New York, New York, December 2, 2004 - This afternoon, in an overflowing salesroom, SportsCards Plus and Sotheby's sold Babe Ruth's signed bat used to slam the first home run in Yankee Stadium for $1,265,000, a record for a baseball bat at auction. Applause erupted in the room when the hammer finally fell, and "The Holy Grail" of sports memorabilia was purchased by a prominent East Coast collector.
The bat now stands as one of only three pieces of sports memorabilia to eclipse the $1 million mark. It was included in a sale of 311 lots of Important Baseball Memorabilia which brought a total of $4,687,486. Remarkably, the average price per lot in this unprecedented event was $15,072.
"We are thrilled with the overall results of this auction, and are pleased that the Ruth bat, along with its accompanying documentation will now be the centerpiece in the most comprehensive private collection of Babe Ruth memorabilia known" said SportsCards Plus Auction Director Dan Imler. "Since the bat was first made public and authenticated by all of the industry's leading experts in 2002, this individual has repeatedly expressed his intense desire to acquire this treasure." Imler said.
Other record setting highlights of the day included Mickey Mantle's First Major League Home Run Ball, which sold for $189,750, Sandy Koufax's 1963 No-Hitter Game Worn Spalding Frank Bolling Model 42-212 Glove, which brought $126,500, Home Plate from Yankee Stadium circa 1923-1973, which sold for $115,000, a Giant 1920 Babe Ruth Signed Display Photograph, which sold for $149,500, Babe Ruth's New York Yankees Flannel Road Pants, circa 1933, which soared past a pre-sale estimate of $15/25,000 to sell for $109,250, and Lou Gehrig's 1936 New York Yankees Signed Contract (MVP Season), which sold for $115,000 against a high estimate of $65,000.
Lee Dunbar, Director of Sotheby's Collectibles Department and David Kohler, President of SportsCards Plus, said, "The sale was a home run. This bat has the distinction of being the second most valuable piece of sport memorabilia ever sold, tying the price achieved for Honus Wagner T206 Baseball Card PSA 8. The success of the sale reinforces the fact that baseball is still America's national pastime."
Babe Ruth's Bat Used To Hit the First Home Run at Yankee Stadium - April 18, 1923
The Babe's spectacular home run in Yankee Stadium's first game is often recalled as one of the most dramatic moments in sports history. After his home run, Ruth, always supportive of kids and young ball players, donated the bat to The Los Angeles Evening Herald newspaper to be awarded as the top prize in a high school home run hitting contest.
On the bat, the Babe inscribed, "To the Boy Home Run King of Los Angeles 'Babe' Ruth, N.Y. May 7, 1923." The bat was awarded to Victor Orsatti by the Herald on June 7, 1923. Upon his death in 1984, Mr. Orsatti willed the bat, along with all of his personal effects, to his caretaker. She kept it in her possession, under her bed, until now. In honor of Victor Orsatti, and in the spirit of Babe Ruth's inclination towards helping children, she intends to use a portion of her proceeds from the sale of this bat to fund a baseball program at an orphanage in Mexico, where she now spends a great deal of her time. Together with the bat is a telegram from Ruth congratulating Orsatti on his win as well as an album of newspaper cuttings and other mementoes relating to the contest.
Since the bat made its first public debut at the Chicago National Sports Collector's Convention in 2002, it has been unanimously heralded as the greatest discovery in the field of Sports Memorabilia by leading industry experts. Joe Orlando, President of PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), whose firm was among the first to examine the piece, stated, "This Babe Ruth bat, in my opinion, is the most historically significant item we have authenticated to date and I cannot imagine the existence of another item on par with this one. The provenance, quality, and the story behind this bat make it one of the hobby's most captivating treasures."
Among the other highlights of today's sale was Mickey Mantle's First Major League Home Run Ball which brought $189,750. On May 1, 1951, while facing one of the most imposing pitching veterans (Chicago White Sox Randy Gumpert), Mantle hit his first homer. A Yankee pitcher warming up in the bullpen retrieved the ball for his young teammate and Mantle inscribed it: "My first H.R. in the Majors, May 1, 1951, 4:50 p.m. Chicago…6th inning off Randy Gumpert."
Sandy Koufax's 1963 No-Hitter Game Worn Spalding Frank Bolling Model 42-212 Glove brought an outstanding $126,500. Koufax earned his place among baseball's greatest pitchers with his dominating performance between 1962 and 1966. Perhaps his greatest performance from his greatest season came on May 11, 1963. In a masterful outing he baffled the Giants at Dodger Stadium pitching his second career no-hitter in the 8-0 victory. This glove, which was presented immediately following the game to legendary sports photographer Herb Scarfman, a good friend of Koufax, was estimated to sell for $50/75,000.
The sale also included a number of items from the estate of former Brooklyn Dodger captain Pee Wee Reese. Several of the Reese items from the Dodgers magical 1955 season were purchased by Travis McCourt, son of Frank McCourt, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Regarding his purchases, Travis McCourt stated, that the goal of the Dodgers organization is to "bring as much of the heritage of the team to the fans," noting that they plan to exhibit the items at the stadium in anticipation of 50th anniversary of the Dodgers first World Series victory over the Yankees in 1955. Among the items they purchased was Pee Wee's 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers National League Championship Ring with Box and Team Photograph Plaque for $69,000.
Other prominent Reese items sold include Pee Wee's Signed Brooklyn Dodgers Game Worn Cap, Circa 1955 for $16,100, his Engraved Silver Platter Presented to Pee Wee Reese by his 1955 Brooklyn Teammates for $12,650, Pee Wee Reese's Personal Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Plaque for $17,250, a Jackie Robinson Inscribed First Edition Copy of "Wait Till Next Year" to Pee Wee Reese for $25,875, and Pee Wee's Personal Photograph of Himself with Jackie Robinson for $18,400.
Throughout the sale, the invigorated crowd that packed the house consistently pushed prices to staggering levels in every category, but there was no question that the day belonged to the Sultan of Swat. In addition to the bat, Babe Ruth related items from the collection of hobby veteran Mark Lewis performed exceptionally well. A number of records fell and many of the prices were hammered down well above their catalogue estimates.
Highlights from the Mark Lewis Collection included a Babe Ruth Handwritten Letter to his Mistress, Circa 1922 for $86,250 (est. $30/50,000), Babe Ruth's Inscribed Ball Hit for His 48th Home Run of the 1927 Season for $51,750, Babe Ruth's 1927 Saxophone from Paul Whiteman for $27,600 (est. $10/15,000), and a Babe Ruth Handwritten Letter Regarding "Babe Comes Home," Circa 1927 for $29,900 (est. $8/12,000).
Baseball card aficionados competed for a noteworthy selection of rarities including a 1933 Goudey #144 Babe Ruth PSA 9 MT that sold for $74,750.
A complete list of Prices Realized in PDF format is available here.
Sotheby's and SportsCards Plus are planning a sale for Spring, 2005 and are currently accepting quality consignments. For more information please contact Sotheby's Collectibles Department at 212.606.7910 or SportsCards Plus at 1.800.350.2273.