Sports Memorabilia’s Top 10 Jaw-Dropping Price Tags

No. 10 on the Top 10 jaw-dropping prices paid for a sports memorabilia item is Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot Jersey,” which hammered for 940,000.

For as long as there have been sports, there has been sports memorabilia. There have also been collectors who are willing to pay astronomical sums for the opportunity to add one-of-a-kind, museum quality pieces to their collection.

Sports have always had the ability to transcend cultures and socio-economic conditions to unite fans around the world. However, there are only a small number of aficionados with the deep pockets necessary to even consider actually owning some of the sports memorabilia treasures that have reached the marketplace via auction house or private sale over the last several years. These investment-worthy pieces bolster and diversify portfolios of the truly elite and wealthiest of individuals. For the common fan or collector, we are left to live vicariously through auction catalogs, news reports and lists such as the one provided here.

Here, then, is a look at the 10 most expensive pieces of sports memorabilia, in realized prices.

10. Babe Ruth’s ‘Called Shot Jersey’—$940,000

Legend has it that after being heckled and chided with relentless abandon by the hometown Chicago Cubs at the famous Wrigley Field, Babe Ruth, standing in the batter’s box, gestured toward center field, as if to say, “I’m going to deposit the next pitch in the centerfield stands.” And on the next pitch, he proceeded to deposit the ball in the very bleacher section at which he pointed. While debate has long raged if that was, in fact, what actually happened, and to some degree, lore has become fact. Perhaps even more impressive is that the alleged feat took place during the fifth inning of Game 5 of the 1932 World Series. The jersey Ruth wore during that game sold at a Grey Flannel Auctions sale in 2005 for $940,000.

9. Babe Ruth’s N.Y. Yankees-Boston Red Sox Contract—$996,000

9. Babe Ruth’s N.Y. Yankees-Boston Red Sox Contract—$996,000

In a move that defies logic even to this day, almost 95-years after the fact, then-Boston Red Sox owner Harry Freeze sold the player rights of Babe Ruth to the ownership trust of the New York Yankees. The contract called for a payment of $100,000 to Freeze. He allegedly needed the money to finance production of a Broadway show. The transaction is blamed for the fabled “Curse of the Bambino” that led to an 86-year World Series Championship drought for the Sox (finally broken when the Boston defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004). With the Red Sox having two additional Word Series titles since that time, it can be safely assumed that the “curse” has been officially laid to rest. The sale of this historic document was overseen by Sotheby’s auction house in New York in June of 2005. When the gavel dropped, the realized price was $996,000. The lucky winner was Peter Sigel, who is a sports collectibles and memorabilia dealer who owns the New York City store named “Gotta Have It.”

8. Muhammad Ali Fight-Worn Gloves—$1.1 Million

8. Muhammad Ali Fight-Worn Gloves—$1.1 Million

Arguably the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time, Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay, Jr., before changing his name after his conversion to Islam. In 1965, Ali participated in his second ever championship bout against the very successful Floyd Patterson. The event took place in Las Vegas and was the first such for the city that has become home and the primary venue for all boxing championships. The auction for the gloves took place in February of 2012 at the very fitting venue of Las Vegas. A gala event celebrating the life and career of Muhammad Ali culminated in what would prove to be a historic auction. The event attracted major sports heavyweights, including Ultimate Fighting Championship co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The spirited bidding exploded past all expectations, with Jones being the apparent winner of the fight-worn gloves with a bid of $1 million. However, a last-second increase of an additional $100,000 by Fertitta sealed the deal.

7. Babe Ruth’s First Home Run in Yankee Stadium Bat—$1.265 Million

7. Babe Ruth’s First Home Run in Yankee Stadium Bat—$1.265 Million

This item truly belongs in the Hall of Fame, but due to a marketing promotion held in 1923 by the Los Angeles Evening Herald, it ended up in one lucky child’s possession. The bat was awarded to Victor Orsatti, who was the winner of a high-school home-run derby contest sponsored by the newspaper. Ruth signed and inscribed the bat “To The Boy Home Ring King of Los Angeles, ‘Babe’ Ruth N.Y. May 7, 1923.” The bat remained in Orsatti’s possession for 80 years, and it was eventually inherited it to his long-time caretaker. SCP Auctions was chosen to help facilitate the sale of the bat that realized a stunning price of $1.265 million in June of 2004.

6. Paul Henderson Summit Series-Worn Jersey—$1,275,707

Paul Henderson celebrates after scoring the Summit Series-clinching goal.

Paul Henderson standing near his Summit Series jersey.

In 1972, at the height of the Cold War, the then-Soviet Union played Canada in an international hockey tournament that resulted in a dramatic victory by the Canadians. The eight-game series was the first international competition between the Soviets and NHL players. The series quickly became a microcosm of the animosity that existed between Eastern and Western powers at the time. Often escalating to fisticuffs, the games were hard-fought and rallied countries around the world, with each choosing sides. The first four games took place in Canada with the subsequent four being held in Russia. The oddly formatted, best-of-eight-game series was decided in the final minute of the last game on a goal by Paul Henderson. That goal made Henderson a national Canadian hero. The jersey was sold via Classic Auctions in June of 2010. The winning bidder was Mitchell Goldhar, who happens to be Canada’s wealthiest citizen.

5. 1857 Soccer Rules Book—$1.4 Million

5. 1857 Soccer Rules Book—$1.4 Million

Sheffield FC of England is the world’s oldest soccer club. In July of 2011, the esteemed Sotheby’s auction house facilitated the sale of the club’s original, handwritten rules pamphlet. The international appeal of soccer, the world’s most popular sport, garnered interest from a wide range of prospective buyers from around the globe. When the gavel dropped, the winning bid was $1.4 million. The winner wished to remain anonymous. The 154-year old document was sold in a fundraising effort by the English soccer club, which still exists today.

4. 1909 T206 Honus Wagner Tobacco Card—$2.8 Million

4. 1909 T206 Honus Wagner Tobacco Card—$2.8 Million

In sports collectible circles, it is simply known as “The Card.” Its story has been well documented, including its own book of the same name, “The Card,” by the New York Daily News journalist Michael O’Keeffe. The card isn’t the oldest or the scarcest, but for years it was considered to be the best-conditioned card of its era known to exist. Recent legal issues by one of the card’s original owners, Bill Mastro, have shed light on the fact that the card had actually been doctored to achieve its Near Mint condition. In 2007, The Card sold at auction for $2.8 million, just six months after selling for $2.35 million. The winning bidder was Ken Kendrick, co-owner of Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.

3. Mark McGwire 70th Home Run Ball—$3 Million

Todd McFarlane with the Mark McGwire 70th home run ball, which sold for $3 million.

In 1998, the baseball world was captivated by the on-field exploits of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa, who battled all season long for the single-season home-run record. McGwire eventually won that contest, hitting his 70th home run on Sunday, Sept. 27. The record of 61, previously held by Roger Maris, had stood since 1961. With the amazing feat being celebrated by a nation of baseball fans, the ball was consigned to auction in February of 1999 and closed with a winning bid of $3 million. The winner was the originator of the “Spawn” comic book series, Todd McFarlane. A huge sports and baseball fan in particular, Mcfarlane and his company also produces a popular line of sports action figures, called McFarlane SportsPicks. Unfortunately in the years that followed, the sports world would be rocked by the realization that several baseball players—including both McGwire and Sosa—would be alleged to have used anabolic steroids, a PED or performance-enhancing drug. The allegations have forever tainted the baseball record book. The ball is still in McFarlane’s possession and, unlike other high-ticket pieces of sports memorabilia, it has absolutely no hope of appreciation. Barry Bonds has since eclipsed McGwire’s record, and now, because McGwire admitted steroid use, if the ball was ever resold, would realize only a small fraction of the price McFarlane originally paid for it.

2. James Naismith’s Founding Rules of Basketball 1891—$4,338,500

2. James Naismith’s Founding Rules of Basketball 1891—$4,338,500

James Naismith—the founding father of basketball whose very name adorns the Basketball Hall of Fame—designed the game that exists in nearly the same format today way back in 1891. A true sports pioneer and visionary, it’s amazing to think that this item has survived the fates of time. The rules were purchased at auction in 2010 by a Kansas University alumnus. The university recently announced plans to build an addition to the famous Allen Fieldhouse, home to the Jayhawk’s basketball team, where the rules will be on display as part of a permanent exhibit. At the time of the sale, the nearly $4.4 million price tag was the most ever paid for a sports memorabilia item.

1. Babe Ruth’s 1920 New York Yankees Jersey—$4,415,658

1. Babe Ruth’s 1920 New York Yankees Jersey—$4,415,658

It should come as no surprise that the top spot on this list belongs to the one and only Babe Ruth. “The Great Bambino,” and the “Sultan of Swat” were among his most common nicknames and reflected his larger-than-life persona, both on the field and off. In July of 2012, the earliest-known example of a Babe Ruth jersey was auctioned through SCP Auctions of California. It is interesting to note is that, prior to the auction, the jersey had been part of an exhibit at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore, Md. No one can officially verify, exactly, why it was sold.


Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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