Baseball Signed by 11 Members of Original 1939 HOF Induction Class Could Set Record

PSA-authenticated ball could become most valuable one in history

There are signed baseballs and then are SIGNED baseballs. The particular multi-signed baseball that’s featured in this entry is certainly one worth screaming about (yes, in all CAPS). Not only does it possess significant historical value, but its signatures were recently authenticated by PSA/DNA’s Principal Autograph Authenticator Kevin Keating. Therefore, it’s one worth writing about as well.

One panel showcases signatures from three of the biggest names in baseball history: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.

Signed by the 11 living members (at the time) of MLB’s original 1939 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, it will be brought to auction this week by SCP Auctions. Auction house VP Dan Imler believes it could be “the most valuable autographed baseball in the world.” The Reach Official American League baseball boasts the clear signatures of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Walter Johnson, Connie Mack, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins and Pete Alexander, all in strong black ink. This will be only the second time the multi-signed sphere has been brought to auction. In 1997, Christie’s sold the prized relic for $55,000, which represented a world record for a signed baseball at the time. The current auction record for a signed baseball is $343,650, which was established in May 2013 for a Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig dual-signed ball that was graded NM-MT+ 8.5 by PSA/DNA.

The only other living member/inductee at the time of the opening ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, was New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig, who was unable to attend. He was in Rochester, Minnesota, visiting the Mayo Clinic, where he was being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease that would later be named after the famed “Iron Horse.” Previously selected Baseball HOF inductees Christy Mathewson (Class of ’36); George Bulkeley, John McGraw and George Wright (’37); Henry Chadwick and Alexander Cartwright (’38); and Cap Anson, Charles Comiskey, Candy Cummings, Buck Ewing, Willie Keeler, Charles Radbourn and Al Spalding (’39) were all deceased by the time Cooperstown officially opened its doors on June 12, 1939.

The autographs of Eddie Collins, Cy Young and Connie Mack share another panel.

The history behind the coveted baseball is one story worth telling. It originates from the personal collection of the late Marv Owen, a former third baseman for the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox who was selected to play in an exhibition game that day at Cooperstown. Hank Greenberg, Owen’s old Tigers teammate, was also selected to play in the game and understood its significance. He brought a pair of Reach A.L. baseballs to the occasion but was too bashful to ask for signatures from the inductees. Owen stepped in, however, and successfully got each man to sign the two baseballs. In gratitude, Greenberg let Owen keep one of the balls. Upon his return home, Owen stored stored the souvenir in a fur-lined glove inside a safe deposit box. The treasured heirloom was preserved for decades by Owen and later his family after his passing in 1991. Greenberg’s baseball, meanwhile, appears to have been lost to history.

The significance behind the surviving multi-signed 1939 Hall of Fame baseball is certainly not lost on Keating.

“This may be the most noteworthy, complete and exclusive collection of the Hall of Fame’s living charter inductees known,” he said. “Most items signed by the icons who first entered Cooperstown in 1939 are also signed by other players and dignitaries who were present that day. This baseball possesses a complete roster of only those living players whose plaques were unveiled.

“But more impressive is the panel filled with ink from the hands of baseball’s three greatest all-time players: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. Was that by chance or by Owen’s design that the three signed together? We’ll never know, but the fact that only they occupy their panel and that the signature of baseball’s greatest pitcher [Walter Johnson] peers below at them from an adjacent panel above is too coincidental to dismiss as a random result. This ball has it all.”

The online auction closes on Saturday, August 11.

The signature of legendary center fielder Tris Speaker graces the baseball’s sweet spot.

Posted by Terry Melia

Terry Melia is a hobby veteran who has served in various PR and marketing roles for industry movers and shakers including The Upper Deck Company and SCP Auctions and is currently working as PSA's Public Relations Specialist.

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