If Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record had been tied this year instead of 52 seasons ago, the bat used by the new sultan of swat would have been slapped with a hologram, its identification confirmed with entry into an official MLB database and preserved for eternity.
In 1961, Roger Maris may have signed his historic stick and given it to a teenage visiting clubhouse attendant from Baltimore.
At least that’s a reasonable deduction according to Robert Edward Auctions, which is offering an autographed Maris bat in its upcoming catalog auction along with photographic evidence that disputes the claim by the Baseball Hall of Fame that Maris’ 61st home run bat was also used for #59 and #60. REA believes there’s a solid chance that the bat consigned by a collector is the one responsible for Maris’ 60th, belted over the right field stands at Yankee Stadium on September 26, 1961.
The cracked bat that will be sold is signed in red marker“To Bill/Best Wishes to a good Club House man/Roger Maris/#60/9-26-61”.
“Bill” is Billy Nizer, who tried to keep visiting players happy when they came to Memorial Stadium from 1959 through that ’61 season.
Nizer was a collector, too. In 1979, he consigned the bat and several other items he’d collected from working in the big leagues to Federal Hill Autographs in Baltimore, which offered it at auction and later sold it to a collector who has held on to it ever since. The bat comes with a two-page letter written in 1994 by Nizer’s widow to the REA consignor in which she confirms that Nizer was given Maris’ 60th home run bat and that she personally typed the letter of provenance and sale to Robert White, the owner of Federal Hill Autographs when he sold his collection in 1994.
There is no doubt the bat belonged to Maris. It has his name on the barrel, matches Louisville Slugger factory records as having been ordered during a 16-month period from March 1961 through July of 1962 and shows solid game use. But is it really the bat that hit Jack Fisher’s pitch out of the park? It’s not possible to say with absolute certainty. Nizer died just two years after selling his memorabilia collection. Maris died in 1985.
Photo matches show a definitive difference between the bats Maris swung for #60 and #61, which REA says is why the bat Maris gave to the Hall of Fame wasn’t responsible for #59 or #60. PSA/DNA’s bat expert, John Taube concurs.
“Period photography of Maris hitting his 60th and 61st home run, though not very detailed, does convey that each home run was struck with a different bat,” he states in his evaluation.
However none of the available pictures conclusively prove the bat Maris gave to Nizer is what he believed it was. It’s possible that Maris grabbed a different cracked bat and inscribed it for Nizer. REA believes it’s more likely he broke the bat the night of his 60th and gave it to Nizer, who REA speculates may have traveled to New York with the team or family members because of the possibility that Maris would break the record against the O’s.
Anecdotal evidence passed on with Nizer but he may have felt no reason to document the bat any further since Maris had signed, dated it and wrote “#60” on it.
Here’s what Taube wrote: “Visible in two photos of Maris hitting his 60th home run are two dark spots on the barrel of his bat that are not present on the subject bat. Not knowing the source of the dark spots, we can only speculate as to the possibility that the spots have faded or have been removed after 52 years. The bat does appear to have a very light pine tar application similar to the subject bat.” He concludes by stating: “Taking into account the evidence at hand, it is our opinion the bat was signed by Maris on the evening of September 26, 1961, after hitting his record tying 60th home run of the season. Direct attribution as to the use of the bat by Maris to hit the 60th home run cannot be confirmed nor denied.”
The autograph has been given a stamp of approval by James Spence Authentication.
Maris was no memorabilia collector, not even wishing for the return of his 61st home run ball. It wouldn’t have been out of character for him to give away a piece of cracked history to someone he knew who may have appreciated the history and perhaps asked for it at some point.
REA has placed a $10,000 reserve on the bat, which the company says “at the very least, it is an impeccable Roger Maris autographed game bat dating from the most exciting final days of his historic 1961 record-breaking season (in fact, it is the only one we have ever seen or know of), and is, by any measure, one of the finest Roger Maris bats in existence.”
The auction begins April 20 and concludes May 18. A complete description of the bat and more information on its provenance will be offered in REA’s catalog.