BY VIN A. CHERWOO
NEW YORK (AP) — As part of its collection of Babe Ruth items, the Baseball Hall of Fame says it has the bat the slugger used to hit his then-record 60th home run in 1927.
A private collector also claims to own the bat, and he’s selling it at auction. PSA/DNA, one of the leading sports memorabilia authenticators, supports his assertion.
The dispute dates back more than 90 years to the original owner of each bat and how he professed to acquire it.
The bat being sold by the anonymous collector can be traced back to Joe E. Brown, the entertainer and vaudeville comedian with whom Ruth had a friendship. Brown said Ruth, who had presented him with the bat the slugger used to hit three home runs in the 1926 World Series, personally gave him the bat used to hit his 60th homer in 1927. The bat is signed, “To Joe E. Brown From Babe Ruth.”
Brown then passed the bat down to his son Joe L. Brown, who was general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-76. The younger Brown then sold the bat to a collector.
“There is documentation back to (Joe L.) Brown’s ownership and his talking about the bat that goes back to a sports writers’ luncheon in 1948,” PSA authenticator Jon Taube told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “Even before that the bat is mentioned from his collection in a 1939 baseball centennial celebration. … We also have a letter that continues the story from his grandson Ty Brown that talks about the bat coming out at Christmas time.”
The bat in the Hall of Fame was given to the museum by sports writer James Kahn in 1939, and Kahn was quoted in the Otsego Farmer — a newspaper in Cooperstown, where the Hall of Fame is located — as saying at the time that then-Yankees manager Miller Huggins gave him the bat after the game on Sept. 30, 1927.
Taube, who has done extensive research on Ruth’s bats, doesn’t dispute Kahn was given a bat after that game, but he doesn’t believe it was the one used for the record-breaking homer.
“It’s very unlikely that on Sept. 30, Miller Huggins comes down into the locker room and says, ‘Babe, give me the bat that you broke the record with’ and then he hands it to a beat writer,” Taube said. “And we just think it was very unlikely Huggins came out of the dugout and handed him THE bat. He handed him a bat, there’s no question about that. Was it the bat that hit the 60th home run? I doubt that very highly.”
Another complicating part of Kahn’s story is that he changed the details. Challenged by Brown at the luncheon, Kahn then said he got the bat from Ruth.
“The relationship (Ruth) had with Joe Brown, and the fact he had already gifted him with the 1926 World Series bat,” Taube said, “and especially that the season wasn’t over yet when Kahn says Miller Huggins and/or Ruth gave him the bat — we just don’t see that happening.”
The Hall of Fame reiterated it is confident the bat in its possession is the one Ruth used to hit the historic homer.
“The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is dedicated to preserving baseball’s history,” Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall’s vice president of communications and education, said in an email to The Associated Press. “One of the institution’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that artifacts in our collection are portrayed accurately. When research shows that an object is incorrectly labeled, or when we have been presented with evidence that proves an artifact is misattributed, we resolve the matter appropriately and with transparency.
“The Hall of Fame remains very comfortable with the sound provenance and authenticity of the bat in our collection. The Museum’s stance on the bat has not changed since it was accessioned in 1939. Given the lack of proof to the contrary, we will continue to maintain that the bat in our collection is the one Babe Ruth used to hit his 60th home run of 1927.”
Taube said he was not aware of any other instance where there were multiple claims of such a high-profile item. He also wanted to make it clear he wasn’t trying to challenge the Hall of Fame.
“I respect them. It’s a baseball shrine,” he said. “You have to understand, during the day, there was no provenance. Many of the items that were given to the Hall were presented as, ‘Here’s the bat that did this, here’s the glove’ and there was no follow-up.
“Nobody is perfect.”
Bidding on the bat being sold by the anonymous collector through Heritage Auctions runs through May 18. In full disclosure for potential buyers, the story of the existence of the bat in the Hall of Fame is detailed on the item’s listing.
Follow Vin Cherwoo at www.twitter.com/VinACherwoo
Copyright 2018. The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.