In addition to his slugging prowess, Babe Ruth was the consummate showman. Ruth liked being the center of attention, and even after his retirement in 1935, the Bambino remained popular.
That popularity is a central theme behind one of four items from the Ruth family that SCP Auctions will be putting up for sale in its 2017 Winter Premier, which runs from Jan. 4-21. All four tell a great deal about Ruth, but it is the custom-made flannel uniform Ruth wore in 1938 to promote the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair that will draw the most interest because the slugger wore it.
The other items are a hand-crafted baseball-themed wooden chest, awarded to Ruth in 1930 following the New York Yankees’1929 exhibition game at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York; a hand-carved wooden folk art statue of Ruth from 1933; and a personal scrapbook created for Ruth by sports agent Christy Walsh in the early 1920s.
Each comes with a letter of provenance from one of Ruth’s granddaughters, although the specific descendant was not revealed by SCP.
“It’s another feather in our cap any time SCP Auctions is able to secure coveted items with direct provenance to Babe Ruth,” SCP spokesman Terry Melia said. “The Bambino still resonates with collectors and investors alike and we are excited to say the very least to see how well these pieces perform at auction since our Winter Premier in January will mark their very first public unveiling.”
The uniform was custom-made by A.G. Spalding & Bros. that Ruth wore in 1938 at several stops to help promote the World’s Fair. The words “New York” are emblazoned in orange across the uniform front. Both sleeves have patches that include the year 1939 and the Trylon and Perisphere. Those two modernistic buildings, knowns as the Theme Center, were the centerpiece of the Fair’s theme, “The World of Tomorrow.” The Trylon was a 610-foot spire, while the Perisphere was a sphere that measured 180 feet in diameter. Both buildings are no longer at the Flushing Meadows park; the Unisphere, part of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, was built on the site of the Perisphere and remains there to this day.
Ruth wore the uniform during parades, at business meetings and even while conducting batting clinics.
The chest carries an interesting story. Ruth and the Yankees traveled to Sing Sing Prison from Philadelphia, where they had just been swept by the World Series-bound Athletics in a three-game series. On Sept. 5, the Yankees played an exhibition game against a Sing Sing team called the “Black Sheep.”
According to the New York Times, Ruth doubled in the first inning and hit towering homers in the second, third and fifth innings. He also pitched the final two innings. According to the Times’ account, Ruth’s first homer cleared the 320-foot wall in right field by 40 feet, crossed all eight tracks of the New York Central Railroad and landed on the side of a hill, a reported 620 feet away. Whether it carried that far on the fly is unknown; if it had, it would break the documented mark of 587 feet in 1919, when Ruth connected for a homer during a spring training game at Plant Field in Tampa, Florida.
While several final scores were reported by the media covering the game at Sing Sing, the Times wrote that the Yankees won, 15-3. The headline in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for Sept. 6 read that “Babe Ruth Gives Saddest Crowd of Boys in World 2 Happy Baseball Hours.” Reporter Harold Burr wrote that it was the Yankees’ first game in the “Mutual Welfare League,” but didn’t include the score. The game came shortly after the New York Giants visited the prison on Aug. 27 and won 16-3. The visits eased the tension at Sing Sing, where prison authorities were able to nip a scheduled riot in the bud in early August by confiscating a cache of weapons and ammunition.
The Yankees would resume their major-league schedule on Sept. 7 in Detroit, where New York would split a doubleheader with the Tigers. It turned out to be the last road trip for Yankees manager Miller Huggins, who fell ill on Sept. 20 and died five days later in New York at the age of 51.
To honor Ruth, the prisoners at Sing Sing constructed a double-hinged cedar chest that measured 37 inches long, 19 inches high and 21½ inches high. The chest features a pair of inlaid baseball diamonds on its surface that are labeled “Nat. League” and “Am. League,” respectively.
The wooden folk art statue of Ruth is 22 inches tall and stands on a base that measures 7½ inches wide by 7½ inches deep. It also has a baseball-theme, featuring two hand-carved portraits of Ruth, four small baseball bats and two baseballs.
The scrapbook includes numerous newspaper clippings from the Yankees’ 1921 and ’22 seasons. It measures 15 inches high by 13 inches wide.
All four items are certain to attract attention when bidding opens on Jan. 4.