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The Babe's bats are still powerful

Jul 14, 2023

By Peter Funt

No matter how you look at it, Babe Ruth swung a big stick.

The bats he used during 22 seasons as baseball's Sultan of Swat produced 2,873 hits and a remarkable 714 home runs. Each weighed between 42 and 44 ounces (compared to bats favored by today's sluggers which are about ten ounces lighter).

But the most impressive thing about Babe's bats are the prices they fetch. The other day one sold at auction for $1.3 million. In the last year, two others have exceeded the million-dollar mark -- one setting the record for baseball bats at $1.85 million.

Collectors pay handsomely for all sorts of sports stuff, from trading cards to balls and bats. In 2019 Hunt Auctions arranged the sale of one of Ruth's jerseys for $5.64 million, the highest sum ever paid for any piece of baseball memorabilia.

My own collection includes several dozen bats signed by former Major Leaguers -- though none approaches Ruthian standards. I've always believed that a bat, especially a game-used version, is the ideal baseball collectible because it is so intimately linked to the player who owned it. Players select the weight and length along with subtle variations in the taper of the barrel and the shape of the knob.

A Big Leaguer held this wooden treasure and swung it, as I do periodically with each bat in my collection. I also have over 100 signed baseballs, which are nice, but they all look alike and, even if autographed, don't have the charm of a pro bat.

Ruth's bats are becoming even more valuable thanks to research by Professional Sports Authenticator, a global leader in evaluating sports memorabilia. PSA's experts were able to match two of the million-dollar Ruth bats to photographs of him at the plate. The bat setting the record price was identified by using a 1921 photo from the Polo Grounds in New York showing five marks -- presumably from impact with a pitched ball.

The bat sold this month was traced to a 1923 exhibition game in which Ruth hit a home run. The report says the bat has "numerous ball marks and ball-stitch impressions on the left barrel, grain swelling from repeated ball contact, and cleat marks. The handle has been scored for an enhanced grip," which Ruth was known to do to all his bats.

In a sport known for hyperbole, David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, was probably understating the magical appeal of lumber used by George Herman Ruth Jr. when he said, "This baseball bat is as close to a work of art as the medium can allow."

Peter Funt's latest book is "Playing POTUS: The Power of America's Acting Presidents," about comedians who impersonated presidents.

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