ver the past century, every major sport has produced athletes that have gone on to become stars and capture worldwide fame and popularity. Some of these men and women transcended the galaxy of simple stardom and went on to superstardom. A small exclusive group became legends, and an even more select few became icons – whose very name and image has become synonymous with the game they played.
Then there are those who have not only reached the summit, but have who have remained on the pinnacle, to forever rule as legendary superstar icons of sport. This is where you will find the temples of the gods and goddesses of athleticism. It is the jockocracy's Mount Rushmore. This is where you'll find "The Babe".
"The Babe" who began life as George Herman Ruth, Jr., was born to Kate and George Ruth on February 6, 1895 in a modest Baltimore home that was owned by his grandparents. He was the Ruth's first child, and while the couple would go on to have eight children, all of them died in infancy except George Jr. and his sister Mamie.
George Senior was a bartender, who scrimped and saved to ultimately open his own tavern that he ran with Kate.
The demands of running the bar gave George and Kate little free time to spend with young George Jr. and by the time he was 7-years old the couple felt they could no longer care for him. On June 13, 1902, the legal custody of George Jr. was transferred to the Xaverian Brothers, a Catholic order of missionaries who ran St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys.
St. Mary's was a reformatory and orphanage that housed around 800 children and within days of his arrival, George Jr. had been classified as being "incorrigible". Over the following years, George Jr. did return to live with his family for periods. These periods were, however, brief and unhappy times that always saw young George sent back to St. Mary's where his parents never visited.
Ironically, if it had not been for his incorrigible behavior at St. Mary's, George Jr. may have never developed an interest, love and talent for the game of baseball. Brother Mathias, who was the main disciplinarian at St. Mary's, took George Jr. under his wing. Mathias spent untold hours with George Jr. giving him guidance, support and instilling within him an interest in baseball.
Baseball was the primary recreational activity for the boys of St. Mary's, and from the first time he took to the field, George Jr. showed promise. He could pitch, field and hit and, by the time he had reached his late teens, he had honed those skills to a degree that professional scouts had begun to take notice.
On February 27, 1914, Jack Dunn, the manager of a minor league team in the International League known as the Baltimore Orioles, offered George Jr. a contract to play ball with his team. There was, however, one stumbling block: Young George was underage, the ward of the Xaverian Brothers, and thus, required to remain at St. Mary's until he was 21-years old.
Jack Dunn, a shrewd and determined businessman, didn't let that little problem get in his way at all. He offered to become George Jr's. legal guardian, a move that would not only see his young prospect leave St. Mary's behind, but also his given name. Having heard that Dunn had legal custody of George Jr., other Oriole players began calling him "Jack's babe". The nickname "Babe" ultimately stuck and the baseball world was soon to meet Babe Ruth.
The Babe may have gotten his name from the Orioles, but that would be about all he would get from the team. Within months, he was sold to the Boston Red Sox where, on July 11, 1914, he made his major league debut, on the mound of Fenway Park as the Sox took on the Cleveland Indians.
During his time with the Red Sox, the Babe would spend his mornings at a Boston coffee shop where he was served breakfast by a 17-year old waitress named Helen Woodford. A romance blossomed between the Babe and Helen and, before 1914 was in the history books, they married at St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City, Maryland.
The couple returned to Boston where they purchased a home in Sudbury, Massachusetts just outside of Boston.
The Babe played for the Red Sox through the 1919 season and, in December of that year, he was sold to the New York Yankees. Under the ownership of Colonel Jacob Ruppert and the management of Miller Huggins, the Yankees were a lackluster franchise that had become the brunt of jokes and were accustomed to taking the home field to a resounding choir of "Bronx Cheers".
The Babe changed all that when he and Helen moved into New York's Ansonia Hotel and he took up residency in Yankee Stadium, a venue that would in the future come to be known as "The House That Ruth Built". Yankee fans, which had never seen the hometown team wrangle a pennant, were on the dawn of seeing the Bronx Boomers garnering seven pennants and four World Championships between 1920 and 1933.
During the Babe's early years with the Yankees, things could not have been better. In 1921, he and Helen adopted a baby girl named Dorothy and his career and popularity were soaring. Those halcyon days came to an abrupt end on January 11, 1929 when Helen Ruth died in a fire. The Babe was never a person who dwelled on the bad pitches that he was thrown, either on or off the field. He also didn't spend too much time grieving over the loss of his wife. In fact, within three months he met and married a young widow from Georgia named Claire Hodgson.
On the field, both the Yankees and the Babe were unstoppable. His last year as a Yankee was 1934, and with a desire to manage and with the promise to do so, he was enticed to sign on with the Boston Braves. Unfortunately, the Braves owner, Judge Emil Fuchs, never delivered on his promise and the Babe played his last game, in a Braves uniform, on May 30, 1935. Even after he formally announced his retirement the following month, the Babe still hoped he would get the opportunity to manage – it was an opportunity that would never come.
On February 2, 1936, with 95 percent of the vote, the Babe became one of the first inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. During the remainder of the 1930 and 1940s, he pursued his many interests including hunting, fishing, bowling and golf. That carefree life, unfortunately, did not last long. In 1946, the Babe was diagnosed with throat cancer, a result of his years of chewing tobacco. Doctors and surgeons did all they could to save the Babe but even the removal of tumors and radiation treatments could not arrest the relentless disease. Released from the hospital in February of 1947, the Babe was greatly weakened. Still, despite the toll that the cancer had taken on him, he did return to Yankee Stadium on April 27 as Babe Ruth Day was officially declared.
The Bambino's final year on Earth was spent quietly with his wife Claire. He did also make one final public appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Yankee Stadium. During that celebration, he donned his uniform for the last time and the team retired his number. Two months later, the Babe was gone. He slipped the surly bonds of Earth at 8:01 p.m. on August 16, 1948, and his body was taken to Yankee Stadium where he lay in state for two days. Hundreds of thousands of fans lined up to pass his casket and to say goodbye to the great Babe Ruth. On August 19, his funeral Mass was conducted at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and he was laid to rest at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
The Babe had risen from extremely humble beginnings to show a genuine love for life, baseball and children. He played the game of both life and baseball passionately and with great gusto. Perhaps, due to his own less-than-perfect childhood, he did whatever he could to help children who were sick or in need, making countless visits to hospitals and orphanages. And, when his life was over at the age of 53, he left a legacy – a legacy that will forever recognize him as the most legendary and heroic superstar of iconic proportions that the world of sports may ever produce.
"There was an aura that surrounded Babe Ruth," said Mark Lewis of Mark Lewis Sports Memorabilia, Inc. in Centereach, New York. "I was born in 1946, so I never saw him play or met him, but I'm well aware of Ruth's aura. On one hand he was this big, pudgy guy who stole bases and hit homeruns but, when you compare him to the players of the modern era, you clearly see that no one compares to him."
And, just as adamantly as Lewis contends that no other player compares with the Babe, he is equally quick to tell you that no other Babe Ruth collector has a collection that compares with the one that he has amassed.
"I have things that the Hall of Fame doesn't have," said Lewis. "I have things that the Ruth family doesn't have. There are collectors out there who have Ruth signed balls and photos, I have them too, but those aren't the things that turn me on – for me, its got to be unique, it's got to be something that people see and say 'wow'. I want the things that no one else has."
There is certainly no doubting the fact that Mark's collection is both unique and that it hits the mark with the "wow" factor. His dream is to have his collection housed in a Babe Ruth museum and he has been talking with Yankee Stadium and a well-known entertainment company about doing such a project. However, until that dream becomes a reality, we here at Sports Market Report would like to open our pages and give Mark the opportunity to share his incredible collection with you.
Are ya ready to experience the Mark Lewis Babe Ruth Collection? Well be prepared to be wowed and off we go...
The first item that Mark will highlight on our tour is the Babe's equipment bag, which he used, in the late 1920s. This unbelievable find, that was once a part of the Barry Halper collection, is the actual bag that the Babe himself carried from ballpark to ballpark. "Imagine the millions of dollars worth of sports memorabilia carried in this bag," Mark points out. Ruth himself signed the nametag that fits into a slot on the bag's side and under his name he has added N.Y.C. The bag shows very heavy wear but the only damage to be found is in the bag's side bag zipper. "This equipment bag would be one of the highlights of any sports museum in the country," says Mark. "Including the Hall of Fame."
No doubt about it – it's a great piece, but, just look at what's up next!
Babe Ruth game used equipment is rare. That is why this next piece, an actual Babe Ruth game used glove that rests on red silk, is so very special. When this glove came up for sale, Mastro Fine Sports Auctions introduced it with these words:
"The provenance of a glove depends wholly on the source of the glove after the players use. In this instance, there is no doubt whatsoever. Mrs. Claire Ruth gave this glove to Yankee executive Barry Landers in 1976. The provenance is impeccable and forever links the glove to the great Bambino. Mr. Landers has treasured this glove since that day he received it from Mrs. Ruth. It is only due to illness that he parts with the glove at this time."
Mark points out that a three-page, hand-written letter from Landers accompanies the glove. "One of Babe Ruth's coaches gloves just sold for approximately $100 thousand dollars," says Mark. "And that was not game used. Mickey Mantle's game used gloves have sold for over $200 thousand dollars. What could this glove be worth?" he asks rhetorically.
The next item we will come upon is one of Mark's favorites – Babe Ruth's last will and testament.
"I know by now you must be saying, 'How can these items be for sale,?'" says Mark. "That's a good question. Sometimes I don't understand it myself. This (will) was purchased from the grandson of Babe Ruth's attorney. After the attorney passed away, the family was going through all his possessions (and) lo and behold Babe Ruth's last will and testament appeared."
Mark goes on to say that the will was signed and dated just seven days before the Babe passed away. The Babe initialed it fourteen times and signed it on the last page. Mark has verified the will by going to Chambers Street in New York City and comparing it with the microfilm of the will that was filed. "This is it," says Mark. "There are no others."
Mark constantly reiterates that the items that most interest him are the things that are unique in nature and the next piece he presents is not just unique, it also shows that there was a rather naughty side to the ol' Bambino.
"Every time we display our Babe Ruth material, this item is by far and away the most interesting to the public," says Mark as he unveils a handwritten letter. "It is the only known proof that Babe Ruth had a mistress during his career."
The letter, written on stationery from The Raleigh Hotel in Washington, D.C., was found in a scrapbook that was kept by a Ms. Nell Wilson. The letter, which is addressed to Nell, is an apology to her that includes such juicy lines as: "my wife jumped all over me", "the club is watching me", "the only way I will be able to see you all night is for you to stop at the Aldrin Hotel", and a post script warning that reads: "don't call me up."
"Ruth had his own secretary," Mark explains. "So, handwritten letters are rare enough, but this letter is absolutely unbelievable. We've had many offers to purchase this letter, up to $75 thousand dollars, but at this point it is still not for sale. Although not worth as much as some other items I have, this is definitely the most interesting."
The next item on our tour could also probably tell some tales – it is a suitcase that was manufactured by Oshkosh Luggage. Emblazoned with the Babe's name across the top, this well-worn grip was the Bambino's constant companion for many years. Prior to Mark purchasing it, the suitcase spent quite a few years resting comfortably in the MCI Sports Museum in Washington, D.C.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, the Babe was an avid hunter and fisher and ... could it be? Yep, the next thing that Mark is going to show us is the Babe's actual hunting and fishing license and his shotgun.
"This green tinted 1940 New Jersey non-resident hunting and fishing licence is signed: Geo H Ruth," says Mark. "The information filled out on the license includes Ruth's address at 173 Riverside Drive in New York, his age which was 46 and the date of issue – December 12, 1940. It is encased in a metal badge with a celluloid covering. A pin on the reverse side allows the license to be worn while hunting or fishing."
Next to the license is a Savage Fox Sterlingworth 12 gauge, double barrel shotgun that the Babe used until 1937.
"This is a truly amazing piece being as that this gun almost killed the Babe," says Mark. "It almost happened when the Babe went hunting with Roger "Doc" Cramer, a baseball player whom Ruth had gone hunting with many times. Ruth slipped and fell into the mud and the mud jammed the barrel of the shotgun. Ruth did not realize the mud was stuck in the barrel and, when he fired the gun, the end of the barrel blew apart. Following the near tragic episode, Ruth gave the gun to Cramer who kept it until his death in 1990. Just prior to Claire Ruth's death, she asked that the gun be loaned to the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore. The request was granted but she died before the gun actually made it to the museum. When it did arrive, the gun was housed at the museum from 1991 until I purchased it. It is accompanied by a copy of the newspaper article that described the incident and a letter from Doc Cramer's grandson."
Amongst other incredible items in the Mark Lewis collection, we will find a pair of the Babe's monogrammed pajamas and his lounging robe, a handwritten letter thanking the Peacock Motion Picture Corporation in China for the release of his film, Babe Comes Home, and a very odd signed photo of the Babe actually dressed as a baby. Ruth's voter registration card is amongst the items to be found in the Lewis collection, as is a registration card for his last car, a 1947 Lincoln Continental that was given to him by the Ford Motor Company. Lewis also has a Babe Ruth signed Christmas card, one of his spittoons, a snapshot of a naked Babe taking a bath and one of the Babe's payroll checks from the New York Yankees.
If all of those things haven't gotten you wowing, we saved a couple real doozies for last.
There are only two known balls from Ruth's record-breaking season of 60 home runs. One, which was his 60th, resides in the Hall of Fame, the other, his 48th, resides with Lewis. The ball, signed by Ruth, also has the handwritten words: "48th home run September 7, 1927" on the horsehide. "Absolutely unbelievable", says Lewis. "I can't believe that I own this!"
The other great piece we saved to culminate our tour is the saxophone that the Babe played in the famous photo of him with Lou Gehrig. "This saxophone was given as a gift to Babe Ruth by the famous bandleader, Paul Whitman in 1927," Mark explains. "Records show that the Babe played the sax for eight years, but if you look at Gehrig's face in the picture, the Babe apparently never mastered the instrument. This is truly one of the highlights of my collection."
Well, whether or not the Mark Lewis collection ever finds an actual home is yet to be seen. He was actually close to striking a deal to have his items housed in an Orlando museum but the deal crumbled after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. "I hope that it does happen one day because I would really love to share these treasures with people," says Mark. "And I've also decided that if I ever do open a Babe Ruth museum, I will offer free admission to any resident of Boston – all they would have to do is show their drivers license and they would be in for free. I sort of feel it would be a way to soothe the pain of the Bambino's curse on Bean Town."
If you would like to contact Mark or would like any further information on Mark Lewis Sports Memorabilia, Inc, you can write to him at: 1685 Middle Country Road, Centereach, NY 11720
Copyright © 2019 PSA – A Division of Collectors Universe. Nasdaq: CLCT. All rights reserved.