This year marks the 119th birthday of one of the most famous sports legends of all time – Babe Ruth. To pay homage to his memory, two of the most famous baseballs in history were sent to antiques auctions.
A promise to a fan
One of the baseballs was the famous ball Ruth signed as a promise to an ailing 11 year old boy. Johnny Sylvester was injured in the summer of 1926 when he fell off a horse. His horse had stepped in a hole and accidentally kicked the young Sylvester in the head when it tried to get up. That injury led to a serious illness that hospitalized the boy and had doctors fearing he would die.
Sylvester and his family were Yankees fans and sent a telegram straight to Babe Ruth in an effort to raise the boy's spirits. At the time, the Yankees were playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1926 World Series, but Ruth reportedly responded to the boy's letter with a package containing two signed baseballs, one autographed by the members of the Yankees and the other by the Cardinals players. Included in that package was a note written by Ruth that read, "I'll knock a homer for you on Wednesday," which was Game 4 of the series. Ruth then went on to famously hit three home runs for the Yankees in that game. Newspaper reports at the time proclaimed that Sylvester's condition suddenly improved thanks in part to the Yankees' victory.
Auctioning a piece of history
That ball was auctioned off by Grey Flannel Auctions in February to an anonymous buyer for $250,641. It had been on loan to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore for the past 25 years by Sylvester's son John Jr.
The record for a Ruth-signed ball, however, was set in 2012 by a mint-condition baseball with a perfect signature that sold for $388,375. Two letters written by Ruth to Sylvester sold for $76,747 and $71,553 in the same auction. Ruth, who died in 1948, stayed in touch with Sylvester until his death.
Home run hero
Another autographed baseball will be headed to the auction block in April that may be from the very first home run Babe Ruth hit on the New Yankee Field in 1923.
The ball was signed by Ruth and dated Feb. 14, 1923, which corresponds to the exact day that Ruth visited the new stadium to inspect the park and take some practice swings.
The owner of the ball, collector Joel Platt, said he got the collectible piece from the family of a person who worked on the field. Platt kept it in his collection for decades before consigning it to Goldin Auctions, which is hosting a Babe Ruth-themed auction in July at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore.
Surprisingly, Platt did not look into the history of this famed ball. Goldin Auctions started researching the date and came upon the account of Ruth's winter trip to the Bronx.
Two authentication companies have verified that the signature on the ball is, in fact, Babe Ruth's. The ball, however, is not an official American League ball, and it was never used in a game. Also in the auction, which is planned to take place July 12-13, is one of Ruth's first authenticated game-used bats along with a promissory note that was written by the Yankees to the Boston Red Sox and was part of the famous Babe Ruth sale in 1919.
A ball said to be Babe Ruth's first home run in a game at Yankee Stadium – launched on Opening Day in 1923 – was sold in 1998 for $126,500. The bat that Ruth used to hit the ball sold for $1.265 million in 2004.