- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

It’s hard to know whether to laugh, cry or applaud about this business of David Ortiz’s jersey being dug out of a hole at the new Yankee Stadium and sold on eBay for $175,110 last week.

We could laugh because it’s so ludicrous that a construction worker and Red Sox fan dropped the jersey into wet cement to put a curse on the Bronx ballpark and the club that will move into it next season.

We could cry because the price of Big Papi’s shirt is indicative of the preposterous numbers sports memorabilia is commanding on the open market these days.

And we could applaud because every dime of the money will go to benefit the Jimmy Fund, a cancer care and research facility in Boston that used to be a favorite of Red Sox icon Ted Williams.

The guy who bought the filthy, tattered garment was Kevin Meehan, who owns several auto dealerships in Mendon, Mass. I don’t know what kind of cars Kevin sells, but if he likes to give away money like that, I might see if he’ll let me have a BMW or Lexus for, say, $10,000.

“I guess if I [normally] was spending that much, I’d think twice about it,” Meehan told The New York Times. “But what I was doing was donating the money to a great cause, and in return I pick up this piece of memorabilia.”

You’ll notice Kevin didn’t refer to it as “priceless” memorabilia, and with good reason.

In case you’ve been preoccupied with mundane matters like the presidential campaigns, the economy and the environment, here’s some background. The construction worker, Gino Castignoli, buried the shirt earlier this month to wish all sorts of bad things for his team’s bitterest enemy.

I guess the jersey was supposed to rise up out of the ground and hit home runs all by itself whenever the Red Sox visit the Bronx. (It’s a good thing the new ballpark isn’t in New Jersey, where Big Papi himself might have been buried along with his shirt.)

Somehow the Yankees learned of Castignoli’s treachery and held an “excavation party” a few days later to, literally, dig up dirt on their archrivals. Then the Steinbrenners, showing more humanity than we usually expect, gave it to the Jimmy Fund.

Enter eBay — and Meehan. Showing the best timing in Beantown since Teddy Ballgame hit a home run at Fenway Park in his last career at-bat 48 years ago, Kevin submitted his offer nine seconds before the bidding ended — and for just $10 more than the previous highest amount among 81 fellow wackos.

If you’re not into sports and sports memorabilia, all this might strike you as irrational conduct by supposedly rational people. Indeed it is, but the hatred between these two clubs and their fans makes it at least partially understandable. Heck, the Red Sox and Yankees practically make the Redskins and Cowboys look like bosom buddies.

As the Red Sox were enduring their infamous World Series drought from 1918 to 2004, the Yankees were stockpiling 39 pennants and 26 Series championships. Now, though, the pinstripers haven’t been masters of all they surveyed since 2000 while the Sawx have won two Series.

How much do the Steinbrenners hate this? Sometimes I wonder whether George III might arise from his slumber and try to hire Billy Martin, wherever he is, for a sixth term as manager. Joe Girardi, don’t put down money on a house just yet.

With apologies to Meehan, who has contributed regularly to the Jimmy Fund since his father died of cancer in 2001, there should be a limit to the outrageous payouts for sports memorabilia. But the way the market is now, if you’ve got the only one of something, anything, it could make you semi-rich.

Last year, you’ll remember, a 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card resold for a record $2.8 million. And a couple of years ago, Sotheby’s of London auctioned off some Babe Ruth brand underwear for $720. (Hopefully, these were not skivvies worn by the Bambino himself on one of his many road games in various and sundry bedrooms around the American League.)

And you thought David Ortiz’s jersey was dirty …

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