Babe Ruth bat sells for record $1.85 million

April 5th, 2023

Babe Ruth became Babe Ruth -- the Sultan of Swat, the Great Bambino -- in 1920 and '21. While he was a star before then, Ruth's 54 home runs in 1920 smashed his own MLB record of 29 that he set the year before. The next season, he swatted 59 -- setting another record that he would also break just six years later.

So, it's only natural that it's a bat from those seasons that set a record by selling for $1.85 million through Hunt Auctions in a private treaty sale earlier this week. Naturally, just like the slugger himself, the sale broke another record of Ruth's: The previous high was $1.68 million for another one of his model bats.

"This baseball bat is as close to a work of art as the medium can allow," Dave Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, said. "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 as to the importance of this amazing baseball artifact. Equally impressive to the record price established is the enduring legacy that Ruth left for seemingly endless generations of fans who continue to revere his legend -- both on and off of the baseball field.”

Photo via Hunt Auctions

While a Babe Ruth bat isn't as rare as, say, a 1952 Mickey Mantle card, what often makes them notable is how the auction houses are able to authenticate these priceless artifacts.

"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 of which 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," Hunt told "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]."

Not only does that lend itself to a clear lineage of the bat, it comes with a great story, too. This bat was originally auctioned off at the Polo Grounds alongside lumber from other stars like Rogers Hornsby. Our original owner didn't even buy the bat, though -- he was actually given it by his boss as a thank you for his hard work.

"He literally then carried it forward, brought it into the hobby through John [Taube of PSA Pro Bat Services] and it resided in a private collection for decades," Hunt said.

"I am very familiar with the 'Polo Grounds' Babe Ruth bat, bringing it into the hobby 30 years ago," Taube said. “I remember vividly the excitement that surrounded the day it was being hand delivered to my home by the original owner. When I first picked the bat up like all collectors, I was amazed at the 44-plus ounce weight of the bat, wondering how Ruth could swing it. 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 other thing that makes this bat so exceptional is that it has been photo matched to actual pictures of Ruth swinging the lumber.

"Basically you look for grain patterns," Hunt said. "If you've got an image of the bat, you can see the different intersecting points where there's unique grain patterns on the bat. Then you look at the Louisville Slugger trademark stamp, which obviously has to also correspond to the date period in which the bat was used and made."

"There's 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," Hunt added. "It's uncommon. It does happen but it's pretty darn uncommon for sure."

Photo collage via Hunt Auctions

Hunt also had auctioned off the most expensive jersey in history just a few years prior when Ruth's 1928-30 uniform went for $5,640,000 in 2019.

"It really shows just the absolute mystique and power of Ruth's name," Hunt said. "I mean, we're over 100 years from when he made his MLB debut. It's just staggering. And really impressive -- I think more so than any other individual in any other sport."