Most Valuable Baseball Memorabilia of All Time
Baseball memorabilia is a big business. If you don’t believe it, check out the prices paid for the 15 most expensive items of baseball memorabilia of all time.
And also make sure to check out your elderly relatives attics for old baseball jerseys. One of them could very well buy you a new house, if the moths haven’t gotten to it yet.
Number 15: Ted Williams’s 1949 MVP Plaque $300,000
Ted Williams was arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived and had the hardware to show it. In 2012, 800 of Williams trophies, awards and personal effects were auctioned off at Fenway Park with some of the proceeds going to the cancer-fighting Jimmy Fund, which Williams raised money for during his life.
Among the the big tickets items sold were Williams’ Babe Ruth Sultan of Swat Award for outstanding batting achievement, which went for $230,000, and a ball Ruth autographed for Williams with the inscription “To my pal Ted Williams, From Babe Ruth,” which snagged 195,000.
History buff and NFL quarterback Drew Brees even plunked down $35,600 for Williams’ flight logs from his tours of duty as a pilot in World War 2 and the Korean War.
But the biggest prize of the evening was Williams 1949 MVP, his second of two, which was sold for $300,000.
Number 14: Buckner Between The Legs Ball Signed by Mookie Wilson $418,200
The say ones man’s misfortune is another man’s $418,200. Actually they only say this when referring to the ball that notoriously rolled through Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, leading to a chain of events that denied Boston a world championship yet again.
Because that was the price that very ball — which had been autographed by Mookie Wilson, the man who hit it — went for at a recent auction. Mookie’s entire inscription reads “To Arthur, the ball that won it for us, Mookie Wilson, 10/25/1986.” No word on whether Arthur himself is the very fortunate man who benefited from Buckner’s misfortune, or if the ball had changed hands over the years.
Number 13: Lou Gehrig Uniform From His 1939 Yankee Stadium Farewell Speech $451,541
Lou Gehrig’s 1939 speech in which he announced to a sold out Yankee Stadium crowd that he was retiring because he had the deadly neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — is considered the greatest oration in baseball history and one of the greatest speeches in all of American history.
Although weakened by the disorder, Gehrig was still a proud ballplayer and he wore his Yankee duds during his famous farewell address. Somebody had the good sense to save the wool uniform and keep it far away from the moths because years later it was sold at an auction for $451,541 which, at the time, was the most anyone had ever paid for a baseball uniform.
Number 12: Kirk Gibson Baseball Bat From 1988 World Series $575,912
Kirk Gibson was great in 1988, leading the Dodgers to the World Series and taking the league MVP. But the 31-year old hurt himself in the League Championship Series and wasn’t able to start Game One of the World Series. But he was available to pinch hit, and Tommy Lasorda stuck Gibson in the game in the bottom of ninth with two outs, a runner on first base and the Dodgers trailing 4-3
On the mound was Dennis Eckersley, the most dominant closer in the game.
Any baseball fan knows what happens next. Gibson ripped a home run over the right field wall and limped around the bases for the game winning run. Gibson didn’t have another at-bat during the World Series, but the damage had been done and the Dodgers beat the favored A’s four games to one.
In 2007 the bat Gibson used to make that magical moment sold at for $575,912 at an auction. Limp not included.
Number 11: Shoeless Joe Jackson’s Black Betsy Bat $577,610
How good of a hitter was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson? Well, for one, his .356 career average is the third highest in Major League history. And then there is the fact that when he was trying to throw the 1919 World Series he still hit .375 and slugged a home run.
Yes, the man could hit. And throughout his career he always used the same bat, which he had named Black Betsy since it had been darkened with tobacco juice. It broke once, in 1911, so he just had it fixed.
When Jackson’s widow died in the ‘50s the bat was bequeathed her cousin, who gave it to her son, who kept it on his bookshelf for about 50 years. In 2005, he decided to sell the most famous (and most solidly built) bat in baseball history. It went for $577,610 at auction.
Number 10: Hank Aaron’s 755th Home Run Ball $650,000
Nobody knows a player’s last home run is his last home unless he hits it in what is clearly his last at-bat of the game before he retires. So when Hank Aaron knocked number 755 out of Milwaukee Brewers on July 20, 1976, Richard Arndt, a stadium groundskeeper, didn’t quite know what he had.
He even offered it back to Aaron, but then got fired for keeping the ball in the first place since the team considered it their property. So he kept it, selling it for years later for $461,700. (And giving ⅓ of the money to charity as he had promised Aaron.)
It was sold again in 1999 to asset manager Andrew Knuth for $650,000. Yes, Barry Bonds has since broken Aaron’s all-time home record. But Aaron’s 755 still remains the “pre-steroid” record ball and we suspect it has maintained much of its value.
Number 9: Babe Ruth 1933 All Star Jersey $657,250
In 1933, Major League Baseball staged its first All-Star Game. Of course Babe Ruth was there — it would be weird if the biggest star baseball has ever seen wasn’t — and The Big Bambino even hit the first home run in All-Star Game history during the American League’s 4-2 win.
Of course, Babe Ruth was wearing a uniform for the game — it would be weird and possibly indecent if he wasn’t — and many years later the jersey The Bambino wore during the maiden All-Star was auctioned off for $657,250
As this list progresses, it’s going to be important to remember the name Babe Ruth. Because you are certainly going to see it again.
Number 8: Barry Bonds’ 756 Home Run $742,467
In 2007, fashion designer Marc Ecko purchased the ball Barry Bonds hit for his record breaking 756th home run at an auction. But it’s what happened to the ball next that is interesting.
Bonds’ breaking of Hank Aaron’s record was controversial, due to the slugger’s ties to PEDs, and Ecko’s purchase was done more out of protest than affection. In fact, once he had the ball in his possession he set up an online poll on what he should do with it next: shoot it to the moon; leave it alone; or put an asterisk on it, Ford Frick-style.
After ten million votes the asterisk won and was laser cut into the baseball. Ecko had always wanted to give the ball to the Hall of Fame. There was much debate over whether Cooperstown would accept altered memorabilia and whether Ecko’s gesture would be a loan or a permanent gift. Ultimately, Ecko agreed to give it to the Hall of Fame permanently and they accepted.
Number 7: 1934 Babe Ruth World Tour Jersey $771,000
By 1934 Babe Ruth wasn’t just a star in America. “Beibu Rusu” was also quite big in Japan, where they had been playing baseball since the 1870s.
Prior to ‘34 there had been numerous tours of Japan by American baseball players. But they were nothing compared to what happened that year when Connie Mack was asked to assembled a team of the best Major Leaguers he could convince to go to Japan. Mack came up with a roster that included Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Jimmy Foxx, Charlie Gehringer and, most importantly, Babe Ruth.
500,000 Japanese fans crammed the airport to see Ruth when he arrived. The Sultan of Swat didn’t disappoint, smashing 13 home runs during the Major Leaguer’s undefeated 18 game barnstorming tour.
Thanks to his power display, Babe Ruth become so popular in Japan that during World War 2 the State Department considered having him record messages to convince the Japanese people to quit the war.
In 2005, the “All Americans” jersey Ruth wore during the tour was auctioned off for $771,000.
Number 6: Babe Ruth 1933 All Star Home Run Ball $805,000
Remember how Babe Ruth’s jersey from the inaugural 1933 All-Star Game was auctioned off for $647,250? And remember how Ruth hit the first home run in All- Star history during that game because of course he would?
Well the ball Ruth launched over the wall of Comiskey Park off of a pitch from the otherwise forgettable left-hander Bill Hallahan on that July afternoon was also auctioned off, this time in 2006. The sale was made the grandson of the man who had caught it in 1933 and later had it autographed by Ruth
The ball fetched $805,000, significantly more than the jersey, which is odd because one would think a jersey is a more substantial piece of memorabilia for than a ball. Perhaps the jersey was damaged in some way. We’re thinking mustard stains.
Number 5: Babe Ruth Called Shot Jersey $940,000
Did you know Babe Ruth wasn’t really a Sultan? Yes, we got that from Seinfeld. But it’s important to separate fact from fiction when discussing Ruth because some of his actual accomplishments seem like they were made up.
Like the Ruth’s “called shot” in Game Three of the 1933 World Series. Did the Bambino really point to the center field bleachers right before planting one there off of Cubs pitcher Charlie Root?
There is no doubt Ruth was pointing somewhere. But maybe it was at the Cubs’ dugout, where he was being heckled from. Or perhaps he was sticking his finger at Root. Even the film footage of the incident which has emerged over the years doesn’t quite clear this up.
But nobody questions the authenticity of the Yankees’ jersey Ruth wore on the fateful day. And that’s why this piece of baseball lore went for the price of $940,000 when it was auctioned off in 2005.
Number 4: Contract Selling Babe Ruth From The Red Sox to Yankees $996,000
In what is the most notorious transaction in sports history,Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920 for $125,000 in cash and a 350,000 loan to Frazee’s Broadway investment fund, which eventually financed the musical “No, No, Nanette.”
At that point Ruth had already begun to make the transition from star pitcher to star hitter and had led the Red Sox to World Series victories in 1916 and 1918. The Sox wouldn’t win another title until 2004, having fallen victim to the “Curse of the Bambino.” On the other hand, Ruth quickly established the Yankees as baseball premier franchise.
The contract which permanently shifted the axis of baseball power was recently auctioned off at Sotheby’s for $996,000, the most ever paid for a sports document. And it didn’t even come with a ticket to see “No, No, Nanette.”
Number 3: Bat Babe Ruth Used To Hit First Homer in Yankee Stadium History $1.3 million
If we’ve learned anything from this list it’s that things associated with Babe Ruth pull in big bucks, and that Ruth had himself an impeccable sense of drama and timing.
So it should be no surprise that in 1923 Ruth hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium history and that he did so on the day it opened in a game against the Red Sox, the team who had so notoriously sold him.
The bat Ruth used to hit the historic home run was then given away as an award in a high school home run hitting contest arranged by Ruth’s agent. Many years later the bat’s winner willed the historic piece of lumber to his nurse, who auctioned it off in 2004 for 1.3 million so she should could open a cafe. A cafe we presume that could afford one of those fancy looking brass cappuccino machines.
Number 2: Mark McGwire’s 70th home run $3.3 million
As we get to the two spot on our list, we get to our first item of pricey baseball memorabilia that was clearly a bad investment. In 1998, Mark McGwire, along with Sammy Sosa, electrified the nation and “saved baseball” with their epic chase to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record of 61.
McGwire ended up shattering the mark with 70 dingers. In 1999, with the euphoria still spinning about, cartoonist and “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane shelled out a cool $3.3 million for McGwire’s 70th home run ball, then easily the highest price ever paid for sports memorabilia.
Since then a couple value deflating events have taken place. First, Barry Bonds has replaced McGwire in the record books with his 73 homer season. Second, McGwire (as well as Bonds) has been so thoroughly tied to PED-use that most fans wouldn’t consider his 70 home runs the true record even if it still stood.
To make matters worse, McFarlane allegedly spent a good chunk of his life savings on the ball.
Number 1: Babe Ruth’s 1920 New York Yankee jersey $4.4 million
If you’re keeping score, 7 of the 15 most expensive items of baseball memorabilia ever sold involve Babe Ruth. So of course the Sultan of Swat should occupy the number one spot.
The jersey Ruth wore during the 1920 season, his first year with the Yankees, features boxy lettering and medium, almost baby blue stitching — which is in contrast to the navy blue that the Bronx Bombers have since been associated with.
It had been loaned to the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum by a private collector between 2004 and 2009. However he eventually decided to cash out and did so in grand fashion at a 2012 auction.
There were 36 bids on the jersey. When it was over it was sold for $4.4 million, topping the $4.3 million paid for James Naismith’s original basketball rulebook to become the most expensive item of sports memorabilia ever sold.