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Early Century Great Not In Demand Due to Off-Court Issues

Bill Wagner - Babe Waxpak by Bill Wagner, "Babe Waxpak"
October 12, 2005

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Dear Babe: I found a moth-eaten tennis ball in an old trunk. The signature is intact. It says "WT Tilden II." There is a letter from an artist alluding to getting this gift that seems to date from 1926.
Dottie Cohen, Newnan Ga.

Bill Tilden is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. In the golden days of sports in the 1920s, he was right up there with the likes of Babe Ruth, Red Grange, Bobby Jones and Jack Dempsey. He put tennis on the map.

Unlike today where tennis stars emerge as teenagers, Tilden didn't even win an individual title until 1920 when he was 27. After that, he won just about everything of importance through 1925. He won the U.S. Championship (Open) six straight times through 1925. He walked off with the All-England (Wimbledon) title in 1920 and 1921. He also led the U.S. Davis Cup team to victories from 1920 through 1926. For good measure, he came in his late 30s to win the U.S. title again in 1929 and Wimbledon in 1930.

Tilden was a celebrity on and off the court. By most accounts, he was an actor who reveled in the spotlight and played to the crowd.

However, there was another side to Tilden that eventually tarnished his image. He was a homosexual at a time when there was little tolerance for such activities. Accounts indicate that as his tennis skills diminished and he grew older, his homosexuality became more open.

Despite all of this, in 1950, he was voted the greatest tennis player of the first half of the 20th century in an Associated Press poll just weeks after being released from prison for the second time on a misdemeanor charge related to his homosexuality.

On June 5, 1953, Tilden died alone and virtually penniless. A sad end for one of the greatest of all time.

"Not much of a demand for Tilden due to his infamous past off the playing court and the number of ALS (autographed letters signed) that flooded the market 10 years ago. I'd be inclined to say between $300-$500 depending on condition," said James Spence, an authenticator and owner of in Pennsylvania.

Dear Babe: I have a baseball signed by many of the 1958 New York Yankees, including Bob Turley, Bill Skowron, Enos Slaughter, Don Larsen, Norm Siebern, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard. If you are wondering how the ball came into my hands, Enos Slaughter is from my hometown, Roxboro, N.C.
Danny Talbert, Roxboro, N.C.

Milwaukee pushed the Yankees to a seventh game before the Bronx Bombers bounced back from their surprising loss to the Braves in 1957 to win the '58 World Series - their sixth triumph in the 1950s. A nice ball from that team should be worth $900-$1,700, said David Kohler, president of in Laguna Hills, Calif. I don't see Tony Kubek or Ed (Whitey) Ford among the names you listed. If they are really missing, then value is going to drop.

Dear Babe: I have an original playbook from the 1979 L.A. Rams football season that belonged to Drew Hill. This document is not only a playbook but also a guidebook on objectives, rules and regulations, fines, policies, schedules and a maintenance program for each player. There are approximately 200 pages in this three-ring binder style notebook. This was the year that the Rams went to the Super Bowl in Pasadena.
Tony Spiel, Palm Desert, Calif.

I took your letter with me to The National card show in Chicago to track down an answer. It looks like the playbook is worth around $50, said David Kohler, president of

About the author
Bill Wagner is a veteran journalist with 37 years in the newspaper business as well as being a former Army combat correspondent in Vietnam. He developed the Babe Waxpak sports card column in the 1980s and took over authorship in 1993, expanding into sports memorabilia and autographs as well as answering questions on cards.

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