A baseball bat formerly used by Babe Ruth sold for $1.85 million in a private sale, breaking auction records to become the world’s most valuable bat.
The historic piece of sports memorabilia received the highest possible grading score from authentication company PSA, according to Hunt Auctions, an auction house based in Exton, Pennsylvania, which announced the sale yesterday (April 5).
Used by Babe Ruth circa 1920 to 1921, the baseball bat is known as the “Polo Grounds bat,” taking its name from the Polo Grounds stadium used by the New York Yankees until 1922. Its sale surpasses the previous record for a baseball bat sold at auction, which was set in August when another game-used Ruth bat sold for $1.68 million in a sale from Dallas-based auction house Heritage Auctions.
Historic Babe Ruth professional model bat once displayed at Polo Grounds sold for $1,850,000. The bat was assigned the highest grade (GU10) by @PSAcard in addition to being photo matched to 1921 season. World record price for any baseball bat! @Yankees @MLB pic.twitter.com/f5Frx3fVxS
— Hunt Auctions (@HuntAuctions) April 5, 2023
The sales come amid high growth in the sports memorabilia industry, caused in part by the proliferation of online marketplaces and the growing affluence of baby boomers. The market, valued at $26.1 billion in 2021, is estimated to reach $277 billion by 2032.
“It is without surprise that Babe has once again pushed yet another sports memorabilia category to record pricing territory,” said David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, in a statement to ESPN. “This baseball bat is as close to a work of art as the medium can allow.”
Why did Ruth’s bat more than quadruple in value?
The baseball bat, 36 inches long and weighing 44.6 ounces, was likely ordered by Ruth from bat manufacturing company Hillerich & Bradsby. It was initially purchased at a Heritage Auctions sale in 2018 by collector Justin Cornett for around $400,000.
Cornett, who also owns an energy brokerage firm in Houston, enlisted PSA to help authenticate the bat through photographs of Ruth. The Polo Grounds bat was eventually matched to an image of Ruth from 1921, increasing its value significantly. Ruth’s 1921 season for the New York Yankees, where he hit 59 home runs and set a major league single-season record, is widely known to have been one of his most impressive.
This isn’t the first time Cornett has used photo corroboration to raise the value of sports memorabilia. He previously matched a baseball bat used by Ty Cobb to a 1913 photograph and linked a baseball glove worn by Ted Williams to 1939 images, using PSA experts for authentication in both cases.
Meanwhile, Hunt Auctions, which specializes in sports memorabilia, has a history of selling coveted Ruth artifacts. In 2019, the auction house sold Ruth’s 400-piece collection of baseball items and personal materials at a public auction held in Yankee Stadium.
A jersey sold at the auction fetched $5.64 million, making it the most expensive sports collectible until August, when Heritage Auctions sold a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card for $12.6 million.