Selling Ripken's last HR ball carries sentiment tax for fan

Oler gladly sells souvenir of Iron Man, but adding glove that caught it hurts

April 23, 2003|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Bob Oler is selling the ball he nabbed that day at Camden Yards - the one Cal Ripken hit for his last home run. There is just one catch. As part of the deal, Oler must surrender his beloved glove as well.

Ouch.

"That hurts," says Oler, 35, of Timonium, who used the glove to grab the ball. "It's harder for me to give up my glove than the ball. I've had it since high school, restrung it twice and maintained it with mink oil and Vaseline.

"A ball is a ball, but that glove has sentimental value."

Oler has relinquished both items to MastroNet Inc., an Illinois auction house that is selling the ball on the Internet. Bidding began April 7 and ends tomorrow. As of last night, the top offer was $8,054.

Sports memorabilia experts have pegged its value at around $30,000.

"Whatever it brings, I'll be satisfied," says Oler, director of operations for a waste management firm. "Whatever I get will be more than what I had."

He caught the ball - Ripken's 431st career home run - on Sept. 23, 2001. For nearly a year, it was on display at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Now Oler, who always saw his souvenir as a personal savings account, is peddling it to help finance the home he is building in northern Baltimore County. (Ripken lives just a few miles away.)

"Maybe I'll furnish the house with a few more toys, like a big flat-screen TV to watch sports on. Or maybe [the ball] will pay for a hobby room, to display my other collectibles," Oler says.

He owns several Eddie Murray bats and "about a million" baseball cards. "I'm content with that stuff," he says.

Oler says he has no misgivings about parting with his Cal Ripken keepsake. "Nothing will change the fact that I caught the ball," he says. "I can tell the story endlessly. If I were to get married and have a son, I could tell him about it at bedtime. He'd probably give me grief for not holding onto the ball, but that's a decision I'll have to live with."

Losing his battered, worn Wilson glove is another story. It served Oler for 19 years, since his days as varsity second baseman at North Carroll High.

"I took it everywhere," he says, bringing it to Orioles games for years. But the auction house requested the glove as well, touting it online as a "significant piece of authenticity."

So Oler acquiesced. Now, when he heads to the ballpark, he takes a glove he has borrowed from his dad. It's not the same.

"That's something, isn't it, that he would care more about his old glove than the ball?" says Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum. "What a great statement. But it doesn't surprise me.

"These days, it seems our sports memorabilia is just another form of cash."

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