Visalia Samaritan lucks into ultra rare Babe Ruth baseball card


By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN

VISALIA – Some say it never pays to be the nice guy. Well tell that to Dale Ball who could rake in excess of $2 million for a good deed on a snowy high way and a keen eye for rare cards.

Ball, who lives in Visalia has of one of the rarest Babe Ruth baseball cards on the planet. And the chain of events of how it came into his possession started when he was traveling over Donner Pass when it was covered in snow.

On his way to Nevada last month he saw a car pulled over to the side of the road. When he pulled over to see what was wrong, he noticed the woman driving had wrapped her snow chains around her axle. Naturally Ball offered to help. After he had fixed her chains the woman paid him $20, and then stuffed a cigarette pack into his pocket.

Ball said he didn’t smoke but the woman said there was more money in there for him.

Inside the pack was a Sacagawea dollar, valuable in its own right depending on the type. When Ball got to Sparks, Nevada he paid a visit to Action Sports and Coin to ask about the value of the dollar piece. While he was there, he noticed a Brett Favre rookie card for $10. Underneath it was the Babe Ruth card. Ball could not believe what the shop was selling it for.

“I asked why is it only eight dollars and he says, ‘I can’t find it anywhere in the magazines. I think it’s a remake.’”

Ball decided to take it anyways after coming to the conclusion that the store owner did not realize he might be in possession of a Shotwell W-575-1 Babe Ruth card. An ultra-rare card with only two known copies to have ever been made in 1921 before the company collapsed in the 1950s. It was believed that everything Shotwell made had been destroyed.

Ball has been collecting cards since he was a kid, and had developed a knowledge about baseball cards, including how remakes are produced. After he bought the card and left the store, Ball examined the card in the sunlight.

“I’m looking at this card and feeling this paper and this is not how remakes are made,” Ball said.

After five days of researching the card he began to get frustrated at the thought it could be a remake. It was only after he Googled the Shotwell label on the back that he began to get some results.

“Nobody had ever seen a Shotwell card,” Ball said. “The only thing anyone would tell me is, ‘I don’t know.’”

Attempts to authenticate the card led him all the way to Beverly Hills where he consulted an antiques expert. Ball’s enlightening conference with the expert gave him the answer he was looking for: it was genuine. The ultimate tell was if the card were a remake or fake the print on the front and back of the card would be centered. To Ball’s delight, the Shotwell Company information on the back of his card is slightly off-center.

Since the card’s authentication through the Heidelberg Company, which printed the cards from 1890 to 1930s, the last task for Ball was to grade it. Over the weekend he hand delivered it to the Beckett Company to get its official status. He is confident the grading will be good to great.

While Ball is prepared to start bidding at $2 million if he decides to sell the card, he is also prepared to give penance to the game. Ball has not ruled out the possibility of laying the card to rest in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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