1924 Babe Ruth Signed Game-Used Bat with Exceptional Provenance MEARS A10

Sold For: $111,625

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1277

Item Year: 1924

Category: Game-Used Bats

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Extraordinary high-grade Babe Ruth pro-model bat with the added provenance of having been inscribed by Ruth and presented as a Christmas gift to his good friend Jimmie Donohue in 1924. Graded A10 by MEARS and GU10 by PSA/DNA. This is one of three Babe Ruth pro-model bats featured in this auction, each dating from a different period of his career, each of extraordinary museum caliber, and each accompanied by outstanding provenance. Together, they represent the three finest Babe Ruth pro-model bats we have ever handled within their respective manufacturing periods.

Babe Ruth personally signed pro-model bats are exceptionally rare and, because they naturally had to originate directly from Ruth, were normally only presented to his closest friends. Jimmie Donohue, who was a prominent New Jersey restauranteur, certainly fell into that elite circle. Over the years Ruth presented Jimmie Donahue with many keepsakes, mostly autographed photos for display in his restaurant, but he also saw fit to present him with this ultimate prize as a special Christmas gift in 1924. It is one of only a few Babe Ruth game-used bats known to exist that are actually signed and presented by Ruth. Ruth has inscribed the bat in black fountain pen on the back of the barrel "To Jimmie Donohue/Babe Ruth/Dec 25, '24." This bat was the most treasured keepsake of many personalized Ruth items given to Donohue over the years, all of which were recently sold by the family at public auction two years ago. (Three other significant Ruth-signed items to Donohue originating from the family are also featured in this auction.)

Given the fact that this was a Christmas gift to Donohue, it's probably safe to assume that it was one of Ruth's favored pieces of lumber that season. All indications (heavy game-use, ball and stitch marks, cleat marks, etc.) suggest this to be the case, and the fact that it was presented by Ruth in December 1924 strongly suggests this was a bat used during the 1924 season. If so, and we believe this to be a virtual certainty, it is all the more significant a piece, for 1924 represented one of Ruth's finest overall seasons and the only year in which he captured the American League batting title. Ruth posted league-leading totals in batting average (.378), home runs (46), runs (143), bases on balls (142), slugging percentage (.739), and on-base percentage (.513). Unfortunately, his 121 RBI that season were just eight shy of Goose Goslin's league-leading total of 129, thereby thwarting his one chance of winning the coveted Triple Crown. This bat dates from the 1923-1924 manufacturing period, but the fact that it is dated 1924 makes it highly probable that it originates from one of Ruth's bat shipments from that season. While we will never know exactly how much game action this bat saw in 1924, based upon its physical characteristics, it appears to have been considerable. Heavy use is evident along its entire length, including ball and stitch marks on the left side of the barrel, cleat marks, and grain swelling. The ball marks on the left side of the barrel are particularly significant, as their presence in that area is a central characteristic of Ruth bats. (Unlike most players, Ruth hit with the label down, as opposed to up, resulting in contact on the left side of the barrel.) Both the length (36 inches) and weight (42 ounces) are consistent with factory records from the time period. Additionally, the bat displays a hand-turned knob with evidence of rasp marks, which were the result of factory workers sanding the knob to achieve the specified weight. Ruth's inscription and signature are both boldly penned, grading "7/8" overall. A few portions of the inscription, including parts of the signature, have been slightly gone over, presumably by Ruth. Because the wood grain of a bat is far from an ideal writing surface, it's not surprising that Ruth might have experienced a few "skips" in the inscription. Naturally, he would have taken the time to correct those minor flaws by reinforcing his own pen strokes, especially since this was a Christmas gift to this dear friend. The result is an exceptional Ruth signature that has defied the ages and presents much as it did in 1924. As noted earlier, Ruth signed pro-model bats are exceedingly rare, a fact supported by the MEARS census. Of the more than ninety Ruth bats graded by the company, this is one of only seven signed by Ruth, and probably represents the earliest such example. Graded A10 by MEARS (5 point base grade, plus 3 points for use and a combined two points for the Ruth characteristics, factory-documented length and weight, and the vintage autograph) and GU10 by PSA/DNA. This is a perfect Ruth bat, in all respects, made all the more desirable by Ruth's inscription on the barrel and its direct provenance of having belonged to one of Ruth's closest friends. LOAs from Troy Kinunen/MEARS, John Taube and Vince Malta of PSA/DNA, and James Spence/JSA. Reserve $25,000. Estimate $50,000+. SOLD FOR $111,625

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