There is little question that George Herman “Babe” Ruth was one of the greatest, if not the greatest baseball player to ever to pick up a ball and glove. Although some of his hitting records have been surpassed, what he did in comparison to the rest of the league—he twice hit more home runs in a season than any other entire team's players combined—was astounding. And to think, he was originally a pitcher!
Even before Ruth broke into the Major Leagues with Boston at the end of the 1914 season, he already had a baseball card. That's because earlier in the year, the "Baltimore News" printed a Ruth card while he was playing for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League. The set only included players from the Orioles and another local Minor League team, the Terrapins. There are fewer than 10 known copies of this Ruth card, which lists him as a pitcher. Obviously, many collectors salivate at the thought of getting their hands on this prize.
Ruth’s first full season in the Majors was 1915, and he made an immediate splash with the Red Sox, winning 18 games on the mound. There is only one rookie card featuring Ruth, the M101-5 Sporting News. This card is not as highly sought after as one might expect (the Sporting News set as a whole is quite rare and had horrible centering problems), considering it's the rookie card of perhaps the greatest player in baseball, but it does have its fans.
The M101-5 was Ruth’s last card with the Red Sox and his last mainstream card for 17 years, as the baseball-card market lulled during and after World War I. Of course, the lack of Ruth baseball cards did nothing to dampen America's infatuation with its first sports icon. As a member of the Red Sox, Ruth was acclaimed for his prowess both on the mound and in the outfield, but after the 1919 season, the team's cash-strapped owner, Harry Frazee, sold his biggest star to the New York Yankees for $100,000.
The rest, as they say, is history. Ruth would go on to lead the American League in home runs 10 times (12 total, including two with the Red Sox) and win four World Series championships. The Red Sox, on the other hand, were stricken by “The Curse of the Bambino” and would not win another championship until 2004.
In 1932, Ruth returned to the mainstream card market in the form of a 1932 U.S. Caramel card. It shows a jolly Ruth with his hat high on his head against a red background. The ca...
In 1933, Goudey became the first chewing gum company to release baseball cards. In its inaugural set, Goudey included four Ruth cards. Arguably some of Ruth’s most desired collectibles, this quartet is integral to what many collectors consider one of the top sets ever printed. Some collectors even consider the four Ruth cards to be a mini-set themselves, and accumulate them as such.
That same year, Goudey released a Sport Kings set that also featured Ruth, this time looking like a giant above silhouetted baseball players. This card is also difficult to find in high-grade, largely because of centering problems.
After the 1934 season, Ruth was sold to the Boston Braves—he ended his career a year later with 714 homeruns. Despite retiring, Ruth was still featured on many collectibles. For example, in 1936, Milton Bradley released a Babe Ruth-themed board game entitled, "Babe Ruth's Baseball Game." This gem is exceptionally hard to come by today. Just before his death, Ruth also appeared in a 1948-49 Leaf baseball card set. Even though it was published after his retirement, collectors don't treat this card as a less-prized commemorative.
Ruth collectibles do not stop at baseball cards. His signature is largely considered the most desired autograph in sports. Whether it is on a baseball, a photograph, or a bat, Ruth’s recognizable loopy “Babe Ruth” is as iconic as his grin. In fact there is a whole movie, "The Sandlot," which focuses on the retrieval of a lost Ruth autograph.
Other interesting vintage artifacts include pictures of Ruth with teammate Lou Gehrig. Together, the two comprised the middle of the Yankees' “Murderer’s Row” lineups. Interestingly, Ruth wore #3 and Gehrig wore #4 because of their places in the Yankees batting order—the Yankees were the first team whose players regularly wore numbers on their uniforms, and they did so based on their respective spots in the order. Thus Ruth’s #3 jersey, like Gehrig's #4, is an immensely popular collectors’ item.
Similarly, Ruth game-used bats are extremely collectible, though they routinely run into the six-figures at auction. Other more accessible Ruth items include, but are not limited to, coins, statues, and figurines. Indeed, Ruth is such an American icon that anything related to his life has value. Even the document outlining his sale to the Yankees sold recently for $99,000.