October 5, 2013
Offered is one of the most intriguing and potentially historic Babe Ruth pro-model bats in the hobby. What makes this bat so special is the very real possibility that it might have been in Ruth’s hands on opening day in 1923, when the Yankees played the first game in the newly built Yankee Stadium on April 18th. If that possibility is acknowledged, and we feel it safely can be, based upon all of the evidence we will present here and PSA/DNA's analysis, then logically it must follow, at the very least, that this bat might be one of only a handful Ruth could have used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium on that historic day. While it is well beyond the limits of our research to either confirm or deny such a claim, the mere fact that even the slightest chance exists that this bat might have been used by Ruth to christen Yankee Stadium with its first home run makes it especially important.
This bat is a Babe Ruth H&B 40K signature-model (predating model numbers) dating from the 1923-1925 labeling period. The bat measures 36 inches in length and weighs a massive 39.1 ounces. The “40K” denotes H&B’s patented line of “Kork-Grip” bats, which means that the handle was prepared at the factory with an applied cork grip. In the realm of Babe Ruth pro-model bats, the 40K is among the rarest of all models. According to H&B factory records for Ruth’s entire career, only ONE order of 40K bats can be found in the company’s shipping ledgers. What is significant is the date of that order: 4/10/23, exactly eight days prior to the Yankees’ home opener at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923. Unfortunately, there is no mention of either the size or weight of the 40K bats sent to Ruth or even how many. What is important to note is that this bat’s length and weight fall within the approved specifications for Ruth bats at the time. According to PSA/DNA "This is the second 40K model we have authenticated, that we consider to be consistent with the 40K order, appearing on Ruth's PBOR [Professional Bat Ordering Records] dated April 10, 1923." The bat, which is not cracked, displays excellent use along its entire length, including ball marks on the left, right, and back barrel, and cleat marks. The original cork handle grip is no longer present. As noted in PSA/DNA's accompanying letter, the Ruth 40K model was also available as a pro-stock model. However, PSA/DNA has seen a number of those pro-stock models, none of which match Ruth's specifications. This bat does!
Of course, just because an order of 40K bats to Ruth on 4/10/23 can be found in the company ledgers doesn’t necessarily imply that he used a 40K bat during any of his plate appearances on opening day. However, we can state WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that Ruth did indeed receive that recorded shipment of 40K bats, and that at least one of those 40K bats was in his hands prior to the game. We have found six different photos of Ruth holding a 40K Babe Ruth signature-model bat in his hands on April 18, 1923. What is significant is that in each and every photo Ruth can be clearly seen holding a cork-grip bat (based upon the grain pattern it is not the same bat offered here). Equally important, our research has failed to find any other photos of Ruth from that day holding anything other than a 40K Kork-Grip bat. Again, the fact that we have pictures of Ruth holding a cork-grip bat on April 18, 1923, does not necessarily mean that he used one during the game, but it does necessarily allow for such a possibility. Certainly, the photographic evidence confirms the availability of 40K Kork-Grip bats to Ruth that day. Conversely, the definitive use of any other model bat by Ruth that day has yet to be confirmed in a similar manner. All known photos of Ruth holding a bat on Opening Day in 1923, in which the style of bat can definitively be identified, show him holding a 40K Kork-Grip bat.
A number of collectors are probably wondering by now if we have forgotten that the bat used by Babe Ruth to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium appeared in a high-profile sports auction in December 2004, where it sold for a record $1.265 million. The bat was signed by Ruth and was fully documented by various period newspaper reports at the time. We have not forgotten that bat. We have no doubt whatsoever that the bat offered in that auction was a Babe Ruth game-used bat, and that it was signed by Babe Ruth, and that it was presented as a contest prize to a young boy in Los Angeles at the time. But, when one examines all of the available photographic evidence, there is room for doubt with regard to its claim of being the bat used by Ruth to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. Leaps of faith have been glossed over. The bat presented in that contest was an H&B 125 Babe Ruth signature-model bat. Ruth’s bat order just prior to the first game of the year was for 40K cork-grip bats. All of the available photos we have of Ruth on April 18, 1923, picture him holding cork-grip bats. Most important is a photo of Ruth crossing the plate after he hit the first home run in Yankee stadium, which appears to show the batboy holding a cork-grip bat. That photo is addressed in an accompanying LOA from Resolution Photomatching (available in full on our website). Resolution Photomatching begins by confirming PSA/DNA's opinion that the grain pattern on this bat does not match that of any bat seen in the hands of Ruth from photos on opening day, 1923, It also reaffirms the fact that Ruth was clearly in possession of 40K Kork-Grip bats on that day. Furthermore, and most important, Resolution Photomatching writes that in its examination of a well-known captioned news photo that pictures Ruth crossing the plate after hitting the first home run at Yankees Stadium on April 18, 1923, the bat held by the batboy greeting Ruth (which, logic dictates is the bat Ruth used to the hit the home run) is most likely a Kork-Grip model.
It should be fully understood that we are not claiming that the bat offered here was used by Ruth to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium. In similar manner, like nearly all other Ruth bats in the hobby, with the exception of a few documented examples, we cannot state with absolute certainty whether or not Ruth even used it in any game. All we can state are the facts.
As we noted at the beginning of our description, this is an extremely intriguing Ruth bat. Ruth’s documented order of 40K bats a week before the first game of the season, combined with the photographic evidence, certainly supports the possibility that Ruth used a cork-grip bat in that first game at Yankee Stadium. Could the offered bat be one of the 40K bats received by Ruth in the 4/10/23 shipment? (It is one of only two such bats ever examined by PSA/DNA that conform to Ruth's specifications). Could the offered bat have been used by Ruth in the first game of the season, maybe even used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium? The answer to both of those questions is yes, possibly, and just the mere fact that we can say possibly, makes this a very special Ruth bat indeed.