WESTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The “Little” Johnny Sylvester collection, a unique family-owned archive related to one of the most famous stories in baseball history, is headed for the auction block. Sylvester was a gravely ill 11-year-old boy who rallied after receiving a baseball signed by Babe Ruth together with a promise from the Yankee slugger to “knock a homer” for him.
The collection’s centerpiece is the most talked-about baseball of all time, the “I’ll Knock A Homer For You” baseball that Ruth and the Yankees sent to Sylvester. Ruth and five other Yankees autographed the baseball. Ruth’s immortal promise – “I’ll Knock A Homer For You” – appears on one panel, and an inscription from the Yankees appears on another.
Shortly before October 6, 1926, Babe Ruth and the Yankees sent the signed and inscribed baseball to Little Johnny, who was hospitalized near his home in Essex Falls, New Jersey. The youngster had been seriously injured in the summer of 1926 after falling off a horse and being accidentally kicked in the head by his mount. Learning of the incident and Sylvester’s devotion to the Yankees, the team sent Sylvester the ball from St. Louis, where they were playing the Cardinals in the 1926 World Series.
Ruth promised to hit a home run for Little Johnny and, amazingly enough, he hit not one, but three homers in Game 4 of the Series. It was the first time Ruth had ever belted three in a game, and in so doing, he became first player to do so in a World Series.
The young patient’s spirits were lifted, and three days later (Game 6) Ruth sent a hand-written letter stating that he would try to hit another homer for little Johnny, “maybe two.” The day after Game 7, October 11, 1926, Ruth personally visited Sylvester in Essex Falls. On December 16, 1926, Ruth penned another letter to the boy, inquiring about his recovery and inviting him to Yankee Stadium for the 1927 World Series “to help win another pennant.”
Ruth wasn’t the era’s only sports celebrity to reach out to the ailing Sylvester. “Big Bill” Tilden, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, sent Johnny three hand-written letters wishing him well, and even sent the boy an autographed tennis racquet he had used in the U.S. National Championships (now known as the US Open).
Hall of Fame halfback “Red” Grange, a friend of Ruth’s, also sent a letter to the kid, promising to score a touchdown just for him in his first game at Yankee Stadium. In his letter, Grange invites Johnny and his father to the game, and also gifts the boy with an autographed football. Baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby was another high-profile athlete who sent Little Johnny a letter.
The Internet, phone and absentee auction featuring the Little Johnny Sylvester collection will open for bidding on January 20 and conclude on February 6, 2014, the day that would have been Babe Ruth’s 119th birthday.
The Sylvester collection, which was on loan to the Babe Ruth Museum for more than 25 years, comes to Grey Flannel’s auction directly from its owner, John Sylvester Jr.
A public display of this famous collection of American history will be held 12 noon to 5 p.m. from Jan. 22-26 and Jan. 29-Feb. 2 (closed on public holidays) at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, 8 Quarry Rd., Little Falls, New Jersey (20 miles from New York City via I-80). Details will be announced soon regarding a press conference at the museum with John Sylvester Jr.
To contact Grey Flannel, call 631-288-7800 or email email@example.com.
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