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Ruth-signed ball stolen from Ted Williams returned

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A remarkable single-signed Babe Ruth baseball reputed to be the only autograph Ted Williams ever pursued in his life was returned to the Williams family on Dec. 8 after his daughter, Claudia Williams, filed a lawsuit to have it pulled from the December Mastro Auction.

"My dad asked one person for an autograph in his life - it was Babe Ruth, and it was on this ball," said Williams in a Dec. 8 Chicago Sun-Times article in the Metro section. The ball, one of the featured sports items in the massive Mastro Auction, is inscribed "To my pal Ted Williams From Babe Ruth." It was the final lot in the sports section of the catalog, Lot No. 2530, and carried a $5,000 opening bid. Bidding had reached more than $14,000 by the time it was pulled from the sale.

Mastro Auctions President Doug Allen indicated he wouldn't have been surprised if the ball had ultimately reached a bid in the $40,000 range. The ball had been prominently featured in the company's winter auction catalog and had been featured on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" show, several local television shows and in the company's press release material.

The ball was reportedly stolen from Williams' Florida home in the 1980s. Allen said they were notified by an attorney representing Claudia Williams on Dec. 4, and immediately set out to make a determination about the ball's origin.

"They contacted us and it took a day to get our ducks in a row," Allen said in describing the decision return the ball to the family.

Allen said Mastro Auctions routinely asks consignors to sign a contract indicating they have clear title to the item being placed in the auction. "We contacted the consigner and we asked him to surrender the ball to the family, and he gave it up without a fight," Allen continued, characterizing the lawsuit as premature and noting that they hadn't known it had been filed at the time they decided to return the ball.

The Sun-Times story cited a 1994 interview with the Hall of Famer where Williams talked about his affection for the then-missing artifact, saying the "my pal" appellation from Ruth had touched him so much that he had often used the identical term in giving autographs over the years.

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