To mark the 100th Anniversary of baseball, eleven of the greatest players of all-time congregated in the little hamlet of Cooperstown, New York. The concept of a baseball “Hall of Fame” had originated three years earlier when a Cooperstown hotel owner came up with the idea of a central museum located in the purported birthplace of baseball. Baseball writers were selected to choose the ballplayers deemed worthy for enshrinement in the Hall. The first vote was held in 1936 as Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner were elected. Over the next two years, 21 additional players, executives and pioneers were chosen for enshrinement.
Construction began on a museum in Cooperstown in which to house the greatest treasures of the National Pastime, and in June of 1939 the National Baseball Hall of Fame was ready for visitors. At that date just twelve of the original players elected were still living and an invitation was extended to each of them to attend their formal induction to the Hall. Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Connie Mack, Ty Cobb, Pete Alexander, Cy Young, George Sisler, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, Eddie Collins and Nap Lajoie made the trek to Cooperstown on June 12. The twelfth original living inductee, Lou Gehrig, was too ill to attend the opening ceremonies.
Part of the celebration was an exhibition game between All-Star teams representing both leagues. As the American League’s premier third baseman at the time, Marv Owen of the Chicago White Sox was selected to play on the team coached by Honus Wagner. Although the National Baseball Hall of Fame had not even opened yet, Owen knew that to be chosen to play in the inaugural game was a great honor. In his biography “Adventures of a Quiet Soul” by his sister V. Owen, Marv Owen shared his memories of that special day in Cooperstown and how he had come to possess a ball signed by each of the 11 Hall of Famers present.
Among the players selected to play in the exhibition game was Owen’s old Tigers teammate, Hank Greenberg. Like Owen, Greenberg knew the significance of the day and had come prepared with a pair of Reach Official American League balls in order to capture the signatures of the first class of Hall of Fame inductees. However, Marv Owen recounts in the book that Greenberg told Owen that he was too bashful to approach the eleven baseball icons and ask for their autograph. Owen volunteered to do it for his old teammate and successfully got each man to sign the two balls. Owen later remembered that each ballplayer was very gracious about signing the balls for him. In gratitude, Greenberg let Owen keep one of the two balls. Upon his return home with this souvenir of a lifetime, Owen stored the ball in a fur-lined glove in a safe deposit box. His treasured heirloom was preserved for decades by Owen, and later by his family after his passing in 1991. It emerges today as arguably the finest autographed baseball in the world, and one of the most significant artifacts the hobby has ever seen.
The ball remains today as stunning as it was on that June afternoon in 1939 after Owen walked it around to each Hall of Famer and asked them to sign it. Its most astonishing trait is the convergence on one side panel of what can be called the “Holy Trinity” of baseball icons: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. Whether this placement was born serendipitously or by Owen’s own engineering is a mystery. Nonetheless, the result is astonishing. To our knowledge, no other baseball in existence bears this specific trio isolated in this manner. The adjacent panel collects Eddie Collins, Cy Young and Connie Mack: the greatest 2nd baseman of all-time, the winningest pitcher in the history of the game and baseball’s longest-serving and most victorious manager. The greatest offensive as well as defensive centerfielder of the first half of the 20th century, Tris Speaker, has signed the sweet spot with 5-time batting champ Larry "Nap" Lajoie on the panel to his left. The final panel boasts two of the most dominant pitchers ever to ascend a mound – Grover Cleveland Alexander and Walter Johnson. Those two icons are joined by George Sisler, the .420 hitter who transitioned from the diamond to the front office, ultimately playing a major role in signing Jackie Robinson and other African-Americans. In short, this ball contains the signatures of the greatest living baseball players in 1939.
The ball is a Reach Official American League (William Harridge) ball and all eleven original Hall of Famers have signed in stark black fountain pen. The signatures range from 7-9/10 with the “Holy Trinity” ideally being among the boldest. A light coat of shellac evenly covers the ball, which shows light to moderate toning throughout. A few very small, light spot stains and trace surface wear have little negative impact on the ball’s magnificent overall visual presentation. Accompanying the ball is Owen’s two-page typed signed letter from A.L. President William Harridge with the original mailing envelope inviting him to play in the HOF game. Additionally, Owen has added his notation to the envelope noting its significance as well as noting that the game was where he obtained the signatures on this one-of-a-kind ball. The sheer greatness of this ball is simply unrivaled. Its historical importance compounded by the impeccable provenance and state of preservation elevate it to singular status as the most important and valuable autographed baseball in the world.
Full LOA from PSA/DNA.