Griffey's 600th career homer tinged by controversy over ball

Updated: June 11, 2008, 11:57 AM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- When it comes to Ken Griffey Jr.'s 600th home run ball, "Joe" still doesn't know what to do.

The man who caught the historic ball -- identified only as a longtime Florida Marlins season ticket-holder named Joe -- has not decided between selling the ball or giving it back to Griffey, the Cincinnati Reds slugger who became the sixth player in history to reach the 600-homer plateau on Monday night.

Marlins president David Samson, who says he knows the ticket-holder from various team events, met with the man Tuesday and will speak to him again in the coming days. Through the team, Joe has declined to reveal his full identity or release any personal details.

"I think he knows what all his options are, in terms of selling it, in terms of getting something else for it, in terms of a trade," Samson said. "There's all sorts of different options and I'm just going to try to do what's best for everybody."

Griffey told the Marlins on Monday night that he would like the ball, and the Reds approached Joe about whether the future Hall of Famer could obtain it. Their attempts were rebuffed.

But several Marlins hope that Griffey, at least one day, gets the chance to obtain the ball.

"Come on, this is a baseball," Florida outfielder Cody Ross said. "Just give it back to Griffey. I mean, geez. Give it to the Hall of Fame or something. Get an autograph from him or get to meet him. It's getting out of hand, I think. It's kind of bizarre to me that now they have to label the balls and stuff. They didn't do that stuff back in the day."

Back in the day, it wouldn't have been worth big money, either.

David Kohler, president of SCP Auctions -- who auctioned off several of Barry Bonds' historic home run balls last year, including No. 762, which could be the last of Bonds' career -- said Griffey's 600th could fetch at least $50,000 and perhaps up to $100,000 if put up for sale.

"Ken Griffey Jr. is very well thought of in baseball by a lot of fans," Kohler said. "His 500th ball was given back to him by the guy that caught it. But the 600th, he's only the sixth guy ever to do that, so he's in some big company there. I mean, 600's a big number."

Hearing that the ball could command six figures caused Samson to raise his eyebrows.

"Anything is worth what someone will pay for it," Samson said.

Meanwhile, Joe has already shown he's pretty good at making quick decisions.

Another man claimed that he caught the ball, only to have it ripped from his hands. But video evidence -- supported by the Marlins -- shows a man in a Florida jersey catching the ball, and Samson said it's clear that man is Joe.

Further, Joe had another ball with him from batting practice and pointed to that one underneath one of the seats in right field, sparking a scrum between people duped into believing that was the real No. 600. Instead, he had the 600th home run ball all along, and Major League Baseball authenticated that his indeed was the genuine article.

"Anybody who has any information to the contrary is misinformed and dishonest," Samson said.

The memorabilia buzz has been going on for years, yet some Marlins simply can't believe to what lengths people will go to get their piece of the game.

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez -- who said if he was Joe, he'd give the ball back -- still gets surprised when the team bus rolls into an out-of-town hotel at 2 a.m. and 10 to 15 people, including children, have camped out just to ask for autographs.

"It's amazing to me," Gonzalez said.

Autographs are one thing.

Used chewing gum is another.

Marlins outfielder Luis Gonzalez has one of baseball's all-time great memorabilia stories: A spring training game-used piece of his chewing gum was sold for $10,000 on eBay in 2002, a few months after he delivered the game-winning hit in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the New York Yankees.

After going through that, nothing about the sale of a historic home run ball can surprise him.

"I've seen crazier stuff than this," he said.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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