‘Incredibly special’: Rare 1920 jersey worn by Walter Johnson when the Senators beat Babe Ruth is now up for auction

Rare jersey worn by Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson up for auction

A piece of D.C. baseball history is up for sale, and for sports memorabilia collectors, its rarity is bringing up its value.

A game-worn jersey that belonged to Washington Senators pitcher and Baseball Hall of Famer Walter Johnson is currently at auction. Heritage House, which is hosting the auction, says the unique uniform is over a century old and valued at $3 million.

Production Manager Mike Provenzale told WTOP in the 20 years he’s worked for Heritage House, Johnson’s jersey ranks at the top of all the items they’ve ever sold.

“It’s one of the most impressive items we’ve ever offered,” he said, calling the right-hander “one of the greatest sportsmen of all time.”

Using photo-matching, the auction house traced the jersey back to April 29, 1920, when the Washington Senators defeated the New York Yankees 2-1 at the Polo Grounds. It was the first time Johnson faced legendary hitter Babe Ruth. According to Provenzale, Johnson earned his 299th career win, while Ruth was only able to get a an RBI off a sacrifice fly.

“Through that photo-matching, you’re able to identify the exact moment he was wearing it, and when you can do that, and it’s an important game with a lot of significant notes like that, that just really piques the interest of high level collectors,” he said.

This jersey was gifted by Johnson to teammate Eric “Swat” Erickson as a retirement gift after the 1920 season. Provenzale said Erickson brought a ranch in New York and had a barn where he kept all his sports collectibles including Johnson’s jersey.

“Decades later, his granddaughter discovered it in the barn,” Provenzale said, adding that she was the one who initially sold it to a private seller.

pitcher Senators jersey
A 1920 Washington Senators jersey worn by Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson is up for auction. (Courtesy Heritage Auctions)
Washington senators jersey
The jersey is valued at $3 million and considered to be a rare find for baseball fans. (Courtesy Heritage Auctions)
Senators jersey W logo
The jersey is gray and pinstriped and features a small W logo stitched into each short sleeve. (Courtesy Heritage Auctions)
Right-handed pitcher Walter Johnson’s name is stitched into the collar of the jersey in red cursive. (Courtesy Heritage Auctions)
pitcher Senators jersey
Washington senators jersey
Senators jersey W logo

Johnson’s legacy added an additional element that makes the jersey extremely valuable.

Known as “The Big Train,” Johnson helped the Senators win its only World Series championship in 1924. He spent his entire 20-year playing career in Washington, earning a record of 417-279 with a 2.17 ERA. For more than 50 years, his 3,509 strikeouts were the most thrown by a pitcher in the majors. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936 prior to his death 10 years later.

“He was the most dominant pitcher. He holds numerous records. He has the most scoreless games, the most consecutive years leading the league in strikeouts,” Provenzale said. “Essentially, it’s him and Cy Young, who are considered … the greatest pitchers of all time.”

Unlike modern jerseys, which teams and players hold on to due to their value, at the time uniforms were not seen with much significance other than being work clothes. The fact that Johnson’s gift survived is “a miracle,” Provenzale said.

“Jerseys in that era were considered disposable,” he said. “They were worn and worn and repaired until they could no longer be repaired.”

There is only one other known jersey worn by Johnson that exists, and it is sitting in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Combined with the disposable nature of uniforms in the past, it is unlikely that another game-worn Johnson jersey will surface, Provenzale said.

“So if you’re interested,” he said. “This is the opportunity to get it,”

The auction ends on May 17.

See more about the auction at Heritage Auction’s website. 

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José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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