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Wednesday, June 25, 2003
McFarlane wins auction for historic Bonds ball

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Barry Bonds' record-breaking 73rd home run ball was sold to comic book and action figure mogul Todd McFarlane on Wednesday night for $517,500.

Top balls sold
The homer Value
McGwire's 70th $3M
Aaron's 755th $650,000
Bonds' 73rd $517,500
Murray's 500th $500,000
Mantle's 500th $250,000
McGwire's 500th $250,000
Sosa's 66th $175,000
Ruth's first at Stadium $130,000
Fisk's Series shot $120,000

With the purchase, McFarlane now owns three of the seven highest-priced home run baseballs sold. He purchased Mark McGwire's 70th and Sammy Sosa's 66th home run balls, each from the home run race of 1998, for $3 million and $175,000, respectively.

"I'll take a look at the ball, probably get a photo of all three of my home run balls together," McFarlane told ESPN.com after winning the auction. "Then we'll see if we can work something out with the Hall of Fame."

McFarlane bid $450,000 on the phone and will pay $67,500 in commission fees to Leland's, the auction house that conducted the bidding. The auction took place at the ESPN Zone in New York's Times Square and was featured live on SportsCenter.

Proceeds will be split between the two owners of the ball, Patrick Hayashi and Alex Popov, although at that price, it's not clear that there will be any proceeds. Both Hayashi and Popov have plenty of legal bills to pay, as well as commission fees to auction house Leland's and sports marketer Michael Barnes, who brokered the deal with Leland's.

When asked whether the two made any money off the sale of the ball, Hayashi said it might be hard to make money off the sale, while Popov declined to provide further details. "That's irrelevant," Popov said. "We're here to talk about the record."

Bonds Ball
Mike Heffner, left, of Leland's auction house takes the final and winning phone bid during Wednesday's auction.
Leland's had estimated that the ball would sell for between $1 million and $2 million and insured the ball, which was on display at the ESPN Zone for $2 million.

"It's not that this ball came cheap," McFarlane said. "It's that the McGwire ball was overpriced. If it weren't for me and another guy, the McGwire ball would have sold for $1.3 million."

Buying McGwire's record-breaking ball in February 1999 brought untold amounts of publicity to McFarlane, who created the Spawn comic book and now produces officially-licensed sports figures.

"I didn't really know who Todd McFarlane was until he bought that (70th home run Mark McGwire) baseball," Popov said. "And when he did, his name became a household name."

Bonds set the single-season home run record on Oct. 7, 2001 during the Giants' final game of that season. Due to a legal battle between Popov -- who said he had gloved the ball before it was stolen from him -- and Hayashi, who eventually emerged with the ball among the Pac Bell scrum, the ball was locked up in a California bank vault while the courts determined ownership of the ball.

In December 2002, after a 14-day trial that featured 17 witnesses, Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy ruled that the ball must be sold and the proceeds divided equally. Popov and Hayashi were given 12 days to decide how they wanted to sell the ball, but it took nearly three more months to agree on the auction process.

"It has been an adventure, a real roller coaster ride with its ups and downs," said Hayashi, who is studying for his masters in business at San Diego State. He brought a "Hayashi 73" Giants jersey with him to the auction.

Sal Durante, who caught Roger Maris' 61st home run in 1961, was in attendance at the auction.

"To be part of a club of people that can say that they caught significant home run balls is a rare treat," said Popov, the health food store owner from San Francisco. "In what other sport does a fan have an opportunity to participate like this."

Barnes, who also helped broker deals for the owners of the Sosa/McGwire balls following the home run race of 1998, said he was a little disappointed in the final price.

"I would have liked to see the ball sell for more for my own selfish sake, but in reality, we're never going to hit the prices we hit for the 1998 ball sales."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.