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Sports Legends Museum to host Babe Ruth 100th anniversary auction

7/11/2014

By Jon Meoli

By Jon Meoli

McClatchy-Tribune

Babe Ruth made his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox 100 years ago today, tossing seven innings and allowing two earned runs in a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Naps.

A century and one day later, in the Great Bambino's hometown of Baltimore, an auction commemorating that debut and featuring rare memorabilia from his career is expected to bring in large crowds and even bigger bids.

"We are celebrating the 100-year anniversary of his major league debut with the largest Babe Ruth auction ever assembled," said Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions. "Babe Ruth is an American icon. It's really a perfect storm -- the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth's [debut], here in Baltimore, the home and birthplace of Babe Ruth ... and to have so many incredible collectibles [from] throughout the country available."

The centerpiece of the 126-item lot is a ball from a Florida collector that marks the first home run ever hit in Yankee Stadium. Ruth homered in the first official game in the stadium, but on Valentine's Day in 1923, about two months before the stadium opened officially, a New York Daily News reporter brought Ruth to the field to test his left-handed swing with the short porch in right field.

Ruth homered quickly, and a construction worker plucked the ball from the snowy stands and asked for him to sign it. Ruth inscribed, "New Yankee Field Feb 14-23 Babe Ruth." The ball's previous owner, Boca Raton museum proprietor Joel Platt, believes it could fetch well into the millions.

"I think it could go as high as $3 million or $4 million," Platt said. "I think the value of what this could go for is limitless, for its historical significance and the fact that it's Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium. It's the first baseball ever hit for a home run at Yankee Stadium."

The lot also features a Babe Ruth bat from his time with the Red Sox that was recently unearthed in a Boston basement, a copy of his 1918 Red Sox contract and the promissory note for Ruth's sale from Boston to the Yankees -- which set off the fabled "Curse of the Bambino."

Though the event is being held at the Sports Legends Museum, which is run under the same umbrella as the Babe Ruth Museum a few blocks away, the items up for bid are not the museum's property. They're consigned from collectors and museums across the country, Goldin and museum officials said.

"We are excited to host an event that is bringing such amazing media attention, and it really has been huge," said John Hein, director of communications for the Babe Ruth Museum and the Sports Legends Museum. "We also are guarded and need to make sure the public realizes that they're not items that the Babe Ruth Museum owns. They're all from private collectors."

Locally, Hein said the Babe Ruth Museum has a new exhibit, "Babe Ruth: 100 Years," highlighting the 100-year anniversary of Ruth's debut.

The auction, appropriately, will take place during a three-game homestand with the Yankees, the team with which Ruth slugged himself into American lore. He made the Yankees pinstripes recognizable across the country with his big bat and larger-than-life persona.

Many of the non-Ruth auction lots cater to New York fans who could be in town. There's plenty from former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera's final season in New York, including his locker room chair from the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field, signed pitching mound rubber from Rivera's final year, and several Rivera jerseys signed by the player.

There are also several Yankees items from the mid-20th century, highlighted by a game-worn Mickey Mantle helmet and a ball signed by the 1951 and 1952 Yankees, including Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and actress Marilyn Monroe, who would marry -- and divorce -- DiMaggio in 1954.