Babe Ruth’s Rookie Card, Babe Ruth’s Last Will and Testament, and 1923 Babe Ruth Bat - Possibly used to Hit the First Home Run in Yankee Stadium!Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized
We will be posting a few interesting items and highlights on the REA blog as time permits and the auction gets closer. Babe Ruth is always well represented in every REA auction.
This year’s auction includes Babe Ruth’s 1916 rookie card, his Last Will and Testament, and many items from the years in between.
But perhaps the most fascinating is a 1923 Babe Ruth Pro-Model Bat - Possibly Used to Hit the First Home Run in Yankee Stadium!
Below is the preliminary auction catalog description text. Your feedback is always appreciated!
Robert Edward Auctions LLC
1923 Babe Ruth Pro-Model Bat - Possibly Used to Hit the First Home Run in Yankee Stadium!
Over the years Robert Edward Auctions has handled numerous Babe Ruth pro-model bats, including a number of the most significant examples in the hobby today; however, we have never seen one as intriguing or so potentially historic as that presented here. What makes this bat so special is the very real possibility that it might have been in Ruth’s hands on opening day in 1923, when the Yankees played the first game in the newly built Yankee Stadium on April 18th. If that possibility is acknowledged, and we feel it safely can be based upon all of the evidence we will present here, then logically it must follow, at the very least, that this bat might be one of only a handful Ruth could have used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium on that historic day. While it is well beyond the limits of our research to either confirm or deny such a claim, the mere fact that even the slightest chance exists that this bat might have been used by Ruth to christen Yankee Stadium with its first home run makes it especially important.
The bat offered here is a Babe Ruth H&B 40K signature-model (predating model numbers) bat dating from the 1923-1925 labeling period. The bat, which is hand turned, measures 35 inches in length and weighs a massive 39.9 ounces. The “40K” denotes H&B’s patented line of “Kork-Grip” bats, which literally means that the handle was prepared at the factory with an applied cork grip. In the realm of Babe Ruth pro-model bats, the 40K is among the rarest of all models. According to H&B factory records for Ruth’s entire career, only ONE order of 40K bats can be found in the company’s shipping ledgers. What is significant is the date of that order: 4/10/23, exactly eight days prior to the Yankees’ home opener at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923. Unfortunately, there is no mention of either the size or weight of the 40K bats sent to Ruth or even how many. What is important to note is that this bat’s length and weight fall within the approved specifications for Ruth bats at the time. During the circa 1923 period, Ruth ordered long and heavy bats of 35 to 36 inches and approximately 40 ounces. This is the only 40K Ruth bat with brandings consistent with the 1923 order, and that is also to Ruth’s specifications that we have handled or seen. We know of two other examples of Ruth 40K bats that do not conform. The first dates from the 1925-1931 labeling period and therefore could not have been included in the order sent on 4/10/23. The second bat, which does date from the correct labeling period, measures 34 inches in length and weighs 36.5 ounces, which DOES NOT conform to the factory-listed lengths and weight previously noted. Therefore, the offered bat appears to be the only one of these three that could POSSIBLY have been part of that order on 4/10/23.
Of course, just because an order of 40K bats to Ruth on 4/10/23 can be found in the company ledgers doesn’t necessarily imply that he used a 40K bat during any of his plate appearances on opening day. However, we can state WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that Ruth did indeed receive that recorded shipment of 40K bats, and that at least one of those 40K bats was in his hands prior to the game. We have found six different photos of Ruth holding a 40K Babe Ruth signature-model bat in his hands on April 18, 1923, all of which picture him posing with little Ray Kelly, the Yankees’ mascot, prior to the game. What is significant is that in each and every photo Ruth can be clearly seen holding a cork-grip bat (based upon the grain pattern it is not the same bat offered here). Equally important, our research has failed to find any other photos of Ruth from that day holding anything other than a 40K cork-grip bat. Again, the fact that we have pictures of Ruth holding a cork-grip bat on April 18, 1923, does not necessarily mean that he used one during the game, but it does necessarily allow for such a possibility. Certainly, the photographic evidence confirms the availability of 40K cork-grip bats to Ruth that day. Conversely, the definitive use of any other model bat by Ruth that day has yet to be confirmed in a similar manner. All known photos of Ruth holding a bat on Opening Day in 1923, in which the style of bat can definitively be identified, show him holding a 40K corp-grip style bat.
A number of collectors are probably wondering by now if we have forgotten that the bat used by Babe Ruth to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium appeared in a high-profile sports auction in December 2004, where it sold for a record $1.265 million. The bat was signed by Ruth and was fully documented by various period newspaper reports at the time. We have not forgotten that bat. We have no doubt whatsoever that the bat offered in that auction was a Babe Ruth game used bat, and that it was signed by Babe Ruth, and that it was presented to that young boy in Los Angeles at the time. But, when one examines all of the available evidence, some of which has already been alluded to here, there is room for doubt with regard to its claim of being the bat used by Ruth to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. A leap of faith is required that has been glossed over. To begin with, it was Christy Walsh, Ruth’s agent, who came up with the idea of a home-run contest between Los Angeles high school baseball players, with the prize being the bat used by Ruth to hit his first home run of the 1923 season. Of course, Ruth’s first home run occurred on the first day of the season and also happened to be the first home run ever hit at Yankee Stadium. As far as the contest went, Ruth’s only level of participation in it was, outside of hitting the actual home run, signing the bat and posing for pictures when he gave it to a special messenger, who then took it back to Los Angeles for presentation to the recipient. Everything else was handled by Walsh, whose main concern was publicity. Remember, the presentation of the bat to the young girl acting as the special messenger didn’t take place until May 7, 1923, a full three weeks after the date of the home run. While we have no way of knowing for sure, we are skeptical that the bat used by Ruth to hit the first home run on April 18th was immediately tagged and segregated as such, and then given to Walsh immediately afterwards to safeguard for three weeks. The bat presented by Ruth in that contest was an H&B 125 Babe Ruth signature-model bat. Ruth’s bat order just prior to the first game of the year was for 40K cork-grip bats. All of the available photos we have of Ruth on April 18, 1923, picture him holding cork-grip bats. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever, outside of the information Walsh provided to the press, to support the claim that the bat presented to the original recipient was the bat used by Ruth to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium. Is it possible that three weeks later Walsh just grabbed a Ruth bat from the dugout and had Ruth sign it? Would anyone have been surprised, or cared, if he did? No one cared when the Ruth balls Walsh arranged to have given as prizes by Sinclair Oil were not actually signed by Ruth (they were “ghost signed”). No one cared when a different Ruth bat we have seen that was decorated as a home run bat and given as a prize in the 1920s was not really signed by Ruth (it also was “ghost signed”). No one cared when Walsh arranged for all of Ruth’s syndicated newspaper columns (as well as those of all of the other celebrity members of the Christy Walsh Syndicate such as John McGraw, Walter Johnson, and Ty Cobb) to be “ghostwritten” by established sportswriters (including Ford Frick, Damon Runyon, and Gene Fowler). This was how Christy Walsh was. He took a few accepted liberties. He used a little poetic license. In short, he was a great promoter. Times were much different back then and no one was scrutinizing such claims or requiring letters of authenticity. Also interesting is that Ruth’s inscription on the bat makes no mention whatsoever of its special history. He simply personalizes the bat “To the Boy Homerun King of Los Angeles.” Lastly, to fully show that Walsh was coordinating the whole promotion, and that Ruth’s involvement was purely ceremonial in nature, we cite the telegram that accompanied the bat. At the time of the official presentation to the contest winner in Los Angeles, a telegram, dated 3:15 pm June 8, 1923, was purportedly sent by Ruth in New York congratulating him once again on winning the contest. The only problem is that Ruth could never have sent that telegram, unless Western Union had an office in right field at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were in the middle of a game against the White Sox at the very time that telegram was sent; meaning Walsh sent it.
It should be fully understood that we are not claiming that the bat offered here was used by Ruth to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. In similar manner, like nearly all other Ruth bats in the hobby, with the exception of a few documented examples, we cannot state with absolute certainty whether or not Ruth even used it in any game. All we can state are the facts. This bat has been authenticated by PSA/DNA and is accompanied by a letter from John Taube and Vince Malta. In the letter (which can be viewed in its entirety on our website), they describe the bat in the following terms: Hillerich & Bradsby model 40K George ‘Babe’ Ruth professional model bat shows evidence of heavy use with a handle crack that has been repaired. The original cork handle was no longer on the bat. The handle was taped and the handle tape was removed as part of the repair. Many ball marks and ball stitch impressions are visible on the right, left, and back barrel. Also visible on the barrel surface are various cuts and chippings.” Later in the comments section, they specifically talk about the bat’s use. “Judging by the visible use on the subject bat, and the condition of the handle prior to the repair, if the bat was part of the original order appearing on Ruth’s PBOR [Professional Bat Ordering Records], and was used by him, the bat saw additional use. Today, any Ruth characteristics cannot be determined. Three strong Ruth characteristics that we would hope to find would be the appearance of handle scoring, barrel scoring and a defined contact area on the left barrel above Ruth’s name. Numerous photographs from Ruth’s career depict Ruth as being a label down hitter resulting in a left barrel contact area. The subject bat displays heavy use on both sides of the barrel and handle scoring was not present prior to the repair of the crack. After a thorough examination of this George ‘Babe’ Ruth professional model bat, and its player use characteristics, it is our opinion the bat is authentic. The bat’s use by Ruth cannot be confirmed.”
As we began in our description, this is an extremely intriguing Ruth bat. It is undoubtedly a rare pro-model Ruth 40K bat, with 1923-1925 brandings, and the length and weight fall within the correct parameters for Ruth at the time. Ruth’s documented order of 40K bats a week before the first game of the season, combined with the photographic evidence, certainly lends itself to the possibility that Ruth used a cork-grip bat in that first game at Yankee Stadium. Could the offered bat be one of the 40K bats received by Ruth in the 4/10/23 shipment? (it is the only bat that has surfaced to date that conceivably could have come from that order.) Could the offered bat have been used by Ruth in the first game of the season, maybe even used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium? The answer to both of those questions is yes, possibly, and just the mere fact that we can say possibly, makes this a very special Ruth bat indeed. Reserve $10,000. Estimate (open).