While sports memorabilia may not get the attention it once did, the memorabilia industry is still booming. Just last year, a baseball signed by 11 of the greatest players in early MLB history sold for a record $623,369.
Many modern fans may seek out a picture with their favorite player, but autographs — specifically those from the early days — hold a monetary value that pictures could never hold. This six-figure baseball is one of a kind, and the likes of it may never be seen again.
Who signed it?
The baseball was signed at the induction weekend during the opening of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. The 11 names on it highlight decades worth of history from hitters to pitchers, World Series champions to All-Stars:
- Grover Cleveland Alexander
- Ty Cobb
- Eddie Collins
- Walter Johnson
- Nap Lajoie
- Connie Mack
- Babe Ruth
- George Sisler
- Tris Speaker
- Honus Wagner
- Cy Young
Having these 11 in the same room was a seemingly impossible feat. And getting their signatures on one baseball seemed like an unachievable task.
The ball was originally the property of former White Sox player Marv Owen. According to Athlon Sports, he was too afraid to ask for the autographs himself and instead asked Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg to gather the signatures for him. They were kept in a safety deposit box until Owen passed away in 1991.
The ball shattered the previous record for an autographed baseball, $345,000. It had been signed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who was too ill to participate. The ball is one of some sports memorabilia that commanded a steep price. Compared to some of the other pieces, the nearly three-quarter-of-a-million dollar sale was a downright bargain
The Ruth and Wagner effect
If history shows us anything, it’s that Ruth’s signature may be what propelled the price despite 10 other names. Of the 12 most expensive pieces of baseball collector’s items, Ruth’s memorabilia holds seven of the spots. He remains one of the biggest names in baseball, even after many of his on-the-field records have been shattered.
One of the most notable instances of Ruth items getting big bucks came in June 2019, when a jersey he wore some time between 1928 and 1930 sold for $5.6 million. This beat his previous record-breaking jersey by over $1 million. Other jerseys have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ruth’s contract with the Yankees sold for just under $1 million, and his Red Sox jersey sold for slightly more. Needless to say, Ruth remains the king of sports memorabilia.
Ruth’s name isn’t the only moneymaker on the list. While Cobb and Cy Young may be bigger names in baseball history, Wagner is the face behind the most famous piece of baseball memorabilia in history. His 1909 tobacco card, which he famously tried to block from circulation, has become such a rarity that one sold for over $2 million in 2013. Several others — only 50 total are known — have sold for a pretty penny.
It’s hard to say whether memorabilia from the modern era will ever reach the heights of collector’s items from the early days. So when 11 names like this appear on a ball, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Owen was able to get decades of history onto one ball. A feat like this may never happen again.