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1920 Babe Ruth Single-Signed "50th Home Run" Ball
Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $5,288
When is a Babe Ruth 50th home-run baseball not a Babe Ruth 50th home-run baseball? That's the conundrum we are left with after examining this Official American League (Johnson) ball. The mystery begins on a side panel, where it has been signed "'Babe' Ruth" in blue fountain pen. Written directly below his signature, presumably in Ruth's hand, is the number "50." While Ruth's signature technically grades "3" (it is affected by a few abrasions) it must be noted that it has been lightly traced over in black ink. The inscription on the sweet spot, printed in blue fountain pen (also lightly traced over in black ink) raises even more questions: "To..Chas. B. McMorris/From..'Brick' Owens/Aug 23 Cleveland, Ohio." Brick Owens was a former National League (1908, 1912-13) and American League (1916-1937) umpire, but his inscription is not very informative. We still do not know what this ball is supposed to be, other than a ball signed by Ruth. However, upon reading the vintage 1920 newspaper clipping, which accompanies the ball, it appears that the mystery has been solved. In the report, which is dated December 21, 1920, and which notes that the story was first reported by the Normal School News nearly two months earlier, we learn of the circumstances that have befallen one lucky man, and define the significance of this particular ball. In full: "Verne Barnes is the possessor of a baseball which any man, or boy, or even some women would be very proud to own, states a Normal School News reporter. It is the one which 'Babe' Ruth hit in Cleveland when he knocked his fiftieth home run. 'Brick' Owens, an umpire who officiated the game, presented the ball to Mr. McMorris, a former Charleston resident, who at present is employed at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, and he in turn presented it to the Charleston Chamber of Commerce to be raffled off. Verne was the lucky bidder. - Normal School News, Oct. 12, 1920." (The Normal School, which is now Eastern Illinois University, was located in Charleston, Illinois.) While everything seems to make sense now, a moment's deliberation elicits more questions. Ruth, who entered the 1920 season with forty-nine career home runs, blasted a then-record fifty-four home runs that season. Is this ball supposed to be Ruth's fiftieth career home run ball, which would have been his first home run of the season, or was it used to record his fiftieth home run of the season? The article is not clear on that fact. However, provided all the facts in the article are accurate, it would not matter; it would be neither one of them. The article states that Ruth's "fiftieth home run" was hit in Cleveland. Ruth's first home run of he season, the fiftieth of his career, occurred on May 1st in a game against the Red Sox at the Polo Grounds in New York. So, if the article's reference to Cleveland is accurate as the city in which the home run was hit, it cannot refer to his fiftieth career home run. Ruth's fiftieth home run of the 1920 season also took place at the Polo Grounds, on September 24th in the first game of a doubleheader against Washington. It certainly cannot be the ball from that game. Not only does the locale not match up, but the date on the ball (August 23rd) precedes the actual event! So what exactly is this ball? Obviously, great credence should be given to the newspaper article, especially since it was written in 1920, the same year that Owens presented the ball to McMorris. Is it possible that some of the facts are simply in error? That is our theory. It might be the only explanation. The only plausible solution we can offer, and one that really does make sense, is that this is, indeed, Ruth's fiftieth career home run ball, and that the report about the event taking place in Cleveland is simply an error based upon assumption and the article should have referred to New York. It is obvious by the dating that this ball absolutely cannot be the ball used to record Ruth's fiftieth home run of the season. That leaves only the fiftieth home run of his career, which was his first of the season on May 1st in New York. The article states that Mr. McMorris, to whom the ball is inscribed, worked at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland. Umpires naturally travel extensively, staying in hotels, and the Statler is probably where Owens stayed when working in Cleveland. The reason the ball is dated from August and bears the Cleveland, Ohio, location is simply because Owens inscribed it to McMorris in person in Cleveland. The reporter who wrote the 1920 article probably assumed that the date and locale written by umpire Buck Owens on the ball corresponded to the date and locale of the home run when, in fact, Owens was simply recording the time and place of presentation. Of course, all of this is simply conjecture and collectors are free to interpret the facts as they see fit. We have merely presented all of the evidence and our theory, which we think has merit. It is up to the buyer of this ball to decide for himself. The ball displays heavy soiling and wear, which is consistent with game use, as well as numerous abrasions. Despite the wear, all of the manufacturer's labels remain clearly legible. In Good condition overall. This is certainly one of the most intriguing Babe Ruth signed balls we have ever come across and, if our theory is correct, a home run ball of great historical significance as well. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $5,288
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