Tucked away for decades, the bat Babe Ruth told a close friend he’d used to hit his 500th home run will be offered at auction beginning next month.
The first player to reach the career milestone, Ruth reached 500 on August 11, 1929, establishing the career benchmark by which all power hitters are measured to this day. According to SCP Auctions, which received the bat on consignment, the bat was gifted to Ruth’s long-time friend and former mayor of Suffern, New York, Jim Rice, in the 1940s. It was later passed down to Rice’s son, Terry, who has kept it in his home for over 20 years but told the Associated Press Wednesday that he became worried about theft and opted to put it up for auction.
SCP Auctions believes the bat could sell for $1 million or more.
In 2004, SCP sold Ruth’s 1923 Yankee Stadium Opening Day home run bat for $1.265 million, the most ever paid for a game-used bat.
“Rightly proportionate to his status as baseball’s most beloved and iconic player, Babe Ruth is the king of the sports collectibles marketplace,” stated SCP Auctions President David Kohler. “When a fresh Ruth item of such quality and historical importance as this one surfaces, it generates tremendous excitement throughout our industry. We are honored and privileged to introduce this museum-worthy artifact to the public.”
By the start of the 1929 season, Ruth already had hit 480 career homers. No other player at that point had even half as many. He was still only 34 years old, so the question for fans to answer was not if Ruth would reach 500 in his career, but when.
He got there at League Park in Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon, belting a high fastball off pitcher Willis Hudlin that not only cleared the right field wall, but left the stadium and rolled down Lexington Avenue where it was picked up by a lucky Indians fan. After the game, the milestone ball was reported to have been returned to Ruth in exchange for $20 and an autographed baseball.
Jimmie Foxx became the second member of the 500 home run club in 1940, followed by Mel Ott in 1945.
Rice enjoyed a particularly close friendship with the Babe beginning in the early 1940s. As a well-known sportsman and golf club champion in Suffern, Rice’s exploits with Ruth are documented in several newspaper articles from the period. For many years the pair regularly golfed, bowled and shared meals together. Ruth was a frequent visitor to the Rice household, endearing himself to Rice’s wife, Ethyl, and their children.
Over the course of their friendship, Ruth gave numerous gifts to the Rices, including autographs and other mementos. Several years after his 1935 retirement, Ruth gave the bat to the family. It sat in the corner of Jim and Ethyl Rice’s den for years, according to Terry Rice, who says as a youngster, he avoided any temptation to play with it. He later stored the bat in a closet. The bat remains in impeccable condition, with cleat marks and bat rack paint still visible.
Rice told the AP he plans to split the auction proceeds with his two sisters.
Recently authenticated by John Taube of PSA/DNA, it received the firm’s highest grade of GU10.
The bat will be the focal point of a large year-end auction of sports memorabilia conducted by SCP. Online bidding will begin November 27 at www.scpauctions.com and run through December 14.