THE EXPECTED BID today of $1 million for the baseball Mark McGwire launched as his 70th home run will strike many as absurd. It's hard to argue with them. But the auction of this artifact at New York's Madison Square Garden, and the windfall it will bring the engineer from St. Louis who retrieved it, is perhaps an omen that normality will return in 1999. Last year was anything but normal. The McGwire home-run race epitomized the year's peculiarity, and not merely because one of sports best-known records tumbled after 37 years. In 1961, when Roger Maris broke the previous record held by Babe Ruth, the pressure caused his hair to fall out. Mr. McGwire's chase, by contrast, was a lovefest. The slugger shed his uptight reputation, said all the right things and hugged all the right people. The runner-up, Sammy Sosa, said he couldn't be happier and blew kisses. Many of the average Joes who caught the McGwire and Sosa home runs amiably returned the souvenirs to the stars rather than enrich themselves. Science fiction doesn't get this surreal. So along comes Philip Ozersky, who makes $30,000 a year and who snagged the ball Mr. McGwire hit in his final at-bat last season. Mr. Ozersky sought advice from his cousin (an attorney) and was led to Guernsey's, a New York auction house that sold the Kennedy memorabilia last year. Rather than accept a direct $1 million offer, Mr. Ozersky said he was drawn to the uncertainty of an auction so he and his family could "have fun." Finally, something about this whole story makes sense.
Pub Date: 1/12/99