Before becoming a household name as a slugger with the New York Yankees, Babe Ruth was just a teenager trying to make it in the minor leagues. Now, a rare baseball card from the so-called Sultan of Swat’s early playing days is going up for auction—and it’s expected to sell for a small fortune.
When he started his baseball career, Ruth was a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, a minor league team at the time. In that period, the Baltimore News included baseball cards of players from the two hometown teams—the International League Orioles and the Federal League Terrapins—in its daily newspapers.
Printed in 1914 in both red and blue versions, one of those cards featured a 19-year-old Oriole pitcher named Ruth.
Only ten copies of that card in either color are known to exist today. One of them will be up for grabs starting Friday during Robert Edward Auctions’ fall sale.
Bidding during the two-week, online-only auction will start at $2.5 million, but the auction house expects the final price to reach $10 million—and possibly go even higher.
Ruth’s rookie card is “the most significant baseball card ever produced,” says Brian Dwyer, the auction house’s president, in a statement.
“This card is the genesis of Babe Ruth, a man who transcends the game of baseball,” he adds. “This card is not only one of the most elusive pieces of sports memorabilia, it’s one of the rarest collectibles in American history.”
The card’s original owner was Archibald Davis, who acquired it at age 16 while delivering copies of the newspaper in 1914, reports the Baltimore Sun’s Hayes Gardner. Eventually, Davis passed his card collection down to subsequent generations of the family.
The Davis family kept the card for more than a century and, starting in 1998, lent it to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore.
In 2021, however, the family sold the card to a private collector, who is now auctioning it off.
The front of the card, printed in red ink, shows Ruth standing with his hands by his side—one in a baseball glove—next to the words “Ruth,” “Pitcher” and “International League Balto.” The back has a full listing of the team’s 1914 schedule.
It’s not in mint condition, like the Mantle card was. It’s been categorized as a “3” by SGC, a top card grading and autograph authentication company, which means “very good.” (The scale goes up to ten.) SGC defines this rating as: “90/10 or better centering, corners more rounded—but not excessive, stronger creasing may exist. Poorer focus, registration and discoloration, and staining are more noticeable.”
The auction house describes the card as the “second-finest confirmed example” of Ruth’s rookie card and the highest-graded version to be sold at auction in at least 15 years.
Before the sale begins later this week, the card will go on display for just two hours of in-person public viewing on Wednesday at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, alongside a blue version of the card.