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Among the most interesting game used bats in the hobby are “side written” examples. These are bats that were used by a professional player who thought so much of the bat’s feel and performance that he returned it to the manufacturer to match its exact measurements and make duplicates. Bats sent to the Hillerich & Bradsby factory in Louisville were carefully logged in and the owner, date and other specs written in grease pencil on the side of the barrel – hence the name “side written.” With one of these rare bats one knows that not only was it used by the player who sent it in to the factory, but that it was also one of his favorite bats. Side written bats exist from all types of players, from obscure minor leaguers to iconic Hall of Famers – but none is as rare or captivating as this Babe Ruth model.

Dating from the 1918-1922 period, this bat was used by Babe Ruth as he developed the home run swing that would make him a legend. During the period this bat dates to, the Babe was transitioning from being the best left handed pitcher in the American League to being the first of the modern home run hitters. During the years Ruth was swinging this bat, he would move from Boston to New York and begin setting records with almost every home run he hit. In short, Babe Ruth used this bat to became BABE RUTH.

That it is a side written example makes this bat all the more significant. As there really was no real home run hitter before Ruth, he was essentially making things up as he went along, including what kind of bat to use. There simply was no other slugger who Ruth could consult when it came to what weight, length or handle worked best when hitting home runs. The Babe arrived at his own answer through simple trial and error, and this bat was one of the answers he arrived at. Whatever his reasons were, Ruth liked the proportions of this bat, so much so that he used it until its handle was cracked. Then, instead of discarding it, the Babe packaged it up and sent it to Louisville so exact copies could be made of it. Upon its arrival, a worker marked the bat’s barrel in grease pencil, “39 Geo. H. Ruth” – the “39” being the bat’s weight of 39 ounces. This particular bat would be catalogued in the company’s records first as “Old Babe Ruth” and later as his “R2” model. As far as narrowing down the date of the bat, records show that Ruth signed a Hillerich & Bradsby endorsement contract in July 1918, from which point bats made by the company would have his facsimile signature burned into the barrel. The center brand found on this bat was used on bats made during the 1916-1922 period. Finally, the length of 36 inches and weight of 38 ounces (originally 39 ounces before age and use reduced its weight) has led PSA/DNA to opine that this bat dates from the 1918-1920 period as Ruth ordered slightly heavier bats beginning in the 1920 season. One interesting aspect of this bat is that it has been labeled as a retail model. Based on other retail marked bats undoubtedly used by major league players catalogued in their database, PSA/DNA believes that this bat was mistakenly marked as a retail model by the factory. Several factors point to this conclusion including the rough finishing of the knob (retail models had finished knobs as well as stamped with a model number) and the quality of the wood (the grain of the northern white ash is straight and even, and is in PSA/DNA opinion, of professional grade). Furthermore, PSA/DNA has identified one distinct aspect of this bat characteristically found on those used by Ruth – ball marks on the left barrel. Throughout his career, the Babe would hold his bat with the center brand facing down, the opposite of how players traditionally held their bats. This quirk of Ruth’s batting style caused most of his hits to be struck from the left barrel of his bat, which is in evidence on this example.

Condition-wise, the bat has the aforementioned crack in the handle, which has been repaired with nails. Nails are also present on the front and back barrel. Ball marks are found on the left and right barrel along with cleat imprints. The right barrel has been planed to allow “39 Geo. H. Ruth” to be written in black grease pencil. The ash has taken on a beautiful deep brown tone with age, upon which the barrel and center brand stamping displays nicely. To say this is an important Babe Ruth game used bat would be an understatement, for the presence of the side writing and its early date marks this as one of the bats with which Babe Ruth developed the swing that would make him the greatest ballplayer in the history of the game. It is baseball history.

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