On Thursday, December 2, 2004 Sotheby's and SportsCards Plus will present 'The Babe Comes Home', a sale of Important Baseball Memorabilia with a particular focus on the history of baseball in New York. Highlighting the sale will be "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, which will return to New York and be on view to the public for the first time in more than 80 years. Other outstanding treasures to be offered include the third finest known example of the legendary T206 Honus Wagner card (est. $375/500,000); the largest known signed photograph of Babe Ruth from 1920 (est. $100/150,000); Mickey Mantle's First Major League Home Run Ball (est. $165/200,000); the Estate of Pee Wee Reese, including his 1955 World Championship Ring (est. $50/75,000); a Complete 1952 Topps Baseball Card Set (est. $300/400,000) and Derek Jeter's inscribed 2001 World Series Game 4 Walk-Off Homer Bat (est. $25/35,000). Highlights will be on view at Sotheby's Los Angeles on November 12th and 13th, and the entire offering of more than 300 items will be on public exhibition at Sotheby's in New York from Friday, November 26th to Wednesday, December 1st.
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. 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 the first game in this new park." In the third inning, Ruth 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.
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.
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".
Also from that historic opening day is a very scarce April 18, 1923 Yankee Stadium Opening Day Program. In very good condition overall, the program is estimated to sell for $3/5,000. Other relics from "The House that Ruth Built" are an original Yankee Stadium Seat (in "Yankee blue") (est. $1,500/2,000) and Home Plate from Yankee Stadium circa 1923-1973 which was removed during the 1973-74 renovation project and which is sold from the personal collection of former Kansas City Royals owner Avron B. Fogelman (est. $50/75,000).
The sale will also feature a selection of other items relating to Babe Ruth, including treasures from the dawn of his career with the Red Sox in the early 1900s. Among these early highlights are a 1916 Boston Red Sox Photograph taken just before a World Series game featuring Babe Ruth and other Hall of Famers Harry Hooper and Herb Pennock (est. $4/6,000); a unique circa 1916 original photograph of Babe Ruth (with his
wife Helen) in his Boston Red Sox team sweater (est. $3,500/4,500); and a 1918 Red Sox Team signed Baseball with Babe Ruth, which descended from the family of the gentleman who actually obtained it at the age of 7 while attending one of the 1918 World Series games played at Chicago's Comiskey Park (est. $40/60,000).
In 1919, in an act of financial desperation, Boston Red Sox team owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. With that sale, the Yankees replaced the Boston Red Sox as the dominant force in baseball for the remainder of the century. Dating from the Bambino's first season with the Yankees (1920) is the largest known signed photograph of Babe Ruth (est. $100/150,000). In his first full season with the Yankees, Babe Ruth, with 54 homers and 137 RBIs, more than paid dividends on its owner Colonel Rupert's hefty investment. While the Yankees finished third in the American League, attendance doubled from 619,000 to 1,289,000.
Other exceptional Babe Ruth items to be offered include two outstanding high grade Babe Ruth signed Balls, estimated at $50/75,000 and $40/50,000; the Babe's monogrammed Robe and Pajama Pants (est. $15/20,000); Babe Ruth's Last Will and Testament from The Ruth Estate (est. $25/35,000) and one of only two known copies of the "Babe Comes Home" one-sheet movie poster (est. $150/200,000).
From the glorious days that followed the Yankees first winning season, the sale includes a number of important items from the late 1920s. A 1927 New York Yankees Team Signed Photo captures Babe Ruth and many fellow members of "Murderer's Row" including Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri. The photograph, taken in St. Petersburg, Florida during spring training and dated Mar. 24, 1927, features 45 signatures and is estimated to sell for $50/75,000.
Second only to 1927 in the legacy of Lou Gehrig's career is his 1936 campaign when he won baseball's highest honor, capturing the league MVP award and helping the Yankees win their fourth consecutive world championship. Included in the December sale is his 1936 New York Yankees signed Contract, which entitled Gehrig to an annual salary of $31,000. Dated January 15, 1936, the contract is estimated to sell for $50/65,000. A Historic July 4, 1939 Lou Gehrig Day Plaque will also be offered. On July 4, 1939 Lou Gehrig delivered arguably the most famous speech ever uttered by an American athlete. He thanked his teammates and the fans for their support, and in return, Gehrig's teammates presented him with a trophy inscribed with a poem written by John Keiran. The present item is one of the plaques commemorating Lou Gehrig Day that the makers of Gehrig's trophy produced as keepsakes for the players. Estimated to sell for $4/6,000, it is one of only a handful that have ever surfaced on the public market.
Often described as a "picture player" Joe DiMaggio epitomized grace on the baseball diamond - both at bat and in center field. "The Yankee Clipper" won three MVP awards and in 13 seasons he amassed 361 homers. Included in the sale is a 1946 Joe DiMaggio Game-Used Bat which is estimated to sell for $15/20,000.
While 1951 marked the end of DiMaggio's career it was also the dawn of the next generation of Yankee greats with the arrival of Mickey Mantle. Foreshadowing his success, the Yankees assigned the young prodigy uniform number "6," the next in a sequence that included Babe Ruth ("3"), Lou Gehrig ("4") and Joe DiMaggio ("5"). Another spectacular highlight of the December
sale is Mickey Mantle's First Major League Home Run Ball which carries an estimate of $165/200,000. After joining the Yankees in April 1951 Mantle struggled in the major leagues and just as the cynics were ready to write him off, 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." Also from that fateful year is a 1951 New York Yankees (World Champs) Signed Baseball which is estimated to sell for $7/10,000.
Since its introduction more than 50 years ago, the 1952 Topps baseball card set has become an icon of popular culture. The set became the prototype for billions of cards that would be produced in the latter half of the 20th Century. The assembly of a truly high-grade complete 1952 Topps set is regarded as a crowning achievement amongst collectors. One of the most spectacular items to be offered this December is a Complete 1952 Topps Baseball Card Set, graded entirely PSA 8 NM-MT and is estimated to sell for $300/400,000.
Among the premier highlights to be offered is the iconic T206 Honus Wagner card. In 1909 the American Tobacco Company issued its landmark T206 set of baseball cards which featured virtually all of the baseball players of the day. Honus Wagner, a member of the
Pittsburgh Pirates organization and one of the first stars of modern day baseball, was the finest hitter of his day. The reason for the rarity of his card (approximately only 50 are known to exist) has been debated for decades. It has been suggested that due to his objection to having his name affiliated with the marketing of cigarettes, he was successful in halting the production of his card and consequently few were ever circulated. This rare survivor, the third finest known example, is estimated to sell for $375/500,000.
Another relic from the early days of the game is a six-page handwritten letter from 1900 by Christy Mathewson. Mathewson was one of the first great sports celebrities of the 20th Century. In this letter, the 19 year-old, fresh from Bucknell University, writes, just nine days after he pitched in his first Major League game against the Brooklyn Club at Washington Park, to a friend about his prospects as a major leaguer. This remarkable item is estimated to sell for $15/25,000.
The Estate of Pee Wee Reese
Sotheby's and SportsCards Plus are honored to represent the Estate of beloved Brooklyn Dodger Pee Reese in the sale of his personal collection. Pee Wee Reese joined the Dodgers in 1940 and in his 16 seasons with the club, Reese led them to seven pennants and one long-awaited World Championship, a victory over their archrivals, the Yankees, in 1955. He played the three most important positions on a baseball team - captain, shortstop and lead-off man, but it was for his friendship with Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, that Pee Wee Reese might best be remembered. Reese was endlessly supportive of his teammates and Robinson was no exception. During the Dodgers' May 14, 1947 game against the Reds in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati fans booed Robinson mercilessly, and in a defining moment, Reese walked to Robinson and put his arm around him. About that moment, Robinson wrote, "I don't even remember what he said. It was the gesture of comradeship and support that counted." Among the items to be offered are his 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers National League Championship Ring with Box and Team Photograph Plaque. Reese made the
final play that ended the grueling seven game series against the Yankees in 1955, lifting the "Bums from Brooklyn" over their pinstriped nemeses. Reese valiantly led the club to the World Series five times prior, only to fall to the Yankees. The 14kt white gold ring is estimated to sell for $50/75,000. Also from the Reese Estate is a first edition copy of Jackie Robinson's "Wait Till Next Year", inscribed to Pee Wee Reese (est. $8/12,000). A heartfelt inscription from Robinson to Reese on the title page reads: "Pee Wee whether you are willing to admit what your being just a great guy meant (a great deal) to my career, I want you to know how much I feel it meant. May I take this opportunity to say a great big thanks and I sincerely hope all things you want in life be yours. Best to the family. Sincerely, Jackie Robinson." Other items from Reese's career to be offered include his circa 1955 Game-Worn Brooklyn Dodgers Team Jacket (est. $15/25,000); his 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers Game-Worn Jersey (est. $15/20,000); his wallet, including driver's license (est. $2/3,000); his Personal Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Plaque (1984) (est. $4/6,000) and his personal collection of Dodgers Commemorative Black Bats (est. $3/5,000).
Among the highlights of baseball from the last 40 years to be included in the December sale is Sandy Koufax's 1963 No-Hitter Game Worn Spaulding Frank Bolling Model 42-212 Glove. Koufax earned his place among baseball's greatest pitchers with his dominating performance between 1962 and 1966. During that span, he won 111 games and pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965. At the height of his career in 1963, Koufax won his first Cy Young Award and was named the National League's most Valuable Player and the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, all while leading the Dodgers to a World Championship. 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 and good friend of Koufax, Herb Scharfman, is estimated to sell for $50/75,000.
An offering of items celebrating the history of the New York Mets is highlighted by a 1973 New York Mets NL Championship Banner from Shea Stadium. The banner, estimated at $15/20,000, flew over Shea Stadium from 1973-1981 commemorating yet another miracle finish for the Mets. A 1986 New York Mets Full-Size World Series Trophy is also included. The trophy, one of only a half dozen or fewer produced to celebrate the Mets victory over the Boston Red Sox, is estimated to sell for $15/25,000. Also on offer is a 2004 Mike Piazza Game-Used Mets Uniform and Game-Used Bat, which together are estimated to sell for $2,500/3,500.
In 2001 the New York Yankees faced a two-games-to-one deficit at hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks heading into Game Four of the 2001 World Series. In the bottom of the 20th inning, shortstop Derek Jeter stepped to the plate, and at 12:04 am slammed a fastball into the right-field seats for the game-winning home run. His inscribed bat, used to hit that memorable walk-off homer, is estimated to sell for $25/35,000.