He had retired nine years earlier and would be 50 years old in a few months but with World War II still raging, Babe Ruth answered the call to pick up a bat one more time and swing for the fences. Now, the bat he swung on that afternoon at Shibe Park in Philadelphia—at halftime of an NFL game—is on the auction block where it could sell for more than $1 million.
The 43.6 ounce club dates to the earliest years of his long career and was apparently plucked from a barrel of gamers he’s believed to have kept at his New York home after his career ended. It’s one of the stars of Heritage Auctions’ February Platinum Night Auction.
The bat has strong provenance but the story isn’t as familiar to fans as some of the other tales of Ruth’s life and times. Ruth appeared at the NFL home opener of the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was schedule to give a “hitting exhibition” for fans at halftime. It was asking a lot for the aging Ruth to see three pitches and try to hit one over the fence as he’d done so many times before. In front of 25,000 fans, he did drive all three deep into the outfield and the bat cracked after his third connection.
“Ol’ Babe doesn’t have it anymore,” he remarked as he left the batter’s box with the crowd cheering. Ruth handed the bat to Philadelphia A’s manager Connie Mack, who was also part of the program that day. Mack gave the bat to friend and local police captain John Gara, whose son Frank was a batboy for the A’s. Gara took it home to his son and Frank Gara kept the special bat for decades.
Heritage speculates that Ruth may have chosen one of his heavy early models since he probably realized he didn’t have the power of his youth, but whatever the reason, the bat is one of only two known surviving block-lettered Ruth bats that stand as the earliest types he used. He signed with Hillerich & Bradsby and the company began making signature model Ruth bats late in 1918.
While it’s impossible to know if a young Ruth had used the bat in competition, it’s not a stretch to say there would have been a strong chance of it. The bat does show tell-tale signs of use.
Frank Gara’s letter of provenance and a photo of him holding the bat prior to it being restored at a later date are included with the lot. The grain of the bat matches the photo.The bat has been given a GU 9.5 rating by PSA/DNA.
Bidding was at $410,000 as of Thursday night.