Yesterday, the Mantle family auctioned off just about everything the Mick had ever owned. (The crowd at Madison Square Garden couldn't get enough: An old golf bag went for $7,500 and his American Express card for $6,500. The big items were his 1957 AL MVP Award -- $275,000 -- and his 1956 Batting Champion silver bat -- $270,000.) As if that isn't enough to bring a tear to your eye, bids are currently being accepted on the Steve Bartman ball -- the foul popup he kept out of Moises Alou's glove, thereby helping extend the Cubs' non-championship streak to 95 years.

Naturally, with all this going on, the collective thoughts of the Writers' Bloc turned to memorabilia -- which pieces they desire more than anything in the world, why and, in some cases, how much they'd be willing to pay.

Robert Lipsyte
To: Writers' Block
Subject: The Mick

All I want is the baseball with my name on it. Actually, it had a little dab of my Brylcreme on it, too.

In June, 1960, a fan jumped out of the stands in Yankee Stadium, ran across the outfield and punched Mickey Mantle in the jaw. Such recreational violence was unheard of in those days. The New York Times' ambassador to the Yankees would never trouble the great center fielder by actually asking him what had happened, so the next day an expendable 22-year-old was sent out from night rewrite. Mickey and Yogi Berra were playing catch in front of the dugout, when I introduced myself before the game. I was wearing a suit and tie that night at the Stadium, possibly a matching vest, pretty sure I called him "Mr. Mantle" when I politely asked if I might inquire about what had happened.

Very casually, Mickey glanced over his shoulder and made a rude and impossible suggestion. Now, I had heard such words before, but never from an American hero. I read the papers, I knew the story of this sunny Oklahoma Kid gutsing it out on bad legs, genetically doomed to an early death as he tried to replace the Clipper and the Bambino. Despite it all, maintained the scribes, he was terminally loveable. I assumed I had asked the question incorrectly, so I rephrased it. Mickey signaled to Yogi, and they began throwing the ball through my hair. I was experienced enough to understand that the interview was over.

For awhile, I felt ashamed, humiliated by the experience. What had I done wrong? How had I offended this American icon? Should I even be doing this work?

It was a long time before I told the story to a more experienced reporter, who simply laughed. That's Mickey. Welcome to the club, kid. Don't let it get you down. Happens to all of us. Every day. We don't write about it, of course, he told me, because our editors don't want to print such stuff, because our readers don't want to hear about it. And we don't want to lose access.

It took me even a longer time to get properly angry. I didn't want to admit to myself that I had been bullied. I didn't want to feel like a victim. I'm a man. I hang with the Bombers.

And then I got past it. Many years later, drinking with Mickey while we were doing a TV interview in the bar of a golf club, I told him the story. He gave me that country slick wink and told me he remembered the incident well. Had haunted him for years, he said. Probably the reason he drank so much.

We both laughed.

Now I imagine having that baseball he and Yogi threw through my hair, which is pretty much gone now. If I try hard, I can still feel that delicate riffle, as those masters managed to touch me without braining me. That ball would make me smile forever.

Eric Neel
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Privilege, pain, Gibby

I don't want the Bartman ball, but I can see why someone would.

You want the Bartman ball because it's loaded. You want it because Chicago's doomed history and Florida's wacky good fortune resonate in it in equal measure. It's a morbid curiosity and a joke, sure, but it's also a super-charged object of loathing and love, the fixed point at which hundreds of thousands of hearts converge and collide. You want it the way you want the Branca-Thomson ball, because it means so much to so many, and in such opposite directions.

Me, I want the third Reggie Jackson home run ball from Game 6 of the Series on October 18, 1977, the one that drove a stake through my Dodger heart, the one that put Yankee Stadium in a frenzy and put me face-first on the TV room floor, kicking and crying like a baby. I want to hold the vile thing in my hands. I want the abstract, unending hurt of that night to be something simple and material, something I can throw against the wall. Six or seven thousand times. Really hard. I don't have a lot, but I can see paying, I don't know, $10K easy, for the privilege and the pain of it.

I'm no masochist, though. I'd pay twice that, maybe more, for Kirk Gibson's 1988 Game 1 home-run ball. I was standing at Flint's Ribs in Oakland when he came to bat, waiting on a plate of pork and hot sauce, and I'd pay big for the chance to smell the sweet mix of Dodger victory, Oaktown defeat and bar-b-q in that leather.

Besides, I have this theory that if you hold the ball to your ear, you can hear Jack Buck say, "I do not believe what I just saw. I do not believe what I just saw!"

But the more I think about it, I wouldn't really pay for either of them. The wanting them, for both bad and good, is worth too much.

Luke Cyphers
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: No on Bartman

I don't want the Bartman ball. I want the FAKE Bartman ball, the one Billy Crystal will pay $600,000 for, and that will, years later, be found to have actually been fouled into the stands during BP at Game 2. I want an authentic piece, not of baseball history, but of the memorabilia business, as it really works. Because if I can afford to throw my money away on such precious memories, if I can be that big a sucker, I'm living pretty good.

Jim Caple
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Better than Bartman

I wouldn't pay anything for the Bartman ball.

I would, however, write out a blank check for the ball that Alex Gonzalez cleanly fielded for an inning-ending double play that preserved Chicago's 3-0 victory in Game 6 and sent them to the World Series for the first time in 58 years.

I also would pay for the ball that Grady Little took from Pedro's hand before patting him on the rear and bringing in Mike Timlin to face Bernie Williams and retire the side and preserve Boston's 5-2 victory in Game 7 and give us a Cubs-Red Sox World Series.

Steve Wulf
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Let's turn two

A few years ago, my wife called me from an antique-shopping expedition in the wilds of Pennsylvania and said, "I just got something I think you'll like."

"What is it?" I asked. "Did you ever hear of Nellie Fox?" "Of course. Great little second baseman with the White Sox from St. Thomas, Pa. Big chaw of tobacco." "That's funny." "Why?" "Well, we just bought this beautiful cupboard he owned. And it smells of tobacco." So it sits, in our dining room, gracing our more important meals. It's a wonderful piece. (Inside we keep a Nellie Fox baseball card and glove.) But somehow the room is incomplete.

What I now really want is something -- say, a hutch -- once owned by Luis Aparicio.

Dan Shanoff
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: How high would you go?

Start with this question: How much you'd be willing to pay for any piece of sports memorabilia -- then back out what it might be.

Does it really matter what the actual object is? Let's face it: As soon as your willingness-to-pay climbs higher than, say, 5 percent of your annual income, you're making a hell of a statement about your sick desire to be so close to an athlete, team or historical moment that you'd forego the infinite number of actually productive things you could do with that money.

Hey, kids, state college isn't so bad: I could see myself paying $25,000 (to be clear: NOT 5 percent of my annual income) for arguably the greatest piece of sports memorabilia of all time: The "Shot Heard 'Round the World" ball. Any number north of that causes me to get too woozy to type.

But the larger point is like Ted "Million Dollar Man" DiBiase used to say: Everybody has a price.

Patrick Hruby
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: A little bit of the Splendid Splinter

I'd most like to bid on Ted Williams' DNA, the better to realize my fiendish dream of creating a baseball Serpentor.

Also, I figure John Henry will sell me a big, juicy sample of double-helix goodness for $25-30, tops. I'm confident he accepts cash, checks and/or PayPal.

Shaun Assael
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Memorabilia

I'd cash in my 401K for the typewriter that A.J. Liebling used to write "The Sweet Science."

Gerri Hirshey
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: A piece of Glorious

I would like a single dried flower from the Triple Crown victory blanket of Secretariat, since that moment at Belmont was one of the last Glorious Moments of American sport. I can still hear Chick Anderson hollering, "He's moving like a tremendous machine!" while I whooped Big Red to his 31-length victory on my tiny Trinitron.

What other macho, beautifully muscled Great

got his mug on the cover of Time and honestly never read the piece?

worked just two years?

had all the chicks he wanted and still got his own postage stamp?

was found, upon his death, to have perfectly normal equine heart TWICE the normal size?

My hero.


Price of history: Mantle MVP sells for $275,000

Writer's Bloc: BCS wars

Writer's Bloc: Sneaker wars

Writer's Bloc: It's gotta be the shoes

Writer's Bloc: Dumb and Dumber

Writer's Bloc: Double-Crossed?

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