WHAT: Just about anything signed George Herman Ruth (better known as "Babe" Ruth) is collected these days, but a circa 1932 contract to play for the Depression-era New York Yankees was extra-special. The "why" goes a long way toward explaining the almost $300,000 result when it sold last month in an online sale at RR Auction near Boston. Dated March 16, 1932, the four-page (on two sheets) contract marks the first time in his career that Ruth agreed to a cut in pay.
MORE: The bottom line on baseball revenues took a nosedive during the Great Depression, as much of the public had to choose between game tickets and necessities such as food. According to catalog info, it is thought that the Yankees take at the gate fell by 12 to 15 percent in 1931. Ruth's $80,000 yearly salary during the past two seasons made him an easy target for cost cutting.
In the contract, Ruth agrees to $75,000 a year, plus 25 percent of net receipts for Yankees exhibition games. The document itself is a standard American League player's contract.
SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: In an effort to cut costs in the early 1930s, the owners of 16 major league teams decided to cut $1 million from player salaries. Owners felt that if Ruth would not cave, their players would stand firm as well. Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert initially provoked Ruth by sending him a one-year contract for $70,000. Ruth returned the contract, unsigned.
HOT TIP: In his 1914 contract early in his career, Ruth signed for $600 per season.
BOTTOM LINE: Also sold in the auction, Lou Gehrig's circa 1935 New York Yankees contract for his first season as Yankees captain brought $183,500, and Christy Mathewson's circa 1902 New York Giants contract sold for $68,481.