Will the number 756 ever be as hallowed in sports memorabilia circles as the number 755? According to a number of industry experts, probably not.
When Barry Bonds cracked home run 756 on Aug. 7, it was a long, hard shot to the deepest part of right field at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The resulting scrum in the bleachers looked like a garden salad in a Cuisinart. When the smoke cleared, it was 22-year-old Matt Murphy, a Yankees fan from Queens, N.Y., who emerged bloodied but not broken from the pile, clutching the specially marked ball. The big question now is what exactly Murphy will do with his hard-won treasure.
As this story is being written, less than 24 hours since the historic dinger, Murphy has not indicated his intentions. One thing, though, seems certain: The ball would go for a lot more if it was hit by another player.
“It’s certainly one of the most historic balls out there,” said Michael Heffner, president of Leland’s Auctions in Seaford, N.Y. “As far as its value, it’s a detraction that Barry Bonds hit it. If Albert Pujols, or Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter – a more likable player – hit it, then it could be worth a whole lot more.”
The median figure being tossed around by the major players in the sports memorabilia auction scene is somewhere in the range of $500,000. Early in the summer, before the fateful day approached, Heritage Auctions in Dallas put out a preliminary offer of $1 million to whoever came up with the ball. Heritage soon rescinded the offer, however, when it was feared that the potential payoff could result in someone getting killed in the bleachers.
It turns out that Heritage may have saved itself a good bit of money in the short term. Prices for Bonds memorabilia have actually been falling as he approached the record, as opposed to Hank Aaron memorabilia, which is more in demand – and more valuable – than ever.
Take, for instance, the recent price of $14,400 (including buyer’s premium) that Bonds’ 70th home run ball from 2001 fetched at the Aug. 3 Mastro auction. The ball originally sold for $60,000, and was valued at just half that going into the sale. In comparison, an autographed Aaron game-worn jersey gaveled at $40,000, while his 1954 Topps rookie card went for $19,200.
“He’s tainted, and I don’t know any collector who likes him,” said Alan Rosen, an industry maven known as Mr. Mint, in an interview with Sports Collectors Digest (also owned by F+W Publications, Antique Trader’s parent company). “Certainly none of his memorabilia is expensive. That’s a shame, because he is a great ballplayer.”
The taint of steroids has dogged Bonds for a few years now, and will most likely continue to follow him as his career winds down. This, coupled with his generally gruff manner and his unlikable persona, do not bode well for the future increase in price of historic number 756, or any of his other memorabilia.
Is there the potential, then, that the value of the ball would go up if the doping allegations against Bonds were found to be miraculously incorrect?
“I don’t think he could really be cleared,” said David Hunt of Hunt auctions in Exton, Pa. “The only thing that could really happen is that it could get worse. If he’s proven guilty, then the price of the ball could completely bottom out.”
While the $500,000 figure is the mark against which the ball’s value will be measured, there are some who still think it could be a surprise, with qualifications, depending on the buyer.
“I still think it’s possible that it will bring seven figures,” said Chris Ivy, the director of sports auctions at Heritage. “Of course, if more things happen off the diamond, like an indictment, then that figure could change.”
Hunt, however, felt it was unlikely to go that high at any point.
“Obviously there’s been tons and tons of speculation given the various factors that are involved,” he said, “and the interest has been spectacular. It’s still a bit too early to tell, though. Most people seem to think that it’s a several hundred thousand dollar-plus ball. I don’t believe, on the whole, that it’s a $1 million baseball.”
Heffner, of Leland’s, echoed that same sentiment as Hunt, but agreed in principle with Ivy, pointing out that the buyer is a definite wildcard in the mix.
“When Todd McFarland bought the Mark Maguire baseballs for $3 million in 1999, he was smart enough to know that the balls weren’t really worth that,” he said. “He wasn’t looking at it as the value of the items, but rather as an expense for publicity.”
In other words, a large corporation, or an eccentric personality, could pay well more than market value simply to reap the PR benefits that would surely follow.
“What’s paid for the ball is not necessarily going to be an accurate value for it,” Heffner said. “It’s impossible to tell right now.”
There was some speculation that Bonds himself might want to purchase the historic ball, but he quickly dismissed that speculation at his post-game press conference on Aug. 7.
“I don’t want the ball,” Bonds said. “I’ve never believed a home-run ball belonged to the player. If (Murphy) caught it, it’s his.”
For now, the sports memorabilia world – and baseball fans everywhere – will have to wait and see what Murphy does with his prize, and how much someone is willing to pay for it. Whether or not it holds that value – and appreciates like the memorabilia associated with Aaron and Babe Ruth – will take decades to determine. Most likely, the debate over Bonds’ worthiness as the current home-run king will far outlive that day.