From his office in Dallas, memorabilia expert Chris Ivy watched Friday with some interest -- but no great surprise -- as the Barry Bonds record-breaking home run ball languished on the auction block at slightly more than half its perceived upper-end value.
Ivy had HR No. 756 figured at somewhere between $400,000 and $600,000, well down from his original estimate of $1 million-plus. By late Friday the bid, conducted via Sotheby's With SCP Auctions, had not yet reached $275,000.
"The auction doesn't end until Saturday, and traditionally more than 75 percent of the bids come in the last 24 to 48 hours," said Ivy, of Heritage Auction Galleries. "I wouldn't be surprised to see it jump significantly."
Significantly, as in seven figures?
"No," Ivy replied.
With Bonds, the story has always been about the numbers, and so it is again. Years after Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball from the 1998 season fetched an astounding $3 million-plus at auction, the ball with which Bonds broke Henry Aaron's all-time homer record stands a very good chance of not cracking the top-10 prices ever paid for a sports collectible.
Of course, there are multiple explanations for this. One is that the sports collectible market, though still strong, has become somewhat less speculative over the past few years. Another view, held by some in the business, is that the Bonds ball that will hold higher value will be from the last home run he hits as a pro, whenever that may be.
The Steroid Era itself has had its say, slowly slicing away the perceived values of the broken offensive records. McGwire's ball was first sold during the feel-good period that followed his and Sammy Sosa's rejuvenating assault on the single-season home run mark. The years since have been pockmarked by countless drug-related scandals and McGwire's own sorry appearance before Congress, during which he repeatedly declined to discuss his history with performance-enhancing substances.
That $3 million ball? Many experts believe it would sell for less than $1 million today.
Bonds' case owes to all of those factors. And then there's the obvious: The devaluing presence of Bonds himself. The person -- and the personality.
"It definitely has an effect yes," Ivy said of Bonds' enormously complicated public persona. "Bonds is a very polarizing figure; a lot of people either love him or hate him. But [at auction] you try to promote the piece to as many potential bidders as possible."
Inclusion, not exclusion.
Bonds' career has certainly been nothing if not polarizing. He has broken Aaron's record while being dogged by rumor, innuendo and outright accusation of using several different performance enhancers. The devastating portrait of him in the book "Game of Shadows" as an ego-crippled star willing to do whatever was necessary to take back the spotlight from the likes of McGwire has come to color much of what he accomplished over a career that produced Hall of Fame numbers almost across the board.
Bonds himself is not required to care what his ball might be worth at auction. Then again, the Giants' left fielder has made a lucrative side business out of taking most of his licensing and memorabilia sales in house, essentially cutting out Major League Baseball and the players union from parts of the process. It's difficult to believe Bonds doesn't know the price of his most famous home run ball.
That price may yet rise before the close of auction Saturday, but it is unlikely to come anywhere near the $1 million that Ivy -- and several other collectors -- initially thought the ball might be worth. Ivy's firm, in fact, offered in May to pay $1 million to whomever collected HR No. 756, if that person brought forth the ball within 15 days of securing it.
Instead, Matt Murphy, the Queens, N.Y. resident who grabbed the ball out of the scrum at AT&T Park last month after attending the game on a layover while readying to fly to Australia on vacation, decided to take the full-blown auction route. As that took shape, Ivy began speaking to collectors and investors, and he discovered the truth: The Bonds' legacy is such that it actually has had a depressing effect on the sale price.
Still, Ivy said, "It's such a huge record in sports history -- the all-time home run mark."
Sale-wise, it just came from the wrong guy at the wrong time.
Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland", published by HarperCollins, is in its third printing. His book "Kids of Summer," about the curious ability of one town to consistently produce Little League champions, will be released in July 2008. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.