Former sports agent Dennis Gilbert knows his stuff when it comes to baseball memorabilia; the collection he keeps at his Los Angeles–area home was even dubbed Cooperstown West by former player and analyst John Kruk. So when Gilbert laid eyes on a baseball covered in famous signatures at a private fundraising event at actress Jane Seymour’s home, he knew he had to have it. But those signatures were not of revered denizens of the diamond, they were in fact the signatures of some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood at the time—including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, James Dean, Abbott & Costello, Walt Disney, Judy Garland, and the Three Stooges.
More than just a length of yarn wound tightly around a cork center and stitched up with leather, the ball represents a time when baseball and Hollywood were inextricably linked, with some of the biggest A-listers in the entertainment industry coming out to play in all-star celebrity games. The exhibitions began in the 1930s—before Los Angeles even had a professional team—at games for the minor league team the Hollywood Stars, and they continued when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to L.A. in 1958.
Played strictly for fun and the entertainment of the crowd, the games included Harlem Globetrotter-type antics like Dean Martin arriving at bat in a limo, from which he beckoned a hostess carrying a tray with a martini, or comedian Phyllis Diller pretending to fan actor Billy Barty, who was hamming it up on a stretcher.
Amazingly, even given the wide range of celebrities who signed the ball, there are an amazing number of baseball connections. Marilyn Monroe (in addition to marrying Jo DiMaggio) made her last public appearance at an Angels game played at Dodger Stadium. Frank Sinatra starred in Take Me Out to the Ball Game and became close friends with Tommy Lasorda. Even Abbott & Costello have a connection to the sport as the originators of the greatest baseball comedy routine of all time, “Who’s on First?”
While Hollywood Stars pre-games are still held at Dodger Stadium, you won’t find the same sort of A-list roster that showed up in the past. And that’s part of the charm of this piece of history: it embodies a time when both baseball and Hollywood glamor occupied the apex of American popular culture.
Find out more about the fascinating tale and personalities behind the baseball by watching the video above.