1961 Roger Maris Inscribed 60th Home Run Bat with Provenance from Clubhouse Attendant- Possibly Used to Tie Babe Ruth's Record!
Reserve - $10,000. Estimate - (open)
On September 26, 1961, Roger Maris made baseball history when he tied Babe Ruth's long-standing single-season home-run record by hitting his 60th home run off of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jack Fisher at Yankee Stadium. Offered here is what we believe may be the very bat used by Roger Maris to hit that historic 60th home run. While the bat is accompanied by strong provenance in support of its historic stature, the most compelling evidence we have comes from Maris himself, who has personally inscribed the bat "To Bill/Best Wishes/to a good Club House man/Roger Maris/#60/9-26-61." The "Bill" to whom this bat is inscribed was Billy Nizer, the visiting clubhouse attendant for the Baltimore Orioles from 1959 through 1961. In 1979, Nizer sold many of the souvenirs he had acquired during his time as a clubhouse attendant to Federal Hill Autographs in Baltimore, including this Maris 60th home-run bat. It was later offered at auction by Federal Hill Autographs. It was soon after purchased by our consignor and has remained in his possession since that time. Accompanying the bat are copies of the original Federal Hill Autographs auction-catalog listing (interesting note: this auction company was run and owned by the highly respected and legendary Kennedy memorabilia collector Robert White), as well as Nizer's signed letter of sale to Federal Hill Autographs, dated August 24, 1979, which specifically lists the Maris bat among the items sold (identifying it as the "bat from Roger Maris when he broke Babe Ruth's homerun record"). Additional documentation includes a copy of an article from the April 23, 1959, issue of Baltimore's The Evening Sun newspaper, which features a profile of Billy Nizer as the Orioles new visiting clubhouse attendant, as well as a 1994 two-page letter from Nizer's widow (William Nizer died in 1981 at the age of thirty-seven) to our consignor in which she confirms that Nizer was given Maris' 60th home run bat and even that she personally typed the letter of provenance and sale to Robert White of Federal Hill Autographs (that is included) for her husband in 1979 when he sold his collection.
The bat itself is an ideal Roger Maris H&B signature-model (A92) bat dating from the 1961-1963 labeling period and has been graded GU9 by PSA/DNA. The bat measures 35 inches in length and weighs 32.5 ounces. As noted in the accompanying LOA from PSA/DNA, factory records indicate that Maris ordered model A92 bats exclusively from March 14, 1961, through July 27, 1962. Those orders specify 35-inch bats with weights anywhere from 32 to 34 ounces. The offered bat, at 32.5 ounces, is most consistent with one of the 32 or 33 ounce bat orders. The bat displays evidence of substantial use along its entire length, including ball marks and ball-stitch impressions on all sides of the barrel, bat marks, a light coat of pine tar on the middle of the handle, and a crack in the handle. When we submitted this bat to John Taube of PSA/DNA, we asked him specifically if the bat could be positively photo-matched to Maris' 60th home-run bat, for which we have a number of images (though we realize that bats are rarely able to be photo-matched due to the limitations of photo quality). We have seen many instances over the years of players identifying bats and other equipment items incorrectly, though we rarely see an incorrect period attribution. Unfortunately, the attempt to positively photo-match the bat was inconclusive. The quality of the photos available to us were simply not clear enough to match the grain of the wood. Taube writes in part:
"Visible in two photos (see attached) of Maris hitting his 60th home run are two dark spots on the barrel of his bat that are not present on the subject bat. Not knowing the source of the dark spots, we can only speculate as to the possibility that the spots have faded or have been removed after 52 years. The bat does appear to have a very light pine tar application similar to the subject bat." He concludes: "Taking into account the evidence at hand, it is our opinion the bat was signed by Maris on the evening of September 26, 1961, after hitting his record tying 60th home run of the season. Direct attribution as to the use of the bat by Maris to hit the 60th home run cannot be confirmed nor denied."
It should be noted that while all of the evidence we have points to this being the bat that Maris used to tie Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1961, there is one significant issue that needs to be addressed in great detail (and which can be definitively): another existing Maris bat that competes for the claim of the bat used to hit home-run #60.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has in its possession a bat it claims was used by Roger Maris to hit his 59th, 60th, and 61st home runs in 1961. While we are not questioning the claim that the bat displayed in the Hall of Fame was used by Maris to hit his 61st home run, our research, which has been corroborated by John Taube of PSA/DNA in his accompanying LOA, has confirmed that Maris clearly used different bats in hitting his 60th and 61st home runs. Therefore, the bat in the Hall of Fame could not have been used by Maris for both his 60th and 61st home runs. We have photos of Maris hitting both home runs and the difference between the two bats can be plainly seen.
As Taube clearly states in his LOA: "Period photography of Maris hitting his 60th and 61st home run, though not very detailed, does convey that each home run was struck with a different bat." We should add that we think it would be impossible to conclude otherwise by viewing photographs of Maris hitting home runs #60 and #61 (images of which are readily available on the Internet and elsewhere).
Another interesting and pertinent fact is that, while the Hall of Fame claimed it had the bat used to hit both home runs #60 and #61, the Babe Ruth Museum was convinced this was the 60th home-run bat and made it a featured display there in 1991. The highly respected Robert White (1949-2003) of Federal Hill Autographs, who was the world's foremost authority and collector of Kennedy memorabilia (with a collection worth many millions of dollars), was famous for approaching claims of attribution with great care and required extensive and compelling provenance and documentation before accepting such claims. White, who was well aware of the Hall of Fame's home run #61 Maris bat and its attribution as also hitting home run #60, was certain that he had secured Maris' 60th home-run bat when he bought it from Nizer. When he subsequently offered it at auction, White referenced the Hall of Fame's bat extensively but asserted with confidence that the bat he owned was Maris' one and only 60th home-run bat. A copy of White's catalog description, which details the bat's authenticity and addresses the Hall of Fame's bat at great length, accompanies (and is posted online).
While we will never know the exact circumstances of Maris' gift of the bat to Nizer, the one thing we do know (from no less than Roger Maris himself!) is that Maris gave this bat to Nizer as a gift. Nizer was the visiting clubhouse attendant for the Orioles, and Maris' 60th home run was hit at home at Yankee Stadium (in a game played against Baltimore). Prior to the September 26, 1961, game against the Orioles in which Maris hit #60 , the Yankees were in Baltimore for a three-game series (September 19, 20, and 21). Maris hit home run #59 on Sept. 20th, and there was naturally great anticipation that he might hit home run #60 in Baltimore on the 21st. Nizer was the Baltimore Orioles visiting clubhouse manager, attending to every detail of the clubhouse accommodations and many needs of Maris (who was very much the center of attention at this time) and the Yankees during this series. Nizer was an avid collector who already had, among many other items, the bat that Rocky Colavito used to hit four consecutive home runs against Baltimore in 1959. Could Nizer have asked Maris if he could have a historic home run bat for his collection? Would that be the type of request a young, enthusiastic collector who was the visiting players' clubhouse manager, personally helping Roger Maris and the Yankees with all their needs, and who had been friendly with Maris for the past three years, might do? We think it is! Maris did not hit #60 on September 21st in Baltimore, and the Yankees next traveled to Boston for a two-game series played on September 23 and September 24, during which Maris also did not hit #60. The entire country was riveted by Maris' run at Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1961, as much or more so than during the home-run record race of 1998. After Boston, it was back to Yankee Stadium for a two-game series against the Baltimore Orioles once again (September 26 and September 27). The whole world was wondering if home runs #60 and #61 would be hit in these games. Because Nizer was Baltimore's visiting clubhouse attendant, he would normally not travel to Yankee Stadium for the Orioles-Yankees games, but in light of the monumentally historic event that was so highly anticipated and unfolding with the Orioles as participants, would it not be likely that Nizer would accompany his team to Yankee Stadium (or make the short drive from Baltimore to New York himself or with his family) to be a part of the most exciting and anticipated historic event in baseball history? Is this not what any baseball fan who had the opportunity would do? Especially if you were personally friendly with Roger Maris, and could be a part of the historic event with the players in the clubhouse, as only someone like Nizer that worked for the team could do? The answer, we think, is "Of course." Especially if you were a collector who had been promised the bat used to hit #60.
Back to the bat. There are only two possibilities: this is Maris' home run bat #60, or it isn't. The only way for this to not be the actual bat that Maris used to hit home run #60 is if Maris retrieved a different broken game bat and inscribed it to Nizer as is seen here, with the inscriptions and reference to "60" intended to be more commemorative in nature than an assertion that this was the very bat used to launch that historic home run. This is possible. But if the Hall of Fame's bat is not the bat used to hit home run #60 (and it isn't), then the home-run #60 bat presumably has to be somewhere. In light of the inscription and Nizer's understanding that this was the bat, we think it is possible (if not likely) that the home run #60 bat was given to Nizer and this is the bat.
The fact that the bat is cracked is also important. In another letter to our consignor, written by Frank Lhosty, a former Orioles clubhouse attendant whose career briefly overlapped Nizer's, he stressed that clubhouse boys and attendants rarely, if ever, received bats from players unless they were cracked. The bats became available as gifts only after their usefulness had ended. Also interesting is the fact, as specifically noted by Frank Lhostly (who frequently rode back and forth to the stadium with Nizer), that Nizer was a memorabilia collector, a key point as to why he might ask for a home-run bat. Nizer's 1979 letter also specifically references and details parts of his "collection," including (but not limited to) the Maris bat that he is selling. In part: "My collection, including autographed baseballs, uniforms, caps, bats and line-up cards, was gathered during my three years (1959-1961) of employment at Memorial Stadium as clubhouse boy, bat boy and clubhouse manager for visiting teams." Nizer's original 1979 letter to Robert White accompanies, and can be seen online. According to the September 27, 1961, New York Times article about the September 26, 1961 game, after Maris hit his 60th home run in the third inning, he did not get any more hits, flying out twice in his final two at bats. While there is no mention in the article of his bat cracking during those at bats, that is information that is almost never noted. While we have no way to prove or know with certainty if Maris cracked his bat (the very one he had just used in the third inning to hit #60) during the game, it is certainly possible. Even the fact that a different bat was used to hit home run #60 than was used to hit home run #61 (as can be seen in photographs and which has been confirmed by bat expert John Taube) suggests the possibility. Why did Maris change bats? Is it, perhaps, because between 9/26/61 and 10/1/61, he cracked his 60th home-run bat? This makes sense and is very likely.
Additionally, it would be very much in character for Maris to give away an important home-run bat as a gift. In fact, he quite famously refused to accept Sal Durante's gift of his 61st home-run ball, telling Durante "you make some money from it," so he obviously did not have a sentimental attachment to such things. (Durante eventually sold the ball to restauranteur Sam Gordon, who then later gave the ball to Maris.) Also, unlike today, the Hall of Fame was not waiting in the wings for historic artifacts. The Hall acquired Maris' 61st home-run bat (the very bat that is also identified - or misidentified - as having been used to hit #59 and #60) and the 61st home-run ball directly from Maris in 1973 at his house, twelve years after the fact. It has even been purported that Maris lost the 61st home-run ball and gave the Hall another ball instead, as is well documented in Robert White's Federal Hill catalog description, which appears online in full and reads in part as follows:
From Roger Maris*, A Title to Fame by Harvey Rosenfeld: The Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown claims to have the bat that knocked home run no. 61 on October 1, 1961, also numbers 59 and 60. . . also the sixty-first home-run ball that had been retrieved by Sal Durante, according to an April 9, 1973 letter from Hall of Fame Director Ken Smith to Maris confirming that the bat and ball were picked up from Maris in Florida by Smith on March 13, 1973, and delivered to the Hall of Fame on April 7, 1973. Smith had written Maris telling him that he would be in Florida and he would like Maris to donate the 61st home run ball to the Hall of Fame. Sal Durante states: "Several years later, after 1961, Roger told me that he was playing with his son in the backyard and lost the historic ball. I initialed the ball right after catching it so there would be no substitution. If it's in the Hall of Fame, it must have my signature." A June 12, 1967, story in the St. Louis Dispatch confirms Durante's account, quoting Maris as saying, "I have no idea where the ball is. It might be around my house, but I doubt it. For all I know my kids might have played with it." On December 2, 1987, after maintenance personel cleaned the case containing the ball and bat, Peter Clark, registrar for the Hall of Fame and curator of its holdings, reported that there was "no 'S.D.' signature on the ball nor any other inscription." So the Baseball Hall of Fame does not have Maris' 61st home run ball; an embarrassed Maris probably gave Smith another ball he had saved. . . ."
White presents much additional information regarding the bat offered here, including the following:
"The bat offered here is inscribed to the Orioles club house man and signed by Roger Maris who has added "#60" and "9-26-61" to his inscription indicating the day he signed it. The bat is a "Genuine Roger Maris Louisville Slugger" and it has a 7" long crack to the left of the label. This bat could not exist in Yankee Stadium on September 26, 1961, unless it was cracked that day. Cracked bats are not left in the dugout or club house for the next game because of the possibility that a ballplayer might not realize it was cracked and might accidentally use it in a game. Roger Maris must have cracked this bat after he hit his 60th home run, trying for his record-breaking 61st home run, for it is dated that day; it is possible that he also hit his 59th home run with this bat as well. He could not have cracked it during the last Orioles-Yankees game the next day on September 27, 1961, dating it the previous day as a souvenir of the 60th home run because Maris did not play in the September 27th game. . . ."
Whenever dealing with historic items relating to a specific event, it is often very difficult to provide definitive proof. Memories fade, and honest mistakes are made, especially when identifying items many years after the fact. Common sense dictates that mistakes are far less likely to occur, and more confidence can be given an identification, when an item is identified at the time of the event, on that very day, as is the case here. But even then, for a bat, especially one that the Hall of Fame believes it has as well, only a definitive photo match of the bat's unique wood grain can provide definitive identification. Bats are rarely able to be photo matched in this manner, but if images of sufficiently high quality surface (if they exist), experts may be able to do this in the future.
Because both Maris and Nizer are now deceased, we will never know the exact circumstances and details of how and when Nizer received the bat. We do know, however, that both Nizer, through his letter to Federal Hill Autographs, and his widow were always under the impression that the bat was used to hit Maris' 60th home run. Why is that? The answer is because it's most likely true! Obviously, Nizer, more than anyone else, would have known the exact history of the bat and he always maintained that the bat was precisely what it appears to be. There seemed to be no doubt in either his mind or his widow's that the bat was Maris' 60th home run bat. Also, Maris' careful and caring inscription on the barrel, which is a vintage notation dating from the 1961 season, seems very unambiguous to us. Although we cannot prove this is Maris' 60th home-run bat by means of an exact photo match, if it could be proven, it would be one of, if not the most significant, home run bats that could possibly exist. At the very least, it is an impeccable Roger Maris autographed game bat dating from the most exciting final days of his historic 1961 record-breaking season (in fact, it is the only one we have ever seen or know of), and is, by any measure, one of the finest Roger Maris bats in existence. LOA from John Taube and Vince Malta of PSA/DNA and LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $10,000. Estimate (open).
(Click the smaller thumbnails to the left and right (if any) to cycle through each photo in the gallery of images for this lot.)