LOS ANGELES — The bat used by Babe Ruth to slug his 500th career home run in 1929 is going up for auction, nearly 75 years after he gave it to a friend whose family has kept it ever since.
Ruth became the first player to reach the coveted plateau on Aug. 11, 1929, hitting a solo shot for the New York Yankees off Willis Hudlin at League Park in Cleveland.
In the mid-1940s, Ruth gave the bat to his friend Jim Rice, who was mayor of Suffern, New York. Ruth and Rice enjoyed golfing, bowling and dining together, and Ruth was a regular visitor to the Rice household, where he came to know Jim’s wife, Ethyl, and their children. Rice once beat Ruth in five straight games of bowling.
Terry Rice, an attorney in Suffern and Jim’s only son, is selling the bat. Born two years after Ruth died in 1948, Rice more closely associates Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra with the Yankees of his youth, but he remembers Ruth’s bat sat in the corner behind the television in the family’s den.
“It was always there. It was part of life,” Rice told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday. “No one said I couldn’t touch it. I never took it out and played baseball with it.”
Good thing, too, since the bat was recently authenticated and received the highest grade given.
“For an inanimate object, it’s beautiful,” Rice said. “It’s in perfect condition.”
The Louisville Slugger shows marks on the upper barrel where Ruth knocked mud off his cleats. The left barrel has impressions where the bat made contact with the ball. There’s also a bit of green paint from where the bat rested in the dugout between uses.
“Babe Ruth is the king of the sports collectibles marketplace,” SCP Auctions President David Kohler said. “When a fresh Ruth item of such quality and historical importance as this one surfaces, it generates tremendous excitement throughout our industry.”
Ruth’s 500th homer cleared the right field wall in Cleveland, sailed out of the park and rolled down Lexington Avenue where it was plucked by an Indians fan. After the game, the ball was returned to Ruth in exchange for $20 and his autograph.
It would be another 16 years before Mel Ott became the second player to reach 500 homers in 1945.
After Jim Rice died in 1983, his wife kept possession of the bat until her death in 1997. Then it passed to Terry Rice and was stashed in a closet.
“You couldn’t leave it out,” Rice said. “I wasn’t enjoying it. I got to the point where we were worried about it.”
Rice, 69, talked to his two older sisters before deciding to sell. They plan to split the proceeds.
Officials from SCP Auctions in Laguna Niguel, California, estimate the bat could sell for over $1 million.
“He’d be absolutely flabbergasted,” Terry Rice said of his father’s reaction.
SCP sold Ruth’s bat used to homer on opening day of the 1923 season at Yankee Stadium for $1.26 million in 2004.
Rice pulled the 500th-homer bat out of the closet so it could see daylight before the authenticator arrived, and that’s when it hit him.
“This is a piece of history,” he said.
The Rice siblings are holding on to other mementos associated with Ruth. His oldest sister has a personally autographed photo, his middle sister has a paper Ruth signed, and Terry Rice has a signed baseball that Ruth inscribed to his father: To my pal Jim.
Oldest sister Pat has the strongest recollection of Ruth visiting the family home.
“He came in one time and picked her up into the air and hit her head on the chandelier,” Terry Rice recalled. “She said, ‘I don’t like you anymore.’”
Rice said he hopes the Yankees or the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, would be interested in the bat.
Online bidding begins Nov. 27 and ends Dec. 14 at scpauctions.com.