Rock stars on the diamond: Geddy Lee’s collection of baseballs and memorabilia

The Rush frontman’s collection preserves the history and culture of baseball through its one of kind objects

geddy lee

Geddy Lee with his collection

Like many, Geddy Lee fell in love with baseball at a young age. Growing up in Toronto, he would listen to broadcasts that called the games in the 1960s where legends like Al Kaline and Norm Cash were making their names as part of era’s great Detroit Tigers teams. His local team — the Toronto Blue Jays — wouldn’t exist until 1977, so he would watch the Toronto Maple Leafs Triple A team as he tuned into the airwaves from elsewhere.

By the time his local team was born, Lee was already on the road, touring the United States and Canada as the singer and bassist for the Canadian rock band Rush. A true rock star, he would wake up late, eat breakfast in the afternoon and watch some midday baseball on TV. Quickly, he would start going to games wherever he found himself, keeping score and learning about the history and the names that were mentioned.

Eventually, his eye turned to collecting. As an effort to preserve the history of the game, he began collecting baseballs. Lee’s collection, the result of four decades of impassioned and meticulous curation, contains objects from the greatest years of baseball. From the turn of the century, through the golden age and up to the present, Selections from the Geddy Lee Collection, on 6 December at Christie’s New York, tells the story of America’s national pastime.

It wasn’t so much the price of individual balls that attracted him, but the stories attached. One vintage game-used ball is dated to 1917, and was used in that year’s World Series between the New York Giants, and the Chicago White Sox. Played against the backdrop of the First World War, it was the last championship won by the White Sox until 2005, and featured Jim Thorpe — the first Native American to win gold in the Olympics, in 1912 — as part of the Giants’ line-up.

geddy lee

Left: The Beatles playing for a sold-out Shea Stadium; Right: Important baseball autographed by The Beatles from their concert at Shea Stadium, 1965. Estimate: $100,000-300,000. Offered in Selections from the Geddy Lee Collection and Important Baseball Memorabilia on 6 December at Christie's New York

But others tell more recent tales, such as a ball signed by all four of The Beatles, during their legendary performance at Shea Stadium in 1965. For Lee, this undoubtedly represented the perfect harmony of two of his great passions. Beyond this, however, he is a lifelong fan of the Beatles, particularly the ground-breaking bass playing of Paul McCartney. In nearly mint condition, this signed ball is one of the finest of an already small number of similar examples.

Lee also collected balls that were important in other ways. His interest in history informed him in acquiring balls signed by a variety of United States Presidents after they made first pitches at games, like John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama.

geddy lee

President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson sit in the presidential box during a Washington Senators game at DC Stadium, early 1960s. Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images

He even collected a great deal of balls painted by the folk artist George Sosnak. Though a lover of the game, Sosnak lacked the skill to play professionally, and instead became an umpire. As a result, he would often get autographed balls from players and decorate them — this would ruin the autograph, but it would immortalize the signature and ball together as a piece of important American folk art.

One of the standouts from this collection is a ball dated to 1942 that features signatures from players and coaches on the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs. The two teams were powerhouse franchises of the Negro Leagues in the 1930s and 40s, winning a combined 15 titles between them during those two decades. As expected, they met often in the postseason, with the series in 1942 spanning nearly the whole month of September, as the teams travelled through Washington, Pittsburgh, New York and Philadelphia.

After Jackie Robinson’s appearance for the Brooklyn Dodgers broke the colour line on 15 April 1947, other highly rated black players would begin to sign for the Major League teams. A number of players whose signatures appear on this ball went on to become members of the Hall of Fame in the Major Leagues, such as Satchel Paige, James ‘Cool Papa’ Bell and Josh Gibson.

Geddy Lee’s collection is born of passion. At one point, he acquired more than 200 balls used in Negro League games and, nearly immediately, donated them to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. It was a telling gesture of his commitment to preserving all of the history of the game, and making sure that teams such as the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs were not lost to time.

In a sporting sense, his collection is notable for its diversity and scope. Culturally, however, it is unrivalled in its ability not only to keep these tales of baseball alive, but to tell the story of America through its most central game — its national pastime.

Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week

Related lots

Related auctions

Related stories

Related departments