$805K Babe ball 'bittersweet' sale

| Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The ball sat in a cardboard box in a closet for the past decade.

On Tuesday, it fetched $805,000 to highlight the daylong memorabilia auction held at the Major League Baseball FanFest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

"We're grinning ear to ear," said Chris Brown, 37, of San Diego, whose late grandfather, Earl, caught the home run ball off Babe Ruth's bat at the inaugural All-Star Game in 1933 at Comiskey Park in Chicago. It was the first All-Star home run.

An anonymous bidder claimed the prize, one of the highest-priced baseballs ever sold at auction.

Bill Brown, 69, read the description of his father's beloved collectible in a catalog as an "incredible rarity."

Earl Brown caught the ball while on a date with his future wife, Mae Swoverland. For 73 years, the ball has stayed in the family, stored in chests and closets.

"Dad had a whole lot of memories wrapped up in this ball," Chris Brown said. "I told him we were getting rid of a ball in a closet. We weren't getting rid of the memories."

Bill Brown's pangs of regret quickly changed to tears of joy as the bidding shattered the $100,000 pre-auction estimates. He cupped his face in his hands and wept softly. Chris Brown tried to keep a steady hand on his camcorder.

The final bid was $700,000. A 15 percent buyers premium sent the final price to $805,000.

The record-holder for a baseball is $3 million for Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball, sold in 1999. Barry Bonds' 73rd home run ball claimed $450,000.

Ruth also provided the second-highest priced item at the event, held by Hunt Auctions, of Exton, Chester County. Ruth's bat from 1921, used to hit his 58th and 59th home runs, sold for $483,000 to the Cypres Family Sports Museum in Los Angeles.

Chris Brown said the family decided to part with the baseball to help pay for his mother's medical bills. Virginia Brown needs two surgeries and doesn't have health insurance. Chris Brown approached his siblings and father about selling the family keepsake.

"We realized it was time to let it go," Chris Brown said. "Today was tough. It was bittersweet. ...This will provide for (Mom and Dad) for the rest of their lives. It was a no-brainer."

Another one of the buyers was Emmy award-winning journalist Roy Firestone, who made the winning bid of $550 for four Baltimore Orioles commemorative black bats.

"I walked in without even having a paddle and I heard them talking about it," Firestone said. "I bid on it and won it. It was all in five seconds. I can't even believe I did it."

Not all items went for more than their pre-auction estimates. An autographed Sammy Sosa bat expected to fetch $300 to $400 sold for just $86.25.

Additional Information:


Auction highlights

Top five items

&#149 $805,000 -- 1933 Babe Ruth autographed All-Star baseball

&#149 $483,000 -- 1921 Babe Ruth 58th and 59th home run bat

&#149 $40,250 -- 1953 Topps baseball card set

&#149 $37,950 -- 1927 New York Yankees team autographed ball

&#149 $35,650 -- 1954 Ted Williams home jersey

Pirates items

&#149 $25,300 -- 1969 Roberto Clemente All-Star bat

&#149 $18,400 -- Bill Mazeroski 1956-58 game glove

&#149 $14,950 -- Willie Stargell 1971 home jersey

&#149 $9,890 -- 1960 Pirates World Series trophy

&#149 $9,200 -- 1979 Pirates World Series trophy

Prices include 15 percent buyers premium.

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