SAN FRANCISCO – The fate of Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run ball is now in the public's hands after its buyer announced Monday he was taking votes on whether to give the ball to the Hall of Fame, brand it with an asterisk or blast it into space.
Fashion designer Marc Ecko revealed himself as Saturday's winning bidder in the online auction for the ball that Bonds hit last month to break Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs. The final selling price for No. 756 was $752,467, well above most predictions. Ecko had not even taken possession of the ball before setting up a Web site that lets visitors vote on which of the three outcomes they think the ball most deserves. He plans to announce the final tally after voting ends Sept. 25.
"I bought this baseball to democratize the debate over what to do with it," Ecko wrote on the Web site. "The idea that some of the best athletes in the country are forced to decide between being competitive and staying natural is troubling."
The 35-year-old Ecko is known for his pop culture pranks, including an infamous Internet video that showed him apparently infiltrating an airport tarmac and spray-painting graffiti on Air Force One. The incident turned out to be a hoax.
But the auction house that handled the sale confirmed that Ecko is indeed the ball's buyer.
"This transaction is happening and is going to be done by the end of the day," David Kohler, president of SCP Auctions, said Monday.
Kohler called Ecko's decision "brilliant" and said he had already visited the Web site and voted to send the ball to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Matt Murphy, a 21-year-old student and construction supervisor from New York, emerged from a scrum with the ball on Aug. 7. He decided to sell it, he said, because he couldn't afford the tax bill that would result from holding onto the ball.
Some tax experts said Murphy would have owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes based on a reasonable estimate of the ball's value even if he had never sold it. He may also have faced capital gains taxes as the ball gained value.
"This either makes him a lunatic or a genius, one of those two," Murphy said when told of Ecko's actions. "I'm leaning toward genius."
Murphy said he planned to vote to send the ball to Cooperstown.
Ecko himself said he voted to brand the ball with an asterisk, a reference to the belief of some Bonds detractors that the Giants slugger's record is tainted by his alleged use of performance-enhancing substances. Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.
Ecko said what really interests him is seeing what happens when an "American Idol" approach comes together with a serious public debate over drugs in sports.
"My vote really doesn't matter," said Ecko, who identifies himself as a New York Yankees fan. "The American public will tell us what to do with it."