PITTSBURGH – The Major League Baseball All-Star FanFest has been dubbed “Baseball Heaven on Earth,” and by all accounts, the sale hosted there by Hunt Auctions on July 11 was, itself, a little slice of memorabilia heaven. Far and away, the star of the auction was the first-ever home run ball from an All-Star game – a ball that happened to have been hit by Babe Ruth in 1933 and was later autographed by the batting legend. Sold to an anonymous bidder for $805,000 (all prices quoted include a 15 percent buyer’s premium), it finished as top lot of the sale held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
“We’re thrilled, and grinning from ear to ear,” said consignor Chris Brown of San Diego, whose late grandfather, Earl, caught the home run ball off Ruth’s bat at the inaugural All-Star game, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Earl Brown caught the ball while on a date with his future wife, Mae Swoverland. For 73 years, the ball stayed in the family, stored in boxes and closets. “Our family has a whole lot of memories tied up in this ball,” said Brown, “but we are selling the ball, not the memories.”
The family’s momentary pangs of regret turned to shouts of joy when the bidding shattered the $100,000 pre-auction estimate. The final bid was $700,000 on the hammer, which translated to $805,000 with the addition of the buyer’s premium. Chris Brown said the family decided to sell the venerable baseball to help pay for his mother’s medical bills. Virginia Brown has no health insurance and is in need of two surgeries. “We simply realized it was time to let it go,” Chris said.
Although the Ruth ball blew away its pre-auction estimate, it was still far short of the record for a baseball sold at auction. Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball holds the record at $3 million, which was realized in a 1999 auction. Barry Bonds’ record 73rd home run ball, hit just a few seasons later, only received $450,000 at auction.
Another Ruth item – a bat that sold for $483,000 – achieved the second-highest price in the auction. The bat, which was used by the Sultan of Swat in 1921 to hit his then-record 58th and 59th home runs, went to Cypress Family Sports Museum in Los Angeles.
There was even a celebrity in the midst of the auction. Emmy Award-winning journalist Roy Firestone lodged the winning bid of $550 for four Baltimore Orioles commemorative black hats. Not all items exceeded their presale estimates, however. An autographed Sammy Sosa bat expected to fetch $300-$400 sold for $86, according to Hunt Auctions.
Pirate baseball fans also had hoped some of their bids would bring home some neat old ballpark memorabilia. “I really wanted that Roberto Clemente All-Star bat,” said John Russo, a retired ironworker. “It just got out of my price range.” The bat sold for $25,300.
Other Pirate baseball collectibles also brought hefty prices, including $18,400 for Bill Mazeroski’s 1956-1958 game glove, $14,950 for Willie Stargell’s 1971 home jersey, and $9,890 for the 1960 Pirates World Series Trophy. “I can still hear them screaming, ‘Spank the Yanks’ from that 1960 Pirates World Series game at old Forbes Field,” said one nostalgic Pirates fan and collector of Topps baseball card sets, Fred Yates of Springdale, Pa.
Hunt Auctions is located in Exton, Pa., near Philadelphia. For more information on their upcoming sales or to inquire about consigning, call 610-524-0822 or log on to www.huntauctions.com.