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Big League Stew

Babe Ruth jersey auctioned for $4.4 million, becomes most expensive sports memorabilia ever

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Unemployment remains high, banks continue to fail and Greece doesn't know where its next meal is coming from. Regardless, the world apparently remains inhabited by persons not merely able but also perfectly willing to spend big bucks on baseball memorabilia. And hallelujah for it!

On Sunday, the memorabilia auction house Lelands.com bid a record-breaking $4,415,658 for the earliest jersey worn by Babe Ruth known to still exist, a circa 1920 New York Yankees road model he wore in his first season after coming over from the Red Sox. The jersey's price surpassed the $4,338,500 paid in 2010 for Dr. James Naismith's founding rules of basketball — called the "Bible of Basketball" — making Ruth's the most expensive sports memorabilia in history. SCP Auctions, which ran the sale, had been speculating it would go for at least $1 million.

Other Ruth items were sold, including a 1930s-era cap Ruth wore that David Wells owned and used in a game in 1997 that went for $537,278. One of Ruth's game-used bats went for $591,007.

Coincidentally or not, Ruth's old house in Sudbury, Mass., is for sale too — and it's listing for only $1.65 million. Oh, real estate, you poor thing. For a further comparison, Ruth earned $910,696 total as a player from 1914-1935. Accounting for inflation, that amount in current dollars is about $15.3 million. In other words, one of Ruth's jerseys costs more than a quarter of his lifetime salary.

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OK, great. So a collecting conglomerate has bought Babe Ruth's jersey, presumably complete with the dried sweat of the Sultan of Swat. Now what?

The jersey had been displayed at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore, and would seem best sent to Cooperstown, but Lelands says it will turn around and sell the jersey to a private collector. Really?

Mike Heffner, president of Lelands, said in a statement, "Such a spectacular piece will find a home with one of our private clients who truly appreciates its historic significance."

Oh, right. The competitor who bid only $4.414 million was totally disrespecting the Ruthian legend. Babe Ruth's jersey is the kind of item that Indiana Jones would tell you "belongs in a museum." Instead, it's probably going to be locked away in a rich guy's mansion somewhere in an underground hyperbaric closet. Even if it's the kind of mansion owned by the Jon Lovitz character in "Benchwarmers," it's anti-climactic this way. It's one thing to not be able to afford the memorabilia, which none of us can, but at least it could be shown publicly at a museum, or a hall of fame, or the Hall of Fame. Monetary value is one thing, but what is something worth — really — if it can't be enjoyed to the fullest by the masses?

Hopefully, the new owner will be able to pair Ruth's jersey with this Ku Klux Klan ceremonial bat that Lelands also is auctioning. Then again, we all could just hope for the wool bubble to burst and lower the price so the common man can regain access.

Love baseball? Even like it a little? Follow @AnswerDave, @bigleaguestew, @KevinKaduk on Twitter, along with the BLS Facebook page!

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