A bat beloved by a promising young ballplayer named Lou Gehrig has sold for more than $1 million. Heritage Auctions says it completed the private sale this week.
The Hillerich & Bradsby bat is one of the earliest known examples of a Gehrig-used stick ever to hit the market. It was originally available as part of Heritage’s Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction in late February, but didn’t meet the reserve price. In the following days, an interested buyer emerged who began requesting additional information about the bat – “discussing its significance,” said Chris Ivy, Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, “and its history.”
It was that storied past that eventually sealed the deal at $1,025,000. The name of the buyer wasn’t immediately revealed.
It’s believed Gehrig used the bat throughout the earliest days of his career, perhaps even prior to joining the New York Yankees as a part-time player in 1923. His name is stamped on the side in block letters: “GEHRIG.” Such bats were only issued by Hilllerich & Bradsby to athletes who weren’t under contract at the time. Gehrig didn’t sign an endorsement deal with Louisville Slugger until after the 1923 season.
Unlike today’s players, who change bats fairly regularly, players in Gehrig’s era often hung to their lumber for years. Gehrig’s bat looked like it had been through wars – the result of what authentication experts call “heavy use.” Yet still clearly visible on the barrel is this side-written note from the factory:
“40 oz., Lou Gehrig, 4-22-25.”
That represents the day that Gehrig returned the bat to the H&B Louisville Slugger factory, allowing many more just like it to follow, each one bearing his facsimile signature burnt into the barrel. Nineteen caliper readings taken from the original bat perfectly match the specs bats created later, suggesting that the million-dollar bat may have been “bat zero,” the model for each Gehrig bat made as his career began to take off in the mid-1920s.
“When they received the bat, the pro player rep at the time–which was Henry Morrow–would take the bat and he would mark on it the weight, the day it was received and the player who sent it in,” bat authentication expert John Taube told The Athletic. “So here you have a very clear trail from Gehrig back to the factory.”
The writing on the barrel “means he used this bat, enjoyed it, then sent it back to Hilllerich & Bradsby in order to have future bats made from these specs,” Ivy said. “It was one of Gehrig’s favorite bats and one he likely used over several seasons. I believe that it’s the most significant Gehrig bat in the hobby.”