Monday, June 4, 2012

A Closer Look at Photos Used to Authenticate the $4.4 Million Babe Ruth Jersey

On May 25, 2012, the Hauls of Shame web site posted an article by Dave Grob, Senior Baseball Uniform Researcher at MEARS (Memorabilia Evaluation & Research Services), in which the the author explained how he went about authenticating a purported Babe Ruth 1920 New York Yankees road jersey. The jersey sold earlier in May for a record $4.4 million.

A significant part of the authentication process relied on comparing the jersey with known photographs of Ruth. Reproduced below are the three main photos featured in the article:

Photo #1:

Photo #2:

Photo #3:

Let's take a closer look at each of these photographs.


This photo depicts Ruth with Joe Jackson. Here's the description from the Hauls of Shame blog:

Babe Ruth and Joe Jackson. Photo has to be from 1920 as in 1919 Ruth was with the Red Sox. In 1921 Jackson was out of Major League Baseball.
Indeed, for these very reasons, the photo most assuredly dates from 1920. But can we determine just when in 1920 the photo was taken?

First, a quick look around the Web reveals that there are many versions of the photo available. This one comes from Getty Images:

Getty Images #97293261

... and is accompanied by the following caption:
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Shoeless Joe Jackson (r.) of the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees' Babe Ruth look at one of Babe's home run bats. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Well, certainly the Getty-provided date of "c. 2002" is inaccurate. We've already established that the photo is from 1920. But this larger version of the photo makes it easier to confirm that Ruth is wearing a road Yankees uniform, while Jackson is wearing the White Sox' home duds. Below are the relevant drawings by Marc Okkonen as found at the Hall of Fame's "Dressed to the Nines" online exhibit.

Yankees 1920:

White Sox 1920:

Thus, the photo was taken in Chicago in 1920. That season, the White Sox hosted the Yankees for three different series at Comiskey Park:
Given the limited number of dates above, I was able to track down this very same photo in the June 17, 1920 issue of the Chicago Tribune. Here's the picture with its original caption:

Our research is complete: The photograph was taken at Comiskey Park on June 16, 1920, before the Yankees vs. White Sox game in which Ruth hit his 18th homer of the season.


According to the Grob article, this photo dates from "late season 1921 or early season 1922." But how accurate is this range of dates?

For starters, while not mentioned in the blog posting, the photo clearly shows Ruth with his first wife, Helen, and their daughter, Dorothy. It will be seen that these identifications are critical to dating the photo.

As with the previous image, I thought it would be helpful to track down a higher quality version of the photo. Once again, I managed to find one at Getty Images:

Getty Images #72726016

The Getty caption reads:
NEW YORK - 1921. Babe Ruth poses with wife Helen and baby Dorothy before a game in Yankee Stadiium [sic] in 1921. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
While the identifications are correct, there are other problems with this caption. Why would Ruth be wearing a road uniform (as evidenced by the words "NEW YORK" across his chest) when the photo was taken "before a game in Yankee Stadium?" And, perhaps more importantly, how could the photo have been taken in 1921, when it wasn't until September 22, 1922, that he and his wife Helen revealed to the public that they had a daughter?

The news that Ruth was a father was widely covered, this report being published in the Chicago Tribune of September 23, 1922:
Wife Admits It; Child Bred in Incubator.

New York, Sept. 22. -- [Special.] -- For sixteen months the one and only "Bambino," George Herman Ruth, has been the father of a little Bambino, and her name is Dorothy.
This surprising fact became known tonight when Mrs. Ruth indignantly denied that she had adopted a baby, a rumor to this effect having been circulated when she was seen at the Polo grounds, accompanied by a nurse and baby.
"Adopted a baby!" Mrs. Ruth exclaimed. "I have not! It's my own baby!"
Why She Kept It Secret.
Asked why the birth of the baby had been kept a secret, she explained, "Because it has been sick ever since it was born."
At the time of its birth, the exact date and place of which Mrs. Ruth refused to divulge, the baby weighed only 2 1/2 pounds, she said. Since its birth it has been "with a nurse," she explained, but would not say where the nurse had been.
According to clerks at the hotel where the Ruths live, the baby has been with Mrs. Ruth and the "Babe" in the hotel for only about a month. Mrs. Ruth has been taking it out in a baby carriage about 4 o'clock in the afternoon recently, a clerk said.
The clerk added a description of "Babe" Ruth with the infant when he was in New York. The big "Babe" comes downstairs about 7 o'clock each evening carrying the tiny bundle of humanity on one of his shoulders.
Happy, Hearty, and Fat.
Asked for a description of the baby, since Mrs. Ruth denied all reporters and photographers a glimpse of it, the clerk described it as "happy, healthy, and fat." He added it didn't resemble one of its parents more than the other.
Mrs. Ruth declared the infant was still quite small and thin, explaining that it had been bred in an incubator. She admitted it had been born prematurely. She was reluctant to talk of the child or discuss the details surrounding its birth.
She explained she did not want "to worry the 'Babe' while he was in Cleveland by reports of the baby's illness."
The mystery behind the 16-month-old Dorothy was never fully resolved. Was she Helen's biological daughter? Was she adopted? Was she Ruth's daughter by another woman? All of these possibilities have been forwarded by reporters and historians over the years. But for our purposes, Dorothy's background is of little consequence. The key is that Ruth and Helen did not make the existence of their daughter public until late September of 1922, so both the Getty and Hauls of Shame dates are off base.

So when was the photo taken? Let's start with the assumption that the Ruth family portrait was indeed captured in 1922, soon after the revelation that Ruth was a father. If so, it must be from the very end of the season. The Yankees played three series on the road following the revelation that Ruth was a daddy:
  • September 22-24 at Cleveland
  • September 28-30 at Boston
  • October 1 at Washington
After some digging, I was able to track down a September 30, 1922, issue of the Sandusky (Ohio) Register that featured the following photo:

Dorothy's outfit (love that bonnet!) and Helen's fur hat and clothing match well with those seen in the photo in Dave Grob's article. Certainly these pictures were taken at the same occasion. We can thus narrow the possible dates to a time period between September 22 (when the baby was revealed) to September 30 (in the very off-chance that the photo was taken the same day that the Sandusky Register went to press).

This latest date range implies that the photo was taken during the Yankees visit to Cleveland or to Boston. We know from the Chicago Tribune article that on September 22 Helen was in New York, not in Cleveland with Ruth. But did she later travel to Cleveland or Boston?

A clue comes from yet another image of Ruth with his baby daughter, this one found at the Corbis Images web site:

Corbis Image #BE045320

According to the Corbis web site, the photograph was taken on September 26, 1922, though the original caption was dated September 27, 1922 and read:
Boston, MA: Photo shows Babe Ruth playing with his baby Dorothy Helen Ruth at Fenway Park in Boston. He is here limbering up with his Yankee cohorts for the series with the Red Sox, which will determine the pennant race. Mrs. Ruth and the baby journeyed to Boston to spend a few days with the slugger.
Almost certainly this photo was taken at Fenway Park on the same day as the rest of the family portraits. The caption implies that the photo was shot on a date before the opening of the Yankees series in Boston, likely September 26, 1922.


This final photograph is a posed shot of Ruth in his batting stance. Dave Grob's article dates the photo to 1920, but is not more specific. Can we narrow down the time frame?

A quick search on the web shows that the picture is a cropped version of the following image:

The wall in the background certainly doesn't look like any found at a major league park of the era, so a reasonable initial guess is that the photo is from spring training. Following this lead, it didn't take long to find the same image in the Syracuse Post-Standard of March 28, 1920:

Thus the photo was taken no later than March 28, likely the 27th or earlier. And while we do not have an exact date for the photo, we have at least confirmed that spring training of 1920 is the correct time frame.

The entire 39-page analysis conducted by Dave Grob contains numerous other photographs, but I'll let other researchers have a crack at those images.