Babe Ruth’s name “is the most appealing in the game” of baseball, a sportswriter noted in 1938, three years after the Bambino’s retirement. The Queen Mary 2 is the Grande Dame of luxury ocean liners. These two giants will share the spotlight for an upcoming auction that will feature the uniform the Bambino wore in 1938 when he was a first-base coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
According to newspaper accounts at the time, Ruth took a “menial job” in June 1938 with the Dodgers, signing a $15,000 contract and openly hoping to become the team’s manager someday. Those hopes were dashed at the end of the season when Leo Durocher was named to replace Burleigh Grimes as manager of the Dodgers. Ruth was not retained as a coach.
The No. 35 Dodgers uniform worn by Ruth during that 1938 season is the featured item in a unique sale hosted by Julien’s Auctions on Nov. 14 in Beverly Hills and online. The G.B. Espy “Southern Gentleman’s Collection” is a 350-piece private memorabilia collection amassed by a Georgia gynecologist whose passion for collecting was only surpassed by his good works as a doctor worldwide during a half-century of medicine.
What makes this auction unique is that prospective buyers can view Espy’s collection aboard the Queen Mary 2, the flagship liner of the Cunard luxury ocean liner company, during a cruise that begins Sept. 15 in New York and ending in Southampton, England, on Sept. 22. The nine-day cruise ends in Hamburg, Germany, two days later.
Interested in seeing the collection live? You’d better book that cruise soon. Of the six different accommodations offered on the Queen Mary 2 for this cruise, five are sold out, and the ship can hold 2,691 passengers. The “Britannia Inside” offering still has rooms available; the inside view starts at $1,731.71 per person, while the Atrium view inside view begins at $2,083.71 per person.
Guests on the cruise will be able to view a rotating exhibit of the Espy collection and have a chance to bid on items in advance of the November auction. Passengers also can attend a question-and-answer session with the owner of the collection, Goodman Basil “G.B.” Espy III, of Marietta, Georgia.
In addition to the Ruth jersey, the Espy collection includes a baseball signed by Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe while they were married, five baseballs signed by Ruth, and a pair of Muhammad Ali boxing shorts from 1980 once owned by the Sands Casino in Las Vegas, with a handwritten message from “The Greatest.”
Other items include a Mickey Mantle game-used jersey from 1960, Lou Gehrig’s 1933 major league baseball contract (signed by Gehrig, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and general manager Ed Barrow), a 1934 Goudey baseball card of Gehrig signed by the Yankees first baseman, a 1974 Atlanta Braves jersey worn by Hank Aaron, a jersey worn by Detroit Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer during the 1934 all-stars’ tour of Japan, and Casey Stengel’s 1962 home uniform when he managed the New York Mets in their inaugural season.
According to Brett Hughes, the managing director of Global Sports for Julien’s Auctions, the value of each lot of the Espy collection “is beyond price and will become a family heirloom.”
“This sports celebrity market is one of the fastest-growing areas of alternative investment collectibles,” Hughes said. “Their value just keeps on growing.
“This particular collection … is comprised of carefully chosen items not seen on the market for three decades. (They) represent the dreams and ambitions of the sportsmen who captured the hearts of millions.”
The Ruth uniform from 1938 will be the crown jewel of the auction.
Espy, 84, has been collecting memorabilia for more than three decades. He was born Jan. 8, 1935 — two hours after Elvis Presley, he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2011. Collectibles are in his genes; his mother, Dacy Pugh Espy, ran an antique shop in Alabama, and Espy began collecting stamps and carpenters pencils.
Espy had a distinguished career as a medical professional. The Jackson, Alabama, native graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech in 1957 and entered Tulane University’s school of medicine the following year. After graduating from Tulane in 1962, Espy spent four years in residency at the school in obstetrics and gynecology.
In 1967, Espy founded OB-GYN Associates in Marietta. He has delivered more than 12,000 babies during his career, and in 1999 he went to Albanian refugee camps to help out during the Kosovo War.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in 2009 Espy paid the expenses so a 9-year-old Iraqi boy could be flown to the United States to repair a leg injury. The boy, Mohammad “Babou” Mustafa, was accompanied by his father, whom Espy paid a “salary” of $1,000 a month during his 16-month stay in the United States with his son.
Espy also offered medical assistance in Haiti after a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in May 2010. He delivered a set of twins on the island without medical instruments because someone had stolen them.
Espy was honored in 2003 with a humanitarian award from the Medical Association of Georgia. Even in retirement, Espy continues to take medical trips overseas to help others.
In addition to collecting memorabilia, Espy was a longtime runner, competing in more than 75 marathons. He suffered a heart attack in 2007, and doctors advised Espy to stop running; he competed in a marathon a month later.
Espy ran in 36 New York City Marathons; as an 80-year-old in 2015, he finished the 26.2-mile trip through New York’s five boroughs in 6 hours, 23 minutes, 35 seconds. In 2009, Espy bungee jumped the 442-foot plunge at New Zealand’s Nevis River.
Espy amassed many different pieces of memorabilia during his career, focusing on sports, history and pop culture. He has owned autographs of the Beatles, Harry Houdini, Knute Rockne, Greta Garbo, Gen. George Custer and even Sitting Bull. Espy also has owned Gehrig’s wedding band, Joe Louis’ boxing permit and gloves, Jim Thorpe’s worn leather scrimmage shoe, and the jerseys of Joe Namath and Larry Bird.
“I think it’s looking for something that I don’t know what I’m looking for,” Espy told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2011 when he was asked about his passion for collecting. “But I know when I’ve found it.”
Collectors can preview the items in the auction by buying a four-catalog book (cost is $150) that will be delivered in October. Of course, if you’re taking the cruise, you can save the money on the book.
“It will be a thrill for Queen Mary 2 passengers to see up close famed sports memorabilia from the greats such as Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali,” said Josh Leibowitz, senior vice president at Cunard.