Throughout the past century, every sports superstar has had his trusty sidekick. Bill Russell had Bob Cousy. Wayne Gretzky had Mark Messier. And, of course, Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. But in the annals of baseball, there is one dynamic duo where both players earned equal star billing: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Batting third and fourth, respectively, in the New York Yankees lineup during the 1920s and early ‘30s, Ruth (wearing No. 3) and Gehrig (No. 4) recorded batting statistics that were, quite simply, extraordinary. Ruth, nicknamed the “Sultan of Swat,” launched 714 home runs during his 22-year MLB career, which included a lifetime batting average of .342. His HR total stood for nearly 40 years until Hank Aaron broke it on April 8, 1974. Gehrig, meanwhile, earned the nickname “The Iron Horse” by virtue of his consecutive-games-played streak (2,131) and was just as lethal at home plate: 2,721 hits including 493 round-trippers and a .340 career batting average through 17 big league seasons. In 1927, in fact, they provided the knockout blow to the Yankees’ famed “Murderers’ Row” lineup by hitting .373 (Gehrig) and .356 (Ruth) with 107 home runs and 338 runs batted in between them.
Last Saturday, at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York, a live auction was held where descendants of Ruth sold hundreds of baseball-related pieces from The Bambino’s life. Appropriately entitled “The Personal Collection of Babe Ruth,” the event, hosted by Hunt Auctions, boasted items ranging from jerseys and bats to photos and balls. One piece that connected the two baseball gods forever in time is the subject of this entry: a classic sepia-tone, four-by-six-inch photo taken by Chicago-based photographer George C. Burke showing a contemplative Gehrig (circa 1932) in uniform that the Iron Horse then personalized to Ruth. His message produces goosebumps: “Babe – May I always prove deserving of your friendship. Cordially, Lou Gehrig.” It fetched an astounding $480,000, a final price which included a 20% buyer’s premium.
Though this particular sale was overshadowed by the price paid for a circa 1928-30 Ruth game-worn Yankees jersey – which set a new industry record for any piece of sports memorabilia by selling for $5.64 million – it too was significant by virtue of its personal message to Ruth as well as the fact that it set a new record for a signed photo. Authenticated and graded PSA/DNA 9, the heartfelt inscription was written in blue fountain pen and maintains a bold 9-out-of-10 delivery with zero flaws throughout its presentation. It’s as classy as its author.
“Throughout baseball’s rich history, no teammate pairing is more synonymous with greatness than the names Ruth and Gehrig,” said PSA Principal Autograph Authenticator Kevin Keating. “So, it is not surprising to me that a one-of-a-kind photo gifted from the ‘Iron Horse’ to the ‘Sultan of Swat’ and signed with such heartfelt sentiment would set a hobby record for the highest selling price for an autographed photo. If anything, it’s surprising that it didn’t sell for more!”