By Marina Lopes
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Babe Ruth's 1923 World Series championship pocket watch, long thought to be lost, will hit the auction block in New York next month and is expected to fetch more than $1 million, a spokesman for the auction house said on Friday.
The 14-karat gold watch - the predecessor to today's World Series championship ring - was awarded to the baseball legend after he led the Yankees to their first of 27 world championship victories. The watch had not been seen since.
"It is the most significant piece of Yankees memorabilia ever offered," said Chris Ivy, director of sports collectibles for Heritage Auctions.
"He was the first American sports icon and was a pivotal player in bringing the Yankees into the forefront, into an American dynasty," Ivy said.
Ruth, who began his career as a pitcher, went on as an outfielder to became one of the most powerful hitters in baseball history, setting a home run record and earning the nickname "Sultan of Swat."
Championship pocket watches, believed to be more practical than rings, were given to World Series victors in the 1920s, Ivy said.
Before his death in 1948, Ruth gave his close friend, Charles Schwefel, the timepiece engraved "to my pal, Charlie Schwefel." Schwefel then gave the watch to Lewis Fern, Ruth's golf caddy, who sold it in 1988 to the current, anonymous owner for $200,000, according to Ivy.
Bidding online has already started on the pentagonal watch, but will culminate in a live auction in New York City on February 22.
In the late 1990s, actor Charlie Sheen bought Ruth's 1927 championship ring for $250,000, said Ivy.
He expects the pocket watch will go for over $1 million.
"It's a seminal piece of memorabilia and signifies the dominance of the most significant sports franchise in America," Ivy said.
(Reporting by Marina Lopes; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)