Shoeless Joe's Bat Fetches Record $577K

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson's famed bat, Black Betsy, will soon move to an office in Pottsdown, Pa. after a 30-year-old businessman won an Internet auction.

Rob Mitchell agreed to pay $577,610 for one of sports' most fabled artifacts. It's believed to be the highest price ever paid for a baseball bat. The 10-day eBay auction attracted only two bidders - one of whom did not enter until the final five minutes. The winning bid was made by Mitchell, who owns a marketing company and plans to display the bat in the company offices for now.

Shocked by Bargain Price

"I was shocked for what the bat went for," he said. "I think the bat's worth somewhere between $1.7 million and $4 million. I think if it's not the best, it's in the top five best buys ever recorded in the memorabilia industry — baseball or any other sport." A few other people had put down the $25,000 deposit required for making a bid on the bat but never placed an offer, said Kevin Hammond, chief executive of consignment company Real Legends Inc. Before the auction began, Hammond suggested that Black Betsy could challenge the record $3.05 million a collector paid for Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball. But he said he was not disappointed in the final price, $525,100 plus a 10 percent buyer's premium.

Seller a Little Disappointed

The seller was Lester Erwin of Easley, S.C., who kept the bat on a bookcase for decades after inheriting it from Jackson's widow in 1959. "Obviously with all the hype that's been done in the media, there has to be a little disappointment," he said Tuesday night. "But how can you be real disappointed with a half-million? I think whoever ended up with it got a steal." Jackson, who holds baseball's third-highest career batting average, used the warped hickory bat throughout his major league career and in semipro leagues after being banished for allegedly joining in the fix of the 1919 World Series. Jackson still has ardent supporters who say he had nothing to do with the fix and should be allowed into the Hall of Fame.

Bat Rested on a Bookcase for Decades

Jackson died in 1951. Erwin got the 40-ounce bat from Jackson's wife, Katie, who was a cousin of Erwin's mother. Erwin quietly stowed the bat on a bookcase for decades while baseball historians and collectors pondered what had happened to Black Betsy. Mitchell said he hopes the bat someday finds a permanent spot in the Hall of Fame or in Jackson's hometown of Greenville, S.C. Vince Malta, a bat expert who authenticated that the Black Betsy up for sale was for real, said bats used by Shoeless Joe and Babe Ruth have sold for well over $100,000. But he said Black Betsy's price set a record. "I'm not aware of anything that comes close," Malta said.