Every year about this time, PSA/DNA publishes their list of the ten “most dangerous” autographs. By “most dangerous,” of course, they mean the autographs that are most at risk of fraud. It’s no secret in the hobby that the autograph business, along with many other facets of sports memorabilia collecting, is rife with fraud and forgery, and PSA believes that the hobby’s biggest name – Babe Ruth – is also the most dangerous. In fact, 60% of the Ruth signatures submitted to PSA for authentication are rejected as fraudulent. When autographed Ruth items often bring six figures at public auction, authentication is critical.
Equally important, however, is provenance. The provenance of a piece can provide documented evidence of authenticity, and in the process, add significantly to its value. In fact, it is our opinion that authentication and provenance are as important as the attractiveness of the signature itself, particularly with a Ruth signature. In the case of Babe Ruth, who signed autographs virtually every day of his adult life, provenance is paramount. With more than half the Ruth signed balls deemed fraudulent, and well-preserved signed balls easily reaching into five figure range, tracing a ball back to its original owner becomes a key element in determining its value.
We are thrilled to offer this beautiful signed Babe Ruth baseball, authenticated by PSA/DNA, along with a letter and well-documented story from the ball’s original recipient. Such ironclad provenance is rare in pieces such as this.
Upon Ruth’s retirement from baseball in 1938, he almost immediately took up the cause of raising money for the war effort by participating in various fundraisers. One such event involved a well-publicized 1943 exhibition game at the Polo Grounds where Walter Johnson served up the last pitch that the Sultan of Swat would ever deposit over an outfield fence. We offered a press photo documenting that game in a previous auction.
More often, however, Ruth’s philanthropic activities took the same form as that of today’s pro athlete: the celebrity golf tournament. Ruth played frequently, as evidenced by the many pictures of The Babe out on the links.
Such an event took Ruth to the town of Westport, CT in late June of 1946, where at the behest of his friend, Dr. Vito Edward Caselnova (golf chairman at Westport’s Longshore Country Club), Ruth was to participate with New York Giants Hall of Fame halfback Ken Strong. Ruth, along with his wife Claire and their boxer puppy, would stay with the Caselnova family for the entire week, playing golf at Longshore, talking with local Boy Scouts and visiting victims of a recent fire at a local hospital. Ruth’s visit to Westport, along with his stay with Vito Caselnova and his family, was well-documented in local newspapers at the time.
The Longshore golf course still stands in Westport today, as do members of the Caselnova family. It was young Kenneth Caselnova, the recipient of this signed baseball from the Great Bambino, who penned the notarized letter that accompanies the ball. Among other stories Mr. Caselnova relates in his letter, is this one:
My parents spent the week having nightly dinner parties for Babe, Claire and friends. In those days the lady of the house still wore aprons when they cooked. I remember as clear as if it were yesterday, Babe walking right up to my mother in the morning, taking off her apron, putting it on and telling her “Move over Mrs. C, The Babe is making breakfast now!” Breakfast consisted of eggs, Canadian bacon and toast.
Ruth signed several items that week for the members of the Caselnova family (along with, no doubt, most of Westport). But the more poignant memory, as related by Caselnova’s letter, is a chilling one:
I remember Babe pulling cans of Budweiser out of my parents’ refrigerator, not to drink, but to subdue the headaches that he was experiencing in his eyes.
Those headaches were, by 1946, debilitating for Ruth, getting worse as the summer progressed. By fall, Ruth’s face was swollen and he was unable to eat solid food, and by late 1946 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Sadly, the greatest player the game had ever known would be gone within two years.
Presented here is a spectacular memento of that week in Westport, where Babe Ruth entertained an entire town, raised the spirits of injured firefighters, raised money for charity, and left indelible memories with young Kenneth Caselnova.
The ball, authenticated by PSA/DNA, is inscribed “To Big Kenneth Caselnova From Babe Ruth” in Ruth’s unmistakeable handwriting. The signature and inscription remain bold and clear nearly 70 years later, very visible with very little fading and no smudging. The ball itself, while worn and toned with age, remains well-constructed, though any identifying stampings that may have once been on the ball are no longer visible. While we do not attempt to grade autographs as we find that to be very subjective, this signature would clearly rate at the higher end of any grading scale.
This is an outstanding ball, one of the most spectacular items we’ve had the pleasure of handling at Love of the Game. It is, of course, the stories, the history, and our ability to document names and events that we find most compelling, and this ball comes with history aplenty. Along with the ball and PSA/DNA holder, the winning bidder will receive the LOA from PSA/DNA as well as the notarized, signed letter from Kenneth Caselnova, the recipient of this baseball, relating the fascinating story of how and when he received it. Further documentation of Ruth’s June, 1946 visit to Westport and his stay with the Caselnova family is readily available online.
A spectacular ball, signed by the most famous player in the game’s storied history, remarkably well-preserved and with impeccable provenance. Easily a cornerstone piece of even the most advanced, sophisticated collections.