1939 BASEBALL HALL OF FAME INAUGURAL INDUCTEES AUTOGRAPHED BASEBALL

(SCP Auctions)

The Holy Grail of Signed Baseballs Just Sold For a Record Amount

The ball has been kept in prestine condition for nearly 80 years.

August 14, 2018 - 11:44 am
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The record for the most expensive autographed, non-game used baseball has been shattered, big time.  A ball with the signatures of 11 of the first Baseball Hall of Famers just went for $632,369.

The previous record was held by a ball signed by Babe Ruth, which sold for $388,375 in 2014.

The new record-holder also has the Babe's signature, along with Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Walter Johnson, Connie Mack, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, and Grover Cleveland Alexander.

The seller was not identified, and the winner who outbid 28 other prospective buyers for the ball was identified only as a Southern California collector.

The only living original inductee who didn't sign the ball was Lou Gehrig, who on that day was headed to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he'd be diagnosed with ALS, the disease that would end his career, take his life and unofficially bear his name.

 these baseball stars were pictured as they attended the dedication and their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
(AP Photo/File)
It was on June 12, 1939, that the Baseball Hall of Fame first opened its doors, though it had been choosing members for three years by then. Most were already dead.

Marv Owen, the star Detroit Tigers third baseman then playing for the Chicago White Sox, was in Cooperstown, New York, to play in an exhibition marking the occasion. His former teammate Hank Greenberg was also there, and had brought along two balls for the inductees to sign, but was too bashful to approach them. Owen wasn't, and got all 11 to sign. He kept one for himself and gave the other to Greenberg.

"With autographed balls, very few can you trace to the point of origin, the point of signing, where you know the circumstances of where it was acquired," said Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions. "It's incredible. It almost puts you in that moment, which is very, very rare for a ball."

Several signed balls have survived from that day, but most have signatures from other players or dignitaries that diminish their value.

The names weren't haphazardly scrawled all over the ball, either. It was as though Owen had future collectors in mind when he collected the signatures in dark, lasting ink. And their placement doesn't seem random either. On one panel of the ball, stacked atop each other, are Cobb, Ruth and Wagner, at the time considered the three greatest players of all time, with Walter Johnson, then considered the greatest pitcher of all time, hovering above them.

"Ultimately that panel of Cobb, Ruth, Wagner is what puts it over the top," said Kevin Keating of Professional Sports Authenticator, who verified the ball's legitimacy. "Those are the elite of the elite. The fact that he got those guys the way he did, in that perfect order on one panel, it's almost as if it's by design."

Owen put his ball in a safe-deposit box, and his family kept it until 1997, when it sold for $55,000.

Greenberg's ball has been lost to history.