Photographer Wisely Kept Baseballs He Made Famous

With over 3,300 lots, Heritage Auctions’ May 15-17 offering will be one of the largest in their history.  Among the highlights in the auction is the “Ernie Schwork Collection of Milestone Baseballs.”

A decorated Pulitzer Prize winning photographer for United Press International (UPI), Schwork described his career as, “a window to the world.”  If that is Sandy Koufax 18 strikeout baseballtrue he must have had a magnificent view of Dodger Stadium.  Being located in Los Angeles, Schwork photographed more than his share of celebrities, but it is the historic athletic achievements he captured in black and white that he is remembered for.

Schwork was able to take home game balls from such epic performances as Sandy Koufax’s 18 strikeout feat in 1959 and Koufax’s second no hitter in 1963, among others.  1963 World Series game used baseballThe baseballs Schwork took possession of were the same notated game balls Koufax posed with in the Dodger’s clubhouse. A nation of baseball fans saw the following day in newspapers across the country.

“His photography is instantly recognizable to anybody who was reading the sports pages in the 1960s,” said Auction Director Chris Ivy.

Schwork brought a fresh perspective to sports photography.  Instead of being far removed from the action, he made every effort to get as close to the event he was covering as was allowed.  When covering football, he could be seen walking the sidelines with the chain gang. Ringside he was known to rest both elbows on the canvas and poke his head and camera under the ropes.  When covering the Dodgers he could be found in the old field level press box sitting beside Vin Scully.  This close perspective allowed his unprecedented access to the stars of the game and made him a star in his own right in the glitzy Los Angeles of a bygone era.

While capturing memorable moments on film Schwork was also putting together his collection of game used baseballs from historic games.

Koufax no-hitter baseball“Ernie had the chance to acquire some very important game-used baseballs and to, unknowingly perhaps, build a world-class collection,” Ivy said.

There are balls from Koufax’s 20th win in 1963, one from the fourth and deciding game of the ’63 World Series and another from Koufax’s last game, a hard luck loss in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series.  That one is signed by members of the winning Baltimore Orioles including a young Jim Palmer, who was the winning pitcher that day.

Popular mythology has it that these cowhide treasures were kept rolling around in one of Schwork’s desk drawers, but nothing could be further from the truth.  The baseballs were important to Schwork and were displayed in his Los Angeles home along with other sports mementoes he cobbled together in over thirty years of covering sporting events.  In a 2007 interview Schwork joked, “My baseballs are worth more than my whole house.”  He may just have been right.

Also among the items in the auction is an important copy of the document that forever changed the fate of baseball legend and all time hit leader Pete Rose.  Dated August 23, 1989 and signed by Rose, Fay Vincent and then commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, the document effectively banished Rose from baseball for life.  The agreement was Rose’s personal copy of the five-page banishment document, still in the original envelope from his attorneys.

Heritage is also bringing what may be the only Mickey Mantle game used bat that can be accurately attributed to the historic 1961 season. The Hillerich & Bradsby B220 was saved from the trash heap by a fast acting security guard at the old Anaheim Stadium.  Expertly repaired, it was returned to the stadium to be signed by players in the visiting dugout.  The bat has been graded GU9 by PSA/DNA’s John Taube.

The company is also touting a 1965 Sandy Koufax game worn jersey and The McCabe Collection of LeRoy Neiman Baseball Art as part of the sale, which is currently open for bidding and it is divided into three separate sessions.

Notable baseball card lots include a T206 Ty Cobb Red Hindu back, a rare 1903 E107 Breisch-Williams Honus Wagner and another offering of the famous Black Swamp Find of E98 candy cards.

About Mark Knowlton

Mark Knowlton has been playing baseball and collecting baseball memorabilia his whole life. Just north of 40 he has finally hung them up and turned his attention towards his other passion: collecting game used Red Sox memorabilia. Mark can be found hunting for baseball treasures at local shows and his collection can be viewed at Mark lives near Boston with his wife Sandra and their three children. He can be reached at [email protected].


  1. […] Schworck captured many of the greatest post-war sporting events in his home state of California, pressing game used baseballs into service as living captions for photographs of Sandy Koufax, Nolan … to commemorate no-hitters, strikeout records and other milestones. These hand notated baseballs, […]