A new benchmark was reached in the game-used memorabilia market on Tuesday, March 23, 2021. A baseball bat once belonging to Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame centerfielder Ty Cobb sold privately for $1.1 million, marking the first time a Cobb gamer ever cracked the seven-figure plateau. Both the buyer and seller wish to remain anonymous, but the transaction still made waves in the industry.
“This Cobb bat is unique due to its perfect player characteristics, eye appeal and impeccable player provenance,” explained John Taube, PSA’s principal bat authenticator. “There may be other outstanding Cobb bats in the hobby, however none can rival this one.”
Taube’s been authenticating and grading professional model bats for the last three decades. This specific Cobb example received PSA’s highest grade (GU 10) and dates to the 1919-1922 labeling period. Manufactured by Hillerich & Bradsby specifically for “The Georgia Peach,” it measures 34.5 inches long, weighs 40.1 ounces and is made of ash wood. According to Cobb’s Professional Bat Ordering Record (PBOR) on file at the Louisville Slugger Museum in St Louis, he ordered the bat during the aforementioned labeling period.
Beyond its telltale player characteristics such as deep cleat impressions on the back barrel, a trademark of Cobb’s, the uncracked bat reveals a concentrated contact area on the right barrel, just below his engraved name, where many ball marks are visible, and the repeated use of tobacco juice/Neatsfoot oil has been worn thin. What’s more, the bat has been taped approximately seven-and-a-half inches across the handle in a spiral pattern to enhance the grip, with more tobacco juice and Neatsfoot oil covering the entire barrel.
The provenance Taube refers to comes in the form of two hand-written letters penned by Cobb himself. They both appear on Cobb’s personal stationary from Menlo Park, Calif., and were sent to Eddie Onslow, a former teammate who played first base for the Tigers in 1912 and ’13. The two men developed a friendship and years later, Cobb gifted the bat to Onslow. The first hand-written message reads: “To whom it may concern, the bat that I presented to my good friend Eddie Onslow is one that I used the last year of my career in baseball.”
The second letter is dated Sept. 6, 1933, and references general greetings and Cobb’s penchant for golf and fishing. Included within the text of the letter’s second page Cobb wrote: “I am happy to know you still have the bat and that you like it.”
Based on Cobb’s own recollection, that would mean he used the bat for at least seven seasons culminating with his final MLB campaign (1928) with the Philadelphia Athletics. During that span he averaged hitting .354 with 80 RBI per season, which included batting .401 in 1922. According to Taube, it wasn’t unusual for players at that time to hold on to certain bats for several seasons.
“It’s my opinion, as was common during that era, that this bat was used by Cobb sporadically from 1922 to 1928,” he said. “It was clearly a favorite of his and he kept it available.
“This Cobb [bat] is well known in the hobby and is considered by most to be the finest bat of the iconic Hall of Famer. The bat exudes Cobb characteristics from the dark tobacco juice which covers the barrel to the handle tape captured in numerous images from Cobb’s career, to the wealth of small cleat impressions on the upper barrel which can be found on a number of well-documented bats of Ty Cobb.”
The bat was first sold by the Onslow Family in 2012 through Hunt Auctions and it fetched $220,000. It changed hands one more time before this most recent sale.
Cobb’s offensive numbers were outstanding: 4,191 hits, 724 doubles, 297 triples and 2,245 runs scored. By the time he retired, he held some 90 MLB records, most of them by virtue of his bat. Now nearly a century later, even “The Georgia Peach” would have a hard time believing that his tobacco juice-stained bat just sold for more than a million dollars.