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1916-1918 Babe Ruth Rookie-Era Spalding Pro-Model Bat
Starting Bid - $5,000.00, Sold For - $18,560.00
Babe Ruth pro-model bats, by their very nature, represent one of the most desirable objects in the hobby. To hold a bat that was once used by Ruth is tantamount to holding history in the palm of one's hand. This bat dates from Ruth's earliest years with the Boston Red Sox. It was through the use of bats such as the one presented here that records were set, legends were born and, quite literally, the game of baseball was saved. This singular specimen, characterized by its "Ruthian" proportions, is distinguished not only by its early era and rare brand, but by the supporting documentation which accompanies it. Produced by Spalding and dating from between 1916 to 1918, this is, in fact, the only Spalding Babe Ruth pro-model bat known to date. Measuring 35.25 inches in length and weighing 37.5 ounces, it is identical in specifications to H&B Ruth game bats from the era, but has been manufactured for Ruth by H&B competitor A. G. Spalding & Company. The company name, "Spalding," appears on the center of the bat, and the name "Babe Ruth" is featured on the barrel, each deeply stamped in block letters. The Spalding trademark logo also appears on the knob. The presence of a lathe mark (small hole surrounded by a circle) on both the knob and end of the barrel indicates that this bat was hand turned on a machine. The wood is top quality white ash (reserved only for pro-model bats) and the bat itself is similar in style to other Spalding Major League bats game-used by other players from the era. Heavy use is displayed throughout its entire length including cleat marks on the barrel and an eight-inch "H" crack in the handle that has been repaired with nine small vintage nails. The bat handle also appears to have been previously taped, as a light outline of the former wrapping is still visible in a few areas. The knob displays two small chips that have been repaired as well as two vintage nails. Accompanying the bat is a fascinating letter from the original owner detailing its history opens as follows: "Describing past event from so long ago is most difficult. Turning back the clock to the mid-late 20's can be fun filled if a person can remember." He then begins his narrative, which reads in part: "...My Father, whose name is also Deo, was in the newspaper business and was attending a NAPA newspaper convention in Chicago. His sports editor friend for the local paper had tickets to a Yankee-White Sox afternoon baseball game. Babe Ruth was in the line-up that day and fouled off several pitches before he got his hit. 'The Babe' knew the sports editor very well and gave him one of his bats. The editor asked my father -'Do you have a son?' My dad said 'Yes' and that is how the Babe Ruth bat got into our home." The writer also goes on to say how his two sons played with this bat on many occasions (the crack possibly occurring during that time) and that it remained a treasured possession of their family until their parting with it in 1994. While the letter provides testimony that the bat was a gift from Ruth in the 1920s, the exact year of manufacture of the bat is not addressed by these recollections. Prior to signing a contract with H&B in 1918, after which Louisville exclusively made signature models for use by Ruth, the bats Ruth used were block-lettered H&B or block-lettered Spalding models. There were no signature model Ruth bats for him to use until he signed his endorsement contract with H&B. The Spalding labeling style on this bat dates from 1916 to the early 1920s, but Ruth signed his H&B bat contract in 1918. Babe Ruth never had a Spalding bat contract. Based upon these facts, it is a virtual certainty that this bat was produced for Ruth sometime between the years 1916 to 1918. After 1918, only H&B produced pro-model bats for Ruth. The original owner's recollection (if accurate) that this bat was received as a gift from Ruth in the "mid-to-late 1920s" is puzzling. If this recollection is accurate, this 1916-1918 bat was lying around for a few years before being given away as a gift by Ruth. There is also a remote possibility that the manufacture of this bat does date from the early to mid 1920s. The bat's labeling period certainly allows for that. In the 1920s Ruth had a contract with Spalding allowing them to use his name on a line of gloves, and it is possible that this bat was produced for Ruth at this time as part of Spalding's efforts to persuade him to endorse its bat line as well. This is pure speculation, however, and there is no documented evidence of any such efforts on the part of Spalding with Ruth. If not for the original owner's recollection (which may be in error with reference to years) that his father received this bat in the 1920s, it would never have been considered a possibility that this bat could date from any era other than 1916 to 1918, manufactured prior to Ruth's signing his exclusive bat endorsement contract with H&B in 1918. This is the only known example of a Spalding Babe Ruth pro-model bat to ever surface. Length: 35.25 inches. Weight: 37.5 ounces. Graded A7 by Mears (base grade of A8, with one point deducted for chips in knob and nails). LOA from Dave Bushing & Troy Kinunen/MEARS. Reserve $5,000. Estimate $10,000/$20,000. SOLD FOR $18,560.00
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