Babe Ruth ‘called shot’ jersey to be auctioned

Babe Ruth 'called shot' jersey to be auctioned

The jersey worn by New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth when he “called his shot” in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series will go up for auction in August, Heritage Auctions announced Tuesday.

The sale of the road gray Ruth jersey, available to the public for the first time in 19 years, is expected to set a record for a sports collectible at auction, where it could fetch upward of $30 million, according to Chris Ivy, Heritage Auctions’ director of sports auctions. The auction is set for Aug. 23-25.

The jersey last sold for $940,000 in 2005 with Grey Flannel Auctions. At that time, it was dated to the 1932 season and purported to be from that year’s series. But the jersey has now been photo-matched by MeiGray Authenticated as the one Ruth wore in Game 3.

“There were a couple of things that helped [this jersey] stand out from previous seasons,” said Jim Montague, MeiGray’s vice president of authentication. “How the Y was positioned on the front of the jersey in relationship to the buttons and the placket on the jersey. Back then, everything was hand-stitched on. There are seamstresses putting names and numbers and stitching the collar, stitching of the names in the collar, they’re doing it by hand. When you see certain placements, you have [something] unique. They’re not doing it the same two times in a row.”

Ruth’s supposed “called shot” came during the fifth inning of Game 3 in the 1932 World Series — Ruth’s 10th and final Fall Classic — against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. With the score tied 4-4, Ruth stepped to the plate and pointed; whether he intended to point at pitcher Charlie Root, to the Cubs’ dugout or to the outfield remains a matter of historical uncertainty. But on a Root curveball, he clubbed a four-bagger an estimated 440 feet to center (in some reports it balloons to 490), immortalized henceforth as Ruth’s legendary “called shot.”

The 1995 Grey Flannel Auctions listing reads: “Every expert is in agreement that this jersey is authentic and 100% original in every respect […] not one of these experts can definitively say that it is not Babe Ruth’s 1932 World Series jersey.”

Ivy called it a “one-of-a-kind item, the most significant sports collectible that’s ever come up for auction.” He said he wouldn’t be surprised if it exceeds $30 million.

Barry Meisel, MeiGray’s president and COO, said in addition to the photo-matching process, the firm researched how many jerseys the Yankees ordered around that time.

“The Yankees ordered three road grays and three home whites over an entire year and carried one over into the following year,” Meisel said. “And the nuances Spalding put on its company tag, or in the collar of the shirt, you start to determine, ‘Could this have been worn in 1932? Was it worn in 1935?’ Sometimes we say: ‘This is a Babe Ruth jersey, but you can’t focus on a specific event.’ But we’re confident we’ve proven it’s the real deal.”

Montague said photography from Game 3 of the 1932 World Series aligned with nuances of Ruth’s New York Yankees jersey. He pointed out a small notch in the “N” in “NEW YORK” — “almost as if [it] wasn’t completely straight.” The top of the “W,” he said, “had this curve as opposed to a flat edge; other images we saw [from other years] had a flat edge.” The “E,” he said, “had a sort of bend at the bottom.”

This isn’t the first time that photo-matching could increase the potential value of a sports collectible, let alone the first time in recent memory with a Ruth item. In April 2023, a Babe Ruth bat that sold for $400,800 in 2018 resold for $1.85 million, a record for a baseball bat, after “photographic corroboration.”

“MeiGray’s philosophy is every game-worn jersey is like a fingerprint,” Meisel said. “No two fingerprints are alike, we believe no two jerseys are alike when you look at the hand-stitching, the placement of names, numbers, letters on the shirt, where and how the buttons are attached. When you do forensic research with resources that are necessary, actual photos of the shirt, you can make the determinations that we made in this case with the Babe Ruth Called Shot jersey.”

Ivy acknowledged the improbability of the jersey still existing.

“This Ruth jersey had no intrinsic value at the time; it was just a dirty old baseball shirt when Ruth was wearing it in 1932,” he said. “A lot of this stuff was lost to time. Jerseys were sent down to the minor leagues or worn in practice until they fell apart and then were thrown away. The fact that this piece has made it for 90-plus years and it represents one of the most significant moments of not only Babe Ruth’s career but the history of this sport that’s interwoven with the fabric of America, that’s pretty cool.”

The current record for any sports collectible is the $12.6 million spent on the near-perfect 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card in August 2022. The record for any piece of sports memorabilia is the $10.1 million spent on a jersey Michael Jordan wore in Game 1 of the 1998 “Last Dance” NBA Finals.

Ivy said the bidding floor will be $7.5 million, making the Ruth jersey one of the most expensive sports collectibles ever with one bid. He said Heritage Auctions plans to display the jersey at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland in late July along with previews in their New York City and Palm Beach offices in early August, among other promotional plans.

Ivy noted that the great pieces of vintage collectibles have folklore that collectors and fans debate: the printing press/likeness back-and-forth of the T206 Honus Wagner or the water-bound dumping of 1952 Topps Mickey Mantles. Ruth calling or not calling his shot might never be known, but its intrigue lies in that elusiveness.

“That’s what takes this jersey to the next level,” Ivy said. “It’s connected to a great moment in American sports history, not to mention a World Series, and it’s one of the most debated topics in the last 100 years.”