St. Louis Cardinals

August 20, 2014

Number switch for Lackey gets Neshek an autographed Babe Ruth ball

Pat Neshek has Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte's signature and guitarist Jimi Hendrix's autograph. Both pale in comparison to his latest acquisition.

Neshek, the St. Louis Cardinals' All-Star reliever and collector of memorabilia, this week landed a Babe Ruth-autographed baseball, compensation from teammate John Lackey for taking Neshek's No. 41.

Lackey, who was traded to the Cardinals from Boston on July 31, had worn No. 41 for 11 of his 12 major-league seasons. Neshek knew Lackey would want the same number in St. Louis.

Neshek's wheels immediately began to spin. How could he parlay No. 41 into another keepsake?

"I kind of tried to feel some of the guys out," Neshek said, questioning his teammates about Lackey. "They said he was a really cool guy and he might be into (trading me) a pretty nice watch.

"I came up (to Lackey) and said, 'I'm not a watch guy. I'm kind of into baseball cards.' He goes, 'Go pick one out. Go pick one out.'"

One of Neshek's best friends is the authenticator on the popular reality series program "Pawn Stars." He convinced Neshek to shoot for a higher prize than a Babe Ruth baseball card.

"I sent him an email and I said, 'I'm going to trade my number. What would you go after if somebody offered to trade you that?'" Neshek said. "He said, 'Oh, definitely a Babe Ruth ball.' Lackey gave me the go-ahead. He said, 'Get it and we'll get it done.'"

Neshek found a few Babe Ruth-autograph baseballs on eBay, and his friend authenticated the one Lackey purchased for Neshek.

"We got it in the clubhouse the other day and a lot of guys said, 'Don't take it out!'" Neshek said. "I was like, 'I'm taking this (out). Look at this, guys. You want to touch it?'

"The cool thing about the ball is it has 'Babe' in quotations, which is something he did earlier in his career. It's from about 1926. A lot of the ones you see on eBay are later, toward the end of his life and his career. That was the cool thing about this one; it was during his playing days."

Neshek posted a picture of the baseball on his Twitter account. Lackey would not disclose how much he paid it, but memorabilia dealers estimate the ball's value to be over $25,000.

"It was a couple of bucks," Lackey said. "They're not cheap. (But) I think I've done OK in this game. I'll be all right.

"It worked out cool. I think he was really happy with it, and I appreciate him giving up the number with him having such a great year. I wanted to do something cool for him."

Neshek said his mom "shunned me for giving up my number."

"She's not happy," he said. "But I've gotten a lot of strikeouts since with No. 37 and things have been going pretty well. It was a great trade. ... It's pretty awesome. It's something I've always wanted. It's the best autograph I have in my collection. Man, what a gift."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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