Whose Balls Are Worth More?

Categories: Cover Story

Tonight against the Chicago Cubs, Barry Bonds will try once more to tie Babe Ruth's mark of 714 career home runs, which would put him second on the all-time homers list behind Hank Aaron and his 755 dingers. Of course, at this late date it's a record about which most of America could not care less; the juiced-up Bonds is closer to pariah than icon these days, and his rep is all but tarnished by the threat of steroids' Scarlet Asterick. But as my father and I found out Saturday at Heritage Auction Galleries' sports-collectibles Signature Auction, that hasn't diminished his value in the collectibles market--much to my old man's chagrin.

A few minutes after the only baseball ever signed by Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio sold for a stunning $160,000 (or $191,000 once you factor in Heritage's commission and other premiums), the upscale Uptown auction house offered a lot of 12 near-mint baseballs signed by Willie Mays, my old man's all-time favorite ball player (at least when he was a New York Giant). Valued at between $2,000 and $3,000, the dozen balls wound up going for the low, low price of $1,700. The very next item was a dozen balls signed by Bonds, who happens to Mays' godson. (When he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bonds even wore the same number Mays sported when he played for the New York and then San Francisco Giants, 24.) Despite all the furor over Bonds' tarnished records, his dirty dozen went for more than Mays' 12 balls: $1,900. My dad was, to put it mildly, appalled. He leaned over and whispered, "Barry Fucking Bonds is worth more than Willie Mays? Bull. Shit." I love my dad. --Robert Wilonsky



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