When Todd McFarlane bought Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball for $3 million and a few others from the "chase" for $300,000 more, a lot of people called him crazy. Now that we know what we think we know, it seems really crazy. But those well-publicized sales created an entire cottage industry around history-making baseballs.
They were always valuable items of course. From the moment he caught it, Sal Durante was famous for catching Roger Maris’ 61st. He sold that one to a Sacramento, CA restauranteur. But McFarlane’s purchases made home run balls famous. Where the story of who caught Magglio Ordonez AL-pennant winning blast might have been a footnote 8 or 9 years ago, it’s now a big story. Big enough that all of the papers in Detroit had features on him the day after as reporters asked him what he was going to do. Keep it? Give it back? Sell it?
Even Bonds, leper that he seems to be among fans other than those wearing orange and black, draws attention to the baseballs that he hits because each one is assumed to carry it’s weight in collector value. David Ortiz breaks the team record and each ball is assumed to be something every self-respecting Red Sox fan would want and pay big bucks to get.
It’s been good for the sports memorabilia hobby, and auction houses in particular, because it’s focused so much attention on the fact that there are still thousands of people out there who think it’s cool to have something like that. Even if they can’t afford an Ordonez ball, maybe they buy one of his game-used bats. Or an Ortiz jersey. Or start a Bonds card collection (By the way, I’m still betting that twenty years from now he writes an apologetic book, sheds a few tears and a lot of forgiving and forgetting goes on among the younger generation).
I’ve never gotten the whole "home run balls as collectors items" concept though. Should they have value? Sure. I just don’t see why someone would pay thousands of dollars for something that has no jazz. The ball Joe Carter hit to win the World Series in ’93 looks pretty much like the one Albert Pujols hit last night. Or the one I bought at Dick’s Sporting Goods this morning. Minus the Delaware River mud, maybe, but one ball looks like the next.
Give me a program. A cool picture. A guy’s bat. Something I can look at, thumb through and enjoy. Something I can swing and maybe see the actual mark where bat met ball and created that history. A ball? What can you do with it? You look at it and say "yup, that’s the one." If it’s autographed, that’s nice. And I have no problem with someone’s collection of signed baseballs. That’s a niche unto itself. The signatures put something human on the ball. Something that can be studied. You can create themes with autographs. Teams. Pitchers who threw no-hitters. Hall of Famers, etc. Unsigned, plain balls, even famous ones, are a little too plain for me.
But if I catch #756, you can bet I’m going to write an entirely different blog entry.