The record had been set by a 1920 Ruth jersey, which sold for just more than $4.4 million in 2012. This weekend’s auction was at Yankee Stadium, with a trove of items contributed by members of Ruth’s family.
“I just want people to enjoy and appreciate my grandfather’s stuff,” Ruth’s granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti said before the event, which was conducted by Pennsylvania-based Hunt Auctions.
“The legacy and significance of Babe Ruth to the game of baseball and American popular culture is unmatched by any other figure in the history of this country,” the company’s president, David Hunt, said in a statement. “We were completely humbled for this opportunity afforded to our company by the Ruth family to present this previously unknown archive of materials to Babe’s adoring fans.”
“While the record-setting prices attained today are certainly astonishing, I am not surprised at all given the incredible materials and the mythical status the Babe holds in the history of this country,” Hunt added.
Tosetti said a portion of the auction’s proceeds would go to charity. In announcing the event in December, she said (via Newsday) that she struggled with the decision to part with so many items but that younger members of the family indicated they were unable or unwilling to continue to store so much Ruth memorabilia.
In a career that started with the World War I-era Boston Red Sox before he was infamously traded to the Yankees, the “Sultan of Swat” revolutionized and transcended baseball. Ruth slugged home runs at a pace that had never been seen and would not be matched for decades, and his bon-vivant personality made him a household name and marketing sensation.
In its extensive write-up, Hunt Auctions noted that Ruth’s success as a pitchman contributed to a large variety of items made available over the years. However, the auction house claimed that game-worn apparel is extremely rare, with the jersey sold Saturday the only one of its kind from the “Murderers’ Row” period. That was when, for the only time in franchise history, the Yankees bore their team name on the front of their jerseys. Hunt Auctions said it was likely that Ruth wore the jersey it auctioned in 1928 or 1929.
The only drawback for collectors might have been that the jersey could not be attributed to the legendary 1927 Yankees, considered by many to be the greatest team in major league history. In addition, the gray-flannel garment was worn during road games, so it lacks the Yankees’ iconic pinstripes.
Nevertheless, the rarity of the item and Ruth’s still-revered status meant that the availability of the jersey created headlines and predictions of a record price. The identity of the purchaser has not been disclosed.
“It’s a superlative piece of American history, not just sports history,” Hunt said of the jersey (via Newsday). “It embodies everything about baseball history, about collecting, iconic people, pop culture, you name it.”
Hunt claimed his company and “others in the industry” had “no idea” Ruth’s family was in possession of so much memorabilia.
“They did a wonderful job keeping it quiet all those years for a lot of reasons, for security, personal reasons, what have you,” he said. “It’s really an important group of things, some of which have quite literally never been seen by the public before.”
Born in Baltimore in 1895, Ruth died in New York in 1948. He played 22 seasons between 1914 and 1935, and his 714 home runs are third all-time. He is second with 2,214 RBI and first with 182.4 wins above replacement (per Baseball Reference).