On July 14, 1934, Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run of his Major League career on July 13 clouting one of Tommy Bridges offerings out of Navin Field, Detroit. The mighty Bambino is shown above with Leonard Beals, who received $20 from the Babe for retrieving the ball.
The ball went over the right field bleachers and out of the ballpark, landing on Plum Street among some automobiles parked across the street. It was estimated the ball traveled 500 feet, when he connected, in the third inning, Babe immediately screamed out loud to Yankee third base coach Art Fletcher, “I want that ball! I want that ball! Bring whoever caught it around to the clubhouse and I’ll give him twenty dollars.” The Yankees went on to win the game 4-2.
The Yankees sent out word to find the person who had retrieved the baseball. That turned out to be 17-year-old Lenny Beals (whose real name was Bielski). Bielski was taken into the ballpark to watch the rest of the game.
Interviewed in 1973 by the Detroit Free Press, Bielski told his version of that memorable day: “I was waiting for a friend who was late. Suddenly a cry rang down Trumbull from the bleachers Of Navin Field, ‘The Babe socked one!’ I was just standing nonchalantly out there and saw the ball coming over the fence and straight down Plum Street Me being a track man (Northwestern High School), I went down the street after it, like a nine-second man. It rolled under a car. I dove under the car and grabbed it. Then a lot of policemen and ushers all grabbed me. They put me on their shoulders and stopped the game and took me into the ballpark and put me in the dugout with Babe Ruth, Joe McCarthy the manager and Lou Gehrig. After the game, Babe said, ‘I’m gonna give him $120.’ He didn’t have his wallet, though, so he told Gehrig, I’ll give that boy a $20 bill.’”
In the clubhouse, Ruth did, in fact, give Bielski twenty dollars and an autographed baseball in exchange for the home run ball, making Bielski very happy. The Babe said, “that’s a ball I’ve wanted for a long time.”
Gehrig took Bielski aside later and said, “If you’d been a little older, you’d have got thousands of dollars for it.”
In his heyday, Ruth was an extravagant tipper, and Gehrig told Bielski that the man who caught Ruth’s 600th home run hit in St. Louis “got $4,000 or $5,000 for that ball.”
That never bothered Bielski who remained in contact with Ruth and over the years. Bielski said he received gifts from a grateful Ruth including box seats to games when Ruth visited Detroit.
Newspaper accounts of the time contradict Gehrig’s story saying Ruth paid either ten or twenty dollars for his 600th home run ball, so maybe Gehrig was just kidding with Bielski.
But today autographed Babe Ruth home run balls, especially momentous ones, have skyrocketed in value.
A baseball that Babe Ruth hit for a home run in 1933 in the first ever All-Star game and was later autographed by Ruth was sold at auction in 2006 by the family of the man who caught the baseball. It went for slightly more than $20.
The final auction hammer price was a Ruthian $700,000. Incidentally, Babe Ruth’s 701st home run ball sold at auction for only $40,000.
Bielski passed away at the age of 60 in 1977. Interestingly Bielski’s family still has the twenty dollar bill (also autographed by Ruth) which Ruth gave in exchange for the baseball. Lenny Bielski’s descendants probably wish he had kept that 700th home run ball.