Rose ‘apology balls’ sold for $30,000; will be raf

Robert Edwards Auctions has pulled all 30 baseballs signed “I’m sorry I bet on baseball” by Pete Rose from its upcoming auction after accepting an offer to sell the balls for $30,000 to a Canadian-based gaming service.

The baseballs, which turned up in the estate of famed collector Barry Halper, who died last December, were initially slated for REA’s spring 2007 auction, a fate that changed with the announcement Thursday that ESI Entertainment, a British Columbia, Canada-based computer software company, had pulled off a major public relations bonanza by ponying up all of $30,000 for the 30 balls. The company announced tentative plans to raffle some of the balls on its website, date yet to be determined.

The emergence of the story about the balls a week earlier sent Rose scurrying to ESPN2 to insist he wasn’t paid even a nickel for signing them, and ultimately led to the private sale. Rose also used the forum of national cable television to announce that he would now sign that very same inscription on baseballs for $300, and would sell them exclusively at Field of Dreams stores and his own website.

“In this unique instance, in light of the fact that Pete Rose is now selling baseballs signed in an identical manner on his website for $299, we advised our consignors (the Halper family) that the offer should be accepted,” said REA president Rob Lifston. “In this very unusual circumstance, we believe that it was appropriate to recommend an outright sale.”

Lifson also pointed out that ESI Entertainment Systems was made fully aware that baseballs signed in an identical manner could be purchased directly from Rose, “but they specifically wanted the REA auction examples.”

At the same time as the annnouncement of the sale, Trade Fax reported that the man responsible for the balls winding up in the Halper Estate in the first place was well-known East Coast dealer Lou Avon, a longtime friend of Tom Catal, the acknowledged source of the balls from a by-now legendary Cooperstown signing.

Avon confirmed that he had gotten the three dozen balls from Catal “more than a year before Barry died” and had given them to the famous collector as a kind of get-well gift at the time. Avon, who is handicapped and has difficulty traveling, hasn’t been to Cooperstown in nine years and said that Catal delivered the balls to him at Avon’s home in the Bronx. “Tommy didn’t charge me nothin’ for the balls,” Avon told Trade Fax. “And I told Barry when I gave him the balls, ‘These can’t be sold because Pete needs time. They have to be put away.’

“He wasn’t supposed to sell the balls,” he added. “They weren’t supposed to be put on the market,” which, of course, Halper did not do. The famed collector died Dec. 18, 2005; the balls turned up in the Halper Estate earlier this year.

American Memorabilia has a pair: At the same time that Rose was announcing on cable TV that he would sign baseballs with the identical inscription on the Halper balls, Victor Moreno of American Memorabilia in Las Vegas, Nev., was touting the upcoming auction of a couple of the very same baseballs.

“I knew about these balls a long time ago,” said Moreno, who has two of them, edition Nos. 213/303 and 269/303 slated for his Oct. 19 auction. According to Moreno, a consigner called him nearly a year ago and asked him to sell the balls privately.

Moreno said he was initially going to sell the balls through a private sale, but changed his mind when the news broke about the Halper balls. “We sent them to PSA/DNA to get them graded, and my customer called and said, ‘Put ’em in your October auction.’ “

So that’s what he did. Shortly after the decision was made to include the balls in the October auction, the Rose appearance on television changed the equation a bit. “I started out at $5,000,” Moreno said, meaning his intent to list the balls with $5,000 minimum bids. “Now that Pete is coming out with them, I dropped ’em down to $100.”

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