Dear Babe: I have a Ty Cobb store bat. These turned up about 30 years ago in a warehouse. The bats are old, dated 1909. I see them surface every now and then. I've attached an ad from the Alan Hagar Group that was in one of the baseball magazines selling the bats. It does list the number of bats of each size that were found.
-- Ronald Keurajian, Lansing, Mich.
Babe: You're right about the origin of these bats. Robert Lifson, president of www.RobertEdwardsAuctions, recalled the warehouse and the fact that Hagar marketed them.
"As I recall, Alan Hager (an entrepreneur who likes to promote old items that he can get in quantity) obtained a large percentage of what was available and was marketing them for many hundreds (maybe even $1,000?) each."
Lifson was right on the money. The Hagar ad offers half-sized and three-quarter-sized bats from $130 (a small bat in poor condition) up to $995 (a near-mint half-sized bat).
The ad says that 100 half-sized and 4,000 three-quarter-sized bats were found.
But now, prices have come way down
"There is little collector interest or demand for these bats, but they are apparently real (though I have never held one in my hand) and are a great value at modest levels for collectors," Lifson said.
Different experts put varying values on the bats. Troy Kinunen of www.mearsonline.com said, "These now sell for about $200." Based on the images you sent, he said your bat is "in exceptional condition."
Mike Heffner, president of www.Lelands.com auction house in New York, put the value lower. "They sell for $50 or a bit more when you see them now," he said.
Determining a value was the easy part. Trying to figure out why they were made is another story.
Kinunen thought they were tied to the Ty Cobb candy bar.
However, the dates don't jibe. The bats say 1909, but it looks as if the Cobb candy bar didn't show up until the 1920s.
Numerous auctions have featured wrappers, boxes and counter ad display panels for the candy bar that is described as being similar to a Baby Ruth and produced by the Benjamin Candy Co. of Detroit.
In addition, there is a mention of premiums in the material. It would make sense for a child's bat to be a premium, but the dates are a problem.
Millard Fisher, a member of the Society For American Baseball Research's Magnolia Chapter in Georgia, authored "Ty Cobb as Seen through the Eyes of a Batboy. By Jimmy Lanier, as told to Millard Fisher" (http://sabr.org).
The article quotes Lanier as saying: "At the Cobb house, Mrs. Cobb would give ... and me a Ty Cobb candy bar, which was about the same as a Baby Ruth." Lanier was Cobb's batboy in the mid-1920s.
Lanier's recollection, paired with all the auction descriptions that say the bar is from the 1920s, pretty well pins down the dates.
The bats are youth-sized, but there wasn't a candy bar in 1909 -- at least Da Babe couldn't find a record of it.
When it comes to value, the candy bar wrappers, boxes and counter display far outdistance the bats.
"The wrapper is as rare or rarer than the box," said Mike Heffner, president of www.Lelands.com auction house. "In nice condition the wrapper will sell for up to $1,000. Although the boxes are more common than the wrappers, they sell for more because they display better. There is a small box and a larger box. The large box sells for around $1,500 while the small one is around $1,200."
As for the counter displays, Heffner said: "They average around $1,000 for a smaller one and $1,500 for the larger version."
(Babe Waxpak is written by Bill Wagner. If you have a question for Babe Waxpak, include your full name and hometown, the card number, year and manufacturer or send a photocopy. Please do not send cards. The address is: Babe Waxpak, Box 492397, Redding, CA 96049-2397 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)