I just finished watching just over an hours worth of film footage from the 1951 season. This is part of 9+ hours I recently purchased spanning the 1951, 1953, 1957 and 1958 seasons. Much of what I saw only confirmed things I already knew. I found other examples of the Brooklyn Dodgers wearing both home and road uniforms having a font style for the numeral “one” that is without a serif at the top. This was a topic of conversation about a year ago centered around a 1951 Gil Hodges Brooklyn Dodgers road jersey I wrote a letter and a story on. I also saw plenty of footage of Mickey Mantle wearing his early season #6…but Willie Mays wearing #14 on the road for the New York Giants was something I did not expect to see.
The footage is clearly of Willie Mays and it is not from spring training of 1951. Footage of the Giants in spring training of that year shows them wearing uniforms without the NL 75th Anniversary Patch.
“Baseball by the Numbers” by Mark Stang shows #14 as having been worn by 3rd basemen Bobby Hofman and second baseman Davey Williams for the New York Giants in 1951. “Now Batting, Number…The Mystique, Superstition, and Lore of Baseball’s Uniform Numbers” by Jack Looney only attributes the #14 to Williams that year.
While this bit of information was not completely new to me, this was the first time I had seen images of it. Kerry Keene’s book “1951: When Giants Played The Game” includes these passages:
p 81. “Willie was joining a Giants team…. Wearing the number “14” on his road grey Giants uniform, he caused a stir in batting practice by hitting several long drives into the left field stands.”
p 82. “It was around this time that Mays first donned his fabled number 24 on the back of his Giants uniform. When reserve outfielder Jack Maguire, who was wearing the number was shipped to the Pirates on June 5, Willie discarded 14 and took over the number that would be his trademark for the rest of his baseball career and beyond.”
In taking a close look at the footage, I was able to identify the team the Giants were playing as the Philadelphia Phillies. The pinstripe uniforms and numeric font style are ones only worn by the Phillies that season. The presence of the 75th Anniversary Patch on the pinstripe uniform also means this is not exhibition footage against an American League Team (pinstripes at home worn by the Yankees, White Sox, and Senators.
Mays did not make his ML debut until 25 May 1951 as indicated by the headline “Mays, Negro Star, Joins Giants Today; Rookie to Play Center Field Against Phils.” The New York Times. 25 May 1951, p.35.
As such, this footage would have had to have been from that date at the earliest. During the 1951 season, The New York Giants played the Phillies in Philadelphia on:
Apr 23, 24, 25 (Mays did not play)
May 25, 26, 27
Sept 25, 26 (Wearing #24 by this time)
The footage shows Mays hitting and watching a fly ball and rounding first and then heading back toward as the bag as if to leave the field. This would have been consistent with either his 3rd or 4th at bat that day as both were long fly outs to the outfield on the 25th of May. The Mays did not get a base hit during this entire series, so this footage could have been from the games on the 26th or 27th as well.
We know that according to contemporary newspaper accounts, Davey Williams did not begin the season with the New York Giants. The July 9th 1951 Charleston Gazette makes note of this with the headline that“Davey Williams is Recalled By Giants.” The article goes on the record how Williams has been playing at Minneapolis until this time. Although Williams appears to have in fact wore #14 for the NY Giants in 1951 (this too was confirmed by looking at this same footage, although later on), it was not until after July 9th, thus leaving this number available for rookie Willie Mays. This corroborates both film footage and mentions in Keane’s book
The 1951 NY Giants Yearbook lists the following heights and weights for Mays, Williams and Hofman:
Willie Mays: 5-10 ½ , 170 lbs
Davey Williams: 5-10, 165 lbs
Hofman was in spring training with the New York Giants in 1951:
Bobby Hofman: 5-10, 170
Hofman would go on to wear #14 for the New York Giants from 1952-1956. There is no record of Hofman appearing in a game for the Giants in 1951. Hofman did play for the Giants in 1949.
Could it have been that the New Giants had planned on having Hofman make the big league club in 1951 and ordered a uniform for him that was instead worn by Mays. In looking back through my data base of uniforms, I noticed that North Shore Sports sold a Bobby Hofman NY Giants home uniform (jersey and pants) and was described as:
Lot # 217: 1951 New York Giants Complete Home Uniform. From an estate auction in Michigan, this complete home uniform from the 1951 Giants is yours to own. The jersey is a Spalding size 42 with both tag in collar as well as name chain stitched also. Player number 14, Hofman as well as year “51” which is chain stitched into tail are 100% original. The pants, which come with this outfit, are Wilson, size 36, and have been used much more than the jersey, showing a couple of repair marks. Nice earlier outfit. MB $500. This lot ended up selling for $500.00.
The existence of this uniform seems to indicate that this number (and at an appropriate size) was available for issue when Mays was called up in May of 1951. The size 42 is consistent with the size 42 Willie Mays jersey offered through the Halper Auction. Leland’s offered a Davey Williams 1951 New York Giants road jersey, but the lot description says it has “10” on back, name in the collar.” (Lot # 256, December 1996). This jersey was also a size 42.
I contacted a long time NY Giants collector with an extensive collection and asked him if he happened to have this Hofman jersey. He replied that it was one of few 1951 NY Giants home uniforms offered in the hobby he does not have. Well someone has it and it may be worth a bit more than the $500.00 sale price in 1996.
Besides sharing what I think is some incredible information, why write this article? Much of it has to do with our vision for the MEARS Corporate Research and Conference Center. Our goal is to make research and reference materials like this available to MEARS members to allow them to do work just like this for their own items. I also wrote this to once again highlight the value of establishing a reference library of your own. I pay for all my own references and can arrange to have my items sent to MEARS on sort of an “inter-library loan” for projects collectors might be working on. I don’t pretend to imagine our holdings will ever come close to equaling those found in the various Halls of Fame, but we want to create a very user friendly environment for MEARS Members. The inclusion of the phrase “Conference Center” in the naming convention means we plan to host and run educational events as well starting in 2009. Of course there will be those who will complain about having to travel, but we believe the events will be both enjoyable and worthwhile for those who make the time.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect. I know I do because I enjoy doing the research myself. Something I am hoping MEARS Members will take us up on in 2009.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions and comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.