The faded remnants from the Curse of the Bambino are tucked inside the company vault of a small, nondescript building in St. Petersburg, residing for the next month in a town the Babe once owned.
Two oversized checks — each 51/2 by 12 inches — rest in airtight, plastic cases to protect them from the ravages of time and preserve their link to a landmark moment in baseball history.
They were part of a deal that defined the future of America's pastime, one check for $100,000 dated Dec. 30, 1921, and the other from Feb. 4, 1922, for $50,000 — both made payable from the New York Yankees to the Boston Red Sox.
The cash helped put a burgeoning star pitcher and outfielder with a penchant for carousing — George Herman "Babe" Ruth — into Yankee pinstripes. And today through May 29, the $50,000 check goes up for bid by St. Petersburg's Historic Auctions, with the $100,000 check part of an auction set for Nov. 4-Dec. 4.
"These are part of the biggest deal in sports history and obviously a big part of American history as well," said Brad Wells, CEO of Historic Auctions.
The 5-year-old company is conducting the sale online. It holds three memorabilia auctions per year, spreading the word in its glossy quarterly catalogue, as well as on an e-mail list it estimates at 250,000 clients. Anyone wanting to take part can log on at historicauctions.com or call 1-888-955-2211.
The blockbuster move tied to this auction was actually made in 1919, with Red Sox owner Harry Frazee selling Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 to be paid over three years, along with a $350,000 loan that helped Frazee with his Broadway productions.
The two checks up for bid were part of that package: The one for $50,000 bears the signature of George Ruppert, who took over as Yankees team president after the death of his brother, Col. Jacob Ruppert, who signed the $100,000 check.
So began the "Curse of the Bambino." After the Babe joined the team in 1920, the Yankees went on to win 39 American League pennants and 26 World Series championships, while the Red Sox — who had dominated baseball with five titles in 1903-18 — began their 86-year World Series championship drought that didn't end until 2004.
The checks have been independently authenticated by PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) DNA of Newport Beach, Calif. PSA/DNA studied the checks and encapsulated them in hard plastic covering, adding the official PSA stamp of approval beside the checks, reading "Sale of Babe Ruth to NYY."
The owner of the checks, Wells said, is an individual who prefers to remain anonymous. "They've been (kept) for several years in the gentleman's safe," he said. "He felt it was time to part with them."
Wells, 26, got into the memorabilia business at 18. He and company president James Brown, 25, made their biggest sale in 2006 auctioning the Babe's uniform pants from the legendary at-bat in the 1932 World Series when he called his home run shot. The pants went for $134,458.
"That really put us on the map," Wells said. Another prized sale was a baseball signed by Christy Mathewson ($91,045) and a baseball signed by the Babe — for years a spring training fixture in St. Petersburg — during a visit to a school where one of his childhood principals worked ($32,600).
"Every piece we auction has a story, and that's one of the things that makes this so interesting," Brown said.
Wells and Brown plan to start the bidding for both checks at $25,000. They're projecting a winning bid of about $75,000 for the first one and about $150,000 for the second. "But it's so difficult to put a price on it, because nothing like it has ever been sold," Wells said.
If it's any indication, the contract associated with the Ruth deal in 2005 was expected to sell for $200,000 to $300,000. "It went for $996,000," Brown said. "It only takes two bidders to get into a fight over it."
Today the game is on, with the Babe stepping up to the plate in St. Petersburg one more time — making a new bid at history.