May 25, 2012
Much has been asked in recent days about the process of evaluating Babe Ruth’s 1920 New York Yankees road uniform that was sold last weekend by Sports Cards Plus for $4.4 million. On Monday, the MEARS office received a call from New York radio station WFAN asking if we would consent to an interview about my authentication of the garment. While on the air I was able to describe the evaluation process without the listeners having the ability to view the supporting images and other evidence found in the report I issued for SCP Auctions. The purpose of this article is to present some of the imagery analysis found in that report and to shed some further light on what I looked for and how it was done.
To begin with, even before I took possession of the uniform, I asked that I be provided with images of the artifact. I did this so I could begin to gather references and information to support the larger effort. One of the first things I wanted to do was to try to establish when the uniform was from.
In looking at the images, I saw that the jersey was without any sort of supplemental tagging or identification used to denote the year of issuance. This is not atypical or unusual for uniforms of the period that I have researched and evaluated in the past. A combination of factors permitted a very general and initial time frame to be established and that was the period of 1920-1926.
Babe Ruth Yankees: 1920-1934
New York Front: 1920-1926; 1931-1934
Numbers on Back of Yankee Uniforms: 1929-1934 (No number on the back of this jersey)
Style of Spalding Manufacturers Tag: c 1915-1928
In looking at Yankee road uniforms that feature “NEW YORK” across the front chest, you will find the lettering placement (when viewed in relation to the button line/placket) is fairly consistent from year to year. This is not something unique or particular to the period in question. This uniform features the “Y” in “YORK” placed on the placket itself. In order to better approximate the date of this jersey, a survey of period images was conducted using a variety of photographic references that included but was not limited to:
Print; Team/Subject Specific
-New York Aces: The First 75 Years by Mark Rucker
-New York Yankees: The First 25 Years by Luisi
-New York Sluggers: The First 75 Years by Mark Rucker
-New York Yankees Seasons of Glory by Hageman & Wilbert
-The Babe: The Game that Ruth Built by Ritter & Rucker
-The New York Yankees: An Illustrated History by Donald Honig
-The New York Yankees 1901-1961 (from the sports pages collection of the Caren Archive)
-The Yankees: An Illustrated History by Sullivan & Powers
-Yankees Baseball: The Golden Age by Bak
-The Image of Their Greatness (An Illustrated History of Baseball from 1900-Present) by Ritter and Honig
-The Lively Ball: Baseball in the Roaring Twenties by Cox
-Baseball: The Illustrated History of America’s Game by Donald Honig
-The American League: An Illustrated History by Donald Honig
-The American league: A History by Zoss & Bowman
-The Story of Baseball: A Completely Illustrated and Exciting History of America’s National Game (Revised) by Rosenberg
-The Pictorial History of Baseball by Bowman & Zoss
-The Chronicle of Baseball: A Century of Major League Action by Mehno
-Baseball: A Celebration by Buckley & Gigliotti
-Baseball 100 Years of the Modern Era (1901-2000) by The Sporting News
-Baseball: An Illustrated History by Voight
BASEBALL by Ken Burns
Greatest Sports Legends: Babe Ruth
Photographs of the Chicago Daily News (1902-1933)
Boston Public Library
Although Ruth was not acquired by the Yankees until January 3, 1920, I wanted to account for the possibility (in images) that Ruth could be found in a jersey carried over from a previous season. I did not suspect this offered jersey was a carryover from an earlier season (although this alignment is common to the 1918-1919 period as well) since Ruth’s name is found embroidered in the jersey. What is possible though is that photos of Ruth in 1920 may depict him a jersey produced in 1919 for another player. What I found is this alignment is most closely associated with the uniforms produced and worn during the 1920 season as it relates to this uniform. After 1920, the “Y” in “YORK” appears to be affixed to the left of the placket in various places and distances. (PLATES II-XXVII)
Once I felt comfortable with the dating of the uniform to 1920, I then began to consider what would an appropriate sized garment be for Ruth at this point in his career? The jersey was without any sort of supplemental tagging to denote the size. This too is not atypical or unusual for uniforms of the period that I have researched and evaluated in the past. Static references (those that don’t account for change over time) for Ruth indicate:
Baseball Reference.com: 6’2”; 215 lbs
Baseball Almanac.com: 6’2”; 215 lbs
The Baseball Encyclopedia: 6’2”; 215 lbs
Total Baseball: 6’2”; 215 lbs
Whenever possible, I like to work from sizing data that is taken from period or contemporary references. As for now, my library of Who’s Who in Baseball does not go back past 1927. I found that the superbly written and researched effort by Robert Creamer, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, offered some valuable insights:
Year specific data for Ruth shows:
1914: 185 lbs (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer)
1917: 194 lbs (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer)
1919: 215 lbs (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer)
Spring Training 1920: 200 lbs (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer)
Post 1920 Season: 245 lbs (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer)
February 1922: 220 lbs (7 February Boston Daily Globe)
Opening Day 1923: 215 lbs (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer)
January 1925: 256 lbs (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer)
December 1925: 222 lbs (24 December Alton Evening Telegraph)
Spring Training 1926: 212 lbs (Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer)
Creamer recounts actual measurements for Ruth from the period 1925-1926; most notably a chest measurement of between 43” (normal) and 45” (expanded). Given the cut and fit of uniforms of the period, I should expect to find a jersey worn by Ruth during this period to be in the size 46-48 range.
The jerseys measured out to approximately a size 48 across the chest. This, too, is consistent with a citation in Creamer’s book where Ruth’s top size is identified as a size 48 (page 287).
At this point in time I was comfortable with the dating and the size, but these are only issues or data points that most would consider periphery at best; but what about the garment itself? There are various things I looked for. The first of which was to ensure we were dealing with a major league quality garment. Without getting too far off track, I will spend a bit of time on the issue of fabrics from the period. The typical major league quality garment of the period was constructed of an 8oz. wool flannel. What this weight refers to is the weight of one square yard of fabric. It is possible to determine the quality or grade of the fabric in an unobtrusive manner by examining the weave under a digital microscope and then conducting some comparative analysis of period products in various grades.
I am able to perform this type of analysis because I have invested in period fabric samples that come in form of manufacturers’ fabric sample catalogs and actual period uniforms. The comparative analysis was conducted using a digital microscope that allows me compare the weave. What I saw when performing this examination was that the weave or quality of the fabric was, in fact, consistent with what I would have expected to find in a period Major League offering manufactured by Spalding. (PLATE XXVIII)
Moving forward, this is where the value of the dating and performing imagery analysis come into play. In doing that body of work up front, it provided me with various physical characteristics I should have expected to find in this jersey. Those included but were not limited to:
-A particular orientation and alignment of the lettering of “NEW YORK” across the placket
-Font style used for the lettering.
-The presence of a “sun style” collar.
-The presence of Set-In Sleeve vs Raglan Sleeves
-Sleeve length and whether they were trimmed, and if so, where they left un-hemmed
-Style of buttons
-Style of underarm gusset
In short, what I am doing is creating both a physical and mental template of what “right should look like” and then I can see how the jersey in question stacks up.
What I found was that the jersey was, in fact, constructed of professional grade wool flannel that was consistent with period Major League Spalding exemplars. I also found no discriminators or discrepancies with the previous mentioned physical characteristics. One thing I did notice was that the sleeves had been cut and left un-hemmed. Because of the previous imagery analysis, I knew this was something that could be found for Ruth during the period of 1920-1922. I did not look for this much past 1922 since this was well beyond the dating of the jersey. (PLATES 29-37)
One area of the construction of the jersey that deserved special attention was the supplemental player identification of “Ruth G.H.” that was found chain stitched into the rear of the collar. This is the single most important physical characteristic of the garment that ties it to the player in question. The first thing I did was examine the collar area in great detail to ensure the various fabric panels had not been opened up, post manufacturer, to accommodate the application of this embroidery. This was done using UV lighting, a light table, as well as digital microscope and the results of my inspection showed this area to have been free of any alterations or signs of contrived application. The next thing I did was examine the color of the thread used for this player identification. To the naked eye, the thread appears faded to almost a pinkish color. What experience and reliance on period exemplars shows me is that even through the course of legitimate use, wear, and fading, the color of the thread where it enters and exits the body of the garment should remain darker as it has not been exposed to the elements in the same manner as the exposed thread. In the case of this jersey, I found what I should have expected to have found, darker thread and the point of entry and exit. (PLATE 38)
Because the lettering of the “New York” was affixed with a straight stitch, and some of these stitches had popped or pulled free from the wool felt fabric, I was also able to examine the fade of the underside of the felt using a digital microscope. This examination also showed that the color of the unexposed wool felt had retained its original navy blue color as opposed to the faded fabric that had been exposed to the elements. (PLATE 39)
I found all of this to have been consistent with the overall use and wear to the jersey, which was assessed as being heavy. The heavy and consistent use and wear was found in the surface condition of the body of the garment that included soiling and staining as well as a couple of fabric repairs; most notable of these areas of repair included a 25mm area in the right rear of the collar as well as a 20mm by 20mm repair in the lower left front tail. There is also separation in the anchor stitching used to affix the Spalding manufacturers label in the collar as well as a slight tear to tag itself. None of that calls into question the legitimacy of the Spalding tag as it remained firmly affixed otherwise. The interior finishing of the joining of the front and rear panels of the garment appeared very rough in cut and construction. To me, this possibly suggested the jersey may have been taken in at some point in time. This may have occurred during subsequent use by another player or done to facilitate the fluctuations of Ruth’s weight as depicted in Cramer’s work (The index of the book contains eight (8) separate references under the heading of “weight fluctuations” (page 440).
By this point in the process I had conducted imagery analysis, which supported dating and establishing of a template of what I should have expected to find. I had also conducted a detailed physical inspection of the garment that included comparative analysis in order to assess fabric quality. The physical inspection also focused on trying to locate and identify any signs of contrived use, wear, manufacturer, or alterations; of which I found none. It was with this body of work, information, and supporting data that I looked to form an opinion on what I thought this artifact was and why. For me, that resulted in the opinion that the jersey possessed all the characteristics that I would expect to see in a road uniform manufactured by Spalding 1920 for use and wear by Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees.
The final step of the process involved the grading of the jersey. The MEARS worksheet and grading criteria provides for 5 categories for which points may deducted
I found these reasons to deduct points:
Category 1: -.0 for cut/un-hemmed sleeves.
No points deducted for this because images conform Ruth wearing cut sleeves on his uniforms during the period of 1920-1922. As such, this is considered a player characteristic for Ruth during this time frame.
Category 5: -.5 x 2 for repairs to front and collar (total of -1)
-.5 for broken anchor stitching on collar/Spalding tag
-.5 for soiling staining and minor fabric holes
As such, the final grade for this jersey was that of an A8.
With all this information laid out, much has been said about the fact the history or provenance of the jersey has not been traced back to 1920 or even any date in that proximity. While this would have certainly been nice to have, I hope you can see that no story, no matter how compelling would have any appreciable effect on these observations and subsequent analysis. At the end of the day, the artifact is what it is and what I endeavor to do is to objectively research it and then provide a reasoned opinion based on a body of work that someone can consider for themselves. At that point in time they are free to draw their own conclusions as to what it is, or is not, and why they hold the opinion that they do.
As my WFAN interview with Mike Francesa closed, Mike asked me about the cost of the work on this jersey. I declined to provide that exact figure. What I did not get a chance to explain is that the fee charged for this work is set and provided up front. The fee is the same for an opinion that results in showing a jersey as being problematic. There is never any condition or stipulation that paying the fee gets you the opinion you had hoped for. Likewise, there is never any condition or stipulation that provides an incentive or bonus if the jersey sells for a record price as was the case here. In my mind, my loyalties are to the process and the artifact in question.
My hope is that this article has provided you with some insight into the process used to evaluate this uniform and how I formed my opinion.
Click Here For: Entire Imagery Analysis Report For The Babe Ruth Jersey (39 pages)
Senior Baseball Uniform Researcher