About 12 year ago, long before I’d come to work at Heritage Auctions, I stopped by the office to pick up a catalog for something I was working on. I brought my son with me; he was about 5 at the time — an aspiring ballplayer and nascent baseball-card collector. One of the PR guys asked if he wanted to visit the sports department. Well, yeah.
At which point my son was handed a giant slab of lumber — three feet by 2.5 pounds, give or take. “Babe Ruth used this bat,” someone told my son, at which point he quickly handed back to the Hillerich & Bradsby — well, quick as a little kid can hand back something so unwieldy, anyway. He didn’t want to break it.
Now, of course, the boy’s been itching to visit the office to get his mitts on the centerpiece of this week’s Spring Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction: a spectacular Ruth game-used bat, which he used to launch his 52nd home run of the 1921 season, which came against his former team, the Boston Red Sox, in the second game of a Sept. 7 doubleheader.
This was the season during which the New York Yankee hit 59 homers to “become the undisputed King of Swat,” according to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of all the Ruth bats to come to market in recent years, this is easily among the most significant. And storied, for sure.
This particular slice of lumber is one of the legendary “Hotel Ansonia” bats, so named for the Manhattan landmark that famously served as Ruth’s first New York residence. Ruth gave away this monstrous slab of ash – almost three feet long and weighing almost three pounds – to an amateur slugger who had won a contest, an event documented in the press and in a missive on Ansonia letterhead.
All that documentation accompanies the Hillerich & Bradsby bat, which is expected to sell for more than $500,000. (Which is not an unfathomable number, even now: Only a few weeks ago, Heritage sold a Lou Gehrig bat for more than $1 million — because of its place in history and because, look, it’s not like they’re making any more of these.)
Coincidentally, the Ansonia is linked to another baseball milestone, though one far more infamous: the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.
It was at the Ansonia that Chicago White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil proposed to his teammates they throw the 1919 World Series for $10,000 a player. Joe Jackson was among the so-called Eight Men Out – though the man known as “Shoeless Joe” denied taking money or muffing plays. Banned from baseball in the middle of what should have been a storied career, Jackson remains one of baseball’s most mythic figures.
In the same auction as the Ruth bat, you’ll find this 1910 T210 Old Mill card featuring Shoeless Joe when he was outfielder for the New Orleans Pelicans, where sportswriters dubbed him “The Carolina Confection” because of the sweet swing that helped him clinch the batting title. This card, SGC VG+ 3.5, is one of the hobby’s rarest finds, especially in good condition. And this one has never before been to auction: It was recently discovered in North Carolina by the family of the man who originally pulled it from the cigarette pack more than a century ago. It will likely sell for more than $400,000.
I will not let my son handle that. Not now, not ever.
The 2020 Spring Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction takes place May 7-9. Bidding is now open.