Description

    The Babe saves the game with record 54 home runs in first Yankees season

    1920 Babe Ruth Game Used Bat from the Louisville Slugger Traveling Exhibition, PSA/DNA GU 10. It's a milepost, this monumental offering, a marker of delineation between all that had come before, and all that was yet to come. Certainly, the enormous desirability of any lumber wielded in battle by the game's most illustrious figure is self-evident, but here we find an example that is far more than a simple veteran of Babe Ruth's formidable arsenal.

    It has often been said that change happens slowly, and then all at once. Like any new endeavor, professional baseball had labored through equal measures of success and failure in its early decades, the doomed challenges of the Players' and Federal Leagues, the survival of the American League, the various refinements of equipment and strategies. Major League Baseball was still less than fifty years old--a relative newborn--when the grinding, tectonic shift of the game burst suddenly into earthquake.

    In October of 1919, the Chicago White Sox inflicted a wound that cut Major League Baseball to the bone, leaving many to wonder if the game would ever recover. But three separate events, each unrelated to the others but essential to the whole, would rescue our national pastime from its precarious position on the edge of American favor.

    The installation of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as Commissioner of Baseball would allay fears of the sport's continued descent into lawlessness. A new, livelier baseball would debut, supplying a caffeine jolt to the offensive half of the game. And the greatest figure in baseball history would be clad in Yankee pinstripes, establishing New York City as the center of the new baseball world and condemning his former Boston club to a Championship drought of unimaginable duration.

    It's been five years since a road grey flannel worn during Babe Ruth's first season as a representative of the New York Yankees commanded a record-breaking auction result of $4.4 million, and this offering is unquestionably the most significant game used Ruth artifact to tempt an auction bidding audience since then. The glowing letter of assessment from the hobby's top experts at PSA/DNA offers a full-throated defense of this contention, calling this one of Ruth's "favorite" bats from the season that changed the game forever.

    We'll begin with the manner in which this elite vintage is established. The unusual secondary lower barrel branding, to the left of the Hillerich & Bradsby "dash-dot-dash" center brand, is the primary factor here, a "Bone Rubbed" designator that matches just a single order for Ruth lumber of these specific dimensions. "For the purpose of this authentication," PSA/DNA writes, "we call attention to the 'Bone Rubbed' order dated July 24th, 1920. The order calls for bats weighing '43-46 oz.' At 42.4 ounces today, the subject bat, which we place to this documented order on Ruth's PBOR [professional bat ordering record], falls perfectly into the range of weights as noted." PSA/DNA also notes that the nearly thirty-six-inch (35.75") weapon matches eighteen different caliper readings from the knob to the top of the barrel for that order, the identical genetic code for Ruth's original R2 model, referred to at this pre-model-number time as "His #1" and "His Model" in H&B records.

    Next, we'll turn to the game use, characterized as "exceptional" by the PSA/DNA evaluation team. They reference numerous ball marks on the left barrel--correct for Ruth's label-down left-handed swing--with several small nails on the back barrel tacking down grain swollen from the infliction of the Babe's preternatural slugging power. Holes from other since-removed nails are likewise present. A few divots speckle the surface, the result of Ruth's practice of knocking clay from his spikes. Scoring on the cracked and professionally-repaired handle from knob to the "Bone Rubbed" branding is a third key Ruth trait, angled slashes in the wood carved by the superstar slugger himself to enhance his grip. And, finally, the adhesive ghosts of tape rings on the handle match period photography and a few other Ruth bat survivors, including the most famous Ruth bat of all--the "gunslinger" gamer bearing eleven home run notches in the center brand, now on display at Yankee Stadium. PSA/DNA concludes its study of these delectable points of evidence with the statement, "It's clear by the amount of use displayed, together with the game preparation to the handle, scored and taped, this bat was a favorite of Ruth's."

    As most serious game used bat collectors are aware, ballplayers for decades assured themselves a lasting supply of ideal gamers by returning their favorites to the Hillerich & Bradsby factory for duplication, where that beloved lumber was cataloged with grease pencil notations identifying the player and date of receipt--"sidewritten" bats, in hobby parlance. This bat once bore such sidewriting but, in 1984, when the bat first entered the collecting hobby, this text was held in little regard--a distraction rather than an enhancement--and was subsequently removed. That first owner, a former Louisville Slugger employee, reported that the text once read, "Geo. Babe Ruth."

    The designation of this bat as a former sidewritten model is based on much more than hearsay, however. The evidence of its derivation from the Hillerich & Bradsby factory archives is the last, glorious detail that we will address.

    For two decades following the Second World War, the Louisville Slugger company managed a traveling display of historic bats from such luminaries of our national pastime as Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb and Frank "Home Run" Baker, a scaled-down Hall of Fame on wheels. These bats represented the finest entries from H&B's vast catalog of sidewritten gamers, each sent back to the factory by the legend in question for duplication--their favorites. These bats included the one George Sisler wielded in 1920 to establish his single-season hits record (257), and Nap Lajoie's gamer from his 1904 batting championship. Each was identified in the display by an affixed label detailing the elite significance, first tacked to the barrel and later affixed with scotch tape. Those aforementioned holes from removed nails in the presented Ruth gamer? They perfectly match those found in the others from this traveling display.

    We can guess what that removed label once reported: A new single-season home run record of fifty-four, shattering Ruth's own standing record of twenty-nine during his final year at Fenway. Only one other Major League team--the Philadelphia Phillies--topped the Babe's solo tally for 1920. When considering the enormous game use evident, we can only imagine how many long balls of that greatest forward leap in the history of the single-season record were propelled from this battle-scarred ash.

    In every manner of assessment, from historical context to degree of game use to provenance to its status as the genetic forebear of so much Ruth lumber to come, this is an offering of unparalleled significance. It is a relic as worthy of its position in the thinnest air of the pantheon as is the man who blazed a new path forward for our national pastime with this bat in his hands. LOA from PSA/DNA, GU 10. Notarized signed affidavit from 1984 owner.


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    Auction Dates
    August, 2017
    19th-20th Saturday-Sunday
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