The Milwaukee Braves baseball jersey that Hank Aaron – arguably the greatest living hero of the golden age of America’s pastime – wore in 1954, the year that began his fabled career, will be the centerpiece of Heritage Auctions’ April 21-22 Signature® Sports Memorabilia Auction. It is expected to bring $200,000+. “Short of Babe Ruth there are few baseball players more important or beloved than ‘Hammerin’ Hank Aaron,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Heritage Sports Collectibles, “and this is the gamer that was likely on those shoulders on April 23, 1954 when he hit the first of his 715 home runs.”
Aaron was the rare professional athlete that transcended his sport, his place and his time. He was a brilliant baseball player, but he was also a political lightning rod – especially as he neared Babe Ruth’s sacred home run mark of 714 – and a touchstone of cultural change. He was, in every sense of the meaning, a game changer. What could be more evocative of his colossal achievements both on and off the field than this beautiful baseball jersey? This piece has everything going for it – history, rarity and value.
The historical appeal of the jersey is enhanced by the ghostly stitching pattern of a number “5” beneath Aaron’s trademark number “44”, a digit worn by Aaron only his rookie campaign. The team-instituted number change would suggest subsequent action in Aaron’s sophomore season as well.
The jersey also contains a vintage black sharpie salutation from the great slugger himself, “Best Wishes, Hank Aaron.”
Important diamond-used memorabilia continues with the 1947 Triple Crown season game-used vault marked bat from none other than the “Splendid Splinter” himself, Ted Williams, estimated at $75,000+. This is the bat Williams returned to the Louisville Slugger factory to be used as a template for copies to be made, establishing it as his favorite.
“To think that this bat was in the hands of the greatest hitter the game has ever seen throughout one of his greatest seasons is a humbling thing,” said Ivy. “It’s arguably the finest Williams bat in the hobby.”
It’s rare that a modern piece of sports equipment can capture the attention of high end vintage memorabilia collectors, but the swim cap worn by Michael Phelps in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as he won his eighth Gold Medal has done just that. The cap, worn by Phelps as he swam the Butterfly stroke in the third leg of the 400-meter medley relay, literally capped the finest individual performance by an athlete ever rendered in international competition. It carries a pre-auction estimate of $20,000+.
The history and popularity of the football – arguably America’s current favorite game – is epitomized by an exceedingly rare relic from the very first days of the American Football League in the form of Hall of Fame Oakland Raider center Jim Otto’s 1960 game worn rookie jersey, expected to bring $20,000+.
“Very few players embody the early league, and the hardnosed, no-nonsense play that would come to typify the Oakland Raiders, more than Jim Otto,” said Ivy. “Considering how hard Otto played, and the obvious beating this relic took, its survival is a miracle and its value as a piece football history is unquestionable. This is not only the only surviving Otto rookie jersey, but the only known surviving jersey, period, from the Raiders’ inaugural season.”
Important early cardboard is always a signature of Heritage Sports Auctions and the April 21 offerings provide several prime cards from the heyday of 20th century baseball, including a 1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Eddie Plank SGC 50 VG/EX 4 – a card from the same set that yielded the T206 Honus Wagner card, baseball’s greatest collectible – which carries an estimate of $80,000+.
A 1933 Goudey Sports Kings Babe Ruth #2 PSA NM-MT 8, estimated at $20,000+, is a superb representation of “the Sultan of Swat” from the peak of his enormous popularity. An 1889 N43 Allen & Ginter “The Worlds Champions-Second Series” Complete Set (50), #1 on the SGC Set Registry, with a GPA of 58.0, is estimated at $12,000+, while the very first known baseball card, an 1869 Peck & Snyder Cincinnati Red Stockings-Small Team Card SGC 20 Fair 1.5 is sure to thrill collectors with its tangible history, estimated at $10,000+, and a 1951 Bowman Gil Hodges #7 PSA Mint 9, the highest graded card of its kind, is expected to draw spirited bidding from collectors when it comes on the block with an estimate of $12,000+.
Further highlights include, but are not limited to:
1991 Nolan Ryan Seventh No-Hitter Game Worn Jersey with Ryan Letter: Whether by elite genetics or pure force of will, Ryan’s hundred mile per hour fastball did not abandon him as the decades rolled by, and he was still lighting up the radar gun at the advanced age of forty-four when he took the mound in Arlington, Texas to face the Toronto Blue Jays on May 1, 1991. It had appeared that the date would be remembered only for Rickey Henderson’s assumption of the career stolen base record from Lou Brock, but Ryan would expand upon the day’s speed theme with an overpowering performance to complete his seventh and final no-hit masterpiece. Estimate: $50,000+.
1859 Brooklyn Atlantics Game Used Trophy Baseball, as seen on Antiques Roadshow: Elusive and monumentally important from an historical perspective, the presented ancient sphere saw over a century and a half pass between its two appearances upon center stage. A link to the footage which provides its second is available on our website listing for this lot, the two-minute segment on the popular PBS program Antiques Roadshow, which provides some background on the piece. On June 23, 1859 the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Baltimore Pastime base ball clubs met in the first championship of organized baseball. This is the only known relic from that fabled game. Estimate: $15,000+.
Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $600 million, and 500,000+ online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.