Robinson debut ball to be auctioned

When Artie Gore made his major league debut, his fellow umpires autographed a ball and gave it to him as a keepsake.

Now it’s being auctioned off for more than $20,000 — and not just because it was used in an umpire’s first game 66 years ago.

It also was Jackie Robinson’s first game, the one that broke the color barrier.

"Somewhere in between Nat Turner and Barack Obama was Jackie Robinson on April 15," Richard Flaherty, Gore’s nephew, said. "I don’t know if he hit that ball or not, but in terms of American history, it was pretty important."

The ball had been in a box of memorabilia in Flaherty’s father’s home in Watertown, Mass., its significance unknown, for about 15 years. On Tuesday, it will be auctioned off on the second day of FanFest at the All-Star game being hosted by the New York Mets.

David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, knew the ball was valuable as soon as he saw it last year at the home of Edward Flaherty, Richard’s father, who died in November at the age of 95.

"All I needed to see on the ball was the date of April 15, 1947," said Hunt, whose company is running the auction. "At the minimum, you know it’s going to be of some significance."

On that day at Ebbets Field, Robinson played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Gore umpired at third. The Dodgers beat the Boston Braves 5-3.

Afterward, the other two umpires signed it for their rookie partner. On one part of the soiled ball is the inscription — Babe Pinelli + Arthur. On another section, are the words — To Millie from `Al’ Barlick. Robinson didn’t sign it.

Millie was Gore’s wife and the sister of Flaherty’s father. Gore died in 1986 and his wife died in 1999, Flaherty said.

"After my aunt died, we just boxed the stuff up, and my father took it," Flaherty said. "It’s been sitting in a room in his house for 15 years."

When he started going through the box, he found "mostly old photos and a couple of balls." He didn’t think he’d come across any valuable items.

But then a friend looked at one ball and was intrigued.

"He said, `that’s the Jackie Robinson game.’ It was also my uncle’s first game in the majors," Flaherty said.

The ball was expected to fetch between $10,000 and $30,000. By Monday evening, before Tuesday’s live bidding, the highest online bid was $21,437.

Flaherty and Hunt don’t know when the ball was used during the game or for how many pitches.

"We’re very, very cautious in how far we go to describe something," Hunt said. "Could it have mathematically been the first ball used? Absolutely. But is there any way to legally prove that and do we want to represent that to our clients? No."

As a youngster, Flaherty would go from his home in Watertown to Gore’s in Lexington, Mass., and see player-autographed balls that his uncle had collected.

Now 66 and living in Falls Church, Va., near Washington, Flaherty retired recently. Originally, he thought the proceeds from the ball and other items Gore collected would help pay for home health care for his father. Now the plan is to divide the money among family members.

That might not amount to much for each person unless you include another treasure that Gore had stashed away in his home — a jersey that Ted Williams is believed to have worn between 1946 and 1948.

"It was a zipper-front (shirt) of the mid-40s, which are extraordinarily rare," Hunt said, "and that was at the peak of his career."

Flaherty doesn’t know how Gore got it, although he said Gore and Williams were friends.

"It was just hanging in the hall closet for 30 or 40 years," Flaherty said. "We didn’t appreciate how potentially valuable it was."

How valuable?

Try $100,000 to $200,000. That’s the estimate Hunt Auctions has placed on it. The online bidding reached $78,396.

The company guarantees all its items to be as represented.

"There are things that I’ll be able to look at that are not authentic. Neither of these presented any issues whatsoever," Hunt said. "Having done this for so long, I absolutely can say that when I saw the jersey I knew what it was right away.

"When you hold a jersey of Ted Williams, it does give you chills as a baseball fan. How could it not?"

Flaherty and family members weren’t quite so excited.

"I hate to admit it, but we’re not baseball fans, so we didn’t know," he said.

He knows enough now to attend the auction with some relatives and find out how big the payday will be.

"We’re going to make a family event of it," Flaherty said. "It’s a good excuse to get together."