The sale of the 1857 “Laws of Baseball” generated plenty of headlines a few days ago. Two more historic documents go on the auction block this weekend and all of that attention won’t hurt.
Goldin Auctions is selling the 1921 paperwork signed by the owners of baseball establishing the Office of Commissioner, which carries a $100,000+ pre-sale estimate and the first contract Babe Ruth signed as a member of the New York Yankees, already sitting at $340,000 with three more days of bidding left.
The two documents are among the 75 lots of high-end sports memorabilia being offered in the auction, which concludes Saturday night with live bidding at a New York steakhouse.
Late in the summer of 1920, Major League Baseball found itself embroiled in the Black Sox scandal — a controversy that threatened the integrity of the sport. That fall, as the players prepared to defend themselves in court, the team owners formed a three-member “Board of Control” that would have the power to oversee and govern baseball. The Board would consist of each League President and a Chairman whose integrity was believed to be both impeccable and above reproach – Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
On November 12, 1920, the owners met with Landis in his chambers, outlined their plan, and offered him the position of Chairman. Signed on January 12, 1921, the document consists of seven typewritten pages and ends with the signatures of each respective League President and all 16 club owners or their representatives.
“The sale this weekend of the original “Laws of Base Ball” for $3.26 million plus many other recent baseball document sales, indicates that the demand for museum-quality historic baseball documents is as healthy as it’s ever been,” said Ken Goldin, Founder of Goldin Auctions. “From Judge Landis and Bowie Kuhn to Bart Giamatti and Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball has been at the center of every important baseball controversy for nearly 100 years. This is the document that started it all.”
The 9″ x 13″ agreement exhibits three horizontal folds as well as a pair of minor, two-inch tears (bringing about no paper loss) along the edge of the first page. The neatly arrayed signatures are black-inked exemplars, faulted only by traces of smudging in the penmanship of Stoneham. The signers include legendary baseball figures: Harry Frazee; Jacob Ruppert, Charles Comiskey, Clark Griffith, Charles Stoneham, William Veeck Sr, Ban Johnson, Charles Ebbets and others. The papers reveal the commissioner’s $50,000 annual salary and seven-year renewable term, and a stipulation that the agreement would remain in force for a period of 25 years. The signatures come with PSA/DNA authentication.
The other historic baseball document being offered is Ruth’s first Yankees signed playing contract (1922). He’d been under his Red Sox contract during the previous two seasons. The contract covers the 1923 championship season and was the most lucrative deal in baseball history by a wide margin – three years for $52,000 annually – with two additional option years. The contract also included a special clause for the well-known carouser. A portion of the contract reads “the player …refrain entirely from the use of intoxicating liquors and that he shall not during the training and playing season in each year stay up later than 1 o’clock A.M.on any day with the permission and consent of the club’s manager.”
Another dealer had offered the Ruth contract on eBay last year for a price of $800,000.
Goldin Auctions previously sold Ruth’s final Red Sox contract (1918) for a record $1.02 million.
The live auction will be simulcast online Saturday beginning at 7:00 pm ET at GoldinAuctions.com. There’s a corresponding online auction with 1,000 additional lots through May 7.