gallery Famous Baseballs
The fan who caught Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit could have earned six figures for the ball. How does it stack up in value against home runs hit by Bonds, Aaron, and the Babe? See photos of the priciest baseballs.
Kathy Kmonicek / AP Photo Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit
A 23-year-old Yankee fan made the catch of a lifetime when his father bobbled the home run that became
Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Memorabilia experts estimated that Christian Lopez could have earned at least $250,000 for the landmark line drive, but he pulled a stand-up move worthy of Jeter himself—he returned the ball to the Yankee captain and didn’t ask for anything in return. “It wasn't about the money," said Lopez, who has $100,000 in student loans. "It was a milestone. I'm not going to take it away from him." The Yankees, however, did reward Lopez for his good deed: They gave him four suite-level seats for the rest of the season and lots of signed Jeter memorabilia. Not everyone was impressed with the generous gesture though. "My boss actually talked to me today,” Lopez admitted after the game. “She said, 'You're going to keep the ball from me? You're fired.’” Ron Frehm / AP Photo,RON FREHM Mark McGwire’s 70th single-season home run
When Mark McGwire hit his season record-setting 70th home run in 1998, St. Louis Cardinals fan Philip Ozersky was torn about what to do with the ball. The team wanted to give it back to McGwire, but after a tense negotiation (during which Ozersky’s request to meet the slugger was denied), Ozersky opted to put it up for auction. Smart move. A few months later,
Spawn creator and baseball fanatic Todd McFarlane paid an astonishing $3 million for the McGwire ball, an amount even he knew was absurd. "Women don't have the same silly wants and needs that men have," McFarlane said about his prize. "Guys can just look at this sedate piece of rawhide and go: 'Whooooa. It's the ball. Whooooa.'" Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo,MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ Barry Bonds’ 73rd single-season home run
Given the astronomical amount of money paid for Mark McGwire’s 70th home run, baseball fans were primed to cash in on the final dinger hit by
Barry Bonds in 2001, when he established a new single-season record. When Bonds’ 73rd splashed down in San Francisco’s McCovey Cove, it set off a legal battle between two fans—Patrick Hayashi and Alex Popov—who each claimed ownership. (A judge eventually made a Solomonic decision that the two men split the money.) Though the ball sold for an impressive $517,500 (once again to Spawn creator Todd McFarlane), the baseball bounty was undercut by the accompanying legal costs. Hank Aaron’s 755th home run
When Hank Aaron hit what would be the final home run of his Hall of Fame career on July 20, 1976, it was recovered by Richard Arndt, a part-time Milwaukee Brewers groundskeeper. And when Arndt wasn’t able to return it to Aaron in person, he kept the ball and was fired by the Brewers the next day. In 1999, following the bull market set by Mark McGwire’s 70th home-run ball, Arndt finally sold Aaron’s No. 755 for $650,000 to Andrew Knuth, a Westport, Connecticut, money manager. Knuth plans to keep the ball in the family or donate it to Cooperstown one day.
Mary Altaffer / AP Photo,Mary Altaffer Barry Bonds’ 756th home run
By the time Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record in 2007, allegations of his
steroid use were rampant. But that didn’t hurt the auction price of the ball hit to make it No. 756. Designer Mark Ecko purchased it for $752,467—well above the pre-auction estimate of $500,000—but his intentions weren’t pure. To make a point about steroids, Ecko started a website asking the public what to do with the ball: (1) Give it to the Hall of Fame; (2) brand it with an asterisk and then send it to the Hall of Fame; (3) launch it into space on a rocket. More than 10 million people voted, with a plurality deeming that the ball should get the asterisk and go to Cooperstown. Bonds was not amused. "He's an idiot," Bonds told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He spent $750,000 on the ball and that's what he's doing with it?” Jim Mooney, New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images,New York Daily News Archive Roger Maris’ 61st single-season home run
Though the debate surrounding Roger Maris’ 61st home run couldn’t have been more intense, the story behind the ball has a feel-good parallel to Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. The homer Maris hit on the last day of the season in 1961 was caught barehanded by a 19-year-old Brooklyn truck driver named Sal Durante, who was immediately taken to meet the Yankee outfielder. "I wanted to give the ball to Roger. Money didn't even dawn on me," Durante told the
New York Daily News in 2007. "Roger congratulated me and said, 'You keep the ball, go make yourself some money.'” So Durante did. Accompanied by Maris, he sold the ball for $5,000 to Sacramento restaurateur Sam Gordon, who, after posing for a photo, immediately gave it back to Maris. The ball is now in Cooperstown. Stan Grossfeld, The Boston Globe / Getty Images,Boston Globe The Bill Buckner ball
Before he started spending serious money on drugs and goddesses,
Charlie Sheen was a major league baseball collector. In 1992, at a charity auction, he paid $93,000 for the ball New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson dribbled between Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series. (Keith Olbermann was the reported underbidder.) Sheen eventually sold the ball to collector Seth Swirsky—Olbermann was again the underbidder—who donated “The Mookie Ball” to the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. David Zalubowski / AP Photo,David Zalubowski Barry Bonds’ 762nd home run
Barry Bonds may have passed Hank Aaron for the most home runs in a career, but at least Hammerin’ Hank can take comfort that his last round tripper (755) was purchased for more than Bonds’ 762nd. In 2008, Bonds’ final home run ball sold at auction for a disappointing $376,312. Though the buyer’s identity has never been revealed the seller, 24-year-old Jameson Sutton, put the money to good use—he used some of the proceeds to pay for his stepfather’s medical costs.
Lynsey Addario / AP Photo,LYNSEY ADDARIO Babe Ruth’s first Yankee Stadium home rum
In 1998, 75 years after Babe Ruth hit the first of his 259 home runs at Yankee Stadium, the ball (which was discovered in a New Jersey attic in 1996) was put up for auction. The sale price of $126,500 bested the previous auction record for a baseball, held by the infamous Buckner ball. Six years later, the bat Ruth used to hit it was sold at auction for $1.24 million, making it the third most valuable piece of baseball memorabilia, behind a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card and Mark McGwire’s 70th-home-run ball.