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'Curse of Bambino' Pact Nets $996,000

June 12, 2005|Larry McShane | Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK — "The Curse of the Bambino" is history, finally broken by the Boston Red Sox after 86 years of misery. But the five aging, discolored sheets of legal paper that started it all still seem to have a certain magical power.

That became clear Friday, when the contract that sent Babe Ruth from Boston to the Bronx in 1919 sold at auction for a staggering $996,000.

The buyer: a die-hard fan of the Yankees, the team that went on to build the greatest dynasty in sports with Ruth's awesome slugging ability.

"I was prepared to pay almost whatever it took," said Pete Siegel, head of Gotta Have It Collectibles in Manhattan.

The crowd at Sotheby's auction house burst into cheers when the final hammer came down and Siegel emerged the winner of the intense, 15-minute bidding war.

Rhode Island philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein, the contract's previous owner, said he would donate the proceeds to the hunger relief organization America's Second Harvest, which provides food for 23 million low-income Americans each year.

The price Siegel paid Friday was nearly double the pre-sale estimate for the Dec. 26, 1919, contract, a five-page typed document signed by owners Harry Frazee of the Red Sox and Jacob Ruppert of the Yankees. The contract recorded the $100,000 sale of Ruth to the Yankees, a transaction that altered baseball history.

The Red Sox had won the World Series in 1918, a year before selling off Ruth. They did not win again until last year, when "The Curse of the Bambino" was finally broken with their World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

In between, the Yankees won 26 world championships, and Ruth became one of the most dominant and recognizable figures in all of sports.

"This, to me, is the most important sports document," said Siegel, who had no immediate plans for the contract other than to keep it in a safe place. "Besides sports, it crosses over into American history. It has a lot going for it."

The contract fell short of the priciest bit of Babe memorabilia, a massive 46-ounce Louisville Slugger used by the Bambino to drill the first home run in Yankee Stadium. It sold in December for $1.26 million, the most ever paid for a baseball bat.

Ruth's sale contract was not the only piece of baseball memorabilia on the block Friday. Another prime item -- the first ball thrown at the April 20, 1912, opening of Fenway Park -- sold for $132,000. Umpire Tom Connolly held onto the future collectible, inscribing it, "Fenway Park, First Ball Pitched."

The baseball sold for more than double its pre-sale estimate of $50,000. The identity of the winning bidder was not released.

A London-based online gambling operation paid $102,000 for the 700th home run hit by the player closest to Ruth on the all-time home run list, Barry Bonds. Only Bonds, Ruth and all-time leader Henry Aaron have eclipsed the 700-homer mark.

Bonds, who has yet to play this season because of a knee injury, has 703 home runs. said it intends to donate the ball to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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