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The Catch: Willie Mays Game-Used Glove Stored Away for Half a Century Comes to REA

PJ Kinsella in Consignor Stories

Jul 12 — 5 mins read

By P.J. Kinsella

You might not think a hammer, a spatula and a baseball glove have much in common, but they’re all tools of the trade relied upon by those dedicated to their chosen vocation. For some baseball players, a glove is what defined their career. For Willie Mays, it was just one of the five tools he used to carve his name into baseball’s pantheon of greatness.

For Ray Hardy, a glove given to him in 1967 by the Say Hey Kid is the only tool that matters.

A year earlier, Hardy was a 15 year old high school kid. More than a decade had passed since Willie Mays made “The Catch” to rob Vic Wertz of an extra base hit in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.

“My friend Mike’s dad was a public relations man for Southern Airlines in Atlanta and was invited to a Braves breakfast. He ended up sitting next to Dave Pursley, the trainer for the Atlanta Braves,” says Hardy.

During the event, Dave told Mike's father that the Braves needed some bat boys, ball boys and clubhouse boys for the upcoming season. 

“And that’s how I got the job as bat boy for the visiting teams at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.” 

Born out of that breakfast meeting was a friends-and-family affair, with Ray’s friend,  Mike, serving as the team’s ball boy, and Ray’s brother, Joel, as the Braves’ clubhouse boy. 

“My brother looked like Yogi Berra so the players called him ‘Little Yogi’,” said Ray Hardy. “I was a small guy, about 130 pounds and five foot four, so the visiting teams’ uniforms didn’t fit me well but I managed. I even had my own locker in the clubhouse to change and prepare for the game.”

The jobs for all three boys were made more convenient by the fact that Joel had a car and was able to drive them to the stadium. Although Mike quit his job as bat boy midway through the 1967 season, the Hardy boys were still going strong.

Ray Hardy was given Willie Mays' glove as a bat boy for the Atlanta Braves in 1967

Ray Hardy was given Willie Mays' glove as a bat boy for the Atlanta Braves in 1967

During a series with the San Francisco Giants in town during the summer of 1967, Ray Hardy was sitting in the dugout after the team had completed batting practice and warm-ups. Willie Mays, who was a seventeen-year veteran by that point, walked up the three steps from the dugout to the field. He turned to Ray and said, "Get your glove kid.” 

“I told him that I didn’t have a glove, but he kept walking toward the field,” Hardy says. 

Luckily, one of Mays’ teammates, who was sitting next to Hardy, said, "Take this mitt.” 

He handed Ray Hardy a catcher's mitt along with a sponge pad for his palm, adding that he would need it if he was going to have a catch with the two-time NL MVP. 

“I went out to the field and played catch with Mr. Mays. My throws were all over the place, but he never said anything about them. His throws were always perfect. I could tell that he wasn't even throwing very hard, but my hand was still stinging,” says Hardy, who could only imagine what he might’ve felt without the sponge pad.

After the game, Ray Hardy went to his locker to undress and then clean and polish the players’ spikes, which was always his postgame routine. On his locker bench was Mays’ glove. Hardy immediately took the glove to Mays and informed him that he was unaware how the glove got into his locker. 

Mays responded, “That's not my glove, it's yours.” 

Hardy thanked him profusely and asked if he would sign it. Mays tapped his finger on the #24 and said, “Kid, that's all you need.” 

Hardy put the glove in a paper grocery bag and took it home. 

Fast forward a little more than a decade and Ray Hardy heard from some of his baseball card collecting friends that Willie Mays, now retired, was going to be at the Castlegate Hotel in Atlanta as an autograph guest. 

Hardy has held on to the Mays glove for more than 50 years and is now consigning it in REA's 2023 Summer Catalog Auction

Hardy has held on to the Mays glove for more than 50 years and is now consigning it in REA's 2023 Summer Catalog Auction

Hardy was determined to get the signature that eluded him when he was initially given the glove. Although he and his friends were told that Mays was only signing flats, Hardy was adamant about asking Mays directly. He patiently waited in line for his turn. When that time came, he took the glove out of the bag and slid it across the table to the 24-time All-Star. 

“You probably don't remember me, but you gave me this glove more than 10 years ago when I was a bat boy at Atlanta Stadium,” said Hardy. “You wouldn't sign it then but maybe you will now.”

Mays looked at the glove, smiled, and put it on. He rotated it, examined it for a minute and then popped it a few times. Then he showed it to the man next to him and said, “Kangaroo.” Mays then placed the glove on the table and said, “Can I have it back?”

“Of course I said no,” says Hardy with a chuckle. 

Mays offered a giant smile and then proceeded to sign the glove. 

As Hardy exited the building, one of the men sitting next to Willie Mays came down from the platform and asked him if he was fully aware of what he had in his possession. Hardy confirmed that he did, and the man added, “Be very careful leaving the show.”

Hardy then put the glove back in the brown paper bag.

Fifty-six years later, Ray Hardy decided it was time to share his long-treasured memento with someone else. He has consigned the glove to Robert Edward Auctions as part of its 2023 Summer Catalog Auction, which runs from July 24 to August 13.

Although Willie Mays made his iconic catch in 1954, it’s another catch during the summer of 1967 that remains the most treasured baseball memory for Ray Hardy. “I hope the next owner will enjoy this part of baseball history as much as I have,” Hardy added.

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