A baseball signed by 11 members of Major League Baseball’s original 1939 Hall of Fame inductees sold for $623,369 early Sunday morning at SCP Auctions. The Reach Official American League ball has 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 ball last sold for $55,000 at a Christie’s auction in 1997.
The ball hit by Babe Ruth for the first home run in All-Star Game history–later signed by him–sold for $805,000 several years ago but the Hall of Fame ball carves out its own niche as a record price paid for a non-game used ball at public auction.
The story behind the Hall of Fame ball is an interesting one. 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 on the day of the first Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in the summer of 1939. 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 said to be too bashful to ask for signatures from the inductees. Owen stepped in and successfully got each of the 11 players 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. It was preserved for decades by Owen and then by his family after he died in 1991. Greenberg’s baseball, it appears, has been lost to history.
The only other living member/inductee at the time of the opening ceremonies in Cooperstown 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.
Other items sold in the auction included a 1967 game-worn Hank Aaron jersey ($121,304); an unopened 1961-62 Fleer basketball box ($91,138); a 1925 Exhibit Lou Gehrig rookie card graded PSA 4 MK ($88,810); a 1914 Boston Garter Joe Jackson graded Authentic by SGC ($55,145); the goalie pads worn by Jim Craig during the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s improbable run to a gold medal ($34,176) and a pair of full tickets to Super Bowl III which combined to sell for more than $60,000.
The Babe Ruth cap once donned during his Yankee career and famously resurrected in a 1997 game by pitcher David Wells failed to meet its reserve.
Final prices are available here.