Sat, Dec 04, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Babe Ruth's bat hits over US$1 million at auction

AP , NEW YORK

Going, going, gone. The massive 46-ounce Louisville Slugger used by Babe Ruth to drill the first home run in Yankee Stadium history was sold for a record US$1.26 million to an unidentified private collector.

The bat, 36 inches of solid ash billed as "The Holy Grail of [American] sports memorabilia," sold Thursday after about one minute of high-stakes bidding at Sotheby's auction house, fetching a Ruthian price above its presale estimate of US$1 million, said Sotheby's spokes-person Lauren Gioia.

The bat was only the third piece of sports memorabilia to break the US$1 million mark at auction, joining Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball (US$3 million) and a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card (US$1.265 million), the auction house said. It was the most ever paid for a baseball bat.

The winning bid -- about half the US$2.5 million it originally cost to build Yankee Stadium -- came from Doug Allen, president of the Chicago-based auction house MastroNet Inc, on behalf of an East Coast collector who preferred to remain anonymous. The hammer price was US$1.1 million, with a 15 percent commission added.

"It was a blur," Allen said after the gavel fell on a final sales price of US$1,265,000. "It was exciting sitting in the room, lots of adrenaline pumping."

Ruth lugged the historic lumber with him to the plate on April 18, 1923, the first game inside "The House That Ruth Built." With 74,000 fans looking on, Ruth christened the new ballpark with a third-inning blast into the right field bleachers as his New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox, 4-1.

The bat didn't get out much after Ruth's blast. The Bambino, back in the days when the concept of a million-dollar bat was insanity, donated it to the Los Angeles Evening Herald as the top prize in a high school home run hitting contest.

The barrel still bears Ruth's inscription: "To the Boy Home Run King of Los Angeles, `Babe' Ruth, New York. May 7, 1923."

One month later, high school slugger Victor Orsatti was presented with the bat; he kept it until his death 61 years later. The bat was willed to Orsatti's caretaker, who stored it under her bed until putting it up for auction. A portion of the proceeds will go toward a youth baseball program at a Mexican orphanage, the auction house said.

The auction also included several items connected to the Brooklyn Dodgers, which moved to Los Angeles in 1957. The Los Angeles Dodgers, owned since February by Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt, bought the items as part of a plan to mark the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' 1955 triumph over their bitter Bronx rivals, the Yankees -- their only title while in New York City.

Travis McCourt, a 21-year-old student at Georgetown University who handled the bidding for the family, made the winning bids for team captain Pee Wee Reese's 14-karat gold 1955 World Championship ring with an accompanying team picture, mounted on a wood plaque, that hung for years in Reese's home (US$72,000); for 1955 game-worn Dodgers jackets from Reese (US$9,000) and pitcher Billy Loes (US$1,680); and an engraved silver platter given to Reese by his 1955 teammates (US$13,200).

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