There have been some spectacular pieces of sports memorabilia auctioned off over the last 10 years. Jerseys, championship rings, historical documents and record-breaking baseballs have produced eye-popping figures in the hobby. As we examine the Top 10 Memorabilia Classics Sold at Auction, it’s astounding that the No. 10 highest-selling piece of sports memorabilia clears $2 million.
1. $8.81 million
1892 Original Olympic Manifesto
This truly one-of-a-kind piece went to auction through Sotheby’s in December 2019, and sold for a mind-blowing $8.81 million. Three international bidders went back-and-forth on the French-language document for the final 12 minutes before an unnamed buyer won the item. The manifesto was written by Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat and educator. It lays out the Olympic mission of bringing people together through athletics. The 14-page document is the only known copy. In the next four years after the manifesto was written, the International Olympic Committee was formed and the first modern Olympics took place in Athens, Greece, in 1896.
2. $5.64 million
Babe Ruth “Yankees” Road Jersey
Just seven months before the Olympic manifesto was sold, a circa 1928-30 Babe Ruth game-worn jersey went for a then-record $5.64 million through Hunt Auctions. The previous record for a sports memorabilia piece was a 1920 Ruth jersey that sold for $4.42 million in 2012. According to Hunt Auctions President David Hunt, only six game-worn Ruth jerseys are known to exist. The one that sold for $5.64 million, which Ruth wore during the “Murders’ Row” era, was truly rare because that road jersey is the only time in franchise history when “Yankees” appeared on the front.
3. $4.42 million
Babe Ruth Circa 1920 “New York” Jersey
Highly regarded as the best baseball player of all time, Babe Ruth game-worn items are some of the most coveted sports memorabilia pieces in all of sports. That was clear when the earliest known Ruth jersey to exist was auctioned off for $4.42 million by SCP Auctions in 2012. Lelands Auctions bought the jersey and planned to sell it privately instead of putting it back up for auction. The road jersey with “New York” stitching across the front had previously been on display at The Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore.
4. $4.34 million
James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basketball
When James Naismith sat down on Dec. 21, 1891 to come up with rules for a game he was going to introduce at a Springfield, Mass., YMCA, little did he know he’d be making history. Naismith invented basketball, writing out 13 rules. In 2010, Naismith’s original document sold for $4.34 million through Sotheby’s auction. Naismith, who was a physical education teacher at the YMCA, came up with the rules to the game on the eve of a two-week deadline to come up with a sport. He gave the rules to his secretary, who typed up a two-page document that was then pinned to a bulletin board outside the gym. University of Kansas booster David Booth bought the document and donated it to the college.
5. $3.26 million
“Laws of Base Ball” Document
Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams wrote a document titled “Laws of Base Ball,” which became the foundation of the American game we know today. The treasured document sold for $3.26 million by SCP Auctions in 2016. According to ESPN, the document was written in 1857 and stipulated that the ball can’t weigh less than 5¾ ounces and the bat could be of any length but no more than 2½ inches at its widest part. The document also mentioned the game was to use four bases, 30 yards apart, with each base being one square foot.
6. $3 million
Mark McGwire’s 70th Home Run Ball
The summer of 1998 was a fun time to be a baseball fan. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were vying to break the single-season home run record of 61 held by Roger Maris. McGwire outlasted Sosa, hitting a then-record 70 bombs. Fan Phil Ozersky (in photo) ended up with coveted 70th home run ball, which he sold at auction through Guernsey’s for $3 million in 1999. Comic book creator Todd McFarlane purchased the ball. The combination of Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs in 2001 and McGwire admitting to using steroids years later, factored into the value of McGwire’s home run ball plummeting to around $250,000-$300,000, Goldin Auctions founder Ken Goldin said in an interview with TMZ in 2020.
Photo: Stan Honda/AFP via Getty Images
7. $2.58 million
Lou Gehrig 1937 Yankees Jersey
Another New York Yankees legend’s jersey makes its way onto the list as one of the top-selling sports memorabilia items of all time. A Lou Gehrig jersey worn during the 1937 season – his last great year as a player – went for $2.58 million through Heritage Auctions in 2019. The SCG-authenticated gray button-down jersey originally belonged to a family that had received it as a gift from former Yankees general manager George Weiss. Gehrig was the first MLB player to ever have his jersey number retired.
8. $2.3 million
Babe Ruth 1919 Trade Contract (Yankees Copy)
When the Boston Red Sox agreed to trade Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919 for $100,000 (different figures have floated around for years), there were three, five-page documents that needed to be signed. The Red Sox copy was sold by Sotheby’s for $996,000 in 2005. The Yankees copy, owned by actor Charlie Sheen, trumped that mark, going for $2.3 million through Lelands in 2017. Sheen had reportedly purchased the historic document in the 1990s. The third copy of the contract, which went to the American League, has not been seen, according to the Los Angeles Times.
9. $2.09 million
Babe Ruth 1927 Yankees Championship Ring
Ruth was the centerpiece of the Yankees’ championship run in 1927. New York won 110 regular-season games – that’s when there were 154 games per year – and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. That Yankees squad was unstopped. Ruth’s ring is one of the most desirable in all of sports. Inscribed inside the beautiful ring is “G H Ruth.” It was sold by Lelands in 2017. Ruth’s ring shattered the price of Julius Erving’s 1974 ABA championship ring, which sold for $460,471 in 2011. That was the previous record for the highest price sold for an athlete’s championship ring at auction.
10. $2.05 million
Jackie Robinson 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers Jersey
When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1947, it was a special season. When it was over, the Brooklyn Dodgers legend brought home his jersey. That priceless item – well, I guess, you can put a price on it – was sold for $2.05 million by Heritage Auctions in 2017. Included in the purchase was a letter of authenticity from Robinson’s widow, Rachel, who personally saw the jersey in the family’s house.
Photos: Courtesy of respective auction houses