Sal Durante, a 19-year-old auto parts deliveryman from Brooklyn, caught the ball at Yankee Stadium when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in 1961, breaking Babe Ruth's record.
"When I met Roger, the only thing I wanted to do, was to give him the baseball," Durante, now a Brooklyn bus driver, wrote to Seth Swirsky for his 1996 book, "Baseball Letters."
"He said, 'Keep it and make some money.' I'll never forget what a great guy he was."
Stu Nahan picked up the story from there Monday, following the track of the ball to Sacramento, where he also had a memorable, if not quite so gratifying, experience with Maris.
Nahan, a Sacramento television sports broadcaster at the time, was friends with Sam Gordon, a leading restaurateur in the state capital who bought the ball from Durante for $5,000 and two round trips to the West Coast. Nahan still has the photograph of himself with Jack Dempsey, Gordon and Durante at Dempsey's Manhattan restaurant, taken when Durante exchanged the ball for the check.
Gordon then arranged a banquet at one of his Sacramento restaurants, where he planned to present the ball to Maris.
"Roger and his brother flew from their home in Fargo [N.D.] to San Francisco, rented a car and arrived about 40 minutes late," Nahan said. "We were wondering whether they were even going to show.
"Roger came into the restaurant while his brother sat in the car with the motor still running. Sam said, 'Hello, welcome to the ceremony commemorating your 61st home run.' Roger said, 'Thank you very much, I appreciate it, goodbye.' He took the ball and walked out.
"We sat there dumbfounded. It was like you had been hit with a wet noodle across the face."
Nahan since has softened in his assessment of Maris, sympathizing with the "enormous pressure" he withstood that season.
"If that weren't enough of an ordeal, Ford Frick, the commissioner who had been a friend of Babe Ruth's, decided there should be an asterisk beside Maris' name in the record book because he played a 162-game season as opposed to Ruth's 154. Roger couldn't really enjoy anything about the record."
Not even a free dinner in Sacramento.
It wasn't anything new, seeing a Palmer leading a charge. . . .
Only this one was Carson Palmer, not Arnie. . . .
All USC's freshman quarterback needs to learn now is how to hitch up his pants. . . .
Now we know why all those other Trojan quarterbacks were scrambling for new positions. . . .
But let's not yet relegate sophomore starter Mike Van Raaphorst to carrying a clipboard on the sideline. . . .
A couple of series after Palmer's 42-yard pass to Larry Parker that set up a touchdown in the 27-17 victory over Purdue, Van Raaphorst answered with a 25-yard strike to Billy Miller that might have had the same result. . . .
The sideline official, however, didn't see Miller's foot come down in bounds and ruled the pass incomplete. . . .
The freshman who was an even greater revelation for the Trojans was punter Mike MacGillivray, who averaged 44.7 yards. . . .
MacGillivray didn't look like an adequate replacement for Jim Wren during two-a-day workouts in Irvine. . . .
The Trojans' special teams really were special, contributing a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, two field goals and a blocked field goal try. . . .
They credit the coaching of Shawn Slocum, new to the staff after an apprenticeship at Texas A&M; under his dad, R.C. Slocum. . . .
The "Touchdown for Youth" program sponsored by USC and the L.A. Sports Council is providing 2,000 free tickets for the Trojans' next game, Sept. 12 at the Coliseum against San Diego State. . . .
The Trojans end the 1999 regular season with a game against Louisiana Tech. . . .
Tim Tessalone, USC's sports information director, breathed a sigh of relief Monday when he looked up the classification of Louisiana Tech wide receiver Troy Edwards, who had 21 catches for 405 yards Saturday against Nebraska. . . .
He's a senior. . . .
Golfer Jim Colbert will be at Los Alamitos Race Course today to announce details of the "Million Dollar Shootout" Sept. 21-26. . . .
Tee off from the grandstand, over the race track, into a cup on a makeshift green in the infield and you're in the running for the money. . . .
Proceeds benefit the Senior PGA Tour for the Cure, a battle against prostate cancer. . . .
After her disappointing play on the West Coast, Steffi Graf changed her mind about returning home to Florida and tuned up for the U.S. Open at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. . . .
Her work with club pro Jonathan Cantor must have paid off because she regained her form for the championship in last weekend's Pen Pilot International. . . .
The Daily Racing Form had its most creative cover of the year last week, a drawing of the temperamental Coronado's Quest appearing on television to ask forgiveness for his behavior earlier in the year. . . .
To his credit, he didn't blame Ken Starr.
While wondering if September again will be the Angels' unkindest month, I was thinking: Let's hope McGwire is finished acting like McEnroe, Larry Brown was never the same without Neil O'Donnell to throw to him, Latrell Sprewell and Michael Irvin is the matchup I'd like to see on MTV's "Celebrity Deathmatch."