fter 80 years in hiding, the bat with which Babe Ruth slugged the first home run in the new Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, April 18, 1923, will be auctioned along with many other prized and valuable baseball memorabilia as part of an incredible event dubbed The Babe Comes Home— A Celebration of New York Baseball.
"In my 25-years in the sports memorabilia business, this is the greatest piece I have ever handled," said SportsCards Plus President David Kohler. "The condition is impeccable and it carries the finest Ruth signature ever seen on a bat. It's got everything – the man, the game, the stadium – everything. It's a phenomenal piece."
This phenomenal piece came into existence on April 18, 1923. On that spring day, Babe Ruth stood in the Yankees' dugout and looked out as the stands filled with fans looking down on the pristine field of the newly built Yankee Stadium for the first time. Within less than an hour, the stadium would host its inaugural game and Ruth had one thing on his mind – he wanted to christen the place with its first home run.
Just a few hours earlier Ruth had said, "I'd give a year of my life if I could hit a homerun on opening day of this great new park."
It was a day of great excitement and fanfare in the Bronx as the Yankees took the field against their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox. A record crowd of 74,000 fans were on hand and 25,000 more had been turned away at the gates. When Ruth stepped foot on the field for the first time every eye in the place was on him. "This is some ball yard!" Ruth reportedly said as he gazed up into the packed stands.
Three innings into that game, The Babe gave both himself, and the fans, exactly what they wanted when he blasted a blistering line drive shot into the right field bleachers. The crowd erupted as Ruth rounded the bases and as his foot touched home plate, the Grand Opening of Yankee Stadium, and the beginning of a new era in baseball, were formally baptized.
Ruth's three-run blast propelled the Yankees to a 4-1 victory over Boston that afternoon, prompting legendary sportswriter Fred Lieb to tag the newly built park with a nickname that would become synonymous with the stadium's official name: "The House That Ruth Built."
Since that day, "The House That Ruth Built" has been the home of 25 championship teams and 98 World Series games. And while the 20th Century saw some of the world's greatest known players take the field in the legendary stadium, none has ever quite achieved the stature of the man, who to this day, still looms large over the venue and the game itself.
To the fans and sportswriters he was "The Sultan of Swat" or "The Bambino." To his teammates, he was "Bam" and "Jidge." Regardless of what he was called, he was, and continues to be, 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 has never been equaled.
The Babe's opening day home run during Yankee Stadium's first game has gone down in history as one of the most dramatic moments in sport's history. "Once the Babe homered, the fans cheered forever," said Bob Shawkey, the winning pitcher of that game. "Can you imagine anyone paying attention to me that day? The Babe owned the day. That was just fine. He was born to be in the spotlight. It was his day from beginning to end."
Prior to that game, Ruth's agent, Christy Walsh, suggested that he sign the bat and donate it to the Los Angeles Evening Herald newspaper. Walsh had worked for the paper years earlier and set up this program. "Walsh wanted to promote Major League Baseball on the west coast and he knew that The Babe was always supportive of kids and young ball players," said Kohler. "So, he suggested that the bat be donated to the 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 a young power hitter from Manual Arts High School named Victor Orsatti by the Los Angeles Evening Herald and then-Los Angeles Mayor George Cryer on June 7, 1923.
Today, after resting undisturbed for nearly 80 years (many of which were under a bed in the Orsatti's home) this historic bat has been retrieved in pristine condition.
Dubbed the "Holy Grail of Sports Memorabilia," experts believe it is one of the most sought-after pieces of sports memorabilia in history.
"There's no doubt about it," said Kohler. "This is simply the finest piece of sports memorabilia in the world. And people love bats. They were made especially for the player and actually held in their hands."
After eight decades out of public view, the bat made its debut at the National Sports Collectors Convention. It will be auctioned, along with many other prized and valuable memorabilia. SportsCards Plus has partnered with Sotheby's and the auction is scheduled for Dec. 2nd at Sotheby's. There will be a public exhibition of all the items prior to the sale from November 27-December 1, 2004.
"It is unanimous," said Kohler. "The authenticity, provenance, and condition of the bat 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. It is the single greatest piece of sports memorabilia ever discovered and along with the bat, we are planning to have many incredible artifacts representing the rich history of baseball in New York as part of The Babe Comes Home themed auction."
Among those other items will be a mint condition single signed Ruth baseball, the largest and finest known Ruth Signed Photograph from 1921 which measures 27 1/2" x 37 1/2" and much, much more.
In addition to the remarkable Ruth bat, there are many other super high-end items for sale in the amazing auction including many items from the Mark Lewis collection. Mark's collection was featured previously in the October 2003 SMR. It is also available online at psacard.com under the article archive section. This collection is all about the man who is highlighted in the auction – Babe Ruth. There are many unique items in the collection including some very rare autographed pieces such a handwritten letters and several personal items.
The auction will also offer the personal collection of legendary Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese, including game-worn items, autographed pieces, his 1955 World Series and 1953 National League Championship rings, awards, photos, programs, contracts and more.
Some of the other unique items up for auction will include Micky Mantle's first Major League home run baseball, one of the finest game-used and signed Mickey Mantle bats, circa 1958, Lou Gehrig's signed 1936 Yankees Contract from his MVP season, a Joe DiMaggio game-used bat, the finest known 1927 Yankees team signed photograph, a game ball from Don Larsen's Perfect Game in the 1956 World Series and an exceptionally rare 1913 New York Giants team panoramic photo which includes Christy Mathewson, John McGraw and Jim Thorpe.
Still, no matter what incredible items of historic significance are presented, the piece that will receive the lion's share of attention with be the Ruth bat which will be sold along with accompanying documentation including newspaper clips and a congratulatory telegram from The Babe to Orsatti that read:
Glad to hear you win Evening Herald home run bat but sorry there was not a trophy for all the boys. In my home run experience I have found a fellow frequently fails when he tries hardest therefore send my regards to the ones who tried and congratulation to you for winning.
George "Babe" Ruth
Since the bats discovery, its potential value has been a hotly debated topic and most experts expect it 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. Some industry experts even believe it could make sports memorabilia history as the most expensive single item ever sold, fetching more than the $2.5 million dollars that Yankee Stadium cost to be built.
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."
The first time he appeared in Yankee Stadium, The Babe used a simple piece of carved lumber to hit a homer that has gone on to become the Holy Grail of baseball memorabilia. The last time he ever appeared in "The House That Ruth Built", he used a bat for a very different purpose. On June 13, 1948, just two months before he passed away, The Babe returned to Yankee Stadium for the final time. He was on hand to celebrate 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.
After the crowd of 49,647 sang Auld Lang Syne, The Babe stepped up to a microphone that had been placed at home plate. In a gravelly voice he proclaimed how proud he was to have hit the first homer in Yankee Stadium and added "... Lord knows who'll hit the last".
Today, almost sixty years later, Yankee Stadium still plays a vital role on the landscape of America's Pastime – and hopefully, despite the trend to tear down legendary ballparks to make way for skyboxed extravaganzas, the bat that is used to hit the last home run in "The House That Ruth Built" will be one piece of memorabilia that will never materialize.
Founded in 1979, SportsCards Plus is celebrating their 25th anniversary, having become one of the largest dealers of vintage and historic sports memorabilia in the United States. Dealing in virtually every sport, SportsCards Plus carries one of the most diversified sports card and memorabilia collections in the nation from the 1880s to the present. For more information on The Babe Comes Home – A Celebration of New York Baseball, SportsCards Plus can be reached at 800-350-2273 or by visiting their website at www.sportscardsplus.com.
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