SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — One of the centerpieces of Little League Baseball’s newly-renovated museum arrived Tuesday via armored truck before being carried in through a side door by a guard in a bulletproof vest, with police officers watching nearby.
The uniform worn by Babe Ruth in 1934 during a barnstorming tour of Japan is one precious piece of sports memorabilia.
Soon, it will be on display to the public at the museum that’s just a short walk up a hill from the pristine fields where the Little League World Series is played each August. The gray wool jersey — a red “3” stitched on the back — is on loan from a donor who is remaining anonymous, Little League vice president and museum executive director Lance Van Auken said.
“It’s just something that came out of the blue for us in the last several months,” Van Auken said. “We’re just delighted to have it.”
Accompanied by gray pants and dirt-stained stirrup socks, the jersey is considered the only full uniform still around that was worn by baseball icon Ruth, according to Van Auken. He also thought it would be the first time the uniform would be on public display.
But it’ll be behind what Van Auken called a “double-thick, shadow-resistent” glass case, trained in the sights of security cameras. No flash photography, please.
Van Auken declined to disclose the uniform’s current value, but did say it was insured for a “seven-digit” amount. It was sold at an auction in 2005 for roughly $771,000.
Steven Costello, a vice president with New Rochelle, N.Y.-based Steiner Sports Memorabilia, said the uniform would only increase in value though it was difficult to determine the exact current worth. Having a full uniform set also helps its value, he said.
“There was a time when your grandfather had seen Babe Ruth play,” Costello said in a phone interview. “We’re getting into an era where very few people have been to a Yankees game and seen Babe Ruth. But here it is 70 years later and people are positioning to try to get any Babe Ruth item.”
Last year, a circa 1920 Yankees jersey worn by The Bambino sold at an auction for more than $4.4 million, considered a record for any item of sports memorabilia.
By comparison, the 1934 jersey at the Little League museum might be small change.
But it means a lot to Little League, which is re-opening its renovated museum next week. Ruth hit 13 homers during the 18-game barnstorming tour of Japan that also included fellow Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, among others. The tour was credited with helping to spark interest in organizing Japan’s first professional baseball league. The first Little Leagues in Japan were chartered in the 1950s.
Ruth never played Little League — the first league was organized in Williamsport in 1939. But his exploits on the field remain legend, even to Little Leaguers this day.
“We are thrilled to be able to exhibit such a unique and important artifact,” Little League president Steven Keener said in a statement. “We want people — particularly children —to see this wonderful piece of history.”
The uniform trimmed in red, white and blue was made by A.G. Spalding & Bros., with an “All Americans” insignia on the left chest. A shield logo filled in with the stars and stripes is affixed to the left sleeve, while an interlocking red “U” and white “S” in block letters are sewn on the right sleeve.
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