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Online auction for Bonds’ 715 ball under way

The subject of Barry Bonds never gets old to some people.

New Seattle internet startup company Mpire and Bay Area online marketplace eBay are co-hosting the 10-day, internet auction for Bonds’ 715th home run ball, the one that sent the San Francisco Giants slugger past Babe Ruth and behind Hank Aaron on the career homers list. Bidding began Monday afternoon.

“Any PR is good PR — as long as they spell your name right,” said Jed Clevenger, eBay’s sports memorabilia manager.

Mpire, an online shopping pricing service, has created for eBay an informative yet irreverent auction web site. Curious fans and potential investors can see bids posted through the sale’s end, Aug. 3 at 3 p.m, EDT.

The auction is the first national showcase for Mpire — founded in 2004 by Dave Cotter, a 36-year-old former manager at BEA Systems, Inc., and engineer Greg Harrison, 40.

Besides current price comparisons of baseball memorabilia, site designers have created a skit telling the bizarre story of how seller Andrew Morbitzer obtained the 715 ball.

Mpire has also designed spoofs of celebrities catching the ball. Terrell Owens is shown pulling out a permanent marker and signing it. Even President George W. Bush isn’t spared.

Cotter said Monday morning that nearly 50,000 people had visited the page since its creation last week.

“The intent is to get fun stuff on the page, to appeal to the ‘Average Joe’ who is not bidding for the ball,” Cotter said.

As for Morbitzer, the 38-year-old San Francisco marketing director said last week that he has been “so heads down at work, I haven’t followed any of the news on Bonds.”

That sort of figures, considering how he got the ball. It fell to him through the bleachers of the Giants’ park on May 28, while he was in line for beers and peanuts.

“If I’d been paying attention to Barry, I wouldn’t have the ball right now,” he said.

Bills from his recent wedding to wife Megan and their desire to enter the pricey Bay Area housing market — median home price in June: $644,000 — trumped thoughts of keeping the ball.

Morbitzer then chose eBay to host the auction, over what he said were contacts from every major auction house, because he said eBay is “egalitarian.”

The company — which says it sells 26 items of all kinds per minute — began selling sports memorabilia in 1996. A 1909 Honus Wagner T206 card fetched $1.27 million on eBay. Shoeless Joe Jackson’s “Black Betsey” bat sold there for nearly $580,000.

Only serious bidders will be allowed to make offers for the Bonds ball as eBay has hired vetting agency Auction Wire to pre-approve potential buyers.

Experts have said those bids may reach $300,000. By comparison, Mark McGwire’s record-setting 70th home run ball from the 1998 season sold for $3.3 million.

Some auction industry watchers say the current news surrounding Bonds, his alleged steroid use and possible indictments for perjury and tax evasion will suppress prices.

So Morbitzer has an out in his eBay contract — a reserve price. If bids do not reach that sum, which both Morbitzer and eBay declined to disclose, he can pull the ball from sale.

“Beyond the reserve, anything is upside,” Morbitzer said.

No, Morbitzer said he will not be glued to the auction site for the next nine days. His research of 10-day, online auctions showed relatively scant bidding in the first eight days. Only by the final day, or minutes, do bids become frenzied.

In Monday’s first 2˝ hours of the auction, only one bid for $10,000 was posted.

So will a Bonds backlash hold down bidding?

“I hope people don’t lose sight that this is still a large part of baseball history,” Clevenger said. “We’ve had Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, Mark McGwire — and now Barry Bonds.

“Regardless of the controversy, this is big.”

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