The Bambino derails the Big Train at the height of their collective powers...
1924 Babe Ruth First Home Run of Season Game Used & Signed Bat
with Extraordinary Provenance, PSA/DNA GU 10.
What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?
Historians have traced the paradox back to a third century B.C. Chinese text, Han Feizi. It's a matter of philosophy rather than physics, a purely theoretical consideration free from the grasp of the scientific method. But we do know what happens when the sport's greatest offensive and defensive weapons, inaugural class Hall of Famers each six months removed from his own franchise's first World Championship, turn their peerless skills loose upon the other.
That moment came in our nation's capital on April 20, 1924 when New York Yankees' superstar slugger Babe Ruth stepped into the batter's box, trailing the Washington Senators ten to one in the eighth inning, to face the scalding heat of Walter Johnson's fastball. While the Senators would win the war this day, it was Babe Ruth who took the battle, depositing the Big Train's offering into the Griffith Park cheap seats to record his first of an American League-leading forty-one home runs for the 1924 season, and the 239th of his fabled career.
A year earlier, Ruth's first home run of the season had likewise been the first in the history of Yankee Stadium, creating a relic that would one day produce just the second seven-figure result in sports collectibles auction history. The $1.3 million sale price in 2004 would represent just a small fraction of that bat's current value were it to return to the block after a decade and a half of a bull hobby market. It's one of the most famous and desirable baseball relics in private hands, still to this day the world record holder for the highest price ever realized for a game used bat at auction.
The offered specimen was virtually unknown to the collecting community until just a few years ago, a lost sibling of that long-reigning titleholder and the most serious threat to its financial dominion.
Those veteran hobbyists who recall the enormous fanfare that swept the 1923 model into the record books know that the bat's provenance tracked back to multiple newspaper stories both preceding and immediately following its presentation. This voluminous period documentation was by design, the brainchild of pioneering sports agent Christy Walsh, perhaps the only man of sports' Golden Age as influential to the evolution of his chosen profession as his star client.
It was Walsh who saw the opportunity to expand Ruth's influence west of the Mississippi, to spread the gospel of the Babe to the half of the continent too far-flung from Big League parks to witness the unbridled power of the Home Run King in person. We see his efforts in ghostwritten syndicated columns, in silver screen appearances, in the legendary Bustin' Babes vs. Larrupin' Lous barnstorming tours.
And we see it in Ruth's first home run bats of the 1923 and 1924 seasons.
Each bat had been promised to the leading high school slugger of Walsh's hometown of Los Angeles, a contest prize for the boy with the highest home run tally and highest batting average respectively. Walsh had begun his career in sports as a reporter and cartoonist for the Los Angeles Evening Herald in 1912, and it was through this publication that the contest was promoted and run. The 1924 bat was consigned along with winning batter Phillip Grossman's personal scrapbook containing a surprisingly large quantity of newspaper articles with headlines like, "Home Run Bat Up for Best City Loop Average" and "Grossman Gets Lead in Race for Trophy." Best is a photo of the youngster posing with Ruth underscored by text which reads, in part, "This photo shows Babe Ruth of the N.Y. Yankees and Phil Grossman just after the Bambino had congratulated Jeff's heaviest hitter on his recent visit to Los Angeles. The Evening Herald offered a bat autographed by Ruth to the player in the City League getting the highest batting average, and Phil obliged that paper by relieving them of the ash."
Just five years short of a century later, that bat reemerges on the public stage, poised to add one more record to Babe Ruth's endless catalog thereof. The signature model Hillerich & Bradsby appears in Ruth's workhorse R2 model format, the thirty-six inch (36") length and wrist-straining forty-two ounce (42.1 oz.) weight amplifying its status as one of the most lethal weapons ever to terrorize a Major League pitcher.
The bat is uncracked and exhibits game use characterized by leading expert John Taube as "outstanding," suggesting that this was likely the sole bat used by Ruth until he fulfilled his long ball promise in the fifth game of the season. Ball marks, stitch impressions and cleat divots speckle the battle-scarred relic, and a small chip is dislodged from the back barrel.
The boldest black fountain pen ink serves as Ruth's personal assurance of provenance, as he writes, "To the Champion Batter, Los Angeles High School League, Babe Ruth, 1924." A brass plaque affixed to the barrel goes into greater detail, reading, "Los Angeles Evening Herald, Babe Ruth Bat, Presented by LA Evening Herald to Jefferson High School, City League Champion Batsman 1924."
Like its celebrated elder sibling, this is an artifact of our national pastime that provides every hallmark of elite Ruth lumber-monumental significance, plentiful game use, a bold autograph and ironclad provenance. As Roger Maris taught us in 1961, even the greatest of records is made to be broken, and the smart money is on this bat, as a wager before the auction and as an investment check when the invoice comes. LOA from PSA/DNA, GU 10. Grossman's personal scrapbook. Full LOA from PSA/DNA (autograph).
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