WATCHUNG, NJ - Robert Edward Auctions announced Monday that a trio of historic and valuable items tied to the legendary life and career of baseball icon Lou Gehrig have been consigned to the company's upcoming annual catalog auction.
They include a 1925-29 Gehrig pro model bat with strong use once personally gifted by Gehrig to his next-door neighbor, a 1938 game-used road jersey, believed to be worn in his last World Series with the Yankees, and a high-grade, single-signed and inscribed Gehrig autographed baseball, also with special provenance.
Gehrig items are among the most highly sought after in the world of sports memorabilia. A heroic, yet ultimately tragic figure, any Gehrig material directly related to his shortened career always draws a crowd of passionate collectors. Rare game-used or game-worn items occupy a special plateau in collecting hierarchy.
A popular hometown boy, Gehrig was one of baseball's most robust figures in the spring of 1938. Coming off one of the greatest seasons in the game's history in 1937 when he batted .351 with 37 home runs and 159 runs batted in, he was at the pinnacle of his game. The Yankees were champions and Gehrig played his usual giant role.
He put up more than respectable stats in 1938, but to those who saw him on a daily basis, it was clear something wasn't right. Gehrig finally pulled himself from the lineup just seven games into the 1939 season, establishing a consecutive games played streak of 2130 games that lasted until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it nearly six decades later. Of course, the Iron Horse was eventually diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that would claim his life just three years later.
REA is offering one of Gehrig's last jerseys, one he donned throughout his last full season when the Yankees played away from home. No more than a half dozen game-used Gehrig jerseys are believed to exist today, one of which resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The gray flannel jersey bears the original lettering and tagging. The placement, alignment and shape of the individual letters on the front and the shape of the number "4" on reverse are seen in period photographs. It's possible the buttons are vintage replacements but the jersey displays significant game use.
Auction house officials believe they not only have a photo match of Gehrig wearing this jersey in a team picture and in the dugout during the 1938 season, but also a photo match of Gehrig at bat wearing this very jersey in the 1938 World Series. "This is a remarkable jersey of incredible historical significance," said REA president Rob Lifson.
The Yankees swept the Cubs in the '38 Series, playing games 3 and 4 in Chicago's Wrigley Field, a fact that makes it possible, perhaps even likely, that the jersey was on Gehrig's back during his final World Series appearance.
Graded A7 by MEARS, the jersey carries a $50,000 reserve and a $100,000+ pre-sale estimate.
The second item dates from a more celebrated period in Gehrig's career. Making its way to the auction block for the first time in 11 years, a 1925-29 era Gehrig bat bears witness to his status as one of the game's most feared sluggers. Its provenance tells the tale of a young Gehrig befriending a neighbor in New Rochelle, New York.
The 35 ½", 41 ½ ounce Hillerich & Bradsby Gehrig model bat is considered one of the best Gehrig bats in existence.
The bat is accompanied by a two-page letter from the family of Gehrig's next-door neighbor, written in May of 2000, just before it was first sold in an REA auction for $49,233-at the time, a record price for a Gehrig bat. The original purchaser has now consigned it back to REA.
The bat shows heavy use including cleat marks and dozens of ball marks as well as the outline of handle tape that Gehrig commonly used but was removed at one point. REA President Robert Lifson notes, "This is an incredible bat, all the more so in that it has no leap of faith or mystery as to its provenance. This bat has practically been handed to us by Lou Gehrig himself! It would be hard to imagine a finer or more desirable example."
The letter from Gehrig's next-door neighbor focuses on the friendship Gehrig forged with the consignor's father, who was a young man Gehrig held in special regard. It pulls back the curtain on Gehrig's superstar status, yet paints him as an affable man who treated his neighbor as a "younger brother".
It reads, in part:
"My father grew up in New Rochelle, New York, right next door to Lou Gehrig, and because of this, Lou became friendly with my father and looked upon him as a younger brother. Both my father and Lou did many things together, such as my father going to Yankee Stadium with Lou. After many of the games, they would run from Yankee Stadium for many blocks, to where Lou parked his car to avoid the terrible crowds... Many of the most enjoyable times we had were the dinners at "Mom Gehrig's" house... As you know it was difficult for me to decide to auction off the bat, but I feel that it would be important for others to enjoy something that I have enjoyed for many years..."
"This is by far the most extraordinary Lou Gehrig game-used bat we have ever seen, let alone offered. It would be a centerpiece in even the most advanced Hall of Fame bat, New York Yankees or Lou Gehrig collection," said Lifson.
Partly because of his shortened career-and life-Gehrig autographs are in relatively short supply. High-grade examples are even harder to locate. REA offers a 1930s single-signed Gehrig ball in the upcoming auction.
The official American League ball is inscribed in black fountain pen on a side panel: "To Buddy Zwick With Kind Regards, Lou Gehrig". The ball originates directly from Zwick's family and is accompanied by a handwritten note from Zwick's grandson, in which he details its history.
Gehrig single-signed baseballs are extremely rare and much harder to find than Babe Ruth single-signed balls. The Zwick ball dates to the 1934-39 manufacturing period.
"The Gehrig ball is one of the finest examples we've ever seen, let alone offered," Lifson said. "Gehrig is one of the keys to any advanced single-signed Hall of Fame ball collection and this example is exceptional in all regards, but all the more so due to its remarkable provenance from the family of the original recipient. That's as good as it gets. All of these Gehrig items have special provenance that is rarely seen and makes them particularly desirable to collectors."
The ball carries a $5,000 reserve and $10,000+ pre-sale estimate.
To learn more about Robert Edward Auctions, to receive a complimentary copy of the catalog when it is published next month, or to inquire about consignments, visit http://www.robertedwardauctions.com/ or call 908-226-9900.