In the Fractional Batter's Box: A Pro Model Bat Breakdown

It’s no secret that sports memorabilia has been a fractional market laggard. In fact, as of August 27th, it was the worst performing asset class, with an average return of -5.22%. This weak performance comes against the backdrop of sports card interest that continues to surge; the average fractional sports card return was 29.33% as of the same date. One might think that the two classes would trade in tandem, with the rising tide of general sports collectible interest lifting both boats. Alas, this has proven not to be the case, at least fractionally.

The question is posed frequently, by both those within and without the hobby: why would a card with a *piece* of a bat or jersey be worth more than an entire game-used bat or jersey? How does that make sense? The short answer is that, logically, it doesn’t. But a more nuanced take would suggest that the standardization provided by grading, as well as the proliferation of data in the card market has created a higher degree of activity, liquidity, and credibility, all of which have helped markets climb higher with greater rapidity. Contrast that to memorabilia, where no two items are truly the same, there is no real degree of fungibility, comps are more unnatural, and the merits of one piece versus another are difficult to quantify. Moreover, the data to alleviate the latter two issues has – to date – not been readily available.

The unavailability of data, however, has begun to change in one memorabilia category: professional model baseball bats graded by PSA. As of last week, the grading company has released a bat population report, currently featuring just the “most notable ballplayers in the hobby”, with others set to be added over time. No longer is determining the number of Babe Ruth gamers in circulation a word-of-mouth pursuit, rather the population in each grade is now a known quantity.

Before examining the recently released report, it’s important to understand how bat grading works. To do that, you need to briefly forget everything you know about card grades and their associated values. There are no “mint” 10s in bat grading. In fact, a bat in “minty" condition – with little evidence of use – is unlikely to garner anything higher than a 5.

The grading scale in professional model bats measures the degree of likelihood that the player in question actually used it. A 10, then, would possess extraordinary player characteristics, in addition to typically being fully documented. Player characteristics comprise what is known as a player’s “hitting fingerprint” – these are unique signs of game-use attributable to a specific player that allow the grader to effectively place the bat in the player's hands. These characteristics can be things like grip taping patterns, grooved barrels, and pine-tar use. Put simplistically, the more characteristics a bat possesses and the more evidently it possesses them, the higher the grade.  

Coming from the card enthusiast’s perspective, the table below might be a bit shocking. To see a population of assets – many of which are from several decades ago - skew so heavily to higher grades is jarring. Included for comparison are the graded card population proportions for 1933 Goudey and 1952 Topps.  The high-grade population for bats speaks to the fact that this category is not the product of a manufacturer’s choice. Instead, what makes bats collectable – and what makes the most coveted ones so dearly treasured – is the knowledge that they sat in the hands of all-time greats as their weapon of choice, bludgeoning baseballs all over the yard. And while the report is evidence that there are plenty of unused or very lightly used player model bats out there, the bulk of the collectible population is comprised of those bats that contributed to the stratospheric stat totals of the men that wielded them.

Not surprisingly, the populations are incredibly low relative to cards, with no one player’s bats numbering greater than 350 to date. Populations range from as low as 8, for Shoeless Joe Jackson, to as high as 332 for Cal Ripken Jr. (after all, he played so many freaking games). Smattered in between are varying totals from the greatest hitters to walk the earth.  

Of course, a small selection of the bat population resides in the fractional world – 10 PSA graded bats to be precise . Of the five trading, the average return is -23.6% (as of 8/27). Sports memorabilia has performed poorly across the board, but fractional investors have really yet to warm to the bat space. With the release of the population report, we wanted to provide a bit more background and context for the fractional bat offerings available to investors to aid in future decision making.

We'll bring each option to the plate, batting order determined chronologically by the era of the lumber.

Photo: PSA

1924 Babe Ruth AL Batting Title Bat

Platform: Rally

Initial Offering Market Cap: $255,000

Current Market Cap: $160,950

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 9.5

Total Ruth Bat Population: 98

9.5 Population: 7

Graded Higher: 28

 

Background: Babe Ruth, “The Sultan of Swat”, used this bat during the final games of the 1924 season, a season in which he won the American League Batting Title. Ruth hit .378, with 46 home runs and 124 RBIs. That tied for his second highest batting average in a season, behind his .393 average a year earlier.

The bat is one of seven graded a 9.5, with 28 bats graded a 10. Bats have half points either awarded or deducted on the basis of a particular strong or weak player characteristic or strong or weak eye appeal.

Key characteristics here include left barrel contact area (Ruth hit with the center brand facing down) and upper barrel cleat impressions.

 

Recent & Notable Sales:

8/21/21 - $870,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1920 PSA 10 Bat

2/27/21 - $1,020,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1916-1918 PSA 9.5 Bat

5/8/20 - $930,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1921 52nd Home Run PSA 10 Bat

7/9/19 - $200,000 – Hunt Auctions – 1918-1922 PSA 9.5 Bat

8/18/18  - $180,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1922 PSA 9.5 Signed Bat

Recent sales here speak to just how difficult it is to find timely and relevant comps in the graded bat space. Sure, there are recent Ruth bat sales, but they are either graded higher, from earlier periods in his career (often more valuable), or come from a specific moment or achievement. Rarity, grade, era, provenance – all come into play in determining a bat’s value. This means we need look back as far as 2019 for closer comps, and as we know, markets for other assets have evolved quite a bit in two years.

Photo: PSA

1933 Joe DiMaggio Game Used Bat

Platform: Collectable

Initial Offering Market Cap: $95,000

Current Market Cap: 99,750

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 8

Total DiMaggio Bat Population: 39

8 Population: 4

Graded Higher: 19

 

Background: This bat is believed to date all the way back to the 1933-1934 season, when DiMaggio was still with the minor league San Francisco Seals. That makes it an extremely early bat, and in fact, it is the earliest to appear in PSA’s database. Before he was winning his three MVPs, making his thirteen All-Star Game appearances, playing a part in nine World Series victories, and successfully recording a hit in 56 straight games, the Yankee Clipper was, well, a Seal. This bat would’ve been ordered and used after the conclusion of his record 61 game hitting streak in the Pacific Coast League.

DiMaggio bats do not notoriously feature many unique player characteristics, and that would be the case for the earlier bats as well. This particular bat features ball marks on all sides of the barrel, green bat rack streaks, as well as some post player use bruises. As such, it’s only good enough for a PSA/DNA GU 8 grade, which puts it behind 19 other examples – though, again, none as early. Heritage did sell another 1933-34 bat (graded 7) in 2020, though the era isn’t noted in the PSA report.

Recent & Notable Sales

8/21/21 - $402,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1951 Final Game Used & Signed Bat PSA/DNA GU 10

2/22/20 - $31,200 – Heritage Auctions – 1933-34 Game Used Bat PSA/DNA GU 7

11/9/19 - $37,500 – Hunt Auctions – 1941-42 Game Used Bat (Hitting Streak Era) PSA/DNA GU 7.5

4/27/19 - $46,693 – SCP Auctions – 1941 Game Used Bat Attributed to Hitting Streak PSA/DNA GU 7

Photo: PSA

1936-37 Jimmie Foxx Game Used & Signed Bat

Platform: Collectable

Initial Offering Market Cap: $93,500

Current Market Cap: N/A (Funded 9/2)

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 9.5

Total Foxx Bat Population: 29

9.5 Population: 2

Graded Higher: 5

 

Background: Jimmie Foxx wielded this bat in the 1936 and 1937 seasons, over which he hit 77 home runs for the Red Sox. Unfortunately, it comes from the season before Foxx would launch 50 homers in an MVP winning effort (one of three MVP seasons). At a population of just 29 though, Foxx bats are quite rare, and this is believed to be just 1 of 2 signed gamers. PSA notes that of the 500 homer club, Foxx’s bats are the second toughest to find, behind Mel Ott, though Foxx’s are considered more desirable. Specific player characteristics are fairly limited for Foxx gamers, as is relatively common for the era – no distinct taping style or pine tar application.

 

Recent & Notable Sales

12/12/20 - $75,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1936-37 Game Used & Signed Bat (Same as Collectable)

8/1/19 - $50,400 – Goldin Auctions – 1938 MVP Game Used Bat PSA/DNA GU 9 (+24% on May 2018 Heritage sale in a little over a year)

5/17/18 - $40,800 – Heritage Auctions – 1938 MVP Game Used Bat PSA/DNA GU 9

2/4/18 - $90,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1934 Game Used Bat PSA/DNA GU 9

Foxx bats are rare and signed Foxx bats even rarer so comps are few and far between. The unsigned MVP season bat provides decent context for the trajectory of Foxx bats and the levels reached in years past. Ultimately, one would have to weigh how far they think the memorabilia market has come since the 2020 sale and since the MVP bat sale in 2019, in addition to how much more dearly valued the signature should be.

Photo: PSA

1947 Ted Williams Triple Crown Bat

Platform: Collectable

Initial Offering Market Cap: $197,500

Current Market Cap: N/A (Not yet launched)

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 9.5

Total Williams Bat Population: 66

9.5 Population: 8

Graded Higher: 14

 

Background: Ted Williams is just one of sixteen men to have won the Triple Crown…except Williams actually did it twice: in 1942, right before his military service in World War II, and in 1947, the second year after his return. Laughably, Williams didn’t win the MVP in either year. In ’47, when Williams hit .343 with 32 home runs and 114 RBIs, the honor went instead to DiMaggio, who won the World Series with the Yankees, but was statistically worse in every category. Also a fun note: DiMaggio and Williams were very nearly traded for each other that same season. Williams fell a vote short of the MVP, and one voter left him off the ballot entirely (believed to be a Boston sportswriter who did so out of spite - classic Bahstin). I, for one, demand a recount. (Yes, I am from Boston. No that has nothing to do with it. Okay, yes that has everything to do with it). The 1942 selection of Joe Gordon over Williams made even less sense.

Williams bats have numerous interesting qualities. Teddy Ballgame would prepare his bats with pine tar or a rosin & olive oil combo to improve the grip, though he would clean the handles with alcohol to prevent buildup. He favored a lightweight bat and wanted to avoid the unnecessary addition of weight. The bat in question does feature a light coating of olive oil & rosin. In addition to the alcohol cleaning, Williams would have the Red Sox bat boy scrape the bat handle of substance build-up, of which there is evidence on this bat. The bat was sold by Goldin in Summer 2017 for $60,000 – it was graded PSA/DNA GU 9 at the time, but was re-evaluated and assigned a 9.5 in July of 2021.

 

Recent & Notable Sales

2/23/2020 - $17,400 – Heritage Auctions – 1946-47 Game Used Bat PSA/DNA GU 7.5 (MVP & Triple Crown seasons)

Summer 2017 - $60,000 – Goldin Auctions – 1947 Triple Crown Bat PSA/DNA GU 9 (same bat as Collectable)

2/25/17 - $180,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1947 Triple Crown Bat PSA/DNA GU 10 (15% annualized improvement over 2011 sale of same bat)

A reasonably informative assortment of sales to examine here. The 2020 sale wasn't marketed as an MVP/Triple Crown Bat in the lot title, and the grade is vastly lower, but it still feels like a weak result. Certainly, nearly $200k is a large step up from $60,000 in summer 2017 - the PSA 8 Williams Play Ball card sold in a range of high teens to mid twenty thousands in mid 2017 and sits in the mid thirties today. The bat was re-graded higher since then though.

Photo: PSA

1959 Roberto “Momen” Clemente Game Used Bat

Platform: Rally

Initial Offering Market Cap: $70,000

Current Market Cap: $50,000

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 10

Total Clemente Bat Population: 157

10 Population: 16

Graded Higher: 0

 

Background: This bat dates to a relatively early moment in Roberto Clemente’s career, when the 24 year old hit .296 over 105 games. Until 1960, Clemente had his bats labeled with his nickname “Momen Clemente”, and as such, these early career “Momen” bats are considered rare.

The bat is one of 16 PSA/DNA GU 10s, though only two such bats date to 1960 or earlier (the Rally example being one of them). Clemente’s pop is somewhat high for a player of that era, as he changed bats fairly frequently, which also contributes to a relatively high proportion of bats in the PSA/DNA GU 7-9 range. This bat carries signs of heavy game use, including ball marks, stitch impressions, grain checking, cleat marks, and rack streaks. His number, 21, is also handwritten on the knob.

 

Recent & Notable Sales

8/29/20 - $20,400 – Heritage Auctions – 1958 “Momen” PSA/DNA GU 8.5 Bat

8/19/18 - $40,800 - Heritage Auctions – 1960 “Momen” World Series Bat (Not graded)

11/18/17 - $42,000 - Heritage Auctions – 1960 “Momen” World Series Bat (Not graded)

8/19/17 - $50,400 – Heritage Auctions – 1959 “Momen” PSA/DNA GU 10 Bat

8/27/16 - $50,190 – Heritage Auctions – 1959 “Momen” PSA/DNA GU 10 Bat

 

Limited recent and relevant comps to utilize here. The most relevant comps date back 4 and 5 years ago, as the 2020 sale is of a lower grade, and the World Series bat was not graded due to post-career sandlot use. Those August 2016 and 2017 sales, though, are for the same bat on Rally’s platform. So, the question for investors today, with the market cap at $50,000, is whether or not the bat should be worth more now than it was in the mid-2010s.

Photo: PSA

1962 Mickey Mantle World Series Bat (Signed)

Platform: Rally

Initial Offering Market Cap: $150,000

Current Market Cap: $94,500

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 9

Total Mantle Bat Population: 79

9 Population: 17

Graded Higher: 28

 

Background: Mickey Mantle used this Hillerick & Bradsby bat during the 1962 World Series as the Yankees beat the Giants in seven games. The bat was ordered just two days before Game 1. The 1962 season was a successful one for the Mick, as he won one of his three MVP awards. His World Series performance, however, left something to be desired, as he went just 3 for 25 at the plate, walking four times and striking out five.

The bat is one of 17 graded a 9, with 28 bats graded higher. It is a signed example, and shows cleat marks on the left barrel, blue bat rack marks on the handle and right barrel, and numerous ball marks on the left and back barrel. The majority of Mantle ball marks would typically appear on the right barrel, with Mantle batting left-handed against right handed pitchers, but most of the contact on this bat appears to have come with Mantle batting right-handed.

 

Recent & Notable Sales

8/29/20 - $288,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1958 World Series PSA 10 Signed Bat

1/24/20 - $80,822.40 – Mile High Card Co - 1960 World Series MEARS A10 Signed Bat

2/24/18 - $120,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1953 World Series PSA 10 Bat

2/24/18 - $90,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1958 All-Star Game PSA 9 Signed Bat

12/10/17 - $108,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1960 World Series PSA 9.5 Bat

 

The 1960 World Series bats correspond to incredible individual efforts for Mantle, but losses for the Bronx Bombers, while the more recent sale for the 1958 bat corresponds to both a strong individual performance and a series victory. Of course, the grades of each of those bats are superior, but the most recent sale of a signed PSA/DNA GU 9, three and a half years ago, was for 20% less than the market cap of the bat on Rally.

Photo: PSA

1965-1968 Robert Clemente Game Used Bat

Platform: Collectable

Initial Offering Market Cap: $29,975

Current Market Cap: N/A (Trading 9/16)

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 9

Total Clemente Bat Population: 157

9 Population: 29

Graded Higher: 37

 

Background: This bat dates to a later but vastly more successful part of Clemente’s career. During that 65-68 stretch, he won two batting titles, hitting .329 in 1965 and .357 in 1967, and an MVP award in 1966. He also won Gold Gloves all four seasons.

The bat is one of 29 PSA/DNA GU 9s, with 37 bats graded higher. It features a light coat of pine tar and a handwritten 21 on the knob. The right, left, and back barrels feature ball marks and stitch impressions, while the back barrel has evidence of repeated ball contact.

 

Recent & Notable Sales:

3/6/21 - $24,000 – Goldin Auctions – 1965-68 PSA/DNA GU 9 Bat (Collectable Bat)

5/22/21 - $19,200 – Goldin Auctions – 1966-68 PSA/DNA GU 8 Bat

10/31/20 - $19,200 – Goldin Auctions – 1969-1972 PSA/DNA GU 9 Bat

8/29/20 - $60,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1965-68 PSA/DNA GU 8 Bat (Photo-Matched)

2/22/20 - $21,000 – Heritage Auctions – 1972 PSA/DNA GU 9.5 Bat

10/17/19 - $26,400 – Heritage Auctions – 1966 PSA/DNA GU 10 Bat

 

Given the aforementioned frequency with which Clemente switched bats, there are a fair few comps from either that mid to late 60s era or thereabouts. Typically, they cluster in the low-to-mid $20,000s, though there are of course differences in grade, precise year, and sale date at hand. The March 2021 Goldin sale is the sale of the Collectable bat, though the May sale of an 8-graded example for $19k is a decent follow-up.

1968 Willie Mays Game-Used, Signed Bat

Platform: Rally

Initial Offering Market Cap: $39,000

Current Market Cap: $32,500

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 10

Total Mays Bat Population: 122

10 Population: 25

Graded Higher: 0

 

Background: This bat comes from the Say-Hey Kid’s 1968, or 37 year old season, in which he hit .289 with 23 home runs and 79 RBIs, capturing his final of 12 consecutive Gold Gloves in the process.

The bat is one of 25 PSA/DNA GU 10s. Mays bats from later in his career, essentially from the mid-60s onward, are particularly distinct for their use of caked on pine tar from the base of the handle close to or past the center brand. This particular model does feature a moderate pine tar coat on the handle, and Mays’s number 24 is written on the knob, as is the case with many of his gamers. Ball marks are visible on the right, left, and back barrel, which is not uncommon for Mays bats – PSA attributes this to his free-swinging nature. Mays also signed the front barrel in black sharpie, though PSA/DNA did not offer an opinion on the authenticity of that signature.

 

Recent & Notable Sales:

8/22/2021 - $43,200 – Heritage Auctions – 1965-68 PSA/DNA GU 9 Signed Bat

8/22/2020 - $31,980 – Goldin Auctions – 1965-68 PSA/DNA GU 10 Bat

8/10/2019 - $29,520 – Goldin Auctions – 1969 PSA/DNA GU 10 Bat

 

We need not go back particularly far to find comps that stack up as reasonably relevant (at least in the context of pro model bats). The two most recent sales date to the 1965-1968 range, and as such capture some more spectacular seasons from Mays, particularly 1965 when he won the NL MVP. The most recent sale, though, is of a lower grade, and the sale of a 10 a year earlier was for an unsigned bat. The 2019 sale of an unsigned 10 from the 1969 season (similar statistically) lingers a bit more than 10% below the current market cap of the fractional example.

Photo: PSA

Frank Robinson Signed 500th Home Run Bat

Platform: Collectable

Initial Offering Market Cap: $170,000

Current Market Cap: N/A (Trading 10/7)

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 10

Total Robinson Bat Population: N/A

 

Background: Frank Robinson had this bat in his clutches when he belted his 500th homer, becoming just the 11th player to reach that mark. Before going any further, apparently Robinson wasn’t “notable” enough to make the first cut of players included in the PSA bat population report, which is yet another in a long list of testaments to just how underrated he is.

Robinson is responsible for one of just 17 Triple Crown winning seasons, and he’s the only player to have won the MVP in both the AL and the NL. He ranks 10th all-time in home runs with 586, 13th in total bases, 21st in RBIs, and 36th in hits. He was also the first black manager in MLB history.

Robinson’s bats have a few key characteristics. He would mark the knob with both his uniform number and the bat’s weight – the Collectable example is accordingly marked with his number “20” and the bat’s weight “35”. They’re also generally light on or lacking tar and possess cleat marks and shoe polish on the barrel. The 500th home run bat, graded a 10, features ball marks and stitch impressions on the left barrel.

Notable Sales: Given that there aren’t any other bats out there dating to occasions as monumental as a 500th home run, comps are difficult to come by. Collectable notes the bat was purchased privately in late 2020/early 2021 for $125,000. Bats of other players tied to key moments, however, have sold in recent years, which may provide helpful context. Babe Ruth’s 500th home run bat sold for $1,000,800 in the fall of 2019 with SCP Auctions – but to be fair, few can be comped to the Babe, particularly in memorabilia, and Robinson isn’t one of the few. Getting warmer, Alex Rodriguez’s 600th home run bat sold for $80,592 at that same auction, while his 500th home run bat sold for $45,510 in spring of 2019 at Goldin.  In December of 2019, Reggie Jackson’s 501st and 502nd home run bats sold for $39,600 – but 501 and 502 do not equal 500, and Mr. October trailed Frank Robinson in essentially every statistical category. See, it’s a tough puzzle to solve.

1977-78 Sadaharu Oh Game Used & Signed Bat

Platform: Collectable

Initial Offering Market Cap: $24,250

Current Market Cap: N/A (Trading 9/20)

 

Grade: PSA/DNA GU 10

Total Oh Bat Population: N/A

 

Background: Oh holds the world record for professional home runs, slugging a ridiculous 868 dingers over a 22 year career in Japan. Over that span, he hit .301 and amassed 2,786 hits, 2,170 RBIs, nine Central League MVPs, and 11 Japan Series titles. This bat dates to 1977 and1978. In those seasons, at age 37 and 38, Oh belted 50 and 39 home runs respectively. However, it’s noted that the bat was obtained during an All Star tour of Japan.

It is believed to be the only PSA/DNA GU 10 graded Oh bat. Not surprisingly, Oh is not featured among the ballplayers in the initial population report release. The bat features many ball marks on the right and back barrel, cleat marks on all sides, light pine tar use, and Oh’s signature in both English and Japanese.

Notable & Recent Sales:

8/30/20 - $7,800 – Heritage Auctions – 1977-80 PSA/DNA GU 9Signed Bat

2/21/16 - $3,824 – Heritage Auctions – 1977-80 PSA/DNA GU 7 Bat

8/22/20 - $20,400 – Goldin Auctions – Game Used Tokyo Giants Jersey

Few relevant and helpful comps to examine here…even had to grasp for a game-used jersey to illustrate the potential level of demand for Oh’s memorabilia. Can the success of Ohtani and his mainstream appeal draw a new audience to a legend of the Japanese game and his highest graded game bat?

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