- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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When Barry Bonds hits home run No. 715 and moves into second place on the all-time list behind Hank Aaron, the lucky fan who catches the ball might have a hard time proving it's the real thing.
That's because Major League Baseball won't authenticate any of the baseballs the Giants are using.
"He's not approaching the record," said league spokesman Pat Courtney by way of explanation, reiterating baseball's stance that the passing of Babe Ruth's milestone of 714 career home runs is not a valid cause for celebration. "We will revisit doing the ball authenticating when he approaches the record."
In 1998, as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa approached Roger Maris' single-season record of 61 home runs, league officials made sure the baseballs being used in Cardinals and Cubs games were numbered and included holograms to eliminate any doubt that the record-breaking ball could be identified. They did it again in the final week of that season so McGwire's final home run could be authenticated.
And the league marked and authenticated the balls being used in Giants games three years later as Bonds was passing McGwire's single-season record of 70 home runs.
Courtney said that the league isn't expecting as much of a fight for the ball in the stands this time around, at least compared with what took place during the McGwire, Bonds and Sosa single-season home run assaults. But others disagree.
Michael Barnes, the broker who assisted the families of those who caught the key Sosa, McGwire and Bonds home run balls, says Bonds' home run No. 715 baseball likely will be worth between $25,000 and $50,000.
"This could be a nightmare in the stands," Barnes said. "Unless a fan catches the ball cleanly and it's caught on tape, finding out who has the real ball is going to be a problem."
Barnes says that if Bonds' balls aren't authenticated by Major League Baseball, collectors and auction houses will have to go back to the old way of determining ownership -- making those selling the ball sign an affidavit and prove seat location through ticket stubs.
"We had a handful of people come to us and say they had the home run balls of 1998, when they did not," Barnes said. "A year after we sold Sosa's 66th home run [ball] for $175,000, some guy had another ball claiming to be that ball on eBay. It's easy for baseball to do this, and it comes with such little expense."
Bonds currently is two home runs from tying Ruth's record. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who used to own the Brewers, is not expected to attend the team's two-game series against the Giants, which begins tonight.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.email@example.com.
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