LeRoy Neiman’s Marilyn Monroe Portrait on DiMaggio-Signed Baseball Nets $96,000

This baseball with an image of Marilyn Monroe, drawn by expressionist LeRoy Neiman, on a baseball signed by JoeDiMaggio sold for $95,600 at Heritage Auctions on May 16.

Up-and-coming silver screen siren Marilyn Monroe and New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio on their wedding day, Jan. 14, 1954, in San Francisco.

I met Joe DiMaggio once, when I was 17. A friend of mine was DiMaggio’s third cousin, twice-removed or something like that, and he invited me to a DiMaggio family barbeque that Joltin’ Joe was going to attend.

At the time, in the mid-’80s, DiMaggio was better known as “Mr. Coffee” to kids of my generation, not as the revered baseball player. But being a baseball history nerd, I knew enough to realize I was going to meet baseball royalty; the man who owned the one record that most experts believe will never be broken, his 56-game hitting streak. And I also knew he was once briefly married to Marilyn Monroe.

“The only rule is,” my friend told me with all seriousness before we went into his uncle’s backyard, “is that you cannot mention Marilyn. If you do, Joe will get up and leave.” DiMaggio had always been testy when it came to Monroe; he didn’t want to discuss her and he resolutely refused to sign anything that had to do with her.

And that’s what makes a baseball, autographed by DiMaggio and later uses as a spherical canvas by expressionist artist LeRoy Neiman, worth a small fortune. Neiman used black, red and yellow Magic Markers to draw a portrait of Monroe on the ball, making it the only known DiMaggio-signed Marilyn Monroe item. The baseball sold for $95,600 (including a buyer’s premium) on May 16 at Heritage Auctions.

The Monroe image was drawn on a baseball previously autographed by Joe DiMaggio, who was briefly married to Monroe and who refused to sign anything related to her.

Neiman signed the ball with the phrase: “Marilyn on the ball LeRoy Neiman.”

Neiman—known for his boldly colored, expressionist artwork of athletes, musicians and sporting events—first tried his hand at working on baseballs in 1978. Charlie McCabe, who was a friend of Neiman, put his collection of 129 Neiman art-baseballs—featuring all-time greats from the world of sports and entertainment—up for sale at Heritage’s Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction. The estimated presale values of the baseballs were about $4,000 for each one, with the Monroe ball expected to do better at $6,000.The ball depicting Marilyn Monroe is signed “To Charlie, Best Wishes, Joe DiMaggio.”

The collection of Neiman baseballs also featured non-baseball athletes from Wilt Chamberlain to Bobby Hull to Billy Jean King and Al Unser. Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope make appearances on baseballs, and there are even a couple self-portraits of Neiman that are really nothing more than a hat, a mustache and a cigar.

The baseball with the second-highest realized value at the auction was a 1991 baseball titled “Shot Heard ’round the World” depicting the home run that led the New York Giants to the National League pennant in 1951. The ball has individual portraits of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ralph Branca’s pitch on one side of the ball and the Giants’ Bobby Thomson’s swing on the other. The ball includes both players’ autographs and the lot also featured a letter about the ball signed by Neiman, two unsigned snapshots of Neiman with Thompson and Branca, and a poster of a Neiman painting depicting the famous home run signed by Thomson, Branca, Pee Wee Reese and Neiman. This baseball sold for $28,680.

A 1991 baseball titled “Shot Heard ’round the World” depicting Bobby Thompson’s (pictured) home run that led the New York Giants to the National League pennant in 1951. It sold for $28,680, the second-highest prince of the auction.

On the other side of the ball is an image of Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca’s fateful pitch that, upon landing in the leftfield stands, was immortalized with Russ Hodges’ famous call: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

Thomson signed one side of the baseball.

Branca signed the other side.

A baseball depicting Willie Mays in mid-swing realized $26,290 and balls featuring DiMaggio ($23,900) and Ted Williams ($19,120) rounded out the top five.

Neiman, who sported an epic mustache and was partial to big cigars, died in 2012, 12 days short of 91. He was the official painter for five Olympiads, but his bright, multicolored work covered all types of sports and other entertainment occasions, sometimes working on the sidelines while the event was in progress. He also did illustrations for Playboy magazine.

The collection also includes a baker’s dozen balls featuring the Playboy “Femlin” character. Neiman created the Femlins—mischievous, black-and-white female sprites wearing only black stockings, high heels and opera gloves—in 1955 when Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner asked him to create some visuals for the magazine’s Party Jokes page. The Femlin name comes from a combination of “female” and “gremlin.” The highest-selling Femlin ball went for $3,107 and the princes fell to $776.75.

The baseball that sold for the least amount as a 1979 baseball of outfielder and coach Lee Mazzilli, which was one the first baseballs Neiman did. It sold for $657.25. The online auction overall fetched a total of $491,748.

As for meeting DiMaggio, I said hello to him, he shook my hand and that was the entirety of my interaction with the Yankee Clipper.


Gregory Watkins is the editor of WorthPoint.com You can e-mail him at greg.watkins@worthpoint.com

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