Why Are Babe Ruth Bats Selling For So Much?

August 18, 2023

A Babe Ruth bat just sold for well over a million dollars. It joins several other bats, mostly belonging to “The Sultan of Swat,” that have sold for seven figures in the last two years.

We examine the market for vintage bats and explain why there is such a significant market for these items. And why is Babe Ruth enjoying such a resurgence an entire century later? Get the answer to why are Babe Ruth bats selling for so much in this article.

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The sale of Babe Ruth’s bat

A bat used by Babe Ruth, verified by an accompanying picture taken at an exhibition game, sold for $1,323,000. Robert Edward Auctions held the sale.

The bat was used in that game, and according to the item description, Ruth hit a home run using the bat. The item was made by Hillerich & Bradsby, which at the time produced a Babe Rith signature model. It is 35 inches and changed, weighing exactly 41.9 ounces.

The bat is valuable because there is little to no doubt that Babe Ruth used this in an actual game. Not only is there picture verification of usage, but the bat also shows signs commensurate with Ruth’s use, most notably in the left-barrel contact area. The bat also has a scored handle.

How this bat was graded

We are all familiar with the PSA standards for grading sports cards. However, their process for grading game-used bats is somewhat different. The most crucial element with cards is the condition they are in at the time of submission.

For bats, that is a factor. They must be uncracked to gain a good grade. However, the onus is on the authenticity and verification of the bat, its origins, and its purported game use.

According to the PSA website, a bat receives the 10 grade when “it is fully documented or possesses extraordinary player characteristics, matches available factory records, and exhibits medium to heavy use. Slight cracks or minor repairs may be acceptable, provided they do not impair the visual quality of the bat. Vault marks or factory-side writing are considered documentation under this grade. Team-ordered and index bats may qualify, provided the model number and matching length and weight specifications appear on the team record while the player was on the roster.

PSA adds, “The likelihood of game use is established by visible use and player characteristics, not documentation alone. Therefore, a bat can receive any numerical grade with or without provenance.

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Confirming the Babe Ruth Bat is really a Babe Ruth Bat

If so, determining a bat’s grade is how well its use has been confirmed is the most crucial part. There are two significant steps to this process. First, the grader must ensure that the bat was indeed produced and used in the relevant era. Second, they must ensure that the relevant player uses it in the specified time frame.

In this case, PSA/DNA confirmed that this was indeed a Hillerich & Bradsby bat of a type they manufactured from 1922 to 1924. The graders said the bat was the right size and make and is therefore “easily recognized” as the one Babe Ruth used at the time.

There was no model specified for this particular bat. However, later bats made in this mold were called R2 bats. According to the auction house, there are six recorded instances of Ruth using this specific bat.

Why did this Babe Ruth Bat sell for such a high price?

The bat in question is not the most expensive bat ever sold or even the most valuable Babe Ruth bat ever. However, it is worth noting that the top three are all Ruth bats. Still, it is one of the five highest prices ever paid for a bat.

And what makes it remarkable is that “The Sultan of Swat” did not use it for a long time or in an important game. It’s just a bat he used a few times in exhibition games. As you will see below, many of the most expensive bats have much more historical significance.

But the advantage this Hillerich & Bradsby bat has is how well documented its use by the Yankee legend was. The clincher is the photo showing Ruth using the bat to confirm the paper trail left behind. There is rarely visual and documentary evidence for using a bat in the 1920s.

And, of course, it helps that there is confirmation that “The Sultan of Swat” hit at least one home run with this item. That made him a legend, so the importance of that value cannot be overstated.

But there is another element here that is just as important. The market for vintage game-used bats is significantly increasing. The best way to understand that is by looking at the most significant sales of the past.

The most expensive bats ever sold

As high as the price of this bat is, it isn’t the most valuable game-used bat ever sold. Indeed, it isn’t even the most expensive Babe Ruth bat ever sold.

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Here are the ten most valuable recorded bat sales:

1920-21 Babe Ruth baseball bat

This bat was sold by Hunt Auctions for $1.85 million in April 2023. ,” Dave Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, said of this bat: “This baseball bat is as close to a work of art as the medium can allow. When holding the 44.6-ounce weapon that Babe once used to pummel baseballs into the bleachers at New York’s Polo Grounds, it becomes immediately obvious the importance of this amazing baseball artifact. Equally impressive to the record price established is Ruth’s enduring legacy for seemingly endless generations of fans who continue to revere his legend — both on and off the baseball field.”

He also said, “This particular bat, literally in the early-to-mid ’90s, came right from the original recipient who had it all that time since he received it back in [the 1920s].”

1924 Babe Ruth bat

The 1924 Babe Ruth bat sold for $1.68 million by Heritage Auctions in August 2022. Much about the sale is unknown because the buyer preferred to remain anonymous.

1923 Babe Ruth’s first baseball bat

$1.265 million sold in 2004. It has an inscription reading, “Boy Home Run King.”

1922 Lou Gehrig bat

Sold for $1.14 million at Heritage Auctions in 2020. The original bat Lou used as a rookie and asked as the template for all his future bats. Therefore, it is nicknamed “Bat Zero.” It weighs 40 ounces, far heavier than what most players use.

1919-1922 Ty Cobb bat

This bat ssold for $1.1 million in 2021. Much about the sale is unknown because the buyer preferred to remain anonymous.

Are there other Babe Ruth bats out here?

Yes. Babe Ruth was a very complex man. But one of the most excellent things about him was his generosity. He gave out bats, gloves, and other memorabilia to people.

Hunt explained, “One thing that’s been documented is that over the years Ruth played, he was very benevolent in giving out different items: Bats, gloves, things of that sort. Many were inscribed to certain people along the way — dignitaries, different players — which gives us a baseline to understand why some of these pieces would be out there in the first place.”

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What does this mean for the value of baseball bats?

The main takeaway is that all the significant sales are from the last two years. And unlike baseball cards, where prices are still very high but dipping, that is not the case here.

For example, the Lou Gehrig bat sold in 2020 would go for a significantly more considerable amount now. After all, it is undoubtedly more important historically than a bat Babe Ruth just used at an exhibition game.

There are two trends here that, set together, will increase the value of bats in the future.

First, our verification techniques and grading have become more sophisticated. Unfortunately, there is often a good deal of uncertainty around older memorabilia of this sort. There are forgers and bad actors interested in making bats look legit.

But just as importantly, the records often need to be more spotty. Sure, Babe Ruth was a massive star. The biggest in the country at the time. But no one was that worried about what bat he was using.

The idea that this wood could go for a million dollars would have seemed laughable. And either way, it was over a century ago.

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Technology and why Babe Ruth bats are selling for so much

Still, as these pieces of memorabilia become a bigger deal, companies like PSA are investing more resources in proper identification. Technology has also improved correspondingly.

This will help increase the value of vintage memorabilia since uncertainty has always cut the prices of bats like this. For example, the bat that holds the current record was touted by Hunt Auctions as the “only known example to offer photographic corroboration.”

The company explained how they did it: “Basically, you look for grain patterns. If you’ve got an image of the bat, you can see the different intersecting points with unique grain patterns on the bat. Then you look at the Louisville Slugger trademark stamp, which has to also correspond to the date period in which the bat was used and made.”

“Basically, you look for grain patterns. If you’ve got an image of the bat, you can see the different intersecting points with unique grain patterns on the bat. Then you look at the Louisville Slugger trademark stamp, which has to also correspond to the date period in which the bat was used and made.”

He added, “There are quite a few things that have to come together to get to the point where you’ve got this kind of bat and have one of the country’s leading experts in photography from that era render that opinion. It’s uncommon. It does happen, but it’s pretty darn uncommon for sure.”

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Babe Ruth’s legacy and why Babe Ruth bats are selling for so much

On one level, it’s unsurprising that the three most valuable bats of all time are all Babe Ruth specimens. He remains one of the best-known baseball players ever lived, even though his peak was about a century ago.

Nonetheless, his reputation has been under assault for decades now. You have probably heard the arguments. Some note that he was out of shape and faced inferior and slow pitching. But the best criticism is that he played when the league was not integrated and therefore played against watered-down opposition.

There is a strong counterargument as well. Namely, that Ruth was so far better than his opposition. That implies he had an incredible natural talent for baseball.

Bill James, probably the most essential baseball writer of the last few decades, said it best: “The fact that this happens is not evidence that baseball is not improving over time, but it IS evidence that the league is not taking large steps forward each decade. The only way Babe Ruth could NOT be a star today is if the league took large steps forward each decade.”

Be that as it may, his reputation is not what it was. When the Athletic ranked the best baseball players of all time, they placed Ruth second, behind Willie Mays.

Though others like ESPN disagree, despite these challenges to Ruth’s reputation, he has the three highest-selling bats of all time. The mystique that he continues to command well into the 21st century is nothing short of incredible.

But as time passes, expect other players with their reputations in ascendance, such as Satchel Paige and Willie Mays, to command similar sums.

Final word on Babe Ruth baseball bats

One or two exceptional bat sales could be seen as a fluke. But what we have here is an evident trend. Five bats have sold for over one million dollars since 2021. And three of them belonged to Babe Ruth. Vintage bats are becoming a thing and in a big way.

It isn’t hard to see why this is happening. The dual trends of more excellent verification and incredible popularity may see items like this go for multiple millions shortly. And we have to wonder. Shouldn’t a bat used by Babe Ruth be worth more than a piece of cardboard representing him?

No matter what condition that card may be in? For all these reasons, we expect the market for baseball bats and other vintage game-used memorabilia to expand.

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