Sheltered for years in a desk drawer and safe deposit box, a virtually untouched Babe Ruth autographed baseball will enter the marketplace next month.
He spent 35 years as a dentist, but Carvel Lincoln was a fireballing 16 year-old pitcher in August of 1947.
His improbably loaded American Legion baseball team from Idaho featured two future Major Leaguers, and as they made their way through the sectional tournament, the boys from Boise would cross paths with the most famous ballplayer of all time.
Sixty-one years later, the souvenir an ailing Babe Ruth handed out that day is about to become one of the premier items in an upcoming sports memorabilia auction.
Lincoln, a retired dentist now living in Garland, Texas, has consigned the amazingly well preserved autographed Ruth baseball he was given that summer to Memory Lane Incorporated. The ball will be sold in MLI’s April auction.
While PSA/DNA has yet to officially authenticate and grade it, the newly discovered ball appears to compare favorably with another high grade Ruth ball MLI sold in October of 2005 for $150,000, the highest known realized price for a single-signed Ruth ball.
The story behind the ball is simple enough, but might make collectors long for the days when it wouldn’t have been unusual to see the greatest player of all time at an amateur baseball tournament in Montana.
By 1947, Ruth had already been diagnosed with cancer and the disease would claim his life a year later, but treatment earlier that summer had left him feeling well enough to travel on goodwill visits for the Legion and for Ford Motor Company. He arrived in Billings, Montana to make a short speech at a banquet for the Legion sectional and brought along some official American League baseballs which were passed out to participating team members.
"His voice was deep and raspy," Lincoln recalled. "He coughed quite a bit." The young athletes were surprised to see the once robust Ruth in such failing health, but impressed he would spend time with them. Lincoln was one of the boys who received a ball from the generous slugger and it immediately became one of his most cherished possessions.
"I remember it vividly," the retired dentist told Sports Collectors Daily on Thursday. "Really, it seems like yesterday. We went to the banquet and after seeing him, I must have been inspired. The next day he was in the stands and I was pitching. I struck out eleven but unfortunately we lost."
Lincoln’s teammates included fellow pitcher Vern Law, who later spent a long career in the Major Leagues as well as Larry Jackson, a shortstop on the Legion team who would later become a pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lincoln kept the ball in its original cardboard box and stored it in a desk until he married and moved away with his new wife to begin a 35- year dental practice near Dallas. The ball would be moved to a safe deposit box, rarely seeing the light of day.
"I brought it out four or five times," Lincoln told Sports Collectors Daily on Thursday. "Otherwise, I tried to keep it out of the light. Someone once told me to apply shellack to it, but I never did."
His intention was to eventually turn the ball over to his grandchildren, ages 10 and 14, but decided instead to sell it now and use the proceeds to assist with college expenses and other needs.
Babe Ruth memorabilia typically draws a lot of attention in major auctions and vintage signed baseballs are among the most popular items.
Lincoln had another brush with greatness during his Legion baseball days. He once pitched against another Idaho native who would enter the Hall of Fame. Harmon Killebrew was a worthy foe but the future dentist never backed away from a challenge.
"I struck him out," he said.