By Tony Cagala
RANCHO SANTA FE — Retired Major League Baseball pitcher and Rancho Santa Fe resident David Wells has placed his rare, game-worn George Herman “Babe” Ruth baseball cap on the auction block.
Ruth was Wells’ biggest idol growing up.
“Anybody who didn’t know who he was or what he was, if you watched, or heard of anything, or read up on him about baseball, you’d figure out real quick what kind of a guy he was,” Wells said. “(He was) an inspiration to thousands, if not millions back in the time. (He was) bigger than life, and one hell-of-a-baseball player and I just kind of took to that,” he said.
Both players share some similarities, including being lefties — Ruth started his baseball career as a pitcher; both played in the Majors for two decades; both played for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and both played the game with a distinct swagger.
The cap, which is believed to be from the early 1930s, features the iconic “NY” logo embroidered over the navy blue, flannel cap, including, on the interior leather band, the script “G. Ruth” with the cap size listed as 7 3/8 inches.
Wells purchased the cap in 1997.
“As a collector, being a baseball player, I wanted to collect certain items about the history of the game,” he said.
Wells added that he never really thought about the increase in value of those items, but was taken aback one day when someone had approached him with a substantial offer to purchase the cap.
After doing a little investigating and talking to a few people, Wells figured that it was time to part with some of his most expensive items.
The cap is being auctioned by SCP Auctions now through May 19. As of May 10, there have been nine bids placed on scpauctions.com, with the current high bid listed at $208,868.
Part of the proceeds from the sale, Wells said, will go towards renovating the baseball field and updating baseball facilities at Point Loma High School, Wells’ alma mater, and where he is now the pitching coach.
The renovations and upgrades will give current and future players the opportunity to play on an incredible field, Wells said.
Wells also said he hopes the new facilities will help keep the talent on their field and in their district, rather than lose players to private schools around the county.
To keep the cap as well-preserved as he has, Wells kept it behind glass and out of the sun.
Except for one time when he wore the cap during a game against the Cleveland Indians June 28, 1997. It was his first year with the Yankees.
Before that first pitch wearing the cap in Yankees Stadium, Wells said he was pretty nervous. “I’m usually nervous at the beginning of a game anyway,” he said. “To me, just to go in there and pitch with that hat on, it’s pretty much history, if you ask me. You’re wearing a Babe Ruth cap that he played in that stadium, and wore that hat in that stadium and to me, I just thought it was pretty cool for the game, and a lot of my teammates did as well.”
Wells said his teammates also probably thought that he was crazy. “But to me…I love the game of baseball; I love the history of the game, the values of the game not just the sportsmanship of it. I figured, ‘What the hell? I’m going to wear it,’ and I did.”
During that game, he wore it for only one inning —it was the only inning he didn’t give up a run, he said. “I didn’t last very long, I tell you that, but I put it on knowing that I was going to wear it.
“Joe Torre told me otherwise, but I told myself ‘I’m not going to let Joe Torre tell me I can’t wear something that I think is pretty special.’ And so I did it anyways. And then he made me take it off after the first inning, and all hell broke loose.”
The Indians went on to win the game 12-8.
Given Wells’ own accomplishments in his career, including pitching a perfect game in 1998 as a Yankee against the Minnesota Twins, did his wearing of the cap add to the history of it? Wells said that that was for the new owner to decide. “To me it’s history because Babe Ruth wore that hat; I wore that hat, and at Yankee Stadium.”
Ruth made his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox in 1914. He was later traded to the Yankees in 1919, which many fans believe was the impetus that began the mythical “Curse of the Bambino,” a curse that had prevented the Red Sox from winning the World Series since the trade.
In 2005, Wells pitched for the Red Sox, but during his time there, Wells said he never brought the cap to Fenway Park. “I never would’ve thought of it,” he said.
“That probably would’ve reversed the curse and then I might have been a hero in Boston, you never know,” he added. “It’s a Yankee thing.”
The “curse” was seemingly lifted in 2004 when the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1919.