NEW YORK – The 1919 contract that sent Babe Ruth (search) from Boston to the Bronx — thereby dooming generations of Red Sox fans to heartbreak — was bought at auction Friday by a die-hard Yankees fan for a staggering $996,000.
The crowd at Sotheby's burst into cheers when the hammer came down after 15 minutes of intense bidding. The victor: Pete Siegel, head of Gotta Have It Collectibles (search) in New York.
"I was prepared to pay almost whatever it took," Siegel said.
The Rhode Island philanthropist who was the contract's previous owner said he will donate the proceeds to the hunger relief organization America's Second Harvest (search), which provides food for 23 million Americans each year.
The price Siegel paid 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 would 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 greatest athletes of the 20th century.
"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 history. It sold in December for the Ruthian price of $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 Friday 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. Sportsbook.com said it intends to donate the ball to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
A baseball signed by Ruth and Yankees teammate Lou Gehrig sold for $42,000, well above the pre-sale estimate of $5,000.
One of the other big sellers: a 1911 Honus Wagner baseball card, one of only about 50 still in existence, sold for $132,000. The purchase price paled next to the $1.265 million paid for a 1909 Wagner card in 2000.