Originally created 11/05/04

Auction should score with collectors

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Louisville Slugger Museum is having a rummage sale.

A Hall of Fame-caliber collection of bats, balls, photos and other items will be up for bidding at a public auction at the museum Saturday. Many of the items were dredged from a warehouse and file cabinets in the basement of the Hillerich & Bradsby Co.'s downtown museum and factory, where the trademark bats still are manufactured.

Marquee items include Louisville Sluggers handled by "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, Jim Thorpe and Babe Ruth. The collection also includes a ball signed by both Ruth and Lou Gehrig, a Cleveland Indians jersey worn by Satchel Paige and a letter handwritten by Ruth with six of his signatures at the bottom.

"There are things so unique in this auction that have never been publicly sold," said David Bushing, a bat expert and authenticator. "It's going to be quite an event for collectors."

Proceeds from the auction will create a fund the museum will use to obtain other baseball artifacts, said Anne Jewell, the museum's executive director. The museum's wish list includes a complete set of bats from every slugger in the 500-home run club.

"It just makes sense for us to trade things, like you do baseball cards," Jewell said. "In a trade, if there's something you're lacking, you look at what you've got that someone else might be interested in and that helps you acquire new things.

"We look at our collection and we know there are some holes in it. We need to stay fresh and vital."

The Jackson bat figures to be the auction's highlight. Cracked on the handle and worn on the barrel, the bat has Jackson's signature along the hitting area in bold ink. Bushing said the item likely will draw a price "deep in the six figures."

The bat was acquired from the estate of Syd Smith, Jackson's teammate and close friend. Bushing said there's no proof Jackson used the bat, but it is the only known one autographed by the enigmatic Jackson, who batted .356 in 1908-20. Although acquitted by a jury on charges he helped fix the 1919 World Series, Jackson was banned from baseball in 1921 by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and never made the Hall of Fame.

"I don't know if the Jackson bat is the star of the show, but it's definitely going to be in the top five," Bushing said. "The fact that it could have been used by Joe Jackson adds to the mystique. If there was proof it was Joe Jackson's game bat - one that he used in games - with his autograph on it, we'd be talking about millions of dollars."

The Thorpe bat still has a ring of black handle tape, ball marks on the barrel and two small cobbler's nails hammered into the end. Thorpe believed the nails would strengthen the bat and had them inserted at a shoe store in Ohio.

Thorpe was stripped of the two gold medals he won at the 1912 Olympics because he had signed a semipro contract before the games. He signed with the New York Giants in 1913 and played in the majors for six seasons. The bat dates from between 1917 and 1920.

Like the Jackson bat, the Thorpe model was consigned to the auction from outside the museum.

The gem of the museum's contributions is a bat used by Cobb, circa 1911-15, with grease-pencil markings made on the side.

The markings were not made by Cobb, but by Henry Morrow, Hillerich & Bradsby's receiving agent in Cobb's era.

When a player returned a bat to the factory, Morrow wrote the date, the player's name and the city or team where the bat originated. Bushing said the markings increase the bat's value, which he guessed at between $100,000 and $125,000.

"Side-writing in the world of bat collecting is as good as a letter of authenticity," Bushing said.

Jewell said the museum has no estimate on how much money the auction might raise.


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