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McGwire's 70th home run ball sells for $3 million, including commission

January 13, 1999
Web posted at: 2:15 a.m. EST (0715 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Mark McGwire's historic 70th home run baseball sold Tuesday at auction for $3 million, the most money ever paid for a sports artifact.

The total price includes the bid of $2.7 million, plus a $305,000 commission to Guernsey's auction house, bringing the total to $3,005,000. The ball was expected to fetch about $1 million.

Minutes later, the same unidentified phone bidder bought Sammy Sosa's 66th home run ball for $150,000, a spokesman for Guernsey's told CNN.

"Tell them I'm a heck of a baseball fan," the buyer said through the spokesman. The buyer would not disclose his name or hometown.

The previous record for sports memorabilia was set in November when the ball Babe Ruth hit for the first home run in Yankee Stadium went for $126,500.

Guernsey's started bidding for McGwire's record-setting ball at $400,000 and the price quickly jumped as bidders tried to get their hands on what many baseball historians have called the "Hope Diamond of baseball."

It took only 10 minutes to sell. Sosa's 66th home run ball went in three minutes.

A typical Major League baseball is made for less than $5.

About 300 people filled the seats for Guernsey's Baseballs of 1998 auction at Madison Square Garden. About 85 auctioning paddles were issued to registered bidders; another 10 people were bidding by phone.

The total collection of sports merchandise brought in $3.7 million, including commissions for the auction house.

The auction follows one of baseball's most captivating seasons in recent history, with St. Louis Cardinal slugger McGwire and the Chicago Cubs Sosa launching homer after homer as they smashed Roger Maris's previous single season HR record of 61. The record had stood for three decades.

McGwire's ball was retrieved September 27 by 26-year-old research scientist Philip Ozersky, who had been attending the game with a group of office friends from Washington University in St. Louis when the ball came flying at him.

"It flew in, ricocheted off somebody's hand, bounced off the wall and came to rest underneath the metal bleachers," he said. "I dove and it went right in my hand."

Everyone a winner

The runner-up in the bidding for the prized McGwire ball was Irwin Sternberg, a New York necktie manufacturer who owns Stonehenge Limited.

Sternberg wound up purchasing the third most expensive item during Tuesday's incessant bidding -- a ball autographed by Ruth and Maris -- that went for $60,000. Guernsey's told CNN after the auction it was working to get McGwire to sign the ball.

Two other highly featured items went unsold. Hank Aaron's 755th career home run ball did not meet the minimum bid, which was not immediately disclosed; bidding maxed out at $800,000.

Guernsey's told CNN late Tuesday that the $800,000 bid was "very near" the required asking price and that it was working to broker a deal with the bidder, which could possibly come as early as Wednesday.

The ball that was said to be Mickey Mantle's 500th career home run ball was withdrawn from sale after questions arose about its authenticity.

Other items that sold Tuesday and their prices included:

--McGwire's 68th HR ball; $55,000

--McGwire's 67th HR ball; $50,000

--McGwire's 63rd HR ball; $50,000

--McGwire's 16th HR ball, the longest homer of his career at 545 feet and the furthest ever hit in St. Louis Busch Stadium; $20,000

--Sosa's 33rd HR ball, his 20th homer in the month of June and a Major League record for most HRs in one month; $20,000

--Sosa's 64th HR ball; $24,000

--Sosa's 61st HR ball; $15,000

--Sosa's 55th HR ball; $4,500

--ball co-signed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig; $12,000

--ball co-autographed by Ruth and Aaron; $7,000

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