"Why not? I had a better year than he did."1930-31 Babe Ruth Signed New York Yankees Player's Contract--The Richest of His Career.
NOTE: This lot was recently featured in a Forbes Magazine article.
He's the most noteworthy figure in the history of our national pastime, but the fortunes of the legendary ballplayer and the nation that adored him were on decidedly different trajectories in the early months of 1930 as the Yankees headed south for spring training. Though a powerful new dynasty in Philadelphia had recently ended a three-season American League Championship reign in the Bronx, Babe Ruth-even at the relatively advanced age of thirty-five-was exhibiting no indication of cracks in his own armor. The 1929 season had seen Ruth claim the Major League home run crown for the fourth consecutive season, and the tenth of what would prove to be a total of twelve for his illustrious career. His .697 slugging percentage likewise held firm as a link in a chain of dominance broken only once since the Boston Red Sox World Championship season of 1918. This was a Babe Ruth at the pinnacle of his fame and ability.
The United States of America, conversely, was mired in the worst economic slump since the founding. Traders leapt from Wall Street windows and unemployment crested ten percent, soaring like a Babe Ruth home run blast as the famed slugger and his future Hall of Fame counterpart Jacob Ruppert negotiated the terms of an employment covenant unlike any the sports world had ever seen. Though the national economic climate was chilly at best, the Yankee owner understood well that the leverage rested firmly on Ruth's side of the fulcrum. To complicate matters, the sudden and tragic passing in late September 1929 of manager Miller Huggins had rather predictably resulted in Ruth's fervent petitioning for the vacancy, a role for which Ruppert found his top star temperamentally ill-equipped.
But a ten thousand-dollar annual salary increase would prove an effective balm for the Babe's hurt feelings, and sportswriters swarmed the spring training summit in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 10th, as Ruth and Ruppert laid pen to a contract that would prove to be the richest of the superstar slugger's career, and of sports history to date.
"Eighty thousand dollars!" one reporter called out to Ruth as the flashbulbs popped. "That's more than the President makes!"
Ruth's famous reply: "Why not? I had a better year than he did."
Arguably only a single contract in Major League Baseball history-the 1947 agreement that carried Jackie Robinson across the sport's shameful color line-could be considered more famous or significant than the example proudly presented here. Certainly no document more effectively crystallizes the essence of Babe Ruth, from the outsized proportions of its spoils to the playful yet confident response of the beneficiary. It is a treasure with few equals in the vast paper archives of American sport.
The format is the standard four-page "Uniform Player's Contract" utilized for decades in Major League Baseball, with the subject, the dates and the terms of the covenant added in typeface to the boilerplate of the first page. Page two provides the visual centerpiece, with the rare and highly desirable "George Herman Ruth" signature format joined by that of Ruppert and his attorney Byron Clark, Jr. The black fountain pen ink, and the document itself, survive without any condition flaws worthy of mention.
Though the New York Yankees would fail to recapture the American League flag from Connie Mack's stampeding herd of white elephants during the two-season term of the contract, the Babe would actually improve upon his 1929 numbers, clubbing ninety-five home runs over the span while averaging 158 runs batted in and a stunning .716 slugging percentage to earn his one hundred sixty grand. Nonetheless, Ruth would see his salary decline to $75,000 for the World Championship season of 1932, crashing to $35,000 for his sad final year in pinstripes of 1934. The world record annual salary documented by this lot would stand until 1949, when Joltin' Joe DiMaggio would claim the sport's first six-figure payday.
The contract is housed in a gorgeous red leather slip case, embossed in appropriate gold. Also included in the lot is an original Type 1 news photograph (6x8") of Ruth and Ruppert in the midst of the signing, complete with paper caption on verso and a stamped "March 13, 1930" date. Full LOA from PSA/DNA.
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