Top 10 Most Interesting Baseballs Sold at Auction

The phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” most certainly applies to the most expensive baseballs ever sold. A baseball, unlike a car or real estate, has almost no inherent value – it is easy to walk into a sporting goods store and purchase a baseball for less than $5. Instead, the value of expensive baseballs are derived from their significance as historical artifacts, serving as physical links to some of the most important moments and milestones in baseball history. This value is subjective and based on emotion and personal connection, but these qualities can serve to make them even more valuable to some than any expensive gadget, gold object or fancy house could ever be. There is only one baseball linked to each particular moment, making each one a unique and, to some, therefore priceless piece of memorabilia to own.

While the top five entries on this list are the five most expensive baseballs of all time, the first five entries (6-10 on the list) are five of the most interesting stories I could find related to different high priced baseballs, ranked by sale value. Others below the top five in price but not on this list include Mickey Mantle’s 500th home run ball ($250,000), Mark McGwire’s 500th home run ball ($250,000) and Barry Bonds 755th home run ball ($186,750). Each is important, but all three were sold to a bidder in an auction without much controversy, and the latter two players mentioned hit other baseballs that sold for higher prices that made the list instead. Some of the famous baseballs on this list connect to a famous fashion designer, a superstar comic book artist, an Oscar winner, and one of the most famous screen stars of all time. One of them even received a rather unorthodox treatment, considering its final sale price. In the wild world of baseball memorabilia, the rich and famous prove to be willing to spend hundreds of thousands, or, in one case, even millions, to acquire a link to the great moments of America’s pastime.

10 Steve Bartman ball: $113,824.16

In Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS between the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins at Wrigley Field, Steve Bartman arguably committed the worst instance of fan interference in sports history, preventing Cubs outfielder Moises Alou from making a catch in the eighth inning while the Cubs were up 3-0 in the game and 3-2 in the series. After the missed catch, the Cubs surrendered eight runs in the inning to lose 8-3 and subsequently lost Game 7 the next day, despite being five outs away from making the World Series for the first time since 1945. They hadn't won a World Series since 1908 before Bartman’s actions. Cubs fans were livid with Bartman, and after the game he required both a security escort while exiting the stadium and police protection at his house after his address was spread online.

The ball was later put up for auction, and purchased by Grant DePorter, president of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group (named after the long-time Cubs announcer). DePorter’s intent was to destroy it as a cathartic act for the city and with the hopes it would end the “Curse of the Billy Goat” which fans feared had stopped the Cubs from making the World Series since 1945. On February 26th, 2004, the ball was detonated outside one of the Harry Caray establishments in Chicago, with the assistance of Academy-Award winning special effects expert Michael Lantieri (Best Visual Effects, Jurassic Park). CNN, ESPN and MSNBC all covered the event live, hosted by Keith Olbermann and Mythbusters hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, and the event featured on the front pages of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. In 2005, the restaurant boiled the ball’s remnants, along with beer and vodka, in order to capture and use the steam to infuse a pasta sauce served at the restaurant. While not the most expensive ball in baseball history, it just might have the wildest story.

9 Babe Ruth signed baseball: $150,000

One of two balls on this list not linked to a specific sporting moment, the price is instead a testament to the enduring fame of Babe Ruth and the quality of the baseball in question. Graded at an extraordinary 9.5 out of 10 by the Professional Sports Authenticator, the largest company for authentication and quality analysis for sports memorabilia in the US, the ball was sold in 2005 for an astonishing price. To put it in perspective, a ball signed by Ruth and Gehrig during their legendary 1927 season sold for $25,462 in 2011, and an incredibly rare baseball signed by Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson, who died in 1925 at age 45 of tuberculosis, sold for $50,600. Most autographed balls sell for between four to ten thousand dollars, so this price proves that quality can be as much of a selling point as history for specific pieces.

8 Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio signed baseball: $191,200

Sold in 2006, this ball remains the most expensive signed baseball purchased in auction. The legendary Yankees centre fielder and the Hollywood actress were married in January 1954 but then divorced in November of that year, reportedly after DiMaggio witnessed director Billy Wilder force Monroe to perform several takes of her now-iconic skirt blowing scene during production of the film The Seven Year Itch. After Monroe’s divorce from playwright Arthur Miller in January 1961, DiMaggio accompanied her from her exit from a psychiatric centre and they attended Yankees training camp in the spring of 1961 together, where they signed the ball. The ball is therefore more than just a piece of sporting memorabilia, but an artifact from the complicated and often tragic life of one of the most famous film and pop culture icons of the 20th century.

7 Eddie Murray’s 500th home run ball: $280,000 (originally intended to be $500,000)

Murray hit his 500th home run in September 1996, but it is the sale, not the ball itself, which is of particular significance in this case. Sold before McGwire, Sosa and Bonds broke the market wide open, the sale of this ball represented an unprecedented price for a baseball at the time. Even more strange was that Murray’s popularity was not high at the time, nor was there a strong demand for the ball from other buyers. Baltimore businessperson Michael Lasky, who had founded and ran the Psychic Friends Network, was the only major buyer, and yet chose to pay this exorbitant price. While Lasky’s first error was his gross misjudgment of the value of the baseball at the time, he vastly compounded his error when his company went bankrupt two years later in 1998. Lasky had promised the fan who caught the ball, Dan Jones, that he would pay an annuity for the ball over 20 years that could go as high as $500,000 by its conclusion, but his company’s bankruptcy forced the price to settle at the already high number of $280,000. Little did he know, however, that by 1998, the price would seem paltry compared to another that would be hit later that year.

6 Bill Buckner baseball from the 1986 World Series: $418,250

Bill Buckner had over 2,700 hits in his career, finished with a .289 batting average, won the National League batting title as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 1980 and was named as an All-Star in 1981. These accomplishments, however, have been overshadowed by an error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Up three games to two in the series, and in extra innings of the game, Buckner tried to field a hit towards first base by Mookie Wilson of the New York Mets. The ball instead rolled past his glove, between his legs and into the outfield to allow Ray Knight to score from second base and win the game, forcing a Game 7 the Red Sox would eventually lose. Buckner was playing with an injured ankle and Red Sox manager John McNamara should have substituted Buckner for a defensive placement before the incident occurred. Buckner nonetheless took the brunt of the criticism from media and the fans for the error, as they perceived it as an extension of the “Curse of the Bambino” that had prevented the team from winning a World Series since 1918, and was not broken until 2004. After receiving death threats from fans and a tumultuous personal situation, the Red Sox released Buckner in July 1987.

With time came forgiveness, however, as Buckner re-signed with the Red Sox in 1990 and received a standing ovation upon being introduced at the team’s home opener. He also threw the opening pitch at the team’s home opener in 2008, during which they hoisted their 2007 World Series banner. Fans in attendance gave Buckner a four-minute standing ovation, marking the city’s forgiveness. The ball from the famous incident stands as one of the most expensive of all time, sold at auction to an anonymous buyer in 2012.

5 Barry Bonds 73rd Home run ball: $517,500

4 Hank Aaron’s 755th Home Run Ball (1976): $650,000

With nearly two months left in the season, nobody in attendance in Milwaukee County Stadium knew that Hank Aaron’s home run off of California Angels pitcher Dick Drago on July 20th, 1976 would be the final one of his career. Richard Arndt, a groundskeeper at the stadium, caught the ball and wanted to meet Aaron in exchange for returning the ball. When the team told him Aaron was busy preparing for a road trip and counter-offered Arndt a bat and an autograph baseball from Aaron, Arndt turned the team down, only to be fired the following day for not returning the baseball. Arndt then stored the ball in a safety deposit box for 23 years, before finally selling it at auction in 1999 for $650,000. The eventual buyer, Andrew J. Knuth, was a money manager from Connecticut.

3 Barry Bonds 756th Home Run ball: $752,467.20

On August 7th, 2007, three days after tying Hank Aaron’s MLB all time career home runs record, Barry Bonds hit the 756th home run of his career to take sole possession of the record. Bonds hit the ball off of pitcher Todd Bacsik of the Washington Nationals in his home stadium in San Francisco, deep into right-centre field. 22-year old Matt Murphy, a New York City resident, caught the ball, and was immediately escorted away by police officers to protect him.

The ball was sold at auction to fashion designer Marc Ecko, who later laser-engraved an asterisk on the ball to denote the controversial nature of the record and Bonds’ use of steroids to reach it. The steroid controversy has since tarnished Bonds’ accomplishments to the point where he could only muster 36.2% of the vote from Baseball Hall of Fame voters, less than half of the 75% needed to enter into the Hall. Though Bonds may never be there, the 756 ball is currently on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It is also interesting to note that Clay Hensley, the pitcher off of whom Bonds had hit his 755th home run, had been suspended 15 games for steroid use in the minor leagues. This serves as a symbol of the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs in that era of baseball on a scale that far exceeded Bonds alone, yet should not negate or minimize Bonds’ actions.

2 Babe Ruth 1933 All-Star Game Home Run ball: $805,000

In 1933, Major League Baseball held its first All-Star Game between the best players from the American and National Leagues. While the game, proposed by Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward, was only intended as a one-off event for the 1933 Chicago’s World Fair, it grew to become an annual tradition in the sport and one of the highlights for many fans each season. In the bottom of the third, Ruth hit the first home run in All-Star Game history, giving the American League a 3-0 lead. While he would only play one more full season with the Yankees after that season, and retire as a member of the Boston Braves partway through 1935, Ruth once again reinforced his legendary status within the game with this home run by stepping up as the biggest player under the biggest spotlight. Ruth also signed the ball not long after the game was finished. The ball was then sold at auction on July 11th, 2006, along with other memorabilia from the game.

1 Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball: $3,000,000

By far the most expensive ball of all time, McGwire’s 70th home run set a new single-season record after Roger Maris’ record of 61 had stood since 1961. Sammy Sosa also broke Maris’ record, finishing with 66 on the year, but McGwire edged Sosa in the home run race that season, one of the most exciting in recent memory. Though both players have since been proven to be steroid users, tainting their accomplishments forever, both men undeniably brought a flood of media and fan attention to the sport and increased the sport’s profile across the nation.

McGwire’s 70th home run ball produced a flood of prospective buyers, and the attention surrounding it transformed it into the most expensive baseball of all time, by a very significant margin, over three times more than the number two entry on this list. Though the expected price was one million dollars, it sparked an intense bidding war that ended with Todd McFarlane’s three million dollar bid. On top of owning McGwire’s 70th home run ball and Bonds’ 73rd  home run ball, McFarlane (seen above with the McGwire 70th home run ball) also owns McGwire’s 67th , 68th, and 69th home run balls, for which he paid a combined $300,000, and Sosa’s 66th home run ball, which cost him $175,000. It is also interesting to note that Philip Ozersky, the fan who caught the ball, received the entire price minus a $300,000 commission, leaving him with $2,700,000 for the ball.

More in Baseball