1935 Babe Ruth "First Pitch" Game-Used Ball

Sold For: $1,880

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1284

Item Year: 1935

Category: Post-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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As most collectors are well aware, documented Babe Ruth home-run balls are exceedingly rare. Offered here is something equally rare, and the first of its kind we have ever encountered: a documented game ball that was the first ball pitched to Babe Ruth in a game between the Boston Braves and the Cincinnati Reds either on May 13th at Braves Field in Boston, or on May 26th at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. The ball originates from the personal collection of former Major League pitcher Si Johnson, who was the starting pitcher for the Reds on both May 13th and May 26th against the Braves, which were the first two times the teams played against each other that year. It is accompanied by a handwritten LOA signed by his cousin, Lee Johnson, to whom the ball was later given. The one-page letter, dated 4/6/95, reads To Whom It May Concern: This baseball written in black 'First ball against Babe Ruth 1935' was given to me by my cousin, major league pitcher Si Johnson. He pitched this ball against Ruth as a Cincinnati Red in 1935 when Ruth was a Boston Brave. The writing is in his hand. As noted in the letter, the official National League (Frick) ball does bear a printed notation in vintage black fountain pen on a side panel that reads "First ball against Babe Ruth 1935." The fact that the ball displays moderate-to-heavy use and is also signed in black fountain pen by ten members of the 1935 Reds, including Si Johnson, further attests to its game-used status. Since Ruth only played with Boston for the first two months in 1935 and Si Johnson was on the mound for the first two games in which the Reds and Braves played each other, the ball must date from either the May 13th contest in Boston or the May 26th game in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, neither the ball nor the LOA makes note of the date of the game. That said, we strongly believe it was used in the second of the two games, which was Ruth's first appearance that year in Cincinnati, because the ball is accompanied by a vintage 1935 newspaper clipping from the May 26th game (we assume the two items have been kept together all these years for that reason). While we will never know whether or not Ruth swung and missed at this ball, or took it for either a ball or strike, one thing is certain: he did not make a hit with it. As noted in an accompanying newspaper clipping from the game, Ruth was hitless in four at bats against Johnson, including three strike outs. That Ruth was hitless in the game, won by the Reds by a score of 6-3, is not nearly as important as the question of why was he in the game at all. This game took place exactly one day after Ruth's last great hurrah. On May 25th, in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field, Ruth gave the fans one last glimpse of his glory as he launched three home runs, the last of which was the first and only ball ever hit completely out of Forbes Field. At this point in time Ruth was clearly over the hill. He was old, overweight, and suffering from a number of lingering injuries. The only reason he even agreed to play for the Braves that season was because he believed that team owner Emil Fuchs would name him manager in the near future, a position he coveted. Unfortunately for Ruth, he realized just a few short weeks into the season that Fuchs lied to him and never seriously considered him a managerial candidate. To Fuchs he was simply a drawing card, providing desperately needed revenue to his cash-starved team. After Ruth's prodigious performance in Pittsburgh his family and close friends urged him to retire. It was a storybook ending to a fabled career, they told him, and one that certainly befitted the game's greatest player. Ruth actually had no qualms about retiring, but while the timing may have been perfect for everyone else, it wasn't for Ruth. According to Bill Jenkinson, the world's foremost Babe Ruth historian, Ruth refused to retire after the Pittsburgh game because he felt an obligation to the fans in Cincinnati. Not only were all three games of the series sell outs because of Ruth, but the Reds had also decided to honor him by declaring May 26th "Babe Ruth Day" in Cincinnati. Ruth just couldn't bear to quit the game under those circumstances. So it was that he endured another week in a Braves uniform before officially retiring on June 2nd. This is not a home run ball; it is not even a ball responsible for a hit. But this is ball with a moving story and great significance to the close of Ruth's career, a significance that was not lost on Reds pitcher Si Johnson, or probably anyone else who attended "Babe Ruth Day" in Cincinnati on May 26th, 1935, to pay their respects to the game's greatest ambassador and legend. The ten signatures on the ball are those of Johnson, Goodman, Riggs, Myers, Sullivan, Comorosky, Pool, Campbell, Herman, and one other (illegible). Signatures range from "4" to "6," averaging "5." The ball is moderately soiled, but all of the manufacturer's stampings remain legible. In Very Good to Excellent condition. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $1,880

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