Lost and not found: The Gibson ball

Long before Major League Baseball began to authenticate big-occasion baseballs with holograms and special markings, and long before fans began to see money in those rawhide spheres attached to a memorable moment, an injured Kirk Gibson launched one of the most famous home runs in postseason history into the Chavez Ravine air.

As the ball sailed into the right-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium, NBC's television cameras didn't exactly linger on where the ball landed. After all, the drama was on the bases, as Gibson hobbled around, pumping his arm and clenching his fist in celebration of his team stealing Game 1 of the 1988 World Series from the usually automatic arm of A's closer Dennis Eckersley.

It wasn't until at least a decade later, when catching and selling the balls hit during the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase was generating millions, that anyone really talked about the Gibson ball.

Gibson himself was never offered it, though he did receive a picture of a lady's leg in the mail. A woman wrote to Gibson that the ball had hit her on the thigh, which in the accompanying photo was black and blue.

No one, in the last 25 years, has come forward with a truly solid story about what happened to the baseball.

In 2010, Gibson sold items from the moment in an auction, which generated incredible interest. The bat he used went for $576,000. The jersey sold for $303,000 and the helmet for $154,000. They all were purchased by Chad and Doug Drier of Santa Barbara, Calif.

At the time, I used the publicity surrounding the moment and the memorabilia to try to find the Gibson ball.

I received more than 250 emails, and 31 people claimed they either had the ball or knew of the person who had it.

The story that seemed to have the most potential came from a man named Ed Moran, who provided us a link to a video that supposedly shows his uncle, Carlos, catching the ball. The site also has a picture, dated 15-10-1988 (the date of the game), showing what Moran says is Carlos holding a World Series ball with Ed's sister, Jasmine, standing next to him.

Moran said that Game 1 of the '88 World Series was the first baseball game his uncle Carlos ever attended. His uncle, he said, put the ball in a sock drawer and eventually gave it to his girlfriend. In 2008, Ed said Carlos called the woman, who said she had it in her garage. According to Moran, nothing ever materialized.

"If the baseball did surface, and it had an ironclad chain of custody that was well-documented, I think it could go for $500,000 or more," said David Kohler, president of SCP Auctions, which sold the Gibson collection three years ago. "But the 'I still have it in my garage' stories would hurt the value of anything coming to market. It's just not concrete enough."

The story behind how the item was obtained often gives the collector confidence to bid high for a particular item.

Such was the case just last year, when a collector paid $418,250 for the ball that went through the legs of Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in Game Six of the 1986 World Series.

That ball was given to the player who hit it, New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson, who then wrote a still-surviving note to team executive Arthur Richman.

The note read, "To Arthur, the ball won it for us, Mookie Wilson, 10/25/86."

The ball was first purchased by actor Charlie Sheen in 1992 for $93,000 and then by songwriter Seth Swirsky for nearly $64,000 in 2000 before being sold again 12 years later.

According to Kohler, who said the 25-year absence of the Gibson ball doesn't give him much hope that it will ever surface, one of the reasons the other Gibson items sold for the prices they did was because they came from Gibson himself.

Collector and auctioneer Ken Goldin thinks the appeal of game-used balls in general has taken a hit in recent years.

After the value of the McGwire, Sosa and Barry Bonds home run balls plummeted, the market took a hit.

"People aren't as interested," said Goldin, who bought Bonds' 70th home run ball from the 2003 season for $25,000, only to sell it three years later for $16,000. "Someone would have gotten a lot more money if they would have brought the Gibson ball to market closer to when the home run was hit."

If the ball ever does emerge with a believable story behind it, Goldin thinks $100,000 is a reasonable expectation for the seller.