The 92-year-old professional-grade wool flannel jersey has enough soiling, stains and fabric repairs to establish that its owner tumbled after fly balls and slid into second base. More often he trotted around the bases in his signature choppy steps.
The Y in the words “NEW YORK” is embroidered on the double-thick button placket, proof to experts that the road jersey was made circa 1920. Stitched next to the Spalding manufacturer’s label on the collar are these letters in faded pink script:
Since one George Herman Ruth was purchased by the New York Yankees from the Boston Red Sox on Jan. 5, 1920, and first wore the uniform of his new team two months later, top authenticators are confident the jersey likely was worn by Ruth that season, making it perhaps the most valuable piece of baseball memorabilia ever.
“This is simply the finest sports artifact we’ve handled in our 30-year history,” said David Kohler, president of SCP Auctions, the online firm handling the sale. “The historical impact of Ruth’s emergence in the Big Apple in the early 1920s, combined with the jersey’s superb original condition, makes this a sports treasure of the highest order.”
Sports memorabilia auctions are big business, and some of SCP’s recent online baseball sales included the bat the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson used to hit his historic home run in the 1988 World Series ($576,000), Lou Gehrig’s last home run bat ($403,000) and a program honoring colorful 19th-century Red Sox hero King Kelly ($215,000).
But memorabilia experts say nothing captures the imagination – and opens the checkbooks – of collectors like Babe Ruth. The bat Ruth used to hit a home run in the first game at Yankee Stadium, on opening day in 1923, sold for almost $1.3 million in 2006. The contract of his sale from the Red Sox to the Yankees sold for $996,000 in 2005. And the price paid for this jersey will dwarf them all, Kohler said.
Only a few pieces of Ruth memorabilia have survived; the jersey to be auctioned at www.scpauctions.com
is one of four of his unrestored game jerseys known to exist. Call it a Ruthian opportunity for a collector with deep pockets and as deep an appreciation for baseball lore.