|By Eric C. Rodenberg
NEW YORK — Heritage Auctions pulled a pair of purportedly historic baseballs from its Platinum Night Sports Auction after a memorabilia collector called “foul ball” on the lots.
A baseball, alleged to be signed by Yankee great Lou Gehrig in the 1930s; and another ball, purportedly involved in the final out of the 1917 World Series were pulled from auction.
Baseball memorabilia collector and blogger Peter Nash maintains that both balls were manufactured years after their consignors claim.
The balls were pulled from the New York auction Feb. 16. Bidders were able to bid on the Heritage Auction website live bidding started on Feb. 23. When the Gehrig ball – with a clear, unwavering signature – was pulled from auction, the bid was up to $28,000. The reserve had not been met when the 1917 World Series ball was pulled.
“There are some questions on the balls’ stamping, and to err on the side of caution, so we removed them from the sale,” said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage. “We have to be 100 percent sure.”
Nash believes the Gehrig ball was manufactured after 1940. Gehrig who suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, once called “Lou Gehrig Disease”) would have been physically unable to sign the ball by 1940. He died in 1941.
Nash asked Heritage management, “How Lou Gehrig could have signed a baseball that is believed to have been manufactured in 1940 when his hands were already diagnosed by his own doctor as exhibiting paralysis?”
Nash contends that specific markings on the ball show the ball had to be manufactured in 1940 or after. However, Ivy contests that belief and maintains he and the authenticating service have found examples of balls from the 1930s that refute Nash’s claims.
“There’s a popular belief that the stamping on the ball dates it to 1940,” Ivy said. “But, that’s not accurate. We have found the same markings on a 1939 ball and earlier balls. Heritage and the authentication service stands behind our claims. We’re still confident with the signature and ball.
“We pulled the ball, just to be safe. We will be doing additional research.”
Ivy believes the ball may come up for auction again at a later date.
The 1917 ball, said to be the thrown in the final out of the final (sixth game) of the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants World Series, had been sold by a “well known New York auction house in 2005,” according to Ivy. The ball also came down through descendants of Red Faber, the Hall of Fame pitcher who tossed the final game, winning it for the Sox.
“Based on that information, we went with the item,” Ivy said.
Despite these minor “false starts,” the Platinum Night Sports Auction offers some real treasures of American sports.
The highlight of the sale is expected to be the jersey worn by team captain Mike Eruzione in the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team “Miracle on Ice” 4-3 victory over arch-nemesis the Soviet Union. Expected to bring more than $1 million, the bidding is fueled by Sports Illustrated voting the “Miracle on Ice” as the Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century.
In addition to Eruzione’s jersey will be the stick he used to score the game winning goal, the hockey gloves he wore throughout the tournament and the warm-up suit he was wearing during the medal ceremony (when he memorably called his team up to the podium to share the moment).
Another “once in a lifetime moment” piece of memorabilia to be sold is the celebrated “Bloody Sock” worn by pitcher Curt Schilling in his gutsy performance in Game Two of the 2004 World Series, consigned by the pitcher himself.
The Bloody Sock may be the most hallowed artifact in Boston Red Sox lore, having been on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1904. Reminiscent of Roy Hobbs’ climactic scene from The Natural, a wounded Schilling ignored the advice of the physician who had pieced back together the ragged tendons of his right ankle and took to the mound, first in a crucial Game Six to stave off American League Championship Series elimination against the hated New York Yankees and then again in Game Two of the World Series to claim the second victory in a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
During the World Series game, the television cameras repeatedly locked onto the growing red stain at Schilling’s sutured push-off ankle as the star battled to victory over two elite batting line-ups and his remarkable threshold for pain.
“Boston could win every World Series for the next 100 years, but 2004 will still be the one that everybody remembers,” Ivy said. “So I think we’re only just beginning to understand how important this piece is to the legacy of the Red Sox.”
The 2004 Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918, ending the “Curse of the Bambino,” a hex that was legendarily inflicted on the team when Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees in 1919.
Also included in the sale are the checks that consummated that deal, sending Ruth to New York (estimate: $100,000 plus).
Among the other memorable pieces of sports history to sell are the 1949 signing bonus check paid to a 17-year-old Mickey Mantle, Wayne Gretzky’s 1979 multi-signed rookie World Hockey Association (WHA) player’s contract, a 1961 President John F. Kennedy single-signed first pitch baseball, and a baseball signed by The Beatles.
Contact: (214) 528-3500