HR balls from controversial Bonds still valuable

May 13, 2006|By THE SACRAMENTO BEE

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Some night soon, a couple of lucky fans could score a financial windfall by catching the home run balls that propel San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds into a tie - and past - Babe Ruth's milestone of 714 career homers.

Sports memorabilia experts estimate that the ball tying Ruth's record will likely fetch about $100,000 at auction, while No. 715, pushing Bonds into second place behind Hank Aaron's 755, could bring $250,000.

But if it weren't for Bonds' surly persona and the whiff of steroid scandal that clings to him and many of baseball's recent home run kings, those two balls could fetch as much as $1 million each, according to one expert.

Joshua Leland Evans says the controversy over steroid use in baseball over the past decade has devalued the significance of home run records. And allegations of Bonds' steroid use tarnishes things even further. "Without all that, we could be talking about $1 million-plus, easily," said Evans, chairman of online auction house Leland.com, which handled the $517,000 sale of the ball that Bonds hit for homer No. 73 during his record-breaking 2001 season.

"We have a deity's record that's being approached," he said. "We should be having a parade, but instead we have a shroud."

However, Rich Klein, pricing analyst for Beckett Media, which publishes guides for collectibles, said Bonds' poor public image, rather than steroid allegations, will depress the market for his Ruth-passing home run balls.

"Barry Bonds is not a beloved figure," he said. "If someone like [former Oriole] Cal Ripken Jr. was going for a record like this, the ball would be much more valuable."

The fans who grab Bonds' milestone-making homers will likely be among the sellout crowds of roughly 7,5000 expected to squeeze into the outfield bleachers and standing-room area at AT&T Park over the next four days, or perhaps those waiting out in the waters of McCovey Cove. "Those odds are better than playing the lottery," said Evans.

But even those nowhere near the ball could score, he said, predicting that pristine tickets from the game could bring as much as $50 apiece from collectors. After the game, "There will probably be people outside the park buying them," he said.

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