Babe Ruth’s Louisville Slugger auction shatters all previous baseball bat records

Babe Ruth in 1921 and the Louisville Slugger baseball bat (center)that fetched $1.8 million in a 2023 April auction.

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Babe Ruth continues to reign in the hearts of baseball fans and sport memorabilia collectors even 75 years after his death. A bat that the Great Bambino used more than 100 years ago fetched $1.85 million in a private auction making it the most ever paid for a baseball bat.

The Babe Ruth bat was used by the baseball legend between September 1920 and March 1922.

Named after Louisville Slugger company, its manufacturer, the Babe Ruth bat shattered all previous records set by a baseball bat auctioned off. Incidentally, the previous record was set by another of the legendary slugger’s bats. The Babe Ruth bat that previously held the record had been sold privately by Heritage Auctions in August of last year for $1.68 million.

The ‘DNA’ test of the Babe Ruth bat

The way the Babe Ruth bat was proven to be real may have been even more interesting than how much it cost. The new record holder Louisville Slugger bat has the distinction of being the “only known example to offer photographic corroboration,” according to Hunt Auctions.

The bat was photographed with Babe Ruth swinging it in 1921, and the two are matched. Ruth set a new record for home runs in a season with 59 that year. This was the “only known example to offer photographic corroboration” for the Babe Ruth bat.

PSA/DNA photo expert Henry Yee used a photo from 1921 to prove that it was the same bat that Babe Ruth used.

Babe Ruth is batting in 1921 with the Louisville Slugger baseball bat that fetched $1.8 million in a 2023 April auction.
Hunt Auctions

“I am very familiar with the ‘Polo Grounds’ Babe Ruth bat, bringing it into the hobby 30 years ago,” John Taube of PSA Pro Bat Services said in a statement provided by Hunt Auctions. “The rich brown patina and the Ruth characteristics that were present, then and now, establish the bat as one of the premier Babe Ruth game-used bats in any collection, public or private.”

The bat’s value skyrocketed after PSA/DNA photo expert Henry Yee found a match with a photo of Ruth from 1921. He discovered five similarities between the record-breaking bat and a photo of Babe Ruth’s bat taken in 1921, deeming them a “photo match.” His authentication Services rated the bat a perfect 10.

About Ruth’s Louisville Slugger bat

The Louisville Slugger bat was widely used by Babe Ruth from 1920 to 1921. Ruth hit so many home runs with it and the bat was highly sought after by collectors and baseball fans alike.

Early in his career, in the 1910s, Babe Ruth began using bats made by the Louisville Slugger company. The “R43,” named after Ruth, became famous as the “Babe Ruth model” produced by the company.

Due in large part to Babe Ruth’s use of the Louisville Slugger bat and his ability to hit home runs with such regularity, the bat and the brand became household names in the 1920s, when the Sultan of Swat rose to superstardom. Also, Babe Ruth’s bats were distinguished for their thicker handles and thinner barrels to help him generate more power.

There are two notable records that Babe Ruth set in 1921 – the single-season home run record (59) and the career home run record (139).

This Babe Ruth bat is also called the Polo Grounds bat after Polo Grounds, where the New York Yankees played their home games until 1922 and Ruth put on display his hitting prowess with the bat. In the early 1940s, the Polo Grounds bat was on display in conjunction with other game-used lumber from players like Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby in preparation for a charity auction to benefit the local community.

Another interesting thing about Babe Ruth’s Polo Grounds bat is that it weighs 44.6 ounces, which is a lot more than the bats used today. Most bats used in Major League Baseball in 2023 weigh around 32 ounces.

In 2018, Justin Cornett, a collector, paid $400,800 at a Heritage Auctions sale in February 2018 to get the bat.

Ruth’s 1921 season

Ruth had a great baseball season in 1921. In his second year with the Yankees, he hit 59 home runs and drove in 168 runs, which was a record at the time. That year, the Yankees went to the World Series for the first time, but they lost to the Giants in eight games.

The 1920-21 baseball season that Babe Ruth had is widely regarded as one of the best single seasons ever. After being traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees prior to the 1920 season, Ruth became a baseball superstar.

In 1920, Babe Ruth set a new single-season record with 54 home runs, surpassing his previous mark of 29. He also topped the league in runs scored, total bases, and slugging percentage. His brilliant play was a major factor in the Yankees winning their first American League championship.

Babe Ruth in the 1920s.

Babe Ruth improved even further the following season. He established a new single-season record for home runs with 59. He also topped the league in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, walks, and runs scored. The Yankees only managed to place third in the AL that season despite Ruth’s outstanding play.

Because of the widespread increase in home runs and offensive output that Babe Ruth’s 1920-21 season ushered in, many baseball historians consider it the beginning of baseball’s “live-ball era.” Baseball’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune can in no small part be attributed to Ruth’s achievements.

Ruth’s memorabilia are high in demand

The auction was announced on Wednesday by Hunt Auctions, which sold a Babe Ruth bat for $1.68 million last year.

“It is without surprise that the Babe has once again pushed yet another sports memorabilia category to record pricing territory,” said David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions. “This baseball bat is as close to a work of art as the medium can allow.”

Hunt Auctions has a history of success with Ruth memorabilia, having facilitated the sale of a Ruth jersey for $5.64 million this past summer (the highest price ever paid for a baseball-related item) and a Ruth baseball glove for $1.53 million in November of 2018.

Today, a Babe Ruth baseball card gets anywhere above $1 million.

Babe Ruth's 1927 glove

Chris Brigandi, a leading dealer in rare sports memorabilia based in New York, claims:

“Babe Ruth is a sure thing…. His worth is constantly increasing. People will still be interested in him fifty or one hundred years from now. I would put all my money into Babe Ruth if I could only give my kids one player.”

The Bambino’s autographed 1933 Goudey #149 Babe Ruth baseball card was sold for $761,100 in February 2021. In September of 2021, a copy of his 1914 Babe Ruth baseball card with the Orioles reportedly went for $6 million. It surpassed the record for the most expensive collectible ever sold held by a 1952 Mickey Mantle card, which went for $5.2 million.

In 2019, someone paid over a million dollars for the bat he used to hit his 500th home run in 1929. His New York Yankees jersey from 1928 to 1930 fetched $5.64 million, and a glove he used in the second half of his career was sold for $1.53 million.

Throughout the years, Louisville Slugger has released a number of commemorative and limited-edition Babe Ruth bats, some of which are replicas of the bats Ruth used during his playing career. Collectors and fans alike covet these bats, driving up their auction prices. In addition, a collection of Ruth’s bats and other memorabilia is on display at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory in Louisville, Kentucky.

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