Some sports collectibles can fetch eye-popping and mind-blowing prices. Every collector knows a Babe Ruth card from 1934 or earlier years is going to be valuable and almost certainly into the thousands of dollars. But what about other prized Babe Ruth items? There are probably thousands of signed Babe Ruth baseballs that have been authenticated, but what about the Big Bambino’s game-used bats and game-worn uniforms?
There are not that many of Ruth’s bats and uniforms that have survived the test of time. And those that did survive have ended up in Cooperstown Hall of Fame or in other museums or private collections. For a comparison, there are several thousand Babe Ruth cards that have been authenticated over the years.
Having a game-used bat from the Sultan of Swat as the former home run king is definitely a “Grail” for vintage sports collectors. But how much is a real Babe Ruth worth? Some of the prices can be more than an average home. Others can be quite reasonable. Relatively speaking anyway.
There have been three known recent Babe Ruth bat sales and the prices have been night and day because of one thing — provenance! (and maybe a signature!)
Heritage Auctions auctioned a signed Babe Ruth bat in its August 2022 auction. On top of that record-shattering $12.6 million 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card sale, Babe Ruth’s game-used and signed bat dating from 1918 to 1922 sold for $1.68 million (after 39 bids). According to Heritage’s year-end summary, this became the most valuable game-used bat ever sold at auction.
According to the Heritage auction page:
A detailed and notarized letter of provenance, reviewable at our online listing for this extraordinary relic, suggests that the bat was personally gifted by Ruth to Baker, and subsequently acquired by a member of our consignor’s family who was a sports collectibles pioneer and a personal friend of the Hall of Fame third baseman. The letter states that this impressive collection included Baker’s Hall of Fame induction pin, personal letters and three of his player contracts.
While all who could confirm this attribution with certainty have long since passed on, the experts at PSA/DNA strengthen the case with their rather sizeable stack of authentication documentation. They explain that the center brand of this signature model Hillerich & Bradsby R2 was utilized only between 1916 and 1922, while the signing of Ruth’s endorsement contract with the brand on July 9, 1918 knocks the two earliest years off the possible vintage. That is the rare and desirable “small variation” stamped Ruth signature on the barrel.
Image below by Heritage Auctions.
A more recent auction was seen at SCP Auctions’ December 2022 event, where a Babe Ruth game-used Hillerich & Bradsby ‘R2’ professional model b from 1918 to 1922 fetched $131,821.00 in the auction (after 12 bids). This bat was said to date back to Babe’s Boston-to-Bronx transition and to the end of the “Deadball Era” when Home Runs were not so common. The bat was graded PSA/DNA GU 7.5, MEARS A8.5. The bat also showed the earliest version of Babe Ruth’s signature ever branded on the barrel of an H&B Louisville Slugger and was referenced on Babe Ruth’s order sheet in the H&B factory records as “His Model #1, a.k.a. small or Old Ruth round end (Model R2)”.
According to SCP’s auction page:
Measuring 35.75 inches with a weight of 37.3 ounces, this bat shows the earliest version of Babe Ruth’s signature ever branded on the barrel of an H&B Louisville Slugger. This bat is referenced on Babe Ruth’s order sheet in the H&B factory records as “His Model #1, a.k.a. small or Old Ruth round end (Model R2)”. The hand turned knob of this bat is consistent with the R2 model and is distinguished by a circular lathe mark on the knob end and signs of hand applied rasp marks. Additionally, the knob has been marked in vintage grease paint, presumably at the H&B factory by the lathe hand.
During the last two years of the 1918-21 label period, records show Ruth’s orders for bats between 40 and 47 ounces (recorded weights are not available for pre-1920 records). At 37.2 ounces today, this bat would qualify as one of the bats in a 40-ounce order. It is common for bats to dry over time and eventually weigh up to four ounces lighter than the player’s bat weight request when reviewing his recorded H&B order form. Evidence of a tape ring is another notable attribute of this early Ruth bat. The 1” wide tape ring residue pattern can be seen on the handle located 5″ from the end of the knob. A second similar tape ring pattern appears near the top of the handle towards the center brand. Such traits have been documented in photographs showing Ruth holding bats treated with similar taping.
Image below is the Mears page from SCP Auctions.
Not all Babe Ruth bats have to cost what a luxury sports car or a nice house would run you. Another auction for a Babe Ruth game-used “Circa 1930 Babe Ruth Professional Model Bat” fetched just $30,000 after 37 bids. This is what Heritage had to say about that PSA/DNA GU 6 bat:
In order to assure that there is no confusion about this bat, and to address the rather unusual formatting of our lot title, it is important to note that the experts at PSA/DNA are confident that this bat was produced for use by the game’s most celebrated figure, but stipulate that the “overall condition of the barrel prohibits us from determining game use by Ruth.” The majority of their lengthy letter of examination praises this Hanna Batrite specimen with bold “Ruth” block-lettering on the barrel, referencing “substantial” game use with green rack streaks on upper handle.
They further state that the thirty-five inch (35″) length and thirty-five ounce (35.2 oz.) weight are consistent with validated Ruth gamers, and note that the absence of a model number on the barrel is consistent with Hanna Batrite’s professional (as opposed to retail) models. Perhaps somewhere in the vast photographic archives of the Babe there is an image of him holding this bat, a find that would send it soaring into six figures, but for now the lack of verifiable Ruth traits like handle and/or barrel scoring and visible ball marks consistent with Ruth’s label-down batting style disallow a confident attribution to the Babe. Nonetheless, the bat cannot be dismissed either, making it an attractive target for the collector unwilling or unable to pay the heavy price for a guaranteed gamer.
Image below by Heritage Auctions.
There you have it. Babe Ruth bat sales from 2022, ranging from $30,000 up to about $1.7 million. It turns out that provenance matters quite a bit even for Babe Ruth.