How Much is the Home Run Record Worth?

by Ryan Guina

Barry Bonds just broke the all-time Major League Baseball (MLB) home run record, which was previously held by Hank Aaron. Over the course of his career, Barry Bonds has hit 756 home runs, and the number is sure to grow by the time he retires.

Now an interesting question arises. How much is the home run record worth? Of course, you can’t put a set dollar number on a record, but there is a lot of value that surrounds a record of this magnitude.

Here are the some of the major factors affecting the value of the Major League Home Run Record:

Bonds’ Image: First, one must realize that breaking the home run record is considered one of baseball’s most cherished records. The home run record vaults people to legendary status – someone people will talk about for generations to come. Hank Aaron was a great ballplayer, and even though his stats are in the top 10 all-time across several major offensive categories and he was a great defensive outfielder, people will always remember him for his home run record (and the grace with which he handled breaking the record during the Civil Rights Era). Hank Aaron is viewed by many people as a hero for the things he did on the field and for what he continues to do off the field. To this day, Aaron is involved with many charitable activities. Aaron’s outstanding image as an ambassador for baseball and charitable organizations past and present is a large reason why he is considered a hero and the record is considered hallowed ground.

Comparing Barry Bonds to Hank Aaron is a difficult thing to do. The times were different and the surrounding situations were different (and this blog is not the forum for delving into social issues!). The best thing to do is compare Bonds to his contemporaries. Compared to his peers, Bonds’ public image is not very good and he has long been considered by the press to be hard to deal with. There is also a huge controversy surrounding his alleged steroid use. (Again, out of the scope of this blog!). But these issues do have a major economic impact for baseball and for Barry Bonds.

Bonds is also a very private individual. He seems to me like the kind of person who would rather show up, play his game, and go home to be with his family. I think he realizes his duty as a professional athlete, and does the minimum to get by. That is his prerogative. To be honest, I’m not sure how most people would deal with 20 years in the spotlight. It must be hard after awhile, especially for his family. Being a very private person also affects how much the home run record is worth. People will only pay for what they can feel like they are a part of. Barry does his best to shut out the press and the public.

Endorsements: Bonds has pretty much shot himself in the foot as far as this one is concerned. His image does not lend itself to endorsements. That’s too bad. Jonah Freedman, a writer for Sports Illustrated, recently wrote that Bonds could easily bring in around $28 million annually for endorsements – if he were more marketable.

Memorabilia Sales: The sports memorabilia industry has grown exponentially throughout recent years. Many current and retired athletes earn thousands of dollars every year for signing autographs and making appearances. A select few make hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars from these events.

If Bonds were willing, he could tour endlessly, signing his name at over $100 for each signature. He could earn thousands over the course of a weekend. But Bonds does not want to deal with fans. He will still sign autographs, but more likely from the privacy of his home where he can control the flow and price of his memorabilia. My guess is he makes a substantial sum of money from memorabilia sales, but not nearly as much as if he were willing to go to events and sign in person.

The record breaking home run ball: The lottery ticket (read: ball) was caught by Matt Murphy of Queens, NY. Memorabilia experts believe the ball will be worth around $400,000-500,000, though some estimates have put it as high as $1 million. Mark McGwire’s single season home run record ball sold for over $3 million in 1999, but this was at the height of home run mania, and before the steroid allegations tarnished baseball’s image. Either way you look at it, at least Mr. Murphy should make out pretty well.

Another situation now arises: each subsequent home run Bonds hits is now a record. His final home run ball will be the new record until someone else breaks it. Unfortunately, no one knows when his final home run will be hit. The ball that broke Aaron’s record will have a very high price tag, but I think the next few home run balls will have a lot of value, but probably only in the low thousands. As the end of the season nears, the value of each subsequent home run ball will increase as people do not know if he will play again next season.

Edit: Read about the possible tax implications of catching the ball.

The record will be broken again: Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714 stood almost 40 years years before it was broken by Hank Aaron. It was 33 years before Bonds was around to break Aaron’s record. How long will Bonds’ record stand? No one knows for sure, but I would put my money on Alex Rodriguez. In my opinion, A-Rod is the top batter in baseball right now. He just set the record for the youngest person to reach 500 home runs. A-Rod is still a long ways from 756 (and whatever else Bonds adds to it before he retires), but A-Rod has a very good chance of breaking the record in the next 7-10 years. Behind A-Rod, Albert Pujols may be next in line.

The fact that many experts believe A-Rod will have a very good chance of surpassing Bonds, I believe fewer people will be willing to pay as much of a premium for a temporary record.

The pitcher who gave up the home run, Mike Bacsik: Mike Bacsik just became the answer to a trivia question. How much is it worth? Who knows? But no matter what else he does throughout the remainder of his career, he will be remembered as the pitcher who gave up the record breaking home run. With good marketing, Bacsik could easily turn this notoriety into tens of thousands of dollars over time – just for signing his name at memorabilia shows.

Note 1: Read an interesting article about the Bacsik family and their connection to Aaron, Bonds and the number 755 (link no longer available – too bad, this was a great read!).

Note 2: Freakonomics asks if this is a good thing or a bad thing for Mike Bacsik? My opinion? He just became a household name to all sports fans. Of course this is a good thing!

OK… How much is it worth? I still believe it is worth a lot – especially to the fan who caught the ball and probably to Mike Bacsik, who should be able to earn a lot of income signing autographs due to his new-found notoriety.

Financially, it is not worth as much to Bonds as it could have been if he had a better image and there were no steroid allegations. But, to be honest, I think he is ok with that. Over the course of his career, Bonds has earned over $172 million from his baseball salary alone. During the course of his career he has also earned millions from other sources including endorsements, memorabilia sales, licensing agreements (he owns his own image and licenses it out for baseball cards, etc.), player shares of merchandise sales, royalties, etc. He will also be eligible for the maximum baseball pension, and receives many other financial perks that professional athletes receive. By all accounts, Bonds has been very good with investing his money and has set up the next several generations of his family.

Yes, had Bonds been more approachable and likable he could have earned more for his record breaking feat. But I think he is ok with where he is in life – financially and professionally.

Published or updated March 14, 2011.
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