Babe Ruth autographed baseballs still treasured by collectors

By Larry Canale

We like our autographs big and bold; in fact, we demand it, right? Unless… unless it’s an 80-year-old baseball inked by Babe Ruth. Yes, we’d rather have a well-preserved Ruth sig that doesn’t show the effects of fading, but that sort of treasure can run well into six-figure prices. (The Heritage Auctions ball shown here, for instance, sold for $388,375 in a 2012 sale.)

And then there are examples of Ruth-signed baseballs in far lesser condition that, of course, sell for far less money. Case in point: a 1930s-era single-signed Ruth ball got away for $7,400 on eBay in March. The ball had been double-authenticated by PSA/DNA and SGC Authentic. Somewhere along the line, it had been exposed to light, causing Ruth’s signature to fade, and it bears spotting and scuffing marks.

Furthermore, the baseball itself isn’t an official American League model; it was Spalding-made Star brand. As a result, the selling price was “only” $7,400.

Still, the Mighty Bambino himself signed the baseball, and you can still read his signature despite the flaws. So for $7,400… why not?

Interestingly, another Ruth ball in similar condition recently sold for $7,700. This one, authenticated by JSA, also includes the signatures of Lou Gehrig and Ben Chapman. Ruth’s signature—on the sweet spot, naturally—is in the best condition. Gehrig’s autograph was slightly more faded, and Chapman’s is barely legible.

Finally, let’s give you a look at still another Ruth ball that sold on eBay recently. This one had a bolder and better-preserved sig, and thus touched off a bidding war, ultimately selling for $12,000 on 60 bids.

The ball was an inheritance piece; according to the seller. In the listing, he wrote, “My granddad left me this ball; he loved the Yankees and baseball in general…. He got it when he lived in New York in the 1930s, and since then [it has stayed] in its original box. While living in New York, he got several Babe Ruth autographs he told me about, ones that he obtained personally.”

The seller describes the autograph as being in “faded blue ink,” but the photo shows it to be better than that. The ball itself is a National League model with the facsimile stamp of John Heydler, NL president from 1918 to 1934. (Heydler also had served as interim NL president in 1909.) The ball wasn’t authenticated, but the provenance and the look of the sig clearly gave bidders enough confidence to push it into five figures.

STAN THE MAN

Here’s a name we don’t see often enough in our Top 10 chart: Stan Musial. The legendary St. Louis Cardinals outfielder wasn’t in the Ted Williams mold of textbook hitting and precision at the plate: He had an odd stance, crouched and closed, with his hands held low, and he’d uncoil with an inside-out swing that allowed him to hit outside pitches with authority.

Despite the difference in their styles, the results were similar. Between 1941 and 1963, when he retired at age 42, Musial piled up 3,630 hits—which still ranks fourth on the all-time list behind only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron. In his 22-year career, Stan the Man batted a robust .331 and blasted 475 homers, leading the Cardinals to three world championships in the process.

One of the most popular Musial collectibles is his 1952 Bowman card. It features a color illustration—the first color Musial card—that depicts him in a batting pose. The reverse tells us that the lefty swinger led the National League in hitting the previous season (he hit .355 in 1951), and that he extended his own NL record by scoring 100 or more runs for an eighth straight season.

As you’d expect, Musial’s 1952 Bowman isn’t often found in Gem Mint condition. But in mid-April, a PSA 10 specimen of the card turned up on eBay and attracted 64 bids, which sent the final selling price to $28,100. In more “normal” condition (a 7 or 8 grade), the card sells for prices between $600 and $1,200.

PRIME PETIT PIECE

Another deserving name that doesn’t often make our Top 10 list is that of Bob Petit, who played his entire career, starting with the 1954-55 season, with the Hawks. (That first year, the team was based in Milwaukee, but the franchise moved to St. Louis the following season. In 1968, the Hawks moved to Atlanta.)

Petit was a 6-foot-9, 205-pound center and power forward—small by today’s standards. But he was a prolific scorer, netting 26.4 points per game in his 11 seasons. He was a rebounding machine, too, averaging 16.2 per game. In fact, he never averaged less than 13.8 rebounds per game in a season.

In late March, collectors showed that Petit hasn’t been forgotten. A PSA 9-graded example of his rookie card, from Topps’ 1957-58 set, turned up on eBay and attracted 28 bids. By the time the dust settled, Pettit’s rookie card had soared to $18,100.

If you need this item in your collection but would rather not spend five figures, hunt around for lesser-condition samples. Pettit rookies graded PSA 6 and lower sell for less than $100.

HARPER REDUX

Last time out, in spotlighting Bryce Harper as the player most likely to have a monster season, we featured some noteworthy Harper-signed cards. This time, we’ve got a Harper bat to show you—a signed and authenticated game-used bat. It comes from the 2014 season and bears a number of ball marks.

Harper signed the barrel of the bat with his ornate autograph and also added his uniform number (34). Plus, as he often does, he wrote “Luke 1:37.” Harper often inks that biblical reference, a verse that reads, simply, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (sometimes written as, “For with God, nothing shall be impossible”). The bat’s selling price: $3,999.

REGGIE! REGGIE!

No, not Reggie Jackson; he was just in this space three installments ago. We’re talking about the “Minister of Defense,” Reggie White, the football great who starred at the University of Tennessee, went on to play two seasons in the USFL and then become a force in the NFL. He played eight years for the Eagles (starting in 1985), six for the Packers and one for the Panthers.

Always an inspirational leader on and off the field, White totaled 198 sacks and 20 fumble recoveries (returning two for TDs) in his career, and he even picked off three passes. He was a 13-time Pro Bowl selection, and an automatic for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which inducted White in 2006. Sadly, the big man died prematurely, passing away at 43 the day after Christmas in 2004.

We’re reminded of White by the sale of a Gem-Mint, PSA-10 example of his rookie card that sold for $13,989 in late March. The card, which drew 44 bids, is a 1984 Topps USFL issue picturing a young Reggie during his days with the Memphis Showboats.

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