- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Matt Murphy should be back from Australia any time now, and he has a big decision to make. Does he want to be a starry-eyed fan, or does he want to be semi-rich?

Who’s Matt Murphy, you ask? How quickly we forget. He’s the college student from Queens, N.Y., who caught the ball Barry Bonds slugged for home run No. 756 on Aug. 7, thereby joining the ranks of folks who were in the right place at the right time.

Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show the next morning, Murphy indicated he might keep the notable horsehide. Later, before heading Down Under on vacation, he said he was reconsidering and might peddle it for whatever he could get and share the windfall with a buddy who accompanied him to the game.

My advice, for what it’s worth — sell, baby, sell.

This whole business of overpriced sports memorabilia has gotten totally out of control, assuming it was ever under control. But it’s a seller’s market, so when people out there are willing to pay $3 million for Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball, $2.3 million for a 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card or $1.3 million for the bat Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium, why shouldn’t Murphy cash in as well?

If I owned a rare and coveted artifact, I’d put it on the market faster than Nook Logan goes down the line on a bunt. Such things are merely, well, things. Cold, hard cash, if you’ll pardon the cliche, can provide independence and financial security for your family, among other rewards.

I don’t understand kids and adults who thrust a scrap of paper at, say, Cal Ripken and beg for his signature. I can see where it might be worthwhile on a program, a photo or something else related to a significant moment like 2,131. Otherwise, why bother?

Even when I was a kid myself, back in baseball’s Neanderthal age, autographs never meant much to me. (Then again, I was a fan of the usually pathetic Senators of the 1950s, whose autographs probably didn’t mean much to anybody.)

Bill Russell, the old Boston Celtics’ Basketball Hall of Famer, had the right slant on signatures. He refused to give autographs because he felt it was demeaning to both parties. As usual, Russ was right on.

This might be even truer now when a distressingly high percentage of star jocks don’t seem to be honorable people. Would you still cherish something signed by McGwire or Sammy Sosa given their presumed use of body-enhancing substances? If that McGwire ball is ever resold, it might bring a lot less than $3 million. Heck, it might bring a lot less than $3. Who wants a reminder of so tarnished an achievement?

The same rationale applies to the Bonds ball. Until Barry manages, somehow, to escape the black cloud of suspicion hovering over his bald dome, Matt Murphy might find a rather constricted market if and when he decides to turn it loose.

Anyway, people in the memorabilia business tell me the pellet Bonds hoisted far and wide off the Nationals’ Mike Bacsik isn’t the most valuable one he will whack. The final home run of Bonds‘ career, obviously his ultimate record-setter, is the one that will enlarge someone’s bank account and deplete someone else’s.

So time’s a-wastin’, Matt Murphy.

The value of the Bonds ball will be further reduced by the widely held expectation that Alex Rodriguez will leave Barry far behind someday, assuming he isn’t hit by a truck between now and then. A-Rod might not seem like the most lovable personality in sports, particularly if you’re a Derek Jeter fan, but compared to the surly Bonds he’s practically warm and fuzzy. That will help, too.

Another factor in Murphy’s decision should be the ominous presence of the IRS in his suddenly complicated life. A tax lawyer told the Associated Press that Murphy could take a 35 percent hit — perhaps $175,000 — if the Bonds ball is priced at half a million.

Call Sotheby’s quick, Matt, and sell, baby, sell.

Strangely, Bonds doesn’t even want the ball. Said Barry, in one of his rare public utterances not involving a snarl: “I’ve never believed a home run belonged to the player. If he caught it, it’s his.”

Interesting — not even Barry Bonds wants a Barry Bonds home run ball. Do you suppose that, somewhere deep inside, Barry detests himself and what he did to break Henry Aaron’s record?

Nah, that’s too farfetched. Such an emotion would mean he has a code of ethics.



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