Fame, so the saying goes, is fleeting, and the same could be said for the near-term financial value of the ball that would make Barry Bonds baseball’s all-time home run king.
Though it’s uncertain whether No. 756 would be sold at auction, sit in Bonds’ personal collection or be displayed at the baseball Hall of Fame, sports memorabilia experts say the immediate value of baseball’s newest treasure would be between $400,000 and $500,000.
But if the fan who emerges with MLB’s newest treasure in hand wants to cash in on his or her good fortune, auctioneers say he or she should hustle.
“The main thing I’d say is to sell it quick because, in today’s memorabilia world, proximity to the event is important when it comes to price,” said Doug Allen, president of Burr Ridge, Ill.-based Mastro Auctions.
Auctioneers point to the record $3 million that a collector paid for the baseball that Mark McGwire hit during the 1998 season to become -- temporarily -- MLB’s single-season home run king. The value of that ball is believed to have slipped considerably after Bonds added that title to his growing list of honors.
The McGwire ball is viewed as something of an anomaly, because it sold during the height of the dot-com boom, when collectors were bidding up prices for balls that McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit during their entertaining game of home run derby.
Memorabilia experts said that the value of No. 756 could slip during coming months because, with each home run swing, Bonds will send another baseball into the collectibles market.
“As a collector, I’d rather have 757, 758 or whatever his last home run is,” said David Kohler, president of Mission Viejo-based SCP Auctions. “While it’s important, 756 isn’t going to be as important as his [home run] numbers keep getting higher.”
If Bonds’ last home run is put up for sale, auctioneers estimate its potential value at about $1 million.
Kohler and Allen, who fielded dozens of media calls in advance of Bonds’ record-breaking swing, agree that the financial value of No. 756 has been adversely impacted by the steroid abuse scandal that continues to swirl around MLB. But, like Dave Hunt, owner of Hunt Auctions in Philadelphia, the sports memorabilia auctioneers agree that Bonds and the ball deserve a place in baseball history.
“Whether he did or did not [use steroids], in my opinion, Barry Bonds is one of the top five players in Major League Baseball history -- period,” Hunt said. “The bigger question now is, if he did do it, and that’s just an if, more than [Bonds] were doing it. So will they all be judged that way? Will there be asterisks next to all of these players in 20 years?”
Two Los Angeles-area collectors agree that No. 756 could be worth as much as $500,000 to the right baseball fan.
“Any record-breaking baseball is very, very appealing,” said Seth Swirsky, whose collection includes a ball signed by the Beatles on the night that they played Shea Stadium in 1965, and the ball that found its way between Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs during the 1986 World Series. Given the home run record’s heritage, Bonds’ home run ball is “history, real history, not just the guy who breaks the triple record.”
But Gary Cypres, who will open a baseball-centric sports museum next spring in downtown Los Angeles, wonders where the ball eventually will land: “The question is whether Bonds will buy the ball and then give it to the Hall of Fame. And will they accept it?”
Hunt suspects that the eventual buyer of the Bonds ball, should it go on the market, won’t simply be seeking a piece of baseball history. Hunt recalled the public relations coup that comic book creator Todd McFarlane enjoyed after paying $3 million for McGwire’s historic baseball.
“When you’ve got 300 news entities, including the ‘Today’ show, wanting to talk to you, it really was worth it” to McFarlane, Hunt said. “It was all about PR then and I feel strongly that the winning person who buys [No. 756] will probably be looking for PR rather than the ball itself.”
Memorabilia experts say it is difficult to estimate how the passage of time will affect the value of the baseball.
The market for Bonds memorabilia has been tepid at best in recent years. During the All-Star break in San Francisco, a Bonds uniform and one of his recent home run balls failed to reach the minimum bid.
“Frankly, interest has not really been there for a couple of years,” said Hunt, who ran the auction.
Should Bonds’ record stand for decades -- as did the records set by Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron -- there’s a good chance the ball’s value could escalate. But the fact that some fans already are talking about New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez eventually topping Bonds could help to slow interest in the Bonds ball.
“That’s a huge component in the value” of No. 756, Hunt said. “The one thing that never changes is that all records can be broken. They’re all breakable.”