While most of us aren’t in the market for over a million dollars worth of historical documents, we can still watch the high-stakes auction unfold. Babe Ruth’s original 1922 New York Yankees contract and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s personal, annotated copy of his 1965 “We Shall Overcome” speech are currently up for auction on eBay. History is for sale, but it comes with a hefty price tag.
With a starting bid of $800k, Babe Ruth’s 1922 original contract with the New York Yankees is fascinating — including the Yankees’ morals stipulations. The contract attempted to curb the rowdy lifestyle Babe Ruth was known for. In exchange for a 1 a.m. bedtime and agreeing not to ingest any intoxicating spirits, Ruth would earn a 500% salary increase playing for the Yankees.
With more than two years remaining on his contract with the Boston Red Sox, where he was compensated $10,000 per year, his contract with the Yankees for $52,000 per year is an astounding compensation increase in any era.
The salary for one of the most famous baseball players of all time is still small compared to today’s sports salaries. Ruth’s salary of $52,000 translates to about $700,000 in 2014. For comparison, Alex Rodriguez earned a salary of $2.87 million playing for the Yankees in 2014.
Babe Ruth was additionally expected to keep in good condition (no surprise to any sports fan) and display good morals, too: “The player must keep himself in first-class physical condition and must at all times conform his personal conduct to standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship.”
Gazin Auctions is also selling a noteworthy piece of American history in the personal copy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “We Shall Overcome” speech, given in Chicago on July 6, 1965, when the title phrase became the slogan of the American Civil Rights Movement. The 20 page speech is currently up for auction on eBay with a starting bid of $425,000.
Dr. King’s beautiful penmanship documents his first public utterance of the phrase “we shall overcome,” although others who were active in the movement had sung and chanted it before that date. Peter, Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez helped the song, adapted from two African-American spirituals, spread across the US as a message of nonviolent protest. In the words of Dr. King, “….in a real sense, right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. So I can sing more than ever before, we shall overcome.”
In 2013, Gazin Auctions posted for sale one of the most well-known pieces of Holocaust memorabilia by listing one of only four copies of Schindler’s List that exist today (of the original seven.) The starting bid was $3 million. Additionally, Gazin Auctions has listed Rosa Parks’ notes regarding the Montgomery Bus Boycott as well as a signed photo of Samuel Morse, all on eBay.
Potential buyers must email the seller to get pre-qualified before bidding, but if you have a few extra hundred thousand dollars, holding a piece of history isn’t a bad way to spend it.