Allen Cherry had nearly $42,000 in a shoe box and didn’t even know it.
Lumped in with stacks of old baseball memorabilia was a weathered, blotchy baseball with Babe Ruth’s signature. Told that the ball might be of considerable value to collectors, Cherry last year began going through the steps to document the ball’s authenticity.
On Thursday, the ball sold for $39,000 at Christie’s Auction House in New York City.
The ball was the one that left Ruth’s bat for a home run in the first All-Star game in 1933. Former St. Louis Cardinals’ great Pepper Martin - Cherry’s father-in-law - paid an usher a $20 gold piece to retrieve the ball from a spectator. He then had Ruth and a dozen other American League All-Stars - including Lou Gehrig - sign it.
“Oh my goodness yes, I’m ecstatic,” said Cherry of Hayden, Idaho, who is married to one of Martin’s three daughters, Alyne. “Pepper wanted (the ball) because he’d gotten to know Babe and he was a big fan of Babe.”
Frank Budrack, a Riverside, Ill., collector and also a big Ruth fan, bought the ball Thursday. Budrack also purchased Cherry’s National League All-Star ball for $2,800.
Cherry had hoped the Ruth ball would fetch $15,000 or so. Budrack figured $18,000 would do the trick.
Talk about inflation.
“There was one (other) strong bidder at the end, when it got over $30,000,” said Budrack, who owns a small publishing company and real estate interests. “I would have probably gone higher, given that one ball sold for $93,000 last year; the ball that went through Bill Buckner’s legs in the World Series.
“A home run ball (like Ruth’s) … Where else can you get it?”
Budrack talked with Cherry several times by telephone in the weeks prior to the auction, making sure of the ball’s authenticity.
Then came Thursday’s phone call.
“Frank called and told me, ‘You better sit down.’ He said, ‘It was an unlucky day for me, but it’s a lucky day for you because there was another guy bidding me up,”’ Cherry said.
Martin, who died in 1965, left 21 baseballs to his three daughters. They drew straws to determine who received the Ruth ball.
Cherry said he’ll give portions of the money to his three daughters, Sally, Ginger and Gina. Cherry also must pay 10 percent commissions to Christie’s and to Bill Graham, owner of American Baseball Cards in Spokane, who helped with publicity.
“I just called Sally. She’s pregnant and due in January. I told her, “How’d you like $3,000 to help out,”’ Cherry said. “She was tickled.”
Cherry also plans to use some of the money to keep pushing to get Martin inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Among other collectibles, Budrack said he has a Ruth home run ball from the 1923 World Series and a bat used by Ruth.
“You’ve gotta love baseball to do it,” he said. “I’m not too much of a fan of baseball these days. How can you be when you’re in love with the way the game used to be?”
Now Budrack just needs a place to display the valuables.
“Everything’s in storage and you really have to display the stuff properly,” Budrack said with a sigh.
In Cherry’s case, a box that used to house his cowboy boots served him well.
“All that stuff had been in that box for quite a while, too,” he said, laughing.