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    1908-1930's "Shoeless Joe" Jackson's Legendary "Black Betsy" Game Used Bat. When Bernard Malamud penned the novel The Natural, later adapted for the screen to become one of the most beloved baseball-themed films in American history, he mined an array of mythic and secular sources to craft the story-Homer's Odyssey, the Bible, the works of Freud and Jung. While the tale was, on its surface, an homage to our National Pastime, it was also something much larger, an allegorical exploration of the timeless themes of loss and redemption. As such, it was quite reasonable that Malamud would turn to the saga of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson for inspiration, a figure whose rise and fall brings the great tragedies of William Shakespeare to mind.

    Malamud also recognized the parallel to Arthurian legend of Excalibur when considering the illiterate farmhand's almost religious devotion to the bat he carried throughout his professional career and beyond. For Roy Hobbs, the flaxen-haired protagonist of The Natural, Malamud created "Wonderboy," a bat hand-carved from a tree split by a heavenly bolt of lightning and infused with magic Hobbs would ultimately come to realize had always flowed from within himself. Malamud would acknowledge that it was the fabled "Black Betsy," the hand-carved slab of hickory that functioned as both talisman and weapon of war for the legendary Shoeless Joe, which served as the fictional Wonderboy's template.

    Heritage is proud and honored to present within this Platinum Night auction what is inarguably the most famous and important game used bat of baseball's long history, bar none: Shoeless Joe Jackson's one and only "Black Betsy."

    Jackson himself discussed the bat's origins in a 1932 interview with The Greenville Piedmont newspaper, a photocopy of which is included within the hefty ream of provenance paperwork:

    "The bat was given to me by old Cap'n Martin, who drove one of the first street cars in Greenville. The bat was whittled out of hickory but I don't know just where the Cap'n got hold of it. I sent it to the Spaulding (sic) baseball company and they finished it for me and stamped their label on it. I've had it ever since and it's never been broke, although it's getting old now and I expect it any time. I used to keep it soaked in a barrel of oil, but lately it's just been thrown by my desk in Savannah."

    The article also touches on the incredible durability and historical import of the bat, noting that Jackson, at age forty-five, would be reprising his role as centerfielder for the Greenville Spinners with his faithful companion:

    "Joe has his famous bat 'Black Betsy' with him, and he will use the bludgeon in the game Wednesday. The bat is 24 years old, and has never been broken. It was with this bat that Jackson made all his hitting records, one of them, a world series record, still standing and tied only by Pepper Martin in the last series. Jackson recalled today how he first showed Babe Ruth how to stand properly at the plate to hit. The Babe caught on and became the game's mightiest home run hitter. The Babe borrowed Joe's Black Betsy on several occasions, and loaned Jackson one of his bludgeons. Babe was with the Boston Red Sox at the time."

    This thrilling connection to Ruth will come as no surprise to baseball historians, as the Babe often credited Jackson as his batting mentor:

    "I copied Jackson's style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He's the guy who made me a hitter."

    Turning to the physical attributes of this remarkable relic, blessed by the touch of the game's most famous and infamous legends, we first encounter the aforementioned factory stamping, reading "The Spalding Old Hickory" in the trademark position, and the "Spalding" factory logo burned into the knob end, where an ancient wood staple resides. But perhaps even more striking than these ancient imprints is the prominent bend in the bat, a result of the lack of proper finishing due to the humble nature of its creation. This unique characteristic further solidifies the bat's "Black Betsy" identity, referenced in several newspaper articles:

    September 23, 1951 article in the New Orleans Times Picayune, discussing a game Jackson played in Bastrop, LA in 1922: "The bat incidentally was something else. Says Montgomery; 'In that old leather case Joe carried two bats, one of which-his favorite-was a home made affair slightly sprung with a curve in it. He wouldn't let anyone touch it.'"

    Bat boy of the Waycross, GA team, 1924: " was crooked and a very dark brown."

    William Webb, Jackson's teammate in the 1920's: " had a crook in it. Joe would turn the crooked part towards the pitcher and when he hit the ball it sounded like he hit it with a brick bat."

    The provenance is supplied in a trail of paperwork dating back to the will of Katie Jackson, Joe's widow, who references the bat specifically in the document:

    I do constitute and appoint Jack Abbott as my agent to go into my residence and remove certain items and bring them to me...I also direct him, as my agent, to deliver the following gifts to these persons:

    1) My husband's ring to his nephew, Lee Jackson.
    2) My husband's New Orleans metal to Bill Davidson.
    3) The watch given him by fans to Sinclair Ellis.
    4) His other watch to Ray Jackson.
    5) His baseball bat to Lester Ervin.

    An undated signed letter from Lester Ervin, notarized in Greenville, South Carolina at some point before the notary's 2006 commission expiration, completes the trail. In part, it reads:

    Please accept this declaration of ownership of the 'Black Betsy' bat. I inherited the bat from my cousin Katie Jackson, wife of 'Shoeless Joe Jackson' shortly after her death in 1959. Mr. Jack Abbott, the Executor of the estate of Katie Jackson, delivered the bat to my house shortly after Katie's death in 1959. I was 13 years old at the time.

    The last of the accompanying paperwork is supplied by PSA/DNA, which makes note of the included photographs of Jackson with the bat, and lists the specifics of length (34.5"), weight (39.4 oz.) and the black electrician's tape utilized for grip and crack repair at the handle. Properly characterizing the provenance as "impeccable," the experts designate a grade of PSA GU 10, the highest rating possible.

    The tragic tale of Joe Jackson's march from obscurity to the height of athletic fame and back again has become American folklore over the passing decades, and though his harsh sentence has long since been carried out to its conclusion, the question of his guilt or innocence remains a point of debate. What does not, however, is the status of Shoeless Joe among the pantheon of the sport's greatest legends, perhaps the most naturally gifted hitter ever to wear a Major League uniform. This definitive artifact, Jackson's constant and faithful companion throughout his tumultuous baseball career, stands as one of the most important collectibles ever made available at auction, in the sporting realm or otherwise. Graded PSA GU 10.

    More information about "Shoeless Joe" Jackson.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    August, 2011
    4th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 8
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 27,273

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

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