On Thursday, December 2, 2004 SportsCards Plus and Sotheby's will offer "The Holy Grail" of sports memorabilia, the bat with which Babe Ruth slammed the first home run in the new Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923. After having been used in one of the most famous moments in baseball's history, the bat was signed and donated by Ruth to a newspaper contest as the top prize for a high school home run hitting competition and was won by a young boy who carefully preserved it for more than eight decades. Upon his death, he willed the bat to his caretaker who has kept it in her possession until now. The bat, which is estimated to bring in excess of $1 million, will be the highlight of a sale of approximately 250 items devoted to the history of baseball in New York that will include many rarities. Ranging from the finest known 1927 New York Yankees Signed Team Photo, to the personal collection of Pee Wee Reese including his 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Series Ring, to Derek Jeter's 2001 World Series Signed Walk Off Homer Bat, the sale spans the 20th century.
Prior to the December 2nd auction at Sotheby's in New York, there will be a public exhibition of all of the items, also at Sotheby's, from November 27-December 1, 2004.
The Ruth bat is expected to join the Honus Wagner T-206 and Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball as the only other pieces of sports memorabilia to fetch over $1 million at auction, and some industry experts believe it could make sports memorabilia history as the most expensive single item ever sold.
Said to be "simply the finest piece of sports memorabilia in the world" by SportsCards Plus President David Kohler, the bat will be put up for auction after resting undisturbed for the past eight decades. "It is unanimous. The authenticity, provenance, and condition are beyond reproach. Virtually everyone who sees it is simply blown away, not only by the mere existence of the bat, but also by its incredible beauty. It has a definite aura about it. We are very excited about partnering with Sotheby's to sell this remarkable treasure."
SportsCards Plus Auction Director Dan Imler, said, "It is hard to put a value on an item of such singular importance. Ruth was a man of mythic proportions. More than any other man, he transcended sports, achieving a nearly unrivaled status as an American icon. This bat, the ultimate tool of his trade, is the finest sports artifact we'll see in our lifetime."
Marsha Malinowski, Senior Vice President of Sotheby's, added, "This bat christened Yankee Stadium "The House that Ruth Built" making it one of the most exciting pieces of sports memorabilia history ever to be auctioned. Sotheby's is thrilled to be involved with a sale of this magnitude."
THE OPENING DAY HOME RUN
The Babe's spectacular home run in Yankee Stadium's first game is often recalled as one of the most dramatic moments in sport's history. Known as "The House that Ruth Built," the most revered venue in sports, Yankee Stadium opened amidst great fanfare with a game against the Boston Red Sox that historic day. An unprecedented crowd of 74,000 were on hand with nearly 25,000 more fans being turned away at the gates. All eyes were on the great Bambino, who upon emerging from the clubhouse and taking the field for the first time, proclaimed "This is some ball yard!" Prior to the game, Ruth set the stage with his famous quote, "I'd give a year of my life if I could hit a home run in this new park." In the third inning, Ruth, true to form, gave the fans and the rest of the world exactly what they wanted with a blistering line drive shot into the right field bleachers. The jubilant crowd erupted as Ruth rounded the bases, completing the baptism of Yankee Stadium in storybook fashion. "The House That Ruth Built" has since been the home of 25 championship teams and 98 World Series games in the 20th century.
To many, he was "The Sultan of Swat," the "Bambino." To his teammates, he was "Bam" and "Jidge." Regardless of his current handle, fans, peers, and historians alike remember Babe Ruth as a larger-than-life figure whose charisma and unequaled prowess on the baseball diamond propelled him to a level of popularity in American society that had never before been realized.
Ruth's majestic home run on the Grand Opening of Yankee Stadium marked the beginning of an era. The three-run blast propelled the Yankees to a 4-1 victory that afternoon, prompting legendary sportswriter Fred Lieb to dub the newly built park, "The House that Ruth Built."
"Once the Babe homered, the fans cheered forever," said Bob Shawkey, the winning pitcher that afternoon. "Can you imagine anyone paying attention to me that day? Babe owned the day. That was just fine; he was born to be in the spotlight. It was his day from beginning to end."
The Yankees' opponent that day, the Red Sox, have entertained a less enchanting run through the past 80 years, making this bat a tangible artifact relating to a popular bit of Boston folklore known as "The Curse of The Bambino."
THE HISTORY OF THE BAT SINCE APRIL 18, 1923
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 Los Angeles 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. 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.
Two months prior to Ruth's passing, he returned to Yankee Stadium for the last time on June 13, 1948 for the park's 25th anniversary. Frail and ailing with throat cancer, the weakened Ruth was announced by Mel Allen to a raucous ovation. Draped in his old uniform, he struggled over to a microphone near home plate using a bat as a cane, while the crowd of 49,647 sang "Auld Lang Syne". In a gravelly voice the Babe proclaimed how proud he was to have hit the first homer in Yankee Stadium and added "...lord knows who'll hit the last".
Additional highlights of the December auction include one of the finest privately owned collections of Babe Ruth Memorabilia highlighted by the ball hit by Ruth for his 48th Homer of the 1927 season (inscribed) , Babe Ruth's Monogrammed Robe & Pajamas, The Babe's personal Equipment Bag c. 1927, Babe Ruth's Shotgun, as well as multiple Babe Ruth autographed photos and handwritten correspondence. Other auction highlights include Mickey Mantle's First Major League Home Run Baseball, Lou Gehrig's 1936 New York Yankees Signed Contract from his MVP Season, (inscribed), the largest signed Babe Ruth photo known to exist (1920) and an Exceptional Signed Mickey Mantle Game Used Bat, circa 1958. Items from other sought after players such as Ty Cobb, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter and other New York baseball greats will also be offered in this extraordinary multimillion dollar sale.
SportsCards Plus and Sotheby's are still accepting consignments for this amazing auction event through August 27th.
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