Love of the Game Auctions, Spring, 2014 auction is open for bidding. The auction closing date is Saturday, May 31. The sale features sports and non-sports cards and memorabilia from the late 19th Century to the present. Athletic achievements that seem superhuman are always captivating to a wide audience of people; their understanding of such feats are what make game-used memorabilia so interesting to those outside the hobby.
Presented are two such pieces: the very baseball purported to have been thrown by Bob Feller in 1946 to set the record for the fastest pitch ever thrown, and the baseball purported to have been thrown by Nolan Ryan in 1974 to break that record – a record that still stands today. Indeed, of the millions and millions of baseballs thrown by untold numbers of pitchers, these two baseballs were thrown faster than any other baseballs on record, ever, in the history of the game.
The story starts in 1946.
As part of a pre-game promotion (in which Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith paid the Indians hurler $700 to participate), pitcher Bob Feller was to throw pitches through the U.S. Army’s “Sky Screen Chronograph.” The Sky Screen Chronograph was a device used by the United States military to measure the velocity of artillery shells, and was deemed to be accurate to one ten-thousandth of a second. Working with the device involved setting it up behind home plate, and bullpen coach/catcher George Susce crouching behind an opening in the device. Feller, then, was to throw fastballs through the opening, at which point the speed would be measured.
The Chronograph clocked Feller’s fastest pitch at 145 feet per second, the equivalent of 98.6 miles per hour – the fastest pitch known.
Feller’s record stood for 38 years, until electronics technicians from Rockwell International measured fastballer Nolan Ryan on September 7, 1974. Ryan, who had insisted that he threw harder in the late innings than he did at the beginning of the game, was clocked all night, on Rockwell’s radar equipment. In the ninth inning, against the White Sox’ Bee Bee Richard, Ryan was proven correct, throwing his fastest pitch of the night. The pitch was clocked at an astonishing 100.8 miles per hour, breaking Feller’s record and setting a new one that stands to this day.
The baseballs in question were acquired by noted collector Barry Halper, where they resided until Halper made the bulk of his collection available in a widely-publicized public auction in September of 1999. The baseballs were sold together as a single lot (lot #2446), where they were won by our consignor, who has kept them in his collection for the past fifteen years.
The Feller baseball is an official Wilson American Association ball, noting Roy Hamey as president. This ball was used exclusively by the American Association between 1945 and 1947. It should be noted that Feller’s pitch was not thrown in a game but was thrown in a pre game exhibition, so the use of a non-official ball is entirely plausible. Notations written on the baseball in ink are “August 20, 1946” “145 FT. per Second or 98 Miles per Hour. World Record.” The adjacent panel is signed by bullpen coach George Susce, and authenticated by SGC Authentic. Later, we took the added step of submitting the ball to James Spence Authentication, who also provided a Letter of Authentication on the Susce signature. Susce wore #28 for the Indians throughout his career as both a player and a coach, and he can be seen in the above video, catching the record-breaking pitches from Feller. The Feller “signature” on the baseball is a clubhouse signature, written in an unknown hand.
The Ryan baseball is a Spalding official Lee MacPhail American League baseball. We consulted with Brandon Gruenbaum, author of the excellent research publication “History of the Baseball,” and he confirmed that Spalding official baseballs were definitely used in the American League as early as 1974. The ball, also somewhat worn and toned, features an inscription in felt tip marker on one panel reading “This ball was thrown 100.8 MPH on 9/7/74 for a worlds record.” The adjacent panel has been signed in ballpoint by Nolan Ryan, with another panel signed and inscribed by Bill Kunkel, who was the second base umpire for the game. Kunkel’s inscription and the identifying writing were clearly written in the same ink, and appear to have been written in the same hand. Ryan’s signature, applied in different ink, has faded considerably but is unmistakably Ryan’s. Kunkel’s signature and inscription, as well as Ryan’s signature, have been authenticated by both SGC Authentic and James Spence Authentication.
This is an incredible piece of historically significant memorabilia. The legends of Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan are legends against which every power pitcher who has come after them is compared. Everybody – even the casual baseball fan – knows that Nolan Ryan threw 100 miles per hour, and this is the very ball he threw! And of course, like the power pitchers of today who are chasing the legend of Nolan Ryan, Ryan broke into baseball chasing the legend of Bob Feller – and this is the ball he threw as well. Truly a museum-quality pair of baseballs, worthy of becoming the centerpiece of any memorabilia collection. LOA on the Susce signature by SGC Authentic and James Spence Authentication. LOA on the Ryan signature and the Kunkel signature/inscription by SGC Authentic and James Spence Authentication.
Other significant autographs featured in our Spring auction:
Spectacular Multi-Signed vintage baseball from the Zach Wheat estate, signed by 33 players, beautiful 1916 postcard written & signed by Honus Wagner, gorgeous album page signed by Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Red Rolfe
Visit our auction for even more fantastic autographs, from the likes of Home Run Baker, Roy Campanella, Happy Chandler, Fred Clarke, Mickey Cochrane, Ki Ki Cuyler, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Billy Martin, Branch Rickey, Jacob Ruppert and Ed Barrow, Hilton Smith, Tris Speaker, George Steinbrenner, Paul Waner, Cy Young, and many more!