Baltimore and the Babe Occupy Center-Stage at Baseball’s All-Star Break
With the New York Yankees in town for the Orioles’ most significant three-game series of the season, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s major league debut (he may be a former Yankee and Red Sock but he’s still Baltimore’s favorite son and a former Oriole too), the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards hosted the largest ever auction of Ruth memorabilia, where one of the Bambino’s early professional contracts sold for the staggering sum of $1.02 million; the highest amount ever spent on a sports contract eclipsing the $996,000 paid in 2005 for the agreement that sent Ruth to the Yankees from Red Sox in 1919.
Sixty-six years after his death and 79 years since he last played, the Babe continues to be the game’s most omnipresent character. The great Bambino’s birth in Baltimore on February 6, 1895, and his emergence from the city’s St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys as the most spectacularly talented ballplayer of his or any generation sparked a confluence of events that would forever tie together the American League’s eastern division cities of Baltimore, Boston and New York.
The contract purchased at auction was a four-year deal calling for $5,000 salary in 1918, signed by Ruth prior to his fourth season with the Boston Red Sox and extended into his first two years with the New York Yankees after Red Sox owner Harry Frazee infamously sold him to the team in 1919. Ruth was previously sold to the Red Sox by Jack Dunn, owner of the International (minor) League Baltimore Orioles in 1914, and made his big league debut with the Red Sox on July 11th that year. A recently unearthed bat discovered in a 150-year-old house in Boston, that Ruth used sometime between 1916 and 1918 also sold for $215,000. Another game-used and signed bat (circa 1918-1920) fetched $420,000 and a dirty pair of Babe’s old wool flannel pants sold for $90,000. The auction was conducted by Goldin Auctions of West Berlin, New Jersey and also included many non-Ruth items as well; live bidding took place Saturday night in the Gentleman’s Waiting Room at the Sports Legends Museum as well as on-line and by telephone with auction house reps fielding calls on-site (on-line bidding for items still not sold remains live through Friday at http://goldinauctions.com/catalog.aspx).
A new exhibit at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum, “Babe Ruth: 100 Years,” recognizes not just Ruth’s big league debut but also the anniversary of the Babe becoming a professional baseball player with an emphasis on his first minor league season here in Baltimore after he was discovered playing ball for St. Mary’s. The exhibit includes fantastic early photos of Ruth during his brief minor league stint in Baltimore, as well as his 1914 rookie baseball card, considered by Forbes magazine to be the most valuable card in the industry. Another one of the same cards was sold at the anniversary auction for $390,000! According to memorabilia experts there are approximately 10 of the Ruth rookie card in existence. There’s also a great listening station where you can hear the Babe tell a story about prank played on him by his teammates the first time he ever rode on a train in his rookie season.
Like the Bambino himself, the exhibit is fun, and with the Yankees in town the museum had its biggest weekend of the season. The symbiotic relationships that both Yankees’ and Orioles’ fans share with Ruth, each claiming him as their own, is in stark contrast with the teams’ historic rivalry. The same feeling almost holds true for Red Sox fans visiting from Boston, if not for the infamous “Curse of the Bambino,” which resulted in an 86-year World Series-less drought that began immediately after Boston sold Ruth to New York in 1919. As if visiting Red Sox fans need another reminder, another exhibit at the Birthplace Museum “O Say Can You See,” a short documentary film on the history of the Star Spangled Banner’s involvement in baseball, highlights Ruth’s appearance on the mound as a pitcher for the Red Sox in the 1918 World Series.
There’s no “Curse of the Bambino” here in Baltimore, and in fact, the Babe’s anniversary seemed like the team’s good luck charm as the Orioles took two of the three games against the Yankees over the weekend. A century later, George Herman Ruth is still just one of us.