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December 06, 2001

Owner of '98 ball eyes HR chase
By Dan Patrick

If there is one person rooting against Barry Bonds' quest to hit 71 home runs, it's Todd McFarlane. Why? Because McFarlane, the creator of "Spawn," shelled out a record $3 million for Mark McGwire's 70th home-run ball.

Mark McGwire
Mark McGwire chased Roger Maris in '98; this summer, Barry Bonds is chasing Big Mac.
In January 1999, McFarlane was the anonymous bidder for McGwire's historic ball, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive baseball ever bought. His $3 million purchase dwarfs the next most expensive baseball, Eddie Murray's 500th home-run ball, which sold for $500,000.

While McFarlane admits he overpaid for the McGwire ball, he said he never bought it as an investment. He did it as his way of thumbing his nose at his brothers, saying, "I got the ball, and you didn't." At the same time, McFarlane -- a big sports fan and a minority owner of the Edmonton Oilers -- just loved the story. He thought the home-run chase was a slice of Americana, since we all remember what we were doing in 1998 when McGwire and Sosa were hitting home runs.

So, in appreciation, McFarlane is doing something positive with the McGwire ball. He also owns six other McGwire home-run balls from 1998 -- Nos. 1, 63, 64, 67, 68 and 69 -- and three Sammy Sosa home-run balls -- Nos. 33, 61 and 66. The 10 balls make up the McFarlane Collection, which is touring the country in a 28-foot museum-quality interactive exhibit and raising money for the ALS Association to fight Lou Gehrig's disease.

The McFarlane Collection tour, which began in June 1999 at Dodger Stadium, is in Cleveland this week before moving on to Omaha, Neb. McFarlane doesn't charge anyone to see the exhibit, and people can have their picture taken with McGwire's 70th home-run ball.

On my radio show Wednesday, McFarlane talked about how he got the authentic McGwire ball. Whenever McGwire would come to bat, the umpires would use specially numbered baseballs from their bag. On a foul ball, the umpire would pull out another numbered ball. On a McGwire home run, they would know what number was on the ball. McGwire's 70th home-run ball has a "73" marked to the right of the Rawlings logo.

McFarlane also said he has been afraid to approach McGwire, although he has been in the same room with the Cardinals' slugger. When McFarlane bought the 70th home-run ball, there was some friction because McGwire thought the ball should go directly to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

McFarlane does not believe Bonds' 71st home-run ball would be worth as much as McGwire's ball.
But McFarlane estimates that two million people will see the baseball this year during his collection tour. While Cooperstown is a destination for fans to visit, McFarlane said he wants to take the ball around the country to the baseball fans. Eventually, he said, the ball will end up in the Hall of Fame.

If Bonds hits No. 71, McFarlane said he wouldn't bid on the ball, but not because he can't afford it. He owns McFarlane Toys, the fifth-largest U.S. manufacturer of action figures. He owns the rights and trademarks to more than 250 properties and characters. He was the executive producer on "Spawn," a 1997 movie that grossed $100 million worldwide. He created the HBO series "Todd McFarlane's Spawn." He won two MTV Video Music Awards as co-director of Korn's "Freak on a Leash" video. He received a 1999 Grammy nomination for Pearl Jam's animated "Do the Evolution" music video.

McFarlane does not believe Bonds' 71st home-run ball would be worth as much as McGwire's ball. And he insists he bought the ball for its significance, not its value. Nevertheless, he plans to keep a close eye on Bonds' home-run pace. In fact, he is aware of Bonds' home-run projection to the percentile. He also knows the wind currents of every major-league park Bonds will play in for the rest of the season.

As a baseball fan, McFarlane is rooting for Bonds to hit 80. As owner of the McGwire ball, he hopes Bonds stops well short of 70. Either way, the beauty is that even McFarlane's creative mind cannot fathom how the story will unfold.

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As the owner of Mark McGwire's 70th home-run ball, Todd McFarlane is watching Barry Bonds' chase with interest.
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