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Going, Going, Gone: Babe Ruth Contract Sold for $996,000

Published: June 10, 2005

The man who set baseball records and created baseball legend with his thunderous swing, playful nature and flashy lifestyle has wowed fans once again. Nearly nine decades after Babe Ruth was sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, the yellowed contract that cemented the deal was sold today by Sotheby's auction house for $996,000.

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Babe Ruth taking warm up pitches with the Red Sox in 1918.

The contract attracted one of the top prices for sports memorabilia at a public auction, according to auction hosts Sotheby's and SportsCards Plus, and was sold for six times the amount of the contract of Lou Gehrig, the Bambino's Yankee teammate. Gehrig's contract was sold last December by Sotheby's for $165,000.

But while it was the top price ever paid at an auction for a sports document, "blowing away everything else," the contract fell short of the $1.26 million paid for the 46-ounce Louisville Slugger that Ruth used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium history, said David Kohler, president of SportsCards Plus.

The winning bidder for Ruth's contract was Peter Siegel, the owner of a collectibles and memorabilia store in New York called Gotta Have It! He now owns the paper proof of the $100,000 transaction in 1919 between Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee and the co-owners of the Yankees, Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L. Huston.

It was said at the time that Frazee, a renowned Broadway producer nicknamed "Handsome Harry," made the deal to finance the production of "No, No, Nanette," a tale that Frazee's great-grandson, Max, denies. Nevertheless, the sale is often cited as the beginning of the Red Sox' curse - one that superstitious Boston fans believe caused an 86-year drought in World Series championships, until Boston prevailed over the St. Louis Cardinals last year.

"It is probably one of the most important documents, not only in sporting history," Mr. Siegal said of Ruth's contract at a press conference after the sale. "It is an historical jewel, a diamond."

Mr. Siegal, who outbid six people for the six-page document, told reporters that he would have paid more, and that no matter how much someone offers him, the contract "is not for sale."

The document was last purchased 12 years ago for $99,000 by Alan Feinstein, a Rhode Island direct marketer and philanthropist. Mr. Feinstein is giving the net proceeds from the auction to the hunger relief charity Second Harvest.

It remains a mystery how the contract, dated Dec. 26, 1919, ever left the hands of the two baseball clubs or Major League Baseball. All that is certain is the agreement spelled out in its pages. The Yankees acquired Ruth for a sum that was made payable to the Red Sox in four equal installments through 1922. They stipulate in the document that if Ruth does not report to the Yankees by July 1, 1920, the contract would be canceled and the Red Sox would return the first $25,000 payment.

Ruth, who in 1919 hit a major league record 29 home runs, went on to hit 54 home runs in 1920. He broke his own record several times in the years that followed. His record of 60 home runs in 1927 stood for 34 years.

The top price paid at an auction for sports memorabilia remains $3 million, paid in 1999 for the ball that Mark McGwire hit in 1998 for his 70th home run, then a record.

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