It is said that, for a short period of time in the mid to late 1920s, like a gunslinger out of the Old West Babe Ruth would mark his “kill” by carving a notch on his game bat after he blasted a pitch out of the park. There have been suggestions that this might be an apocryphal tale befitting the Babe’s legend, but many say there’s a mountain of evidence to back the claim. Part of that evidence is one of Ruth’s bats used from 1926 to 1929 – a 4-season span during which he averaged an amazing 51.75 home runs per season – which is a premier lot in Grey Flannel’s Games of Summer 2009 auction, closing Wednesday, April 29. The bat is carved with 11 notches, with each notch representing a home run.
While it is not possible for the experts at Grey Flannel to identify exactly which of the 207 home runs chalked up during the late 1920s are represented by the notches on the bat, the timeframe would suggest the strong possibility of an association with the 60 shots he blasted over the wall in 1927, setting a record that stood for over half a century. Profound in any case is the fact that all of the notches were part of Ruth’s career total of 714, a number that has become ingrained forever in American history.
Any authentic Ruth bat is a collector’s dream. The example to be auctioned, made by Hillerich and Bradsby, is from the labeling period of 1926-1929. It is 36 inches long and weighs 36¾ ounces. Both measurements correspond to bats ordered by Ruth during the referenced labeling period. This information has been extracted from Ruth’s Professional Bat Ordering Record on file at Louisville Slugger Inc.
The bat has numerous ball marks with a handle crack. There is grain swelling about the barrel and several bat boy nails on the back. Underneath the center brand are 11 home run notches that have been determined to be original.
There is a planed area on the left barrel of the bat indicating the bat was returned to the manufacturer so other bats of the same model could be ordered. This was a common practice during the 1920s. When received, Henry Morrow, the pro player representative at Hillerich & Bradsby would plane a small area on the barrel and inscribe the date received, weight and player name. Faint portions of lettering can still be seen in the side-written area but the player name and other information is illegible. Additionally, faint images of factory notations can be seen on the handle of the bat. The initials “B.R.” have been carved into the knob, most likely to identify the bat once it was placed into the racks after its return to Hillerich & Bradsby.
There are only four known documented examples of bats notched by Ruth to log the number of home runs hit (it is believed Ruth used the edge of a file to engrave the bats). One of the four bats is on display at the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.
The notches on all four of the known notched bats appear to have been made with the same tool. They are the same shape and size.
Another critical point to the authenticity of the bat to be auctioned is that the location of the notches under the center brand matches another of the known and documented notched home run bats. That bat resides in a well-known collection and has 5 notches in the “7 o’clock” position under the center brand and 6 notches at the 2 o’clock position above the center brand. That bat also has factory side writing with Ruth’s name visible in the side written area with a return date of 2-6-29.
The Ruth bat in Grey Flannel’s auction is accompanied by a PSA/DNA Letter of Authenticity and has been graded GU9. Telephone and Internet bidding on all lots in Grey Flannel’s Summer Games 2009 auction – including the earliest known game-worn Mickey Mantle Yankees home jersey – will close at 9 p.m. EST on Wednesday, April 29. At that time, extended-bidding rules will take effect, and the auction will continue until a 10-minute period has passed without any incoming bids. Only those who have lodged at least one bid prior to the 9 p.m. cutoff will be allowed to participate in the after-cutoff bidding.
For information, condition reports, to receive a complimentary printed catalog or to obtain a bidder number and password, call 631-288-7800, ext. 223, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the company’s Web site to view the fully illustrated catalog (available soon) at www.greyflannelauctions.com