Ninety years later even one of them would be worth a small fortune, but in the middle of a blistering hot day on Long Island, they simply represented a nice gesture made by Babe Ruth on behalf of the U.S. Army. It was mostly a publicity stunt and even the folks in charge at the time weren’t calling it anything less.
A photo showing The Babe signing dozens of bats and baseballs with a pipe-smoking colonel providing assistance dates to July 22, 1926. It’s tantalizing for collectors who know the value of Babe-signed bats and balls in the 21st century. While those bats scattered far and wide and the number of survivors today is likely small, the Photo of the Day from RMY Auctions is available.
The dated image of Ruth in a military uniform would be interesting enough but the 3 ¾” x 4 ¾” photograph gives us unquestionable proof that he signed bats that would be given away to the best athlete at several dozen “Citizen Military Camps” around the Midwest. Each bat carries a tag indicating the name of the camp to where it would be sent.
But that autograph session wasn’t the most interesting thing Ruth did that day at Mitchel Field, the army’s flying station on Long Island. The real draw was that Babe had been “enlisted” in an attempt to catch baseballs dropped from a plane whizzing overhead at over 100 miles per hour. After sweating up a storm and diving all over the field in valiant, but vain attempts to make a circus catch, Ruth removed his coat.
“Gee, it’s like trying to stop a bullet,” he exclaimed to a gaggle of reporters and photographers who had turned out for the show. “What a kick that thing’s got and I can’t judge it either. The wind carries it all over the place.” Finally, Ruth latched onto a bright white ball he promptly autographed. “Here’s a hot one for you, colonel,” he said to commanding officer H.D. Folois.
Mission accomplished, The Babe was escorted to the waiting stack of bats and balls, which he dutifully signed.
The photo is one of 500 being offered in RMY’s Holiday Auction, set to run through Saturday, December 16.