Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Walter Johnson items up for auction
WASHINGTON -- The ticket is for Row 1, Section B, Seat 7 of the Lower Grand Stand at Griffith Stadium. Game 7 of the 1924 World Series. The perforations are still intact -- it was never torn in two by a ticket-taker. It's the only one of its kind known to still exist.
It had been sitting for decades in one of 32 scrapbooks created by the wife of Walter Johnson, the Hall of Fame icon who on Oct. 10, 1924, was the winning pitcher for the Washington Senators in a 12-inning classic against the New York Giants. The victory gave the nation's capital its only World Series title to date.
"My theory is that the ticket was hers and she walked in with him. Who's going to ask her for her ticket? She's Walter Johnson's wife," said Hank Thomas, Johnson's grandson. "She just walked into the stadium and never had to use her ticket. She brought it back and put it in the scrapbook."
The ticket is one of several gems from Johnson's career up for bids Saturday at Heritage Auctions in New York. Other items include the personalized framed copy of Johnson's plaque from his Hall of Fame induction, a handwritten congratulatory letter from Ty Cobb, the "Notice to Player of Release or Transfer" signed by Senators owner Clark Griffith after Johnson's final season in 1927, and an engraved six-piece tea set celebrating the 20th anniversary of Johnson's signing with the team.
Johnson's daughter, Carolyn Thomas, who just turned 90, has been the keeper of the memorabilia. She and her son, Hank Thomas, said it was simply time to start parting with it.
"It's always just been around," Hank Thomas said. "And the few times you'd haul it out of the closet and look at it, mostly just to show somebody else, I always enjoyed it. I loved having this stuff, but I'm going to enjoy seeing these guys -- because it's a live auction -- the guys that win it are going to be so thrilled. There are some real Walter fans out there. It's going to take some money, but they're going to win it and they're going to be so happy.
"So let's get the stuff out of the closet, let's get some money that we can use from it, and let's turn it over to the next generation of collectors. We're all temporary custodians of this stuff."
That said, there are certain items that will remain in the family because they are just too special to sell. Hank Thomas has the first postcard his grandfather sent to his grandmother when they were dating, signed "Walter J." There are also items that will stay because they are part of the decor in Carolyn Thomas' house, including a foot-high bronze statue of Johnson and a collage of photos of Johnson in poses with Cobb, Griffith and Christy Mathewson. There's another one with Johnson, Babe Ruth and Douglas Fairbanks together on the set of 1924 movie "The Thief of Bagdad" -- a priceless convergence of entertainment and sports.
And there's one with Carolyn Thomas and her father taken in 1924. She's in a frilly bonnet sitting on an oversized glove. He's in his 1924 Washington uniform with the straight, classic "W" on both the sleeve and the hat.
"I spent a lot of time at the ballpark," Carolyn Thomas said. "I grew up there and used to hang out in the office all the time. I remember Joe Cronin courting Mildred Robertson (Griffith's niece, later Cronin's wife). They used to flirt in the office there while we were hanging around. I was very comfortable in the ballpark."
Carolyn Thomas was only 4 when her father retired, so she remembers Johnson less as a player and more as a manager and later a farmer -- and as a hero to the city. She said one of her most vivid memories was "being impatient about getting into the stadium because everybody wanted his autograph, and he never turned anybody away."
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