“The Bustin’ Babes” and “Larrupin’ Lou’s” Helped Give Rise to the Great American Pastime

In an age when Giancarlo Stanton gets a 13-year, $325 million contract and Bryce Harper decides a 10-year agreement at $30 million per year isn’t enough, one has to wonder what teams would pay in today’s dollars to acquire the services of a Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. Would they be worth $40 million a year? Maybe $50 million? Long before the days of mega-sponsors and television revenues, baseball players (even the really good ones) didn’t make the kind of generational wealth that they do today. In fact, many took off-season jobs to supplement their income. In 1927, fresh off of a record-setting 60 home run season, Babe Ruth was paid an “audacious” sum of $70,000 per year, almost as much as the President of the United States at the time. But in today’s currency, that amounts to about a million dollars a year. Considering the league average in 2018 was just north of $4 million per year, the greatest player in baseball history at his peak was receiving the salary of a marginal major-leaguer in the present. That’s where “barnstorming” came in.

The Off-Season Circuit: Everybody Wins

Though the American and National Leagues each had eight teams, the furthest west any team was based was St. Louis. That left over half of the continental United States without the ability to attend a major-league baseball game. Babe Ruth’s business manager Christy Walsh (the first professional sports agent) saw a lucrative opportunity to take his home run juggernaut and a group of baseball stars on a coast-to-coast tour, performing exhibitions in cities and small towns that would otherwise never have had that opportunity. The tour consisted of 21 games over three weeks and reached cities such as Providence, Sioux City, Denver and up and down the California coast. With a bonafide superstar like Lou Gehrig earning more money in those three weeks than he made all season with the Yankees, you can imagine the waiting list of players itching to be included on the tour. The “Bustin’ Babes” and “Larrupin’ Lou’s” became more popular in the western United States than any team during the season. The barnstorming teams even picked up sponsors along the way, entering “The Mile High City” as “Ruth’s Piggly Wiggly vs. Lou’s Denver Buick.” Ruth’s team won that day 15-8 with “The Bambino” slamming a homer and Gehrig actually taking the mound in the game, though it isn’t known if Ruth’s homer came from a Gehrig pitch. When the players weren’t dazzling spectators, they routinely visited hospitals, orphanages and other locations where kids could meet their heroes and get an autograph of players they only knew of from listening to games on the radio, opening new markets and promoting baseball expansion nationwide to cement the game’s legacy as the greatest American pastime.

Mile High Card Company Is Offering A Spectacular Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Signed Barnstorming Photograph PSA/DNA MINT 9

It’s one of the most famous photos of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig ever snapped, made available to fans who attended a game during their three-week exhibition in 1927. Both Yankees legends appear in their opposing uniforms with a facsimile signature of each, but this one has actual autographs as well and is featured in the Mile High Card Company Elite December Auction, which concludes on Thursday, December 6th. Signed by Ruth and Gehrig in green ink as to differentiate from the black colored simulations, the genuine signatures are easy to read with Ruth adding an inscription, “To my friend Judge Meyer.” Matted and framed to a size of 12 1/2″ x 14″ and double authenticated by JSA and PSA/DNA (the latter assessing the signatures as PSA/DNA 9 MINT), it is likely the finest autographed example of Ruth and Gehrig from their legendary barnstorming tour.

The 1961 Topps Baseball Set – Nothing But Meat and Potatoes!

PSA Registry #2 Ranked Set in MHCC March Auction

61t300mantle9783It was just 3 weeks into the start of a new year and America was inaugurating John F. Kennedy as its 35th President. World War II was long behind us but a new threat emerged from its aftermath, one that would leave our nation on edge for decades and change the culture of our society. In a time marked by unrest and uncertainty, the Topps Company released a 1961 baseball set that brought order to chaos.

Gone were the wild color schemes of the 1958 and 1959 sets as well as the horizontal format of the 1960 collection. The 1961 Topps baseball set eliminated all of the gimmicky bells and whistles, offering a straightforward, no-nonsense format with brilliant color photos and rectangular name and team plates at the bottom. In addition to the usual lineup of superstars, Topps expanded their arsenal of star power with league leader cards, a “Baseball Thrills” subset that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, a Most Valuable Player series and the high-numbered All-Star cards. While many collectors believe the 1961 set to be too conservative, sedate or just plain dull, it’s ample selection of Hall of Fame rookie cards (Ron Santo, Juan Marichal, and Billy Williams) and popularity of the Mantle and Maris cards due to “The Chase” has made the 1961 Topps baseball set a true classic!

It’s tougher than you think!

61t563cerv9973 61t484aaronmvp10871Many collectors are under the impression that the 1961 Topps set is the “easy” one to assemble in high-grade versus other sets of the decade. That might be true when compared to the troublesome 1962 and 1963 sets and their pesky colored edges, but statistics show that just over 6% of all 1961 Topps submissions have earned a grade of PSA 9 and only 0.24% (561 cards total) can claim GEM MINT PSA 10 status, making the 1961 Topps set tougher in elite grade than every Topps set from 1964 through 1969. Much of that is due to the higher number series (#523-589), among the toughest to complete of all Topps sets, which boasts many single pop PSA 9s and “one of one” PSA 10s.

 

1961 Topps Complete Set #2 On PSA Set Registry with Incredible 9.02 GPA

Presented for bidding, as a complete set as well as individual lots with the final sale going to whichever total (the set versus the sum of the individual lots) is higher, is truly a marvel in set assembly, ranked #2 on the PSA Set Registry with an astonishing overall GPA of 9.023. Of the 561 recorded PSA 10s, 24 are offered here, including the one and only PSA 10 specimens of #186 Valo, 255 Power, 405 Gehrig Benched, 438 Flood, 491 Phillies Team and 581 Frank Robinson All-Star. Other important PSA 10s are #260 Drysdale, 443 Snider and 484 Aaron MVP. Card #2 Maris, 150 Mays, 300 Mantle, 475 Mantle MVP, 559 Gentile, 563 Cerv, 578 Mantle All-Star and 579 Mays All-Star are all graded PSA 9 with just 15 cards in the entire collection graded lower. For a complete breakdown of cards and grades in this set, please visit our website for a link to the PSA Set Registry.
The auction opened for bidding on Monday, March 2nd and will conclude on Thursday, March 19th. All auction items are now available at our website, www.milehighcardco.com. MHCC is actively accepting consignments for our June auction, please call us at (303) 840-2784 to discuss any items you wish to consign or visit us in Philadelphia (March 6th – 8th) or Chicago (March 20th- 22nd) to drop off any consignment items and pick up a catalog for the current auction.

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Astonishing 1916 M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie card to be sold in Mile High Card Company March 2015 Auction

As we stand at the cusp of a new baseball season, Mile High Card Company is set to commence with the Spring Auction, which begins on March 2nd and concludes on March 19th. The auction preview will be available Friday, February 27th. Keeping in line with MHCC’s sterling reputation for offering the best in sports cards and memorabilia known to exist, this auction promises to feature many unique, rare and historically significant items. Headlining the auction, one of many items that would serve as the cornerstone to any world-class collection, is an SGC 60 EX 5 graded 1916 M101-4 Sporting News card of Babe Ruth.

m101-4 Babe Ruth Rookie cardThe most important rookie card ever produced!

While the legendary T206 Honus Wagner card and a handful of other illustrious pasteboards may eclipse the Ruth rookie card in both rarity and value, the premier appearance of “The Bambino,” pictured as a lanky Red Sox pitcher, provides an ironic contrast to the rotund slugger who posted unprecedented offensive numbers while wearing the pinstripes of New York just a few years later. Unlike baseball cards that were produced exclusively by tobacco, gum, or candy companies, the Sporting News collection was the creation of Chicago-based printer Felix Mendelsohn, who contracted with several companies to distribute cards with blank backs so his clients could add their own advertising and create a “collectible business card.” Thus, the Ruth rookie card is thought to exist with no less than 16 different reverses though the Sporting News example is the most widely coveted by collectors.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth … pitching ace!

After posting a 22-9 record with a 2.39 ERA for the minor league Baltimore Orioles in 1914, Ruth’s contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox. From 1915-1917, Ruth was one of the best pitchers in the game with a combined 65-33 record and an astonishing 2.01 ERA, leading the American League at 1.75 in 1916. But Ruth’s prowess as a hitter was becoming more evident, and with his desire for more playing time, the Red Sox began transitioning Ruth to the outfield in 1918, cutting his starts on the mound in half and giving him more opportunities at the plate. Ruth proved that he could be dominant at both by posting a 13-7 record with a 2.22 ERA while also batting .300 and leading the American League in home runs in just 317 at-bats. In 1919, Ruth’s time on the mound was scaled back even more but he still posted a 9-5 record, though his ERA rose sharply to 2.97. More importantly, his 432 at-bats yielded 29 homers, 113 RBI and 103 run scored, all league-leaders.

Traded to Chica … uh, New York.

“The Babe” almost wasn’t a Yankee! When Red Sox owner Harry Frazee made it public that he was willing to part with his greatest asset, the Chicago White Sox offered star outfielder Joe Jackson and $60,000 cash for Ruth’s services. Wary of the ongoing investigation into the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal and the potential consequences to “Shoeless Joe,” Frazee was delighted when the New York Yankees entered the bidding with a cash offer of $100,000 and Babe Ruth was sent to New York. Manager Miller Huggins immediately put an end to George Herman Ruth’s pitching career and made him a full-time outfielder. Had the White Sox been successful, instead of Ruth becoming the savior to restore baseball’s integrity, he would’ve worn the cap of the team that destroyed it and likely become just another name among the greats and taking the sport of baseball on a very different path.

 

m101-4 babe ruth rookieOffered is one of the most stunning, mid-grade M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie cards in existence!

The featured item would be at home in a world-class museum or on exhibit at Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame just as easily as it will be in the collection of the highest bidder. Though graded SGC 60 EX 5, an extraordinary accomplishment on its own, this prolific pasteboard is likely the most impressive specimen for the grade and has a stronger overall appearance then several graded even higher that have recently become available. Any collector that has been in the market for a mid to upper-grade Ruth rookie card is well aware of the two biggest pitfalls plaguing the issue; centering and print lines. The M101-4 Ruth is almost always poorly centered, but the featured specimen offers superior framing for the issue, slightly positioned toward the left side but well within parameters for a higher grade and far more accurate than the large majority of examples in the EX grade. Even more significant is the absence of the two horizontal print lines that appear on virtually every M101-4 Ruth, clearly scarring the surface from the center to the right edge near the top of Ruth’s image and in the middle, by Ruth’s waist. Many prospective buyers think these imperfections to be unavoidable at this grade level, but we’re happy to report that this card proves that to be false. The image quality of the young, lanky legend is superb, enhanced by an unadulterated layer of reflective gloss, while each corner shows consistent, mild wear with light enamel loss that is visible under magnification but looks less pronounced to the naked eye. The Sporting News ad on the reverse is surprisingly strong and well-preserved, ably positioned on an off-white canvas that is clean save for the light mark under the “C. C. Spinks & Son” name, a negligible blemish considering its placement on the card and a likely reason the SGC grade isn’t higher … which, of course, would greatly increase the price. We advise you to research prices realized for this card in similar grade, then look at those cards and compare it to what you’ll be getting here. We did, and there was no comparison; this one is superior … hands down!

[bctt tweet=”One of the most stunning, mid-grade M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie cards in existence!” via=”no”]

The 1933 Goudey Set: The Greatest Baseball Card Series Ever Produced!

33 goudey 144 ruth auctionIt was less than four years after the infamous Black Tuesday stock market crash and the United States was deep in the throes of a Great Depression that brought 24.9% unemployment and a collapse of the American economy. Families were torn apart and scattered to better confront an uncertain future, while struggling businesses looked for any way to survive. Baseball was the common bond that gave hope to a nation in despair, led by its immortal goodwill ambassador, Mr. George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Capitalizing on a campaign made famous by the tobacco industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, bubble gum and candy companies revived the practice of offering collector cards with a purchase of their product. Several companies made the leap into the baseball card market, but the Goudey Gum Company’s 240-card collection hails as the greatest baseball card series ever produced!

Baseball cards are back!

Boston, Massachusetts became ground-zero for the new renaissance in the baseball card industry as DeLong, George C. Miller, Goudey, U. S. Caramel, and National Chicle, located a few miles down the road in Cambridge, each offered the opportunity to build a collection through the purchase of their product. While each of these collections has earned a loyal following that continues to this day, the Goudey series hails as the king of all collections due to a simple but unique philosophy: offer colorful pasteboards with fantastic artwork and easy to read biographies on thick, sturdy cardboard. Oh … and pack in a whole bunch of Babe Ruth cards!

There’s a certain poetic element to Babe Ruth leading a Boston-based company back from extinction given his unceremonious departure by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee for the tawdry sum of $100,000. However, the Goudey collection offers much more than just “The Sultan of Swat.” Of the 240 cards in the set, 63 feature a Hall of Famer with multiple appearances by Gehrig, Hornsby, Ott, Hubbell, Foxx, and many others in addition to a quartet of Babe Ruth cards, each with its own distinct character.

“I Only Need One More Card!”

33 goudey 106 lajoie auctionFor an inaugural collection, the 1933 Goudey set initially appeared to have no “drama” other than a change to card #6 Jimmy Dykes, who was originally listed as 26 years old and later corrected to 36 years old. That is until collectors began to sense a common theme; they were all one card away from completing the set… and it was always the same card! While U.S. Caramel and George C. Miller had implemented a similar technique of short-printing one card so severely that only a few lucky patrons could complete the set, Goudey took the concept a step further by totally omitting card #106 completely, keeping customers buying their product in a futile search for the non-existent pasteboard. But it didn’t take long for Goudey’s subterfuge to be discovered and the missing card #106 was printed in the final run of the following year, explaining why it bears the design of Goudey’s 1934 product. It is unknown why Napoleon Lajoie, a star that had been retired for over 15 years, was made the subject of the missing pasteboard, but with the card produced in limited quantity and available only by mail to collectors that formally complained in writing, the “1933” Goudey #106 Lajoie ranks with the T206 Honus Wagner and the T206 Ty Cobb with “Ty Cobb” reverse as the most coveted rarities in sports card history.

1933 Goudey Break-Up: Mile High Card Company March 2015 Auction

The #9 PSA Set Registry ranked 1933 Goudey Set is being offered as individual lots and groups in our March 2015 action, with all four Babe Ruth cards (#53 PSA 7, #144 PSA 8, #149 PSA 7 and #181 PSA 8) along with the iconic #106 Lajoie (PSA 6) leading the way. Lou Gehrig’s difficult card #92 as well as examples of Dean, Hornsby, Hubbell, Grove, Dickey, Traynor, Simmons, Ott and many others are available at the grade of PSA 8. If NM/MT is more than you need, you’ll have the opportunity to bid on a huge selection of cards graded PSA 6 and PSA 7 as well, along with enticing mid-grade groups. The auction opens for bidding on March 2nd and concludes on March 19th.

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The Greatest Season in Sports History!

Many self-proclaimed experts have had this debate before, which usually results in a heated discussion if any form of alcohol becomes involved. But the issue always conjures up an entertaining point-counterpoint that sports enthusiasts can’t help but engage in; What was the single greatest performance by any athlete in the four major sports (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) over the course of a full season? Let’s preface the discussion with the notion that “greatest performance” need not be driven by record-breaking statistics since each of the games have changed over time. In this scenario, “greatest performance” is directed by the level of dominance the athlete displayed over his contemporaries during a particular season. We’ve done historical studies, crunched the numbers, ran performance metrics through NASA supercomputers at Cal Tech (no, not really), and here are the 3 finalists:

BABE RUTH – 1921
GAMES AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SLG% AVG.
152 540 177 204 44 16 59 168 17 145 .846 .378

Babe Ruth YankeesI know what you’re thinking …. Are you crazy!?! What about 1927? A home run record that stood for 34 years until beaten by Roger Maris (*) and the most legendary team ever! All true, but keep in mind we’re focusing on the player, not the team, and the criteria is dominance, not records. True, in 1927 Ruth hit 60 home runs, more than any other TEAM in the American League. But Gehrig wasn’t far behind at 47, and in virtually every other category, Ruth’s numbers were not only better in 1921, they were far and away superior to the rest of the league. Second to Babe’s 59 homers in 1921 was a tie between Bob Meusel and Ken Williams with just 24. Babe’s 1921 season also included runaway crowns in On Base Percentage (.512 to .452 – Ty Cobb), Slugging Percentage (.846 to .606 – Harry Heilmann), Runs Scored (177 to 132 – Jack Tobin), Total Bases (457 to 365 – Heilmann), Runs Batted In (168 to 139 – Heilmann), and Bases on Balls (145 to 103 – Lu Blue). Ruth ranked #3 in the American League in Batting Average, #6 in Hits, #2 in Doubles, #4 in Triples, and even #8 in Stolen Bases. He even pitched in two games that season, winning both. And all before he had Lou Gehrig batting behind him in the lineup! His 1921 “Wins Over Replacement” of 12.6 also edges out his 1927 rating of 12.4, confirming that the 1921 season for “The Babe” was one of the greatest performances ever!

WILT CHAMBERLAIN – 1961
GAMES MPG FG% RPG APG PTS PPG
80 48.5 .506 25.7 2.4 4,029 50.4

Wilt ChamberlainKnown for his great passing ability in the latter stages of his career, Wilt Chamberlain’s early years were an all-out scoring assault on the NBA record book, obliterating career marks on an annual basis. His 1961-1962 statistics are ridiculous and read as a collection of virtually unmatchable accomplishments. Putting up over 50 points per game on an average of nearly 40 shots taken, Chamberlain bested second place scorer Walt Bellamy 50.4 to 31.6 and outrebounded Bill Russell 25.7 to 23.6 while playing virtually every minute of every game, including several double and triple overtime games. Chamberlain owns four of the top five point-scoring performances in NBA history, his 4,029 point ’61 season more than 400 points higher than the next best total, which was “The Big Dipper’s” 1962 season, and almost 1,000 points higher than the only other player in NBA history to eclipse the 3,000 point mark, Michael Jordan.

WAYNE GRETZKY – 1983
GAMES GOALS ASSISTS POINTS +/- S%
74 87 118 205 78 26.9

Wayne GretzkyJust like “Wilt the Stilt” in basketball, “The Great One” tallied unprecedented statistics on a yearly basis. While Wayne Gretzky owns the top five performances in NHL history and any of them could be touted for the top spot, his 1983-1984 season stands as the most dominant. Though not his personal best statistically due to missing six games, Gretzky distanced himself for titles in Goals (87 to 56 – Michel Goulet), Assists (118 to 86 – Paul Coffey) and Total Points (205 to 126 – Coffey) while leading the league in even strength goals, power play goals, shorthanded goals, plus/minus, and shooting percentage … but he was only second in the NHL in shots taken. Gretzky averaged an unbelievable 2.77 points per game, a full point per game over teammate Jari Kurri, in second place at 1.77 points per game, while leading Edmonton to its first of four Stanley Cup Championships in a five year span.

So who’s it gonna be? Which of our three finalists can claim the title of greatest individual season in sports history? Clearly a case can be made for any one of these icons, each of which posted performances that are nothing short of incredible. But with all things considered, we’ve concluded that the most dominant seasonal performance in the history of professional sports goes to … Babe Ruth, 1921!

Babe Ruth – Super Villain?

In the late 1990s, there was a pretty cool TV show called “Sliders” in which a group of scientists discovered a way to travel to parallel universes. Each time they would “slide” to an alternate Earth, they’d arrive at the same date and time but in a completely unknown environment as history had unfolded differently. Perhaps the “Earth” they landed on was dominated by the British, who had won the Revolutionary War, or visited a disease-riddled planet combating a worldwide plague, with antibiotics never having been invented. The moral of the show is that some decisions, no matter how benign they may seem at the time, can have repercussions that seriously change the course of history as we know it. We’ve all played this hypothetical “What If?” game at one time or another. For example, what if Babe Ruth, America’s greatest baseball hero, was remembered as just another great player, or even worse, a villain? This seemingly wild scenario is not as far-fetched as you might imagine, because it almost happened … more than once!

The “Banned-bino!”

A theatrical agent, producer and director, Harry Frazee took a credit line in 1916 from owner Joseph Lannin to purchase the Red Sox for $500,000. By 1919, needing financing for his theatrical production “No, No, Nanette” as well as funds to pay off the note from Lannin, Frazee was forced to part with his most valuable asset, Babe Ruth. Offering an all-cash deal of $100,000, Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees.

ruthblacksoxHowever, Frazee had another option; the Chicago White Sox offered star outfielder Joe Jackson and $60,000 cash for Ruth’s services; rejected in favor of the larger cash deal. Had the White Sox offer been successful, Joe Jackson would have patrolled the outfield in Boston and Babe Ruth would have played in Chicago. Well, for a short while anyway. With rumors of a conspiracy to fix the 1919 World Series continuing through the 1920 season, a grand jury was convened to investigate. While cleared of all legal charges, Jackson’s reign in the Boston outfield would have abruptly ended when Commissioner Landis issued a lifetime ban of Jackson and the other alleged co-conspirators. Ruth would have found himself toiling in relative obscurity, leader of an organization gutted by scandal that would finish no higher than 5th in the American League for the remainder of Ruth’s career. Instead of being the saving grace to restore baseball’s integrity, he would wear the cap of the team that destroyed it. There would be no “house that Ruth built” and no New York Yankees dynasty. “The Babe” likely would have been just another name among the greats, and the sport of baseball would have followed a very different path.

Married to the Mob

This scenario also takes place in Chicago, 1931. Prohibition was in full swing and the Windy City had descended into virtual lawlessness, with organized crime syndicates running gambling halls and overseeing the illegal distribution of alcohol to every restaurant and night club in the city. Law enforcement willingly, or sometimes unwillingly, accepting a fee to “look the other way” and crime bosses paid off politicians to grant “special favors.” Of the many crime families that ruled Chicago, none matched the nearly unlimited power of reputed crime boss Alphonse Capone. An avid baseball fan, Capone was often seen in the front row at White Sox and Cubs games. Meanwhile, 36-year old Babe Ruth was winding down an unprecedented career in New York. While past his prime, Ruth was still the premier offensive juggernaut in baseball, having already secured six American League pennants and three World Series titles for the New York Yankees.

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Tired of watching the Chicago Cubs, a perennial powerhouse in years past, having gone Capone was indicted just months later and the plan of buying the Cubs never materialized. But if Capone was able to stay ahead of the Untouchables for another year or two, he may have realized his dream of being a “silent owner” and Babe Ruth would have ended his career in Chicago. But at that point, it likely would have been exposed that Hartnett was a front man for the Capone family, that Ruth and Hartnett conspired with Capone to secretly acquire the Cubs and the team would have been seized by the federal government as restitution for a conviction on charges of tax evasion.decades without a World Series title, Capone devised a plan where we would coerce Cubs owner Bill Wrigley into selling him the team and then buy Babe Ruth from the Yankees for $500,000, installing “The Bambino” as player/manager. According to Capone, he had already had discussions with Ruth on the idea and the Babe was on board, seeing the opportunity to realize his dream of becoming a manager that would never come about with the Yankees under owner Jack Ruppert. With the always vigilant Commissioner Landis calling the shots, there was no chance that such an unsavory character as “Scarface” would be approved to purchase the Cubs, so Capone set up an “under the table” deal in which Cubs star catcher Gabby Hartnett would be the legal owner on paper but Capone would provide the financing and pull the strings behind the scenes. According to Deirdre Marie Capone in her book,”Uncle Al Capone, The Untold Story From Inside His Family,’ when asked by his brother how he would persuade Wrigley to sell the Cubs, Al responded, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Commissioner Landis, never one to show tolerance for illicit behavior, may have permanently banned Hartnett and Ruth for their role in the conspiracy, leaving “the Bambino” in the same company as Pete Rose and Joe Jackson; baseball immortals on the outside of Cooperstown, looking in!