Selling Bonds: What’s No. 756 worth?
ASPEN ” Baseball, like no other sport, can incite some of the most heated debates: Does “Shoeless” Joe Jackson deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? What about Pete Rose? Did an asterisk really belong next to Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 home runs, a record that stood 37 years?
And now we have Barry Bonds, whose pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home-run record of 755 has been loathed by an array of baseball purists and fans alike ” save those in the Bay Area ” because of public suspicion that he hit many of those round-trippers while on the “juice.”
When Bonds hits No. 756 ” through Sunday he was sitting on 753 ” the debate will only intensify.
The controversy also sits against a backdrop of the $2 billion sports-memorabilia industry, in which there likely will be a bidding war, albeit a tame one, for the coveted ball that could land in the lucky hands of some fan who happens to be at the right place at the right time.
Flashback to 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in a home-run chase for the ages. McGwire’s 70th dinger, which eclipsed Maris’ record, was bought by $3 million by comic-book mogul Todd MacFarlane.
But No. 756 will capture only a fraction of what McGwire’s ball commanded, some local collectors say.
“There’s no way it’s going to sell for $3 million,” says Rick Schultz, owner of Aspen-based The Autograph Source, a merchant of sports, pop culture, and historic memorabilia. “It will sell for real money, because it’s the most significant record in baseball. But think about all of the hype that was going on in the summer of 1998. You couldn’t get away from it. Now we have the commission or baseball who’s trying to avoid the whole situation.”
In 1998, Schultz says, he loaded up on McGwire and Sosa relics. The same can’t be said for Bonds during his quest to pass Hank Aaron on the all-time list.
Likewise, Aspen memorabilia collector Mark Friedland says buyers aren’t bullish when it comes to Bonds.
“I think $1 million (for No. 756) is the estimated bench mark out there,” says Friedland, whose collection includes Charles White’s Heisman Trophy, which was purchased for $298,000.
The sports-memorabilia industry already has gotten cold feet about the record. In May, Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, a memorabilia dealer, announced it would pay $1 million for the ball, only to withdraw the offer later, Sports Illustrated reported.
The problem with selling Bonds, Schultz and Friedland say, is mainly two-fold.
First, the record will always be tainted by the steroids allegations, even if the Giants star is never formally implicated. Second, Bonds has a reputation of being surly and aloof, a far cry from the gregarious nature that defined Sosa and McGwire during their ’98 campaign.
“The steroids controversy and his difficult personality are not naturally exclusive,” explains Friedland. “It’s hard to divorce those two.”
Friedland and Schultz also note that Bonds’ record may not stand for long. That’s because Alex Rodriguez, who turns 32 this week, had 497 home runs through Sunday. And with A-Rod’s best years arguably ahead of him, a career with 800 home runs is not a farfetched notion.
That means serious collectors may be holding out until the record is broken by Rodriguez, who hasn’t been linked to steroids use and whose only social blemish is his highly-publicized escapades on the town.
“I see higher demand for A-Rod,” Schultz says. “He’s on the Yankees and he’s the most popular Yankee, and people believe A-Rod is going to get (the home-run record).”
History, Friedland notes, show that players who wore the Yankee pinstripes have commanded the largest interest in the sports memorabilia industry.
“Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle were all the most popular players of their time,” Friedland says. “And who did they play for?”
Rick Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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