Money ball

Christian Lopez caught the home-run ball that Derek Jeter smacked last week for his 3,000th hit. When Lopez handed the ball to Jeter, sportswriters were shocked that the guy didn’t ask for any money. They acted as if Lopez returned a lost wallet filled with $150,000 in cash without even asking for a reward.

Basically he did, according to some expert valuations. That’s right; experts say Lopez could have gotten as much as $150,000 for a used baseball.

Funny story: Seconds after the ball was hit, it was listed on eBay for $1,999, even though it was not possible for anyone other than Christian Lopez to have it in his possession. Six or seven of the baseballs were for sale by the end of the day.

Not so funny story: Earlier the same week, a baseball fan fell over a railing and died while trying to catch a foul ball that retails for about $6. If he had been trying to catch the Hope Diamond, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

Years ago I was watching “Antiques Roadshow” when a guy brought one of the appraisers an autographed soccer ball. The appraiser went on and on about how unique and rare the ball was and gave it a stratospheric price of tens of thousands of dollars. And it wasn’t signed by David Beckham or Pele or Mia Hamm, the only soccer players most of us have heard of.

So why was it worth so much? Oh, did I forget to mention I was watching the original “Antiques Roadshow,” the British version? You couldn’t get 10 bucks for that ball at a lawn sale over here. The next week a cricket bat was appraised for thousands of pounds. After all, it was signed by Donald Bradman. THE Donald Bradman! Oh, yeah, I’ve never heard of him, either. To tell you the truth, I thought the cricket bat was a piece from a broken butter churn. But, then, could you get more than a pound or two for Derek Jeter’s record-breaking baseball in London?

So what are things like baseballs and autographs really worth if the price is so arbitrary? If a famous baseball came up at an auction, would you bid on it at all? If so, would you stop at $6? $50? $250? $1,000? Charlie Sheen once spent $93,000 on a baseball. Was that an early warning sign of celebrity flakiness?

Could you tell one baseball from another, a real signature from a fake? The ball with which Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game originally sold for more than half a million dollars. When its authenticity was questioned, it resold for $67,000. And yet, it’s still just a basketball – a basketball you can’t even play with. What does the owner do with it? Hang it on the wall and stare at it as if it were a da Vinci? People are always complaining that athletes make way too much money. It sounds like collectors make way too much money, too. The only difference is that no one’s talking about putting a salary cap on collectors. Or actors. Or team owners.

An expert may say that a baseball is worth $150,000, but it’s not as if you can write that on a deposit slip and hand the bank teller a baseball. The hard part is finding the person who not only thinks the ball is worth that kind of money but also has that kind of money.

I saw a commercial last night hawking a baseball commemorating Jeter’s 3,000th hit. This is not the ball he hit, it’s just some $6 ball that says Jeter got 3,000 hits. It costs $49.99 and comes in a plexiglass cube. Autographed “by hand,” it costs $699.99. What does that mean, “by hand”? Does Jeter normally use his foot? I might pay that for a baseball – if it was also autographed by Christian Lopez.

Jim Mullen’s latest book “Now in Paperback!” is now in paperback. You can reach him at

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