A mythic slugger’s hefty weapon. A once-and-future basketballer’s signed footwear. An executive’s sparkling jewelry. A ticket to a game. These are just some of the items that that stole the show Friday when the curtain fell on the second night of the three-day Heritage Auctions’ Spring Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction. When bidding ended, the night’s tally was more than $3.5 million, far exceeding pre-auction estimates.
That’s on top of the more than $8 million realized 24 hours earlier, when significant cards from Shoeless Joe Jackson, Michael Jordan and countless others set historic marks.
Leading off the night’s impressive run was a historic Babe Ruth game-used bat that ended up selling for $930,000, making it the fifth-highest selling bat of all time. The bat sold Friday night was the very one Ruth used to hit his 52nd home run of the 1921 season, against his former team, the Boston Red Sox, in the second game of a Sept. 7 doubleheader.
This was the season during which the New York Yankee hit 59 homers to “become the undisputed King of Swat,” according to the Baseball Hall of Fame. This particular piece of lumber is one of the “Hotel Ansonia” bats, so called for the Manhattan landmark that famously served as Ruth’s first New York residence.
Ruth actually gave away this gargantuan club – almost three feet long and weighing almost three pounds – to a contest-winning amateur ballplayer. The bat that has once again made headlines was donated during an event well documented in the press and in a letter on Ansonia letterhead that accompanied the sale of the Hillerich & Bradsby bat, which began Friday night below the pre-auction estimate of $500,000, only to streak well beyond it as bidding extended well into the night.
Three of the five top-selling bats of all time belong to Ruth – no surprise. But for a second night, Michael Jordan once again dominated the proceedings.
The star and subject of ESPN’s record-setting The Last Dance documentary series again dominates the sports collecting market. And not just on the hardwood.
Keepsakes from his days as a Birmingham Barons outfielder are difficult to come by. But in this auction, Heritage offered a true rarity: a pair of Jordan-signed Air Jordan baseball cleats, not exactly the footwear with which he’s most identified. The spikes sold Friday night for $93,000 – almost 20 times the pre-auction estimate for an item that rarely sees the auction block.
Jordan’s such a hot commodity at the moment that even a tiny keepsake brought a big number Friday night – a ticket stub to the Oct. 5, 1984, Chicago Bulls-Indians Pacers pre-season match-up at the Peoria Civic Center Arena. This was the night the Jordan Era officially began for the Bulls: Jordan played 29 minutes and scored 18 points in his first-ever pro-ball appearance.
Friday night, that ticket stub sold for $34,800.
That’s $1,200 higher than a stub from his first regular-season sold for in 2018. And as sports-business journalist Darren Rovell noted in a tweet during Friday’s auction, that ungraded pre-season ticket went for $4,800 more “than a graded ticket to Lou Gehrig’s Luckiest Man On The Face Of The Earth speech.”
Such a thing would have been considered unfathomable only two months ago.
“Michael Jordan continued his memorabilia hot streak Friday night with several results that surpassed the pre-auction estimates by jaw-dropping margins,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “But while Jordan is moving up the ranks, Babe Ruth has once again proven he is still the king of sports memorabilia.”
Another significant sale Friday night was that of the first-ever 2018-19 Toronto Raptors NBA Championship Ring to hit the market. The ring, adorned with 320 diamonds, once belonged to a member of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment management team, which oversees the Raptors, Maple Leafs and Argonauts. And on Friday night someone paid $63,000 to add it to their collection.
Not all of Friday’s significant sales were in the five and six figures.
The cleats Barry Sanders wore Dec. 27, 1998 – when his Detroit Lions played the Baltimore Ravens – sold for $9,000. Tweeted the new owner of the historic footwear, from the Pro Football Hall of Fame running back’s final game: “I can’t express how happy I am after winning this auction. The limited memories I have of my dad involve the Lions and Barry Sanders.”
This is why we collect. Not just because of the investment. But because of the attachment.
The 2020 Spring Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction concludes Saturday night. Bidding for the final session remains open.