Love of the Game Spring, 2014 Auction - Closes Saturday, May 31, 2014
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 6/1/2014

PLEASE NOTE the correction of an inaccuracy in our description.  The baseball purported to have been thrown by Nolan Ryan for the record-breaking speed of 100.8 MPH on September 7, 1974 - the ball offered in this lot - was actually the SECOND-fastest pitch ever thrown by Ryan.  Ryan's speed was clocked in a game on August 20, 1974, at 100.9 MPH, which was logged in the Guinness Book.  In his next home start, which was September 7, the Angels ran a promotion that gave fans the ability to guess whether Ryan would break his record, and the speed he'd throw the ball.  At that event, Ryan threw a pitch 100.8 MPH, which was noted accordingly on the baseball featured in this lot.  We have updated our description accordingly.  

Game-used memorabilia has carved a special niche in our hobby as fans strive to get closer to the game.  Jerseys worn by players, equipment they use to play the game, game balls - anything that serves as a memento to remind us of a certain player, or a specific event, helps hobbyists make an emotional connection with the game they love.  Collectors often seek out memorabilia from an important sports event, a particular game, even a memorable play.  This equipment serves to document the event, becoming historical artifacts in the process, living proof that the player existed, that the game was played, or that the event took place.

In the sport of baseball, hardcore fans are frequently drawn to events that appeal to their knowledge of the game, and how amazing certain feats can be: a perfect game, a hitting streak, a high batting average, a spectacular play.  The types of events that both hardcore and casual fans can appreciate, however, are more pedestrian: a towering home run, a lengthy streak of consecutive games played, a 100 MPH fastball.  Athletic achievements that seem superhuman are always captivating to a wide audience of people; their understanding of such feats are what make game-used memorabilia so interesting to those outside the hobby.

Presented are two such pieces: the very baseball thrown by Bob Feller in 1946 to set the record for the fastest pitch ever thrown, and the baseball thrown by Nolan Ryan in 1974 to break that record - a record that still stands today.  Indeed, of the millions and millions of baseballs thrown by untold numbers of pitchers, these two baseballs were thrown faster than any other baseballs on record, ever, in the history of the game.

The story begins on August 20, 1946.  As part of a pre-game promotion (in which Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith paid the Indians hurler $700 to participate), pitcher Bob Feller was to throw pitches through the U.S. Army's "Sky Screen Chronograph."  The Sky Screen Chronograph was a device used by the United States military to measure the velocity of artillery shells, and was deemed to be accurate to one ten-thousandth of a second.  Working with the device involved setting it up behind home plate, and catcher George Susce crouching behind an opening in the device.  Feller, then, was to throw fastballs through the opening, at which point the speed would be measured.

"Rapid Robert" was no stranger to promotions designed to show off his incredible velocity.  In his rookie season of 1936, as a high school senior, Feller struck out 15 batters in a game.  In 1938, Feller tested his speed against a racing motorcycle, speeding down a road at 86 miles per hour.  Feller's fastball beat the motorcycle to its target by 13 feet, which was figured out at 104 MPH.

But it wasn't until 1946 that Feller's fastball was measured scientifically.  The Chronograph clocked Feller's fastest pitch at 145 feet per second, the equivalent of 98.6 miles per hour - the fastest pitch known. Feller threw 30 pitches into the Chronograph before the game, then went on to pitch a complete game against the Senators, giving up six hits and striking out seven in a 5-4 loss.

Click this link to see video of the record pitch.

Feller's record stood for 28 years, until electronics technicians from Rockwell International measured fastballer Nolan Ryan on August 20, 1974.  Ryan was clocked at a top speed of 100.9 MPH in that game, a record that stands to this day.  In his next home start, on September 7, 1974, the California Angels ran a promotion where fans could guess whether Ryan would break his record, and how fast his pitch would be.  Ryan, who had insisted that he threw harder in the late innings than he did at the beginning of the game, was clocked all night, on Rockwell's radar equipment.  In the ninth inning, against the White Sox' Bee Bee Richard, Ryan was proved correct, throwing his fastest pitch of the night.  The pitch was clocked at an astonishing 100.8 miles per hour, again breaking Feller's record.

The Angels hurler, when asked by Sports Illustrated reporter Ron Fimrite about the toll such pitching would take on his arm, responded "I don't look for longevity.  I look for productivity.  If I can escape injury, I should be a fastball pitcher for maybe another five years."

Of course, five years later was 1979.  At the end of the 1979 season, Ryan ended his career with the California Angels - and signed with the Houston Astros, where he would pitch for 9 more years, before pitching 5 seasons with the Texas Rangers.  During that 14 year period that the young Ryan expected his career would have been long over, he recorded 2,805 more strikeouts, breaking the career record and finishing with 5,714 - nearly 1,000 more than his nearest competitor.

Of course today's radar equipment, ubiquitous at all games, seems to record a 100 MPH fastball every week.  Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman famously has been clocked at 106 MPH.  So how is it that we can claim that Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller are still the owners of the two fastest pitches ever recorded?

Simply because they are.  

Today's technology measures pitch speeds at a point near the pitcher's hand, 50 feet from home plate.  The radar and Chronograph devices that measured the pitches from Ryan and Feller measured speed at distances much further away from the hand.  Given that typical pitches lose 8-11 MPH by the time they reach the front of the plate, a standardized adjustment needs to be made in order to standardize all known pitch speeds.  The measurement is known as an "FFE (fifty foot equivalent) Calculation."*

Nolan Ryan's fastball on August 20, 1974 were measured by a laser radar device at 9-10 feet from home plate.  Utilizing the FFE calculation, Ryan's pitch would have been clocked at an astonishing 108.1 MPH using today's standard of measurement. Feller's measurement was taken at home plate, 60 feet from the mound.  Utilizing the FFE calculation, Feller's pitch would have been clocked at 107.6 MPH using today's standard of measurement.

Standardizing all known pitch speeds utilizing FFE calculations, the four fastest pitches recorded are as follows:

1. Nolan Ryan, August 20, 1974: 108.1 MPH

2. Bob Feller, August 20, 1946: 107.6 MPH

3. Aroldis Chapman, September 24, 2010: 105.1 MPH

4. Joel Zumaya, October 10, 2006: 104.8 MPH

The baseballs in question were acquired by noted collector Barry Halper, where they resided until Halper made the bulk of his collection available in a widely-publicized public auction in September of 1999.  The baseballs were sold together as a single lot (lot #2446), where they were won by our consignor, who has kept them in his collection for the past fifteen years.  

The Feller baseball is an official Wilson American Association ball, noting Roy Hamey as president.  This ball was used exclusively by the American Association between 1945 and 1947.  It should be noted that Feller's pitch was not thrown in a game but was thrown in a pre game exhibition, so the use of a non-official ball is entirely plausible.  Notations written on the baseball in ink are "August 20, 1946" "145 FT. per Second or 98 Miles per Hour.  World Record."  The adjacent panel is signed by bullpen coach George Susce, and authenticated by SGC Authentic.  Later, we took the added step of submitting the ball to James Spence Authentication, who also provided a Letter of Authentication on the Susce signature.  Susce wore #28 for the Indians throughout his career as both a player and a coach, and he can be seen in the above video, catching the record-breaking pitches from Feller.  The Feller "signature" on the baseball is a clubhouse signature, written in an unknown hand.

The stampings on the ball are faded with time, and the ball is somewhat worn and toned.  The ball has been coated with a thin layer of shellac to protect it from further wear.

The Ryan baseball is a Spalding official Lee MacPhail American League baseball.  We consulted with Brandon Gruenbaum, author of the excellent research publication "History of the Baseball," and he confirmed that Spalding official baseballs were definitely used in the American League as early as 1974.  The ball, also somewhat worn and toned, features an inscription in felt tip marker on one panel reading "This ball was thrown 100.8 MPH on 9/7/74 for a worlds record."  The adjacent panel has been signed in ballpoint by Nolan Ryan, with another panel signed and inscribed by Bill Kunkel, who was the second base umpire for the game.  Kunkel's inscription and the identifying writing were clearly written in the same ink, and appear to have been written in the same hand.  Ryan's signature, applied in different ink, has faded considerably but is unmistakably Ryan's.  Kunkel's signature and inscription, as well as Ryan's signature, have been authenticated by both SGC Authentic and James Spence Authentication.

This is an incredible piece of historically significant memorabilia.  The legends of Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan are legends against which every power pitcher who has come after them is compared.  Everybody - even the casual baseball fan - knows that Nolan Ryan threw 100 miles per hour, and this is the very ball he threw!  And of course, like the power pitchers of today who are chasing the legend of Nolan Ryan, Ryan broke into baseball chasing the legend of Bob Feller - and this is the ball he threw as well.  Truly a museum-quality pair of baseballs, worthy of becoming the centerpiece of any memorabilia collection.  LOA on the Susce signature by SGC Authentic and James Spence Authentication.  LOA on the Ryan signature and the Kunkel signature/inscription by SGC Authentic and James Spence Authentication.

* research on FFE Calculations and the fastest pitches ever thrown taken from efastball.com.  Read the entire fascinating article at http://www.efastball.com/baseball/stats/fastest-pitch-speed-in-major-leagues/

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Bidding
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $1,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $1,560
Number Bids: 4
Auction closed on Sunday, June 1, 2014.
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