Bonds’ record quest has an odd flavor

So that Barry Bonds 1986 Topps rookie Traded card you’ve been hanging onto for the past decade or two is going to be worth 10 times what you paid for it as soon as Big No. 25 belts his 756th home run, right? And surely by the end of next week that signed Bonds ball you have squirreled away will be worth $500 all day long, and that signed 8-by-10 will fetch 300 clams.

Bonds is about to break (or perhaps has already broken) probably the most deified record in sports. Surely this will make his stuff hotter than a day at the beach with Eva Longoria. People will be lined up to buy Bonds stuff from the second the home run ball lands in some lucky fan’s hands.
Not quite.

Outside of the San Franciso Bay area, there appears to be little evidence Bonds memorabilia will spark any more interest or demand once he becomes the all-time home run leader than it has in the past few steroid-clouded years – meaning interest will probably remain lukewarm at best.

“He’s tainted, and I don’t know any collector who likes him,” was the blunt assessment of sports memorabilia maven Alan Rosen. “Certainly, none of his memorabilia is expensive. It just has a stigma attached to it that it is drug-induced … Right now, his rookie card is like $5. You can’t even give it away, and that’s a shame, because he was a great ballplayer.”

The Mason-Dixon Line in the love-‘em-or-hate-‘em debate over Bonds seems to begin and end on the geographical fringes of the greater San Francisco Bay metropolitan area. He is still wildly popular in his hometown and demand for his cards and memorabilia is still solid, if not spectacular. Beyond the shadows of the Bay Bridge, however, there continues to be little love for the Giants outfielder.

“We’re probably stronger here than anywhere else (with Bonds merchandise),” said Steve Teani of Lefty’s Sports Cards in Burlington, Calif. “I don’t think people outside of the Bay area care much. I’m not saying demand here is overwhelming, but it’s strong. When he breaks the record, I’d say yes (demand will increase), as long as there are no strings attached. The only thing that will hurt Bonds’ stock is if something comes out negative in the end, that’s all.”

“Love him or hate him, he’s awesome,” said Ken Brison of Talkin’ Baseball in Danville, Calif. “Hopefully he breaks the record at home this week. We’ve had lots of kids coming in here, and you ask them who their favorite team is, ‘Giants.’ Who’s your favorite player? ‘Bonds!’ They all love Barry Bonds.”

“Innocent until proven guilty!” laughed Terance Grenier of Peninsula Sports Cards in Belmont, Calif. “(Steroids) are more widespread than people think. He might get busted down the line, but so far he hasn’t … And that’s good for us.

“We’ve had people recently starting to come in looking for him. We don’t have any of his rookies left now, which is a good sign. It’s not a mad rush like back in the day when he was hitting 73; it’s just been steady. I don’t think that’s going to change, to be honest. I can’t see it doing anything more than it is. Once he retires it will be out of sight, out of mind, and his stuff will start coming down.”

From his post in Edmonds, Wash., 800 miles due north, John Strazzara of World of Collections has a far different perspective – one that seems to be shared by much of the nation. “Bonds? Nothing! Not a single iota! Zip! No interest here whatsoever,” he said. I haven’t sold a Bonds Rookie in probably three or four years. It’s been so long I can hardly remember. The last time I sold a Bonds autograph I reduced it just to get rid of it.”

“Anybody who’d be interested in an ’86 (Traded) or ’87 Topps, they probably have 100 of them already … I have hundreds of Bonds rookies in inventory right now. I’ve got hundreds! We’ve got tons of inventory, but nobody’s asking for it. Nobody wants it. Am I surprised? No, because there was no interest when he hit No. 714. None. The one interest I have had in the whole thing is from distributors and wholesalers from across the nation trying to sell me their stuff. They are all loaded up on Barry Bonds baseballs and they want 200 bucks apiece for them. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ What I am going to sell them for, $300 each? Not on this planet. Not in this town.”

Brison noted that a lot of Bonds memorabilia was snapped up back in 2001 when he was setting a new single-season home run mark with 73. Since then Bonds has also been much more stingy with his autograph pen, pedaling much of his recently signed memorabilia and game-used items on his own site.

“When he hit 73, people who wanted that stuff went out and got it,” said Brison. “Now they already have it.

“I’ve got quite a few Bonds pieces, and I’m acquiring some more. Some of it’s McFarlanes or Giants stuff in general. I’m fairly well set and I’m expecting that stuff to move. His stuff’s not gonna get any cheaper. He keeps most of his autograph stuff in-house already.”

Unlike Strazzara in Washingon, Brison has been able to move autographed balls at a good price. “We’ve been selling them in the $350 to $399 range,” he said. “I don’t know if the price will go up, but the demand has gone up here.”

Tuff Stuff magazine baseball card pricing analyst Joe Clemens offered some words of advice regarding Bonds that most experienced collectors probably already know: Don’t plan your retirement around your Bonds cardboard.

“He does have some fans,” said Clemens. “There are collectors and fans who do like him, but overall, he’s not very well liked. In my personal opinion, all these steroid accusations are not going to go away. Obviously, he hasn’t been convicted in a court of law, but as far as public opinion goes, (the steroids accusations) weigh pretty heavily against him. We’ve seen this before with Mark McGwire. His 1985 Topps rookie card was a $225 card at one point (1998-99). After all this stuff with Congress, it’s now a $20-$25 card. And to think that guy was so popular with collectors and fans, and had such a positive (relationship) with everyone … But that card is dead right now.

“We have Bonds’ 1986 Fleer Update at $25 right now and I don’t see really anything to move that. His ’86 Donruss, the same thing. We have his ’86 Donruss Rookies at $20 and 1986 Topps Traded at $20,” Clemens continued. “There is no real shortage of those cards, but with him about to break the record you’d think there would be a little bit of a spike, but right now we don’t really see it. I do think we’ll see a spike in the values of his cards after he breaks the record, but it might be pretty short-lived.”

Rosen said that the only interesting development regarding Bonds material in the immediate future will be the ultimate selling prices for the record-tying and record-breaking home run balls. Heritage Auctions originally offered a $1 million bounty for the No. 756 ball, but withdrew the offer citing security concerns and worries about fans battling over the high-stakes souvenir. “Those will be the only valuable balls, until he quits and it’s his last one” said Rosen. “All the other balls will be worth maybe $10,000 or $20,000 apiece.”

For dealers and collectors like Strazzara, the whole Bonds saga appears to be turning into a sad tale of what could have been. What could have been if the talented slugger set to break a 33-year-old record – arguably the most significant record in professional sports – wasn’t playing under a cloud of suspicion and was more popular with millions of baseball fans and collectors?

“The old-timers think it’s disgraceful and it doesn’t count,” lamented Strazzara. “And the young folks don’t care. It’s sad.
“I remember as a young person when Hank Aaron broke the record, and how important that was to everybody. That was really big. But this is different.”

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