Babe Ruth's World Series pocket watch

One of the most important pieces of New York Yankees memorabilia ever offered at auction - Babe Ruth's 1923 World Series pocket watch - has sold for an outstanding $717,000.

Babe Ruth pocket watch
The watch sold well, but far from the $4.4m record for Babe Ruth memorabilia - set by his earliest known jersey

A spectacular display piece, the watch is engraved with Ruth's name and a brilliantly realised baseball engraving. Magnificently crafted from 14 karat gold, it came to auction with an impeccable provenance that casts no doubt on its authenticity.

Yet, you could own Babe Ruth's autograph for just a few hundred dollars, and a very similar Gruen Verithin pocket watch would set you back no more than $10,000, so why was one collector prepared to part with almost three quarters of a million dollars to own this watch?

To fully appreciate the piece, we must look closer at its story, and the context in which it was made:

The infamous Frazee - the man responsible for the Curse of the Bambino

In 1919, fans of the Boston Red Sox were outraged when it was announced their star player was being sold to the New York Yankees.

Theatre director Harry Frazee, himself a New Yorker, had just bought the Red Sox for around $500,000 and, despite being unpopular at first, had managed to win the affection of fans by buying quality players .

However, Frazee needed cash, with rumours circulating he often diverted funds from the team to pay for his theatre productions in New York.

The reality is a little more complex, with a long-running dispute between American League founder and president Ban Johnson and Frazee - the only owner who wasn't hand-picked for the task by Johnson - at the root of the problem.

Regardless of the details, Ruth was sold off to the Yankees and the Bambino would embark on the next stage of his career - in pinstripes.

Ruth left the Red Sox to the dismay of the team's fans, who wouldn't see another pennant for decades

The sale began what has become known as the "Curse of the Bambino" and the team would not win another pennant until 1946, with their next World Series arriving only in 2004.

In his years with the Red Sox, Ruth had been slowly making the transition from pitcher to hitter, and by the time of his debut at newly opened Yankee Stadium - later dubbed "The House that Ruth Built" - the transition was complete.

One of the greatest hitters in baseball history had been born.

The House That Ruth Built

Prior to the stadium's unveiling, the Yankees had been sharing grounds with the New York Giants for over 10 years, and rubbing shoulders with the Giants was building an electrifying friction.  

On Wednesday April 18, 1923, Ruth stepped out in the shining new Yankee Stadium, with the New York Evening Telegram reporting, "everything smelled of fresh paint, fresh plaster and fresh grass".

"It is a thrilling thought that perhaps 2,500 years from now archaeologists, spading up the ruins of Harlem and the lower Bronx, will find arenas that outsize anything that the ancient Romans and Greeks built," wrote the Philadelphia Enquirer.

Fans enter the stadium ahead of the 1923 World Series

Squaring up against his former team, Ruth led the Yankees to a stunning 4-1 victory, hitting a characteristic home run - the first ever seen at the stadium. His place in the hearts of Yankee fans was secured.

The addition of Ruth to the Yankees team saw their fortunes change: until this point the team had not won any pennants, but by the end of the 1923 season they found themselves pitched against arch rivals, the New York Giants, in the World Series.

And this wasn't the first time the teams had faced off in the World Series. In fact, the previous two championships had featured the two teams, with the Giants winning them both.

The Yankees were desperate for a win, armed with their new not-so-secret weapon.

As excitement built, over 300,000 tickets were sold for the six games, with takings of over $1m. Never before had baseball seen such popularity, and the Yankee Stadium was the perfect place to usher in this new era.

The swaggering Ruth, riding on a wave of fame and fine form, batted .368 through the series, hitting three home runs and leading the Yankees' charge, as they comfortably secured a 4-2 win.

One who didn't make the team was a future Yankees star who had just enjoyed his very first season - Lou Gehrig.

Yet his exclusion wasn't the choice of Yankees' manager Miller Huggins, who had tried to add him to the roster. However, the rules of the day dictated that a team had to have the permission of the baseball commissioner and the opposing team's manager to make a change.

John McGraw, despised by Yankees fans for not allowing Lou Gehrig to play

The Giants' John McGraw was no fan of the Yankees, and wasn't prepared to let the team add another potential star to the line-up, so Gehrig would have to remain in the dugout.

Following the World Series win, Ruth and the team were each presented with pocket watches made by the premier US watch company Gruen.

Engraved with "Presented by Baseball Commissioner to George H. Ruth", the watch remained at Ruth's side for the remainder of his career - no doubt a beloved memento of his first World Series win.

Charles Schwefel Babe Ruth
Schwefel (far right) is often pictured with the ailing Ruth in his final years

In 1946, the ageing Babe Ruth, now retired, began to feel a pain over his left eye, which grew in intensity until he was forced to visit the French Hospital in New York, where it was discovered he had a malignant tumour in his skull and neck.

The tumour proved inoperable, despite Ruth's fame and fortune affording him the very best treatment.

As his condition deteriorated, he became closer to his friend Charlie Schwefel, a wealthy hotelier who cared for him throughout his illness. The two had become pals through their mutual passion for encouraging America's youth into sport.

Come 1948, Ruth's days were numbered and he asked Schwefel if there were any of his possessions that he wanted as a keepsake. Schwefel chose the World Series watch as testament to Ruth's amazing career.

Before gifting it to Schwefel, Ruth arranged for an additional engraving to be added to the watch, reading "To My Pal Charles Schwefel".

Schwefel was a contant presence at Ruth's side during his illness, earning his name on the watch

Babe Ruth died on August 16, 1948.

Just two years later, Schwefel would pass the watch on to his nephew, Lewis Fern, with the hotelier's wife commenting, "this should have been yours all along."

Fern had served as the Babe's golf caddy at the St Alban's Golf Club in Queen, New York, and recalls the time that he and Ruth paused to watch the Hindenburg zeppelin pass overhead, before bursting into flames an hour later in

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