I got you, Babe: Neshek collects on Lackey debt for giving up uni number

Pat Neshek and John Lackey both wore No. 41 well for the Cardinals this season, but only Lackey wears it now.

ST. LOUIS — As good as the No. 41 was for Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek, he is feeling just fine that he handed it over to his new teammate John Lackey.

Understandably so.

Neshek was able to add a Babe Ruth-autographed baseball to his sizable stable of collectibles, courtesy of Lackey’s generosity. While neither said how much the ball cost off of eBay, at least $20,000 would seem to be in the ballpark. While any Ruth autograph is valuable, this one is special by the Babe’s standards.

"The cool thing about the ball is it has ‘Babe’ in quotations, which is something he did earlier in his career," Neshek said. "It’s from 1926. A lot of the ones you see are toward the end of his life and career. That was the cool thing about this one. It was during his playing days."

Lackey was set on sticking with No. 41 after he was traded by the Red Sox because it’s the only number he has worn in his 12 big-league seasons. He initially offered Neshek the standard gift of a watch, albeit a rather nice one. Not being much for watches, even Breitling watches, Neshek said he asked Lackey about a baseball card.

"I tried to feel some of the guys (who knew Lackey) out and they said he was a really cool guy and he might be into doing like a pretty nice watch," Neshek said. "I came up and said, ‘I’m not a watch guy. I’m kind of into baseball cards.’ He said, ‘Go pick one out.’"

Neshek consulted with a friend who is in the collectible business and was told that he should go for a Ruth autograph. So Neshek went online, identified some possibilities, had his buddy check them out and settled on one. Lackey gave him the OK and Neshek made sure the ball was authenticated.

When it arrived in the clubhouse earlier this week, Neshek removed the ball from its case to show it off.

"A lot of guys said, ‘Don’t take it out,’" Neshek said. "I was like, ‘I’m taking this out. Look at this guys. You want to touch it?’ It was pretty cool."

"He was really happy with it," Lackey said. "I appreciate him giving up that number with him having such a great year. I wanted to do something cool for him, for sure."

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Giving up the number wasn’t easy for Neshek because of the season he has enjoyed. He made his first All-Star team and ranks among the top relievers in the game with a 0.84 ERA. He said his mom, in fact, was not happy that he switched. "She shunned me," Neshek said.

"But I’ve gotten a lot of strikeouts since with No. 37 and things have been going pretty well. So it was a great trade."

He said the Ruth autograph is now No. 1 in his collection, moving ahead of a Napoleon Bonaparte-signed battle plan. A Jimi Hendrix autograph also is high on Neshek’s list.

"I bought that about six years ago and the thing has quadrupled in price," Neshek said. "He’s a pretty valuable one because he died so early."

But now he’s playing second fiddle to the Babe.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.