Putting a price on a record-breaking ball

Matt Murphy, who came up with the ball Barry Bonds hit for his 756th home run, is escorted from the stadium by police.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Here's how you turn a $3.50 baseball into a commodity worth maybe 100,000 times that much:

[Sports announcer shouts as Barry Bonds hits a record home run]

The trick was to be standing in just the right place when Barry Bonds hit home run number 756 into the stands in San Francisco last night.

The guy who came out of the scrum in the bleachers is a 22-year-old New York Mets fan named Matt Murphy. Bonds has said he doesn't want that ball back. We haven't heard from Murphy yet about what he plans to do with it, but we wanted to get some idea of how you price a ball like that.

We called around to some sports memorabilia folks. Victor Moreno at American Memorabilia was the first guy we reached.

All right, so listen, let me ask you about this baseball that this kid caught last night. It goes over the fence and, boom, it's worth how much money?

Victor Moreno: Well, on a good day, on a very good day, probably $500,000. Low, $250 [thousand], high $500,000.

Ryssdal: Couple of thoughts. One is that's a pretty big spread. How'd you come up with those numbers?

Moreno: I'm talking to you like if he would call me. I'm an auction house. So I'm just giving you, like, estimations, what I can think and what the marketplace will bear. And just the, you know, there's just a lot of controversy surrounding him. That's a very risky ball. You don't know what's gonna happen.

Ryssdal: So do you think he ought to sell it now and strike while it's hot, as it were?

Moreno: Yes, oh yeah. Because come football season, they're gonna forget about it.

Ryssdal: Back in 1998, when Mark McGwire hit number 70 to set the single season record . . . that ball, it went for $3 million.

Moreno: Yes, OK. Can I be very candid with you?

Ryssdal: Yeah, of course you can.

Moreno: OK. At that time, there was no steroids involved, there was nothing involved. I mean, we were selling his balls, just autographed balls for $2,500. His bats were $10,000. All of a sudden, out come the steroids, and you can't give that stuff away.

Maybe the best part of the whole story last night is that Matt Murphy hadn't even planned on going to the game. He and a buddy bought their tickets just before game time. They were on a lay-over on their way to Australia, a trip that has now probably been cut short.

Doug Allen's the president of Maestro Auctions. Mr. Allen, this kid Matt Murphy from San Francisco calls you and says listen, I got this baseball. How much you gonna tell him it's worth?

Doug Allen: I'm gonna tell him that it's probably worth between $4 [hundred-thousand] and $500,000. That would be my at best estimate right now.

Ryssdal: Does each ball become more valuable? I mean it's interesting, because every time he hits another home run, it's gonna be another record.

Allen: Yeah, it only becomes valuable because the person says "Boy, I hope he hangs up his cleats, and then it'll be worth a ton of money." The reality is this ball, 755 will be . . . or, 756 . . . will be worth, you know, in the neighborhood of 4 to 500,000. And then balls after that, it might be worth $4 [thousand], $5,000, $10,000, somewhere in that range. And then ultimately, the big one is gonna be the one that he hits for his last home run.

Ryssdal: What do you think Matt Murphy's doing right now? Is he sitting there talking to a lawyer and an accountant, trying to figure things out?

Allen: Yeah — I'm wondering if he decided to still board that plane for Australia today, or he said wait a minute, I have to put that little trip off. I'm sure he is pretty excited right now. I'm guessing he's talking to, you know, attorneys. But obviously, one of my jobs is to go out there and try to get his number and get on the phone with him — and yeah, I'd love to talk to him.

Ryssdal: Yeah, him and every other auction house in the country.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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