A single baseball signed by 11 members of Major League Baseball’s original 1939 Hall of Fame induction ceremony was recently consigned for auction.
The Reach Official American League baseball boasts the signatures of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Walter Johnson, Connie Mack, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins and Pete Alexander all in strong black ink. This will be only the second time the multi-signed sphere will go up for auction. In 1997, Christie’s sold the prized relic for $55,000, which represented a world record for a signed baseball at the time.
The current auction record for a signed baseball is $343,650, which was established in May 2013 for a Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig dual-signed ball that was graded NM-MT+ 8.5 by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA/DNA).
“We expect this one could set a new record again,” said Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions, the company that’s handling the sale of the baseball. “The convergence of its historical importance, remarkable providence and incredible state of preservation could make this the most valuable autographed baseball in the world.”
The only other living member/inductee at the time of the opening ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, was Yankees legend Lou Gehrig, who was unable to attend. He was in Rochester, Minnesota, visiting the Mayo Clinic, where he was being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease that would later be named after the famed “Iron Horse.” Previously selected Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Christy Mathewson (Class of ’36); George Bulkeley, John McGraw, George Wright (’37); Henry Chadwick and Alexander Cartwright (’38); and Cap Anson, Charles Comiskey, Candy Cummings, Buck Ewing, Willie Keeler, Charles Radbourn and Al Spalding (’39) were all deceased by the time Cooperstown officially opened its doors on June 12, 1939.
The history behind the coveted baseball is impeccable. It originates from the personal collection of the late Marv Owen, a former third baseman for the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox who was selected to play in an exhibition game that day at Cooperstown. Hank Greenberg, Owen’s old Tigers teammate, was also selected to play in the game and understood its significance. He brought a pair of Reach A.L. baseballs to the occasion but was too bashful to ask for signatures from the inductees. Owen stepped in and successfully got each man to sign the two baseballs. In gratitude, Greenberg let Owen keep one of the balls. Upon his return home with the souvenir, Owen stored it in a fur-lined glove inside a safe deposit box. Owen preserved the treasured heirloom for decades; after his passing in 1991, his family continued the preservation. Today, it ranks as arguably the finest autographed baseball in the world. Greenberg’s baseball, it appears, has been lost to history.
The significance behind the surviving multi-signed 1939 Hall of Fame baseball is certainly not lost on Kevin Keating, the principal authenticator for PSA/DNA (www.PSAcard.com), who authenticated each of the signatures on the baseball.
“This may be the most noteworthy, complete and exclusive collection of the Hall of Fame’s living charter inductees known,” Keating said. “Most items signed by the icons who first entered Cooperstown in 1939 are also signed by other players and dignitaries who were present that day. This baseball possesses a complete roster of only those living players whose plaques were unveiled.
“But more impressive is the panel filled with ink from the hands of baseball’s three greatest all-time players: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. Was that by chance or by Owen’s design that the three signed together? We’ll never know, but the fact that only they occupy their panel and that the signature of baseball’s greatest pitcher [Walter Johnson] peers below at them from an adjacent panel above is too coincidental to dismiss as a random result. This ball has it all.”
The online auction is part of SCP Auctions’ 2018 Summer Premier. Initial bidding concludes on August 11, at 5 p.m. PDT.