Baseball is America’s Pastime. The sport has a rich history dating back to the time of the American Civil War. Over the years, it developed into the sport Americans felt most connected to. Its popularity erupted during the 1920s and 1930s. It was at this time when we began to see the first ever sports superstars. These were players who were so beloved by the American public that they had gained an almost mythical status which we still remember today.
It was during this time period when baseball gave way to another favorite hobby: collecting sport memorabilia. These players were not just sports stars, they were all out celebrities. Everyone wanted something to remember them by. It did not matter whether it was a baseball they hit, a jersey they wore, or simply an autograph; the public wanted it and they began seeking it out and paying money for it.
Today sports memorabilia collecting is a big business. There are companies all over the world that specialize in selling cards, jerseys, or any other item that has anything to do with a professional athlete. Some of these items are extremely valuable and demand a huge price tag due to how rare they are and what event they are associated with.
10. Barry Bonds’ 756th Home Run Ball: $752,467
Immediately after Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s long standing career home run record, the baseball showed up on the auction block. The ball was purchased for $752,467 by a prominent New York fashion designer, Marc Ecko. Ecko then made a website for the ball. The website allowed baseball fans to vote on what they would like to see happen to the ball. Such choices included giving the ball to Bonds or blasting it into outer space. The fans ended up voting for the ball to get branded with an asterisk and donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. When the president of Cooperstown, Dale Petroskey, received the ball he quickly stated that this was not a way of stating that the Hall of Fame believed Bonds cheated in order to break the record. However, he also stated that he found it interesting that the fans voted for an asterisk to be placed on the ball.
9. Don Larsen’s World Series Jersey: $756,000
Don Larsen lays claim to one of the biggest feats in the history of baseball. He is the only pitcher to have thrown a no hitter during a World Series game. He accomplished this during the fifth game of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The jersey he was wearing during this game was sold at auction for $756,000. It is the most money anyone has ever paid for a Yankees jersey that was worn by a player without the nickname The Great Bambino.
8. Babe Ruth’s World Tour Jersey: $771,000
Babe Ruth was going to appear on this list sooner or later. Ruth is basically responsible for creating the sports memorabilia market. Everybody and their mother wanted something from the Sultan of Swat. The World Tour was a group of games that featured teams, both college and professional, from the United States and Japan. Baseball made its way to Japan in the 1870s. These international games were known as Barnstorming Exhibitions. In 1934, Babe Ruth made an appearance in these exhibition games as part of the 1934 Major League Baseball All Star Team’s World Tour. During these games, Ruth made a name for himself on an international level. His World Tour jersey is the only one of these game worn jerseys that still exists from the Barnstorming Exhibitions. It was sold by Mastro Auctions in 2005 for $771,000.
7. Babe Ruth’s 1933 All-Star Game Home Run Ball: $805,000
Babe Ruth was the first baseball superstar. Therefore, it is only fitting for him to be the first player in history to hit a home run during an All-Star Game. The All-Star Game started in 1933. Babe Ruth hit the homer off Bill Hallahan in the third inning and helped the American League win the game 4-2. The ball was caught by Earl Brown. Brown later met Babe Ruth and had him sign the ball. The All-Star Game’s first home run ball was sold for $805,000 by Hunt Auctions.
6. Babe Ruth’s Called Shot Jersey: $940,000
The Called Shot is one of the most notorious legends in all of sports. In the third game of the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate at Wrigley Field and pointed to the center field wall. He then knocked the next pitch over that center field wall. A lot of people speculate as to whether the Babe was actually calling his shot. However, the tapes prove that he does raise his arm and gesture something towards center field. Historians may disagree on what Ruth’s intentions were, but it has only enhanced the mythical display. The jersey he wore during this game was sold for $940,000.
5. Babe Ruth’s Yankees Contract: $996,000
Anyone who knows anything about sports has heard of the “Curse of the Bambino”. From 1903 to 1919, the Boston Red Sox won six World Series titles. Babe Ruth was a member of three of those teams. In 1920, the Red Sox and Yankees came to an agreement to send Ruth from Boston to the Bronx. This document is the most expensive sports contract ever sold at auction. It sold for $996,000 in 2005. The document states that the Yankees will be given George Herman Ruth in exchange for $25,000. The document is signed by Red Sox’s owner Harry Frazee and the Yankees’ co-owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L. Huston. The Red Sox would not win the World Series until 2004 which many believe is due to this deal.
4. Babe Ruth’s First Bat as a Yankee: $1,265,000
When Sotheby’s Auction House received this bat they firmly believed it would become the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold. This bat was Babe Ruth’s very first bat used in a Yankees jersey. He used it to hit his first home run with the team on April 18th, 1923. The bat sold at auction for $1,265,000.
3. Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner Baseball Card: $2,800,000
The T206 Honus Wagner Baseball Card is the most valuable baseball card in the world. It depicts Honus Wagner who was considered one of the best baseball players in the world at the turn of the 20th century. The card dates back to 1909 when the American Tobacco Company first started putting baseball cards in cigarette packs in order to increase sales. Honus Wagner did not like that the company was using his image. It is believed he either did not feel he was being fairly compensated or he was against promoting tobacco use to minors. The company was only able to release 40 T206s. The Gretzky T206 is a very special one of these cards. The card was purchased by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky in 1991. The card is a bit discolored and has an odd shape, which has led historians to believe it was in some way altered or misprinted. Because of its one of a kind nature the Gretzky T206 is the king of all baseball cards. The last time it went on the auction block, it was bought for $2,800,000.
2. Mark McGwire’s 70th Home Run Ball: $3 million
The 1998 season was a great time for baseball. This was the season that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa competed in the race to become the single season home run king. When the season ended, the St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger Mark McGwire had won out. He was the first to the 62 home run mark needed to break Roger Maris’s record which had stood for over three decades. He then went on to continue blasting baseballs out of the park. McGwire ended the season with 70 home runs. That ball was sold at an auction run by Guernesey’s Auction House that year. The auction house expected the ball to sell for $1,000,000. Ten minutes after the bidding began; McGwire’s 70th home run ball was sold for $3,000,000. It has come to be known by baseball historians as “The Hope Diamond of Baseball”.
1. Babe Ruth’s Earliest Yankees’ Jersey: $4,415,658
It probably was not hard to guess that the most expensive item on the list would have been some sort of Babe Ruth memorabilia. In 2013, LeLand’s Auction House sold the earliest known Babe Ruth Yankees’ jersey for $4,415,658. The jersey is estimated to be from the 1920 season and is completely un-restored. This is the most money ever paid for any sports memorabilia. It broke the record which was previously held by the document “James Naismith’s ‘Founding Rules of Basketball’” which sold for $4,338,500 in 2010.
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