A "wrong-handed" catcher's mitt worn by a young Babe Ruth during his Baltimore upbringing is on the auction block, where its historic value and quirky back story are already commanding six-figure bids.
Ken Goldin, owner of Goldin Auctions, estimates the glove will sell for more than $500,000 in the online and live auction ending Saturday. In 2014, Ruth's 1918 contract with the Boston Red Sox — where he played before becoming a New York Yankees home run king — sold for more than $1 million.
Another baseball glove Ruth used in early in his professional career fetched $118,000 at a Maine auction in early April.
The faded catcher's mitt up for auction now — made of steer hide with leather laces — dates from Ruth's time at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys in West Baltimore more than a century ago.
Ruth was known in the major leagues first as a Red Sox pitcher, then as a Yankee slugger with an outsized personality.
"But at St. Mary's he played all positions, so he was also a catcher," said Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, which runs the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore, where the glove was displayed for 22 years.
Left-handers such as Ruth seldom play catcher, and catcher's mitts for lefties are rare. So Ruth wore a mitt designed for right-handers, Gibbons said. "There are photographs of him wearing a wrong-handed catcher's mitt," requiring a certain dexterity, he said.
"Once receiving a pitch he would then hold the ball in his right hand, shake off the mitt and then switch hands to throw the ball back to the pitcher left-handed," said a description of the mitt on Goldin's website. "With this awkward production, it must have been extremely tempting for a base runner to steal on Ruth, but the Babe's athletic prowess was such that he was able to speed up his motions in time to nab runners."
What appears to be a model number — "F150" — is barely visible on the mitt's heel.
Ruth gave the mitt to a store clerk, Edward Petschke, while with the minor league Providence Grays in 1914, according to the auction house. The glove stayed in the family until a descendant of Petschke's, Craig Prescott, met Gibbons at a party in 1993.
"I've got something you might want," Gibbons recalled Prescott saying. Prescott loaned the mitt to the Babe Ruth museum at 216 Emory St., where the sports celebrity was born.
Recently, the family decided to sell the mitt.
"Somebody in the family is old and requiring a lot of care," Gibbons said. Members of the family could not be reached for comment.
The minimum bid was $125,000. Online bidding had reached $155,000 early Friday evening.
Bidding was to remain open until 11 a.m. Saturday. Bidding will resume early Saturday evening online and live at New York Yankees Steakhouse in Manhattan.
Gibbons hopes the glove will be loaned back to the museum by the new owner.
A note accompanying the auction details reads: "Goldin Auctions wants to inform all bidders that the museum would love to exhibit the glove again via either a loan (with plaque to lender if desired) or by donation."
The glove comes with a chronology of ownership from the family and museum, and an "audio file recording taken in 1993 from the last remaining Petschke brother detailing how the mitt was acquired and their relationship with Babe Ruth," the auction house said.
Ruth, the first player to top 700 home runs, died in 1948.
"The stuff made during his playing years is always highly sought after, and I'm sure will continue to be," said Mike Tanner, co-owner of the Baseball Card Outlet and Sports Memorabilia store in Baltimore. "Which is interesting because most of us never saw Ruth play.
"But Ruth transcends all that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.