- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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When San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds launches No. 660 and No. 661 deep into the stands or into the water, there undoubtedly will be a rush of fans that will converge on the valuable collectibles.
But for the lucky ones that catch the ball that ties or puts Bonds into third place in the all-time home run race with godfather Willie Mays, don't expect sales to yield enough to buy a mansion.
"I believe most people that have the money and want a historic Bonds home run ball are waiting for No. 700, No. 715 and No. 756," said Michael Barnes, a sports marketer who has brokered more than 50 historic home run ball sales over the past five years, including Sammy Sosa's No. 66 and Mark McGwire's No. 70 from the 1998 home run race as well as Barry Bonds' No. 73.
Hitting 715 home runs would of course put Bonds one ahead of New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth and No. 756 would make Bonds the all-time home run leader, passing Hank Aaron.
While Barnes said the record-breaking ball could sell for more than $1 million, he predicts that No. 660 will sell in the $10,000 to $20,000 range, with No. 661 selling for less than $10,000.
That's a significant drop from other historic home run balls sold. In 1999, comic book and action figure mogul Todd McFarlane bought McGwire's 70th for $3 million and Sosa's 66th for $175,000. Bonds' 73rd home run ball from the 2001 season was bought in a June auction by McFarlane for $517,500.
McFarlane says the only other Bonds ball he is interested in purchasing would be Bonds' last home run of his career -- if he does indeed surpass Aaron.
"The 756 ball would be OK, but the final record ball is the true prize," said McFarlane, who believes No. 661 is worth about $100,000. "If he's chasing Aaron, the whole country is going to be gripped on home run fever again."
Due to the economy as well as the fact that many home run balls have hit the auction blocks over the past couple years, the market has dampened somewhat. Sammy Sosa's 500th home run ball recently sold for $44,500, while in the past, McGwire's and Mickey Mantle's 500th slam reportedly sold for $250,000 and $200,000 each.
Collectibles expert Lou Costanzo of Glomar Bat Company says he believes that No. 661 is worth at least $100,000 on the open market, while No. 660 could sell in the $50,000 to $75,000 range.
"The thought seems to be that he'll break the record if the pitchers pitch to him," Costanzo said. "If he does and that ball (No. 756) is on the market, it could top the price paid for McGwire's 70th."
McFarlane says the price of the ultimate record breaker, if it happened, would depend on the timing of the sale. Hank Aaron's 755th home run ball was sold in April 1999, almost 23 years after the event, and reportedly sold for a disappointingly low $650,000.
"If the ball doesn't hit the market for four or five years, it will be harder to sell old news," McFarlane said. "Plus, potential bidders could then be scared off by the pace of (Texas Rangers shortstop) Alex Rodriguez."
Many say Bonds' 73rd home run ball could have sold for more than $1 million, had it been sold immediately. But the sale of the ball was held up as a result of a lawsuit between Alex Popov, a fan who claimed he caught the ball and Patrick Hayashi, who ended up with the collectible.
Barnes, who says the he would double his estimate for the ball if Bonds played for a team with a more rabid fan base such as the Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs, said he would recommend that the lucky fan who catches No. 660 and No. 661 -- if he or she wants to sell it -- should bring it to market immediately.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.Rovell@espn3.com.
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