Behind the mystery of Babe Ruth’s famed bat
It was the home run that shook The Bronx and beyond.
A sweltering Yankee Stadium was abuzz in the bottom of the eighth on Sept. 30, 1927, as Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate with the Bombers and Washington Senators tied 2-2.
It was 82 degrees under clear skies and The Babe was on a hot streak, having blasted 16 homers already that September to tie his major-league mark of 59 home runs in a season.
The pitch from southpaw Tom Zachary was low and inside.
With a crack, the Sultan of Swat sent the ball soaring high into the right-field seats — and into history with his record-breaking 60th home run, a mark that would stand for 34 years.
The Yankees would go on to win the World Series that season and their Murders’ Row team would go down as one of the best in Major League Baseball history.
Now, the hickory Louisville Slugger The Bambino used to hit his 60th homer is shrouded in a decades-old mystery, with conflicting stories surrounding two bats both with claims of authenticity.
One of those bats hit the auction block this month, while the other has sat on display for decades inside the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Baseball buffs could call it the tale of two bats.
In 1939, sportswriter James Kahn donated the bat he claimed was used to set the record to the Hall of Fame.
The story goes that Yankees manager Miller Huggins gave Kahn the 35 ¹/₂-inch bat signed by Ruth right after the record-setting game.
The coveted gift was memorialized in a June 1939 article in the Otsego Farmer, the Cooperstown newspaper.
“Mr. Kahn was then, as now, a baseball writer traveling with the Yankees, and the bat was given to him by Miller Huggins,” the story read.
“And that bat becomes the 60th home run bat, as far as Kahn was concerned,” John Taube, an expert with leading game-used bat authenticator PSA/DNA, told The Post this week.
Kahn, the former sports editor of The Sun who spent 50 years in journalism before his death in 1978, was one of 20 or so reporters who traveled with the Yankees.
The second narrative bears more credibility, according to Taube.
The Bambino gave his record-setting bat to close pal Joe E. Brown, the famous, wide-mouthed vaudeville comedian who was also an avid sports- memorabilia collector.
“To Joe E. Brown From Babe Ruth,” the slugger etched in pen on the barrel of the worn bat.
The generous gift made sense, considering it wasn’t the first from Ruth — Brown received the very bat the slugger used when Ruth belted an unprecedented three home runs in a 1926 World Series game.
Brown, who died in 1973, passed the prized possession on to his son Joe L. Brown, the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-76. It was ultimately sold several years ago to a private collector — who is now auctioning it off.
Brown’s grandson, Ty Brown, has also attested to its authenticity.
“From day one, we have copies of articles and programs going back to the ’30s that convey [Brown’s] ownership,” said Taube.
The debate over who owned the real Babe bat boiled over at a sportswriters luncheon when Kahn and Brown confronted one another.
Their tiff even made the news.
“Joe E. Brown started something when he got up at the Banshees’ luncheon recently and made the statement in front of a lot of sportswriters that he, not the Baseball Museum in Cooperstown, NY, is custodian of the bat with which Babe Ruth hit his sixtieth and record-breaking home run back in 1927,” The Sporting News wrote in December 1948.
Kahn responded, telling the publication, “I have no wish to start a controversy. But I want to state that the bat which is now on exhibition in the Baseball Museum was given to me by Babe after he hit his sixtieth home run.
“I don’t deny that Babe gave Joe Brown a bat and told him it was the one with which he hit the ball. But I do claim that the bat which Babe gave me was the one with which he set the record.”
But Kahn’s account was further called into question after he flip-flopped on his story.
“When he was giving the bat to the Hall of Fame, he says Ruth gave him the bat — which is not true,” Taube noted.
After thorough research, Taube and his team are certain that Brown’s bat is authentic — while Kahn likely naively believed that he owned the real McCoy.
“It might have been a leap of faith, but in all fairness, Kahn thought that was the bat that was used that day,” Taube said.
Ruth’s bat became a special fixture in Brown’s family — with the patriarch dragging it out at Christmastime and telling his children stories about his Hall of Famer friend, Taube said.
“We just feel that their relationship is established [and Ruth’s] prior gifting of the bat he used the year before to set a World Series single-game record with three home runs gives great credence to the Joe E. Brown bat,” he added.
Ruth was also protective of his beloved Louisville Sluggers, Taube said, and he wouldn’t immediately give one away to just anybody — let alone a record-setting artifact.
“The Yankees had one game left in the 1927 season. They had clinched the pennant and were going to the World Series — and I ask you: If you were Babe Ruth, would you give away your bat?” Taube said. “I’ve asked the same question to ballplayers and they all say, ‘No. There’s no way.’”
Asked whether he was 100 percent sure about the authenticity of Brown’s bat, Taube conceded, “You can never say that.”
Records that documented provenance and ownership weren’t a thing back in the day.
“I would say with 100 percent you have two bats. We opined that this is the bat used to hit the 60th home run,” Taube said. “For Ruth to just hand [Kahn] that bat, his favorite bat, to randomly give it to a sportswriter? I don’t think so.”
The Baseball Hall of Fame, meanwhile, has been adamant that the bat that has for years hung on its walls — next to the baseball Ruth slammed out of the park that day in 1927 — is legitimate.
“The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is dedicated to preserving baseball’s history. One of the institution’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that artifacts in our collection are portrayed accurately,” Jon Shestakofsky, the vice president of communications and education at the Hall of Fame, said in an e-mail. “When research shows that an object is incorrectly labeled, or when we have been presented with evidence that proves an artifact is misattributed, we resolve the matter appropriately and with transparency.”
But, he added, “The Hall of Fame remains very comfortable with the sound provenance and authenticity of the bat in our collection. The museum’s stance on the bat has not changed since it was accessioned in 1939. Given the lack of proof to the contrary, we will continue to maintain that the bat in our collection is the one Babe Ruth used to hit his 60th home run of 1927.”
PSA/DNA’s certificate of authenticity of the Brown bat is no slight to the Hall of Fame, Taube noted.
“We do not take the Hall of Fame to task. We do not doubt them in any way, shape or form,” he said. “That bat was presented to them by Kahn with the story. The story is true and as far as Kahn is concerned, the bat that was donated to the Hall of Fame is, in his opinion, THE bat.”
The nearly 39-ounce bat that Brown owned, as well as a slew of other sporting goods signed by Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and others, were put up by Heritage Auctions earlier this month. The auction closes on May 18.
The bat — which is void of the storied notches Ruth carved to track his home runs in the late 1920s — is being sold by a private collector, who wishes to remain anonymous.
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The dealer was described by Taube as having “an amazing collection of like material.”
As of midweek, the 1927 bat had a bid of $320,000.
Taube, who has 30 years of experience dealing with game-used bats, estimated it could wind up fetching more than $1 million.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “I think the bat is worth upwards of $1 million.”
The Babe’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, declined to comment.
Ruth, who died in 1948 at 53, held on to the single-season home run record until Roger Maris of the Yankees hit 61 in 1961. The record was eclipsed by Mark McGwire, who hit 70 in 1998, and the current record is held by Barry Bonds, who socked 73 in 2001.
If Ruth’s famed bat goes for seven figures, it will become his second to eclipse $1 million. In 2004, the Louisville Slugger he used to drill the first homer ever hit at Yankee Stadium, on April 18, 1923, sold for nearly $1.3 million. It is, fittingly, on display at Yankee Stadium.
“There will never be another Babe Ruth. No one will ever impact sports the way Ruth did. He revolutionized the home run,” said Taube.
“The home runs were not just home runs — many of them were these majestic, deep flies and long home runs.
“No matter who plays or how many home runs are hit, no one will impact or be appreciated the way Babe Ruth was.”
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