Fall Premier Auction 2019


Search By:
This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 12/15/2019

"I swing big, with everything I've got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can." - Babe Ruth
George Herman "Babe" Ruth became the first player to reach the 500-homer plateau on August 11, 1929, establishing the career benchmark by which all power hitters are measured to this day. The bat Ruth used for that historic clout was gifted by him in the mid-1940s to his friend and former mayor of Suffern, New York, Jim Rice. Rice's family had quietly stored it for nearly 75 years until its unveiling here by SCP Auctions on the 90th anniversary of the The Babe's legendary milestone.

Babe Ruth played baseball like he lived life – with loud, gaudy, entertaining gusto. There was nothing subtle about the happy-go-lucky Sultan of Swat, who paraded through his career, forged an enduring relationship with adoring fans and then withstood the test of time as the greatest power hitter in baseball history. The prototype of the modern superstar, Ruth's unparalleled feats on the field were only equaled in magnitude by his gargantuan appetite for life away from the diamond. After being sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1919, Ruth became the first player to hit 30, 40, 50 and 60 home runs in a single season as well as the first to top the 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700 marks. As Ruth biographer Robert Creamer asserted, "He practically invented the home run."

While Ruth's power-hitting exploits rewrote the record books, more than anything, the magnetic Babe is hailed as the savior of the game, the man who picked up our National Pastime by the bootstraps when it was mired in the bog of the 1919 Black Sox scandal and restored it to glory. In 1920, a year after hitting a Major League record 29 big flies, Ruth outhomered every MLB team but one with 54, singlehandedly putting an end to the Dead Ball Era and changing the very nature of the game and the way it was played. Ruth became an international icon as he powered his way through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, continuing to post shocking home run totals of 59 (1921), 60 (1927) and 54 (1928) while anchoring one of the most devastating lineups in history (“Murderers’ Row”) and leading the Yankees to four World Series championships. By the start of the ‘29 season, Ruth had already belted 470 career home runs, nearly twice as many as the next closest (Cy Williams, 246). He was still only 34 years old, so the question wasn’t if Ruth would reach 500, but when.

On August 11, 1929, Babe Ruth stepped to the plate at Cleveland's League Park leading off the top of the second inning with a career tally of 499 on his stat sheet. (He had been hitting homers at a torrid pace, with four in his previous five games.) As the Bambino readied himself at the plate for his first at-bat of the game, Cleveland pitcher Willis Hudlin threw a high fastball "which left home plate much higher and ten times faster than it arrived," reported New York Times writer William Brandt. "It soared over the right-field fence near the foul line and was the first run of the afternoon."

According to the next day’s front-page, above-the-fold article in Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, Ruth had called his shot before the game. In his story, Gordon Cobbledick wrote about an exchange the Yankees slugger had with the ballpark's security chief, H. Clay Folger: "Listen," said the Babe, "I'm going to hit No. 500 today and I tell you what I wish you'd do. I wish you'd find the kid who gets the ball and bring him to me. I'd kinda like to save that one."

The majestic flight of the ball saw it clear League Park’s 40-foot fence in right, land out of the stadium, and roll down Lexington Avenue where it was picked up by a lucky Indians fan named Jake Geiser. According to newspaper accounts from the period, Geiser was ushered to the Yankees dugout where Ruth slipped him $20 and a Babe autographed ball in exchange for the historic leather sphere. Given Ruth's keen awareness of the milestone ball, it stands to reason he placed equal, if not greater, importance on the bat he used that day. Number 500 coincided with Babe’s 30th of the season; he would finish with 46 to lead the league for the fourth straight year – a stretch that would reach six in a row and 12 of 14. It would take eleven more years before another man would reach 500 dingers when Jimmie Foxx achieved the vaunted mark during the 1940 season. Today, the whereabouts of Ruth's 500th home run ball is unknown; however, the bat he used to make history on that August 11, 1929 afternoon in Cleveland and the story of its journey are now revealed.

Although Babe Ruth enjoyed a level of fame in his day greater than that of any public figure in American history, he remained extraordinarily affable with fans, possessing an "everyman" quality that endeared him to all corners of society. Ruth enjoyed many interests outside of baseball and maintained many close friendships away from the game. Jim Rice of nearby Suffern, N.Y. – a small town some 30 miles from Manhattan – enjoyed a particularly close friendship with the Babe beginning in the early 1940s. For many years the pair regularly enjoyed golfing, bowling and dining together. Rice's exploits with Ruth are well documented in several newspaper articles from the period, including one reporting Jim's victory over Babe in a local bowling competition. There's even a note from the fellow who caddied for Ruth and Rice during one of their golf outings. Ruth became a frequent visitor to the Rice household, endearing himself to Jim's wife, Ethyl, and their children. Rice was a semi-public figure himself who served as the mayor of Suffern for 16 years. Throughout their friendship, Babe bestowed numerous gifts upon the Rice family, including a photo inscribed to their daughter as well as other autographs and mementos. Most significantly, Ruth gifted this important milestone bat to Jim, identifying it as the one he used to launch his historic 500th career home run. The bat was impeccably preserved and carefully guarded in the Rice family for two generations encompassing 75 years. Hidden for decades from a world of collectors who treasure elite Babe Ruth artifacts above all else, Babe Ruth's 500th Home Run Bat is being introduced to the public here for the first time.

No single sports memorabilia item inspires more awe than a bat used by Babe Ruth. For veteran hobbyists or casual fans, the allure of a bat wielded by Ruth in his prime, the ultimate tool of his trade, is unfailing. While the total population of Ruth game bats known to exist today measures in the low hundreds, only a few possess a combination of historical importance and physical qualities that can be legitimately classified as museum-caliber. Not since SCP Auctions brought to market Babe Ruth's 1923 Yankee Stadium Opening Day Home Run bat in 2004 (sold for a record $1.265 million) have we seen a Ruth bat of near equal dynamics. Setting aside the bat's monumental historical importance of hitting number 500, its technical attributes, usage traits and overall aesthetic quality are extraordinary. The ash wood grain, rich amber coloration, and fine patina are marvelous. The deeply rendered factory center brand and barrel markings complete a perfect package of every desired attribute sought by fastidious bat collectors.

Per the Great Bambino's direct representation to their patriarch Jim, multiple generations of the Rice family always knew their heirloom to be the bat Babe Ruth used to hit his 500th homer. In 1993, Jim's wife Ethel wrote a note for her children and grandkids stating, "This baseball bat was given to my husband James R. Rice by Babe Ruth and told it was his 500 hundred [sic] Home Run bat." With no prior knowledge or exposure to the authentication and dating process of game-used bats, the Rice family submitted the bat to PSA/DNA’s renowned bat authenticator John Taube on February 14, 2018, as Babe Ruth's 500th homer bat along with Ethel's note. Taube's detailed analysis of the bat's usage traits, physical specs (length: 35.25", weight: 38.4 oz.), and year of manufacture (1928) wholly align with their astonishing assertion. Furthermore, Taube's letter, which can be viewed online, delivers a superlative-laden assessment of the bat's intrinsic qualities and ultimately a perfect PSA/DNA GU 10 rating.

Taube's letter points out several important details. Throughout his career, Babe would grip his bats with the H&B center brand turned away from him, leaving ball contact marks and grain swelling on the left barrel (above his branded name). In addition, he had a tendency to knock the dirt out of his cleats with the barrel of his bat, leaving cleat impressions. This bat holds strong evidence of both characteristics. In addition, Ruth would often use his bats a year after their order date. He liked to keep his favorite models for future use. Taube provides an example of a bat Ruth ordered in 1931 that he used in '32. The Babe's practice of gifting bats to friends or fans was a common occurrence as well. The fact that he kept his 500th HR bat for well over a decade before deciding to give it to Mr. Rice shows how much both this bat and this friendship meant to Ruth.

On behalf of the Rice family, it is with great pleasure and tremendous gratitude that SCP Auctions can share this historic bat and its story with the public. We are honored to participate in what we believe to be among the most singularly important discoveries in our field. Babe Ruth was a man of mythical proportions. More than any other athlete, he transcended sports, achieving a nearly unrivaled status as an American icon. Like the man himself, this bat is a national treasure.
The bat is accompanied by an LOA from John Taube of PSA/DNA (graded GU 10), the aforementioned letter from the late Ethel Rice, as well as other articles of provenance. Three original newspapers from August 12, 1929 with headlines and articles documenting Babe's milestone home run are also included (New York Times, Chicago Daily Tribune, and Santa Fe New Mexican).

Recently added is a notarized letter from longtime Suffern resident, Craig Long -- now the town's official historian -- to Terry Rice (Jim's son) in which Mr. Long describes a special moment from his childhood in the late 1960s when "Mayor Rice" showed him the bat Babe Ruth used to hit his 500th home run.

Current Bidding (Reserve Has Been Met)
Minimum Bid: $150,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $1,000,800
Number Bids:7
Email A Friend
Ask a Question
 I Have One To Sell