Items of baseball memorabilia are collectible objects relating to the history and great achievements of the sport through its players, teams and stadiums. They can range from autographs, trading cards, photographs, magazines and ephemera to used bats, balls, gloves and game-worn jerseys.
The origins of baseball can be found in the bat-and-ball games that evolved in Europe during the 15th century. The game of baseball itself originated in England, and the first reference to it can be found in the 1744 British publication ‘A Little Pretty Pocket-Book’ by John Newbery.
The game was taken to the United States by European immigrants during the 18th century, and the first American reference can be seen in a 1791 Pittsfield, Massachusetts town bylaw (preventing the game being played near the town hall).
By the early 19th century teams had appeared across the U.S, and in 1845 the first set of definitive rules were established by the team of New York’s Knickerbockers.
The first officially recorded game of baseball took place in New York in June 1846, and in 1857 the National Association of Base Ball Players became the sport’s first association. The first professional league was formed in 1871.
Baseball memorabilia is by far the most popular and sought after area of sports memorabilia in the United States.
The game is often referred to as America’s ‘national pastime’, and the history of the sport is so ingrained in American culture that important and notable items regularly sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The most valuable items are those relating to legendary players, many of whom have become cultural icons in their own right such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Other valuable items are those relating to famous victories, or record-breaking achievements in the game’s modern era by players such as Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds.
The four most important categories of baseball memorabilia are home-run balls, used bats, game-worn jerseys and trading cards.
Bats and balls
The most valuable bats and balls are those used in celebrated moments, such as a home run that won a major event (like the World Series) or broke a record. Examples include:
- Babe Ruth’s Louisville Slugger bat – used to hit the first run at the newly-opened Yankee Stadium in 1923 – sold for $1.265 million in 2004
- The ball hit by Barry Bonds to break the all-time home-run record in 2007 – sold for $750,000 in 2007
The most valuable jerseys are those worn by celebrated players during famous World Series games, or during notable seasons (such as title-winning years or their final season before retirement). These include:
- The jersey worn by legendary Yankees catcher Yogi Berra during a 1956 World Series game – sold for $564,930
The most valuable trading cards are traditionally those relating to iconic players during the early part of their career, or those produced in exceptionally small numbers. Examples include:
- The Babe Ruth 1914 Baltimore Orioles card showing him in his minor league days (aged 19) – sold for $517,000
- The Honus Wagner 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates card, of which only 50 are believed to exist - sold for £2,350,000
The world’s most expensive baseball memorabilia
The most expensive item of baseball memorabilia ever sold at auction is the ball hit by Mark McGwire for his record-breaking 70th home run in a single season in 1998.
The ball was sold at an auction in New York by Guernsey's in 1999 for a World Record price of $3,005,000 to collector Todd McFarlane. The price was 23 times higher than the record price for a baseball, and it became the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold.