|Monday, October 20
Updated: October 24, 12:44 AM ET
Donruss will add swatches to cards
By Darren Rovell
NEW YORK -- Some will call it an act of desecration, others will say it's simply the state of the business.
A Babe Ruth game-worn New York Yankees home jersey from 1925 was cut on Monday by a card company that will insert swatches of the jersey into packs.
The company, Donruss, purchased the jersey -- believed to be one of three Ruth pinstripe jerseys in existence -- at an auction last summer for $264,210.
One ceremonial 1-by-1 inch cut of the jersey was made by Donruss president and COO Bill Dully, with Ruth's daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, assisting at the ESPN Zone in New York City. The jersey will immediately go back to the company's headquarters in Arlington, Texas, to be sliced and diced into 2,100 pieces.
"When I first heard about it, I had reservations," said the 86-year-old Stevens, who noted that she was comforted by the fact that full jerseys are on display both at the Hall of Fame and the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum in Baltimore, Md. "But, now I realize that it's going to mean so much to people that get these cards, that get the jersey, it's going to make it real special."
The company plans to put pieces of the jersey on cards that will be inserted into baseball card sets through 2006. The jersey has no number on the back, as the flannel predated numbering by four years, and has "G.H. Ruth" sewn inside the collar.
Greg Schwalenberg, curator of the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum, which currently is displaying a 1930 Ruth jersey on loan, wasn't excited about Donruss' intentions. Schwalenberg said he knows that the act is a demonstration of the reality of the high-priced sports memorabilia market.
"Because items like this sell for so much money, it's getting hard for us to get people to donate stuff now," Schwalenberg said. "Who wouldn't want to try to turn it around and make a lot more money off it? But since it's hard to educate the public with a piece of jersey, we certainly wouldn't endorse something like this."
Jay O'Neill, a baseball memorabilia collector from West Des Moines, Iowa, stated concerns about how far the industry is willing to go to create collectibles.
"I don't mind including swatches from current players," he said. "There are hundreds, if not thousands of game-used articles available for each player. But only three Ruth uniforms! All in the name of the almighty dollar! What's next? Cut up a Revolutionary War uniform of George Washington for Donruss' 2004 Great Presidents series? Maybe pieces of an original Declaration of Independence?"
Dully, noting that the creative sales ploy could draw detractors, remains undeterred.
"There's always going to be controversy," Dully said. "But something like this is just the reality of the free market and the reality of capitalism."
The first opportunity to get a Ruth jersey card will be in Donruss packs in November. Dully said that company officials had faith that Donruss could make a return on its investment from the Ruth jersey based on previous success of putting the cut-up jerseys of legends in their packs.
Donruss previously has inserted pieces of a road Ruth flannel in its packs, and also has used diced-up jerseys of football legends such as Doak Walker, Red Grange and Jim Brown.
"The bottom line is that items like this were once only available to a couple of people and now it's available to everyone in the United States," Dully said. "People from Tampa to Indianapolis to Sacramento can now hold a piece of Ruth's pinstripe jersey."
Prices for packs with the Ruth jersey inserted will range from $2.99 to $150.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.email@example.com.