Sunday, March 27, 2005

Weekend Update: $3 Million Worth Of Steroids

The home run is the most singularly dynamic achievement in all of North American sport.

Thus begins the web site introduction to The McFarlane Collection of home run balls.

A batter uses discipline, knowledge, speed and power to launch a ball into the seats and beyond, thrilling a home crowd and driving opposing fans to their knees.

Babe Ruth did it consistently, never hitting fewer than 40 in ten full seasons played from 1920 to 1932. He retired with a career slugging average of .690.

In 1961 Roger Maris' 61st homer conquered Babe Ruth's all-time record, but that mark has been surpassed three times in recent years.

Maris, of course, was a fluke. A decent home run hitter caught up in a home run race with Mickey Mantle, Maris had a career year in 1961 and went downhill from there.

Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have eclipsed the former record with homers number 66, 70, and 73.

We now know, of course, how they did it. In addition to “discipline, knowledge, speed and power,” they have been found to have used anabolic steroids. Each virtually doubled his annual home run production to break the record—Bonds went from 34 to 73 in two years. Sosa went from 36 to 66 in one year. McGwire went from 39 to 70 in three years.

All three saw a drastic fall-off in home runs shortly after their peaks. And none of them—even Bonds, with his jacked-up 73 homer year included, approached Ruth’s career slugging average.

The baseballs they [Bonds, McGwire, Sosa] hit to earn a piece of baseball immortality all rest in the possession of Todd McFarlane.

Todd McFarlane is a cartoon creator who paid through the nose ($3 million—the most ever paid for a sports artifact) for Mark McGwire’s 70th home run baseball. He is a sports nut who built a collection of steroid-juiced home run balls, including, according to "The McFarlane Collection" web site, “six of the ten highest priced baseballs ever purchased.”

Whatever the actual current market is for those six steroid-inflated baseballs, it is in my view likely to be far below cost.

Jeff Matthews

I Am Not Making This Up

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