Once the property of an autograph seeking player, a baseball signed by 11 members of Major League Baseball’s original 1939 Hall of Fame inductees will be brought to auction starting on July 25. The Reach Official American League ball boasts the signatures of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Walter Johnson, Connie Mack, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins and Pete Alexander, all in strong black ink.
The highest price ever paid at auction for an autographed baseball is $388,000, a mark set six years ago by a Babe Ruth-single-signed ball graded 9.5 and purchased by TRISTAR’s Jeff Rosenberg.
“We expect this one could set a new record,” said Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions, the company that’s handling the sale of the baseball. “The convergence of its historical importance, remarkable provenance and incredible state of preservation could make this the most valuable autographed baseball in the world.”
The ball has come to auction once before. It sold through a Christie’s sale in 1997 where it reached $55,000, a record-setting price at the time. The market for rare and high quality baseball memorabilia has skyrocketed in the 21 years since that sale. It originated in the personal collection of the late Marv Owen, a former third baseman for the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox who was selected to play in an exhibition game that day at Cooperstown. Hank Greenberg, Owen’s old Tigers teammate, was also selected to play in the game and understood its significance. He brought a pair of Reach A.L. baseballs to the occasion but was too bashful to ask for signatures from the inductees. Owen stepped in and successfully got each man to sign the two baseballs. In gratitude, Greenberg let Owen keep one of the balls. Upon his return home with the souvenir, Owen stored it in a fur-lined glove inside a safe deposit box. The treasured heirloom was preserved for decades by Owen and later his family after his passing in 1991. Greenberg’s baseball, it appears, has been lost to history.
“This may be the most noteworthy, complete and exclusive collection of the Hall of Fame’s living charter inductees known,” said PSA/DNA’s Principal Authenticator Kevin Keating, who examined the signatures. “Most items signed by the icons who first entered Cooperstown in 1939 are also signed by other players and dignitaries who were present that day. This baseball possesses a complete roster of only those living players whose plaques were unveiled.”
“But more impressive is the panel filled with ink from the hands of baseball’s three greatest all-time players: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. Was that by chance or by Owen’s design that the three signed together? We’ll never know, but the fact that only they occupy their panel and that the signature of baseball’s greatest pitcher [Walter Johnson] peers below at them from an adjacent panel above is too coincidental to dismiss as a random result.”
The only other living member/inductee at the time of the opening ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, was Yankees legend Lou Gehrig, who was unable to attend. He was in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease that would claim his life two years later.
Previously selected Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Christy Mathewson (Class of ’36); Morgan Bulkeley, John McGraw, George Wright (’37); Henry Chadwick and Alexander Cartwright (’38); and Cap Anson, Charles Comiskey, Candy Cummings, Buck Ewing, Willie Keeler, Charles Radbourn and Al Spalding (’39) were all deceased by the time Cooperstown officially opened its doors on June 12, 1939.
The online auction begins on Wednesday, July 25, at 10 a.m. PDT as part of SCP Auctions’ 2018 Summer Premier. Initial bidding concludes on Sat., August 11, at 5 p.m. PDT.