Ted Williams to be the third greatest player in MLB history; topped only by Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Nicknamed the Splendid Splinter, Williams was said to have one of the keenest batting eyes in the game. He hit .344 during his career with six batting crowns, 1,839 RBI, 521 home runs, and 2,654 hits.
All of this despite missing three full years to World War II and parts of two seasons to the Korean War. Had he played a full career he may well have hit 700 homers. Williams retired in 1960 and entered the Hall of Fame five years later. He remains one of the greatest hitters the game has ever known.
Williams’ signature is one of the most studied of the post-World War II athletes. Williams signed in a large and dominate hand. The signature is well structured with good legibility and superior display value. Signatures accomplished early in his career, pre-1950, tend to lack strong flow and exhibit a slight choppiness. Smaller scale is noted. The letter “W” tends to be separated from the first name. In more modern signatures the two will tend to be connected.
In the 1950s the hand became bolder with a signature larger in scale. Strong flow is noted. By the late 1950s the signature matured and remained that way until the last couple of years of his life.
In the late 1990s Williams’ health went into decline. In 2000 he suffered a series of strokes. He died in July of 2002 of heart failure at the age of 83. Despite being afflicted by various ills Williams’ hand remained relatively strong his entire life. Signatures penned in the last few years of his life tend to be smaller in scale and lack the flamboyant size of earlier signatures. The signature also tends to be shorter in height. Flow is slightly impaired but still exhibits good speed. Williams’ hand never produced an unsteady signature. A signature with noticeable hesitation should be considered suspect and avoided as a forgery.
The era of mass signings for the collectors’ market began in the 1980s and caught fire in the 1990s. Williams, along with Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, became the hottest tickets in the hobby. While DiMaggio did not engage in many mass signings the same cannot be said for Williams and Mantle. Williams was the definition of a signing machine. He signed at private signings, card shows, for corporate sponsors and so on. In the later years his son, John Henry, managed Ted’s affairs, at least when it came to the autograph industry. Ted literally signed tens of thousands of items which, today, results in a bottomless pit of signed material in the market. A recent search of eBay had what appeared to be 2,200 Williams autographs for sale.
The market inventory has a vast assortment of signed mediums available for purchase. The most common of these are baseballs, photos, and Hall of Fame plaque postcards. Less common are signed gum cards. Topps issues from when Williams was manager of the Washington Senators from the late 1960s and early 1970s are the most available, as is the 1976 Topps all-time all-star card. Signed Topps cards from his playing days are tougher to find and worth a premium. A 1954 Topps and all Bowman cards are scarce in signed format. Williams also signed many of the 1959 “Ted Williams” Fleer cards. This is one of my personal favorites with deep rich earth tone colors. They make for a fine display and are much more affordable than the Topps and Bowman cards.
Signed bats exist in good quantities, though dealers often advertise them as rare. Bats signed by Carl Yastrzemski (Williams’ heir apparent) are uncommon and in high demand; these should prove a fine investment piece. In 1941 Williams became the last player of the junior circuit to hit .400. For the National League, Bill Terry hit .401 in 1930. These two men signed a limited number of items commemorating their accomplishments. Signed baseballs and bats are scarce and should prove a fine investment in the years to come.
In recent years a large quantity of canceled bank checks have entered the market and are a wonderful source for his autograph. Checks make for a fine display as they are accomplished with his full name.
Signed letters are fairly scarce, especially autographed letters signed, which are typically limited to the 1940s and early 1950s. Many have hunting and fishing content. In retirement typed letters signed were sent to fans many with good baseball content but there is a caveat...
Just about all of these letters contain a secretarial signature. The secretary’s hand appears a bit choppier and lacks the flow of a genuine specimen. An odd looking loop is placed above the letter “W.”See illustration.
Williams’ signature, along with Mantle and DiMaggio, is one of the most forged of the post-World War II legends. Many forgeries exist on most mediums. A common forged image features Williams, DiMaggio, and Mantle all holding bats. The vast majority of these photos, approximately 90 percent, are forged.
Most mail requests for Williams’ autograph were ignored. In the 1960s many requests were answered with a rubber stamp, these were usually sent on a team issued postcard.
For many years author Al Stump had perpetrated a myth that Williams and Ty Cobb had a falling out in the late 1950s over batting and never spoke to each other again.
I had the opportunity to speak with Williams in the late 1980s. He did a signing at a card show at the Dearborn Michigan Civic Center. I asked him about the split between him and Cobb that Stump wrote about. To put it bluntly Williams told me that Stump “was full of sh*t.” Williams further stated that he remained close with Cobb until his death in July of 1961. Stump created a handful of forged photos featuring Cobb and Williams together. The forgeries read something to the effect: “Two great hitters, Ty Cobb” then dated. These have been in the market for years so caution is warranted. The forgeries are signed in Cobb’s typical green ink and evidence material unsteadiness.
Current demand seems to be balanced with a very large supply. Since his death values of most mediums have not really moved much. A signature is valued at $75 to $100 with government postcards worth only slightly more. Photos that are 8x10 sell in the $150 to $200 range. Photos (mostly limited to post-induction images) and baseballs countersigned by Bill Terry are valued in the $350 to $500 price range. Typed letters secretary signed sell for $250 to $300. A nice full page ALS is approaching $1,000 though good content letters would go much higher. Signed bats sell for $500 to $750; exceptional examples are close to $1,000. Bank checks are quite affordable at $125 to $150. Topps manager cards sell for $300 to $350, while Topps and Bowman cards from the 1950s are value at $600 to $800. A signed 1954 Topps is worth about $1,000. Fleer cards are the most affordable at $175 to $250. Signed Perez Steele cards were once hot but demand over the years has waned somewhat. Williams Perez-Steele cards now sell for $125 to $150; 10 years ago they were twice that amount.
Williams is a legend of the game and his signature will always be in good demand but given the huge market inventory your focus should be on premium signed items; these should realize the best rate of return in the coming years.
Attorney and portfolio manager Ron Keurajian is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and the author of the award winning Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs – A Reference Guide (McFarland & Co., 2018 – 2nd edition) and Collecting Historical Autographs (McFarland, 2016).