Late in the summer, while Aaron Judge was swatting balls over fences and closing in on his historic 62nd home run of the season, a parallel fascination centered on the potential value of the record-setting ball.
That value will soon be known because the fan from Texas who caught the ball is putting it up for auction, and he wants to set a record, too. Ken Goldin, the auctioneer in charge of selling the ball on behalf of Cory Youmans, the lucky spectator, thinks the ball will sell for more than $3 million. Depending on how much more, the sale could set a new benchmark for a game-used baseball.
“The ball has the potential to become the highest-priced baseball ever sold,” Goldin said in a telephone interview. “Three million plus would be my estimate.”
The current record was set with the auction of the ball from Mark McGwire’s 70th home run in the 1998 season, which went for $3.05 million in 1999. McGwire, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League, later admitted to using steroids.
Judge, the Yankees outfielder, is currently testing free agency for the first time in his career and is expected to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award on Thursday. He set the A.L.’s single-season record when he clubbed his 62nd homer of the year against Jesús Tinoco of the Texas Rangers on Oct. 4 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, which pushed him past Roger Maris, who hit 61 for the Yankees in 1961.
The ball sailed over the left-field wall and was caught on the fly by Youmans, who is from Dallas and is said to work for Fisher Investments. Youmans, who stood in the first row, snared the ball in his baseball glove and was then escorted by security guards to the bowels of the stadium, where the ball was checked for its secret markings and authenticated by M.L.B. officials.
Youmans later approached Goldin Co. to handle the sale. The ball, which has been resting in a safe deposit box, was taken by armed guard to Goldin’s headquarters outside Philadelphia this week, and the online preauction process began on Thursday.
“It would not surprise me if the winning bidder either purchased it on behalf of Aaron Judge or possibly donates it to the Hall of Fame,” Goldin said. “I definitely think it’s one of those items that would garner that type of interest.”
The auction house will be paid a 20 percent buyer’s premium, which will be added to the highest bid. The bidding is scheduled to end Dec. 17. According to Goldin, Youmans’s contract with his employer prohibits him from speaking publicly.
Judge’s 60th home run ball was retrieved at Yankee Stadium by Michael Kessler, 20, who is a Yankees fan from New York. He gave it to Judge after that game, on Sept. 20, in exchange for a signed bat and balls, and photographs with Judge and the fan’s buddies. A ball that enters the stands become the property of whoever catches it, and Kessler said he picked it up amid a frenzied pileup.
Eight days later, Judge hit No. 61 off Tim Mayza of the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto. The ball was almost caught by a fan, who identified himself to reporters as Frankie Lasagna. But the ball bounced off Lasagna’s glove and landed in the home team’s bullpen, where it was retrieved by Matt Buschmann, a coach for the Blue Jays. Buschmann gave it to Zack Britton, a Yankees relief pitcher, who presented it to Judge in a neat chain of custody.
So No. 62 will be the only one of Judge’s three home run balls after No. 59 to be put on sale.
Before Judge reached 62, some auctioneers and memorabilia experts predicted the ball might sell for $2 million. Goldin was initially more cautious, speculating it would rake in about $500,000, then later increased that to a little over $1 million as the chase progressed and interest soared. He also had offered $250,000 to whoever caught it.
After canvassing collectors when the season ended, Goldin now believes he neglected to factor in the general inflationary pressures of the booming memorabilia market over the last several years, the allure of the Yankees as an iconic franchise and Judge’s magnetism.
Additionally, some consider Judge’s A.L. record more legitimate than the totals reached during the height of the so-called steroids era because he is the only player to surpass Maris without any known blemishes on his performance. Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs for the N.L.’s San Francisco Giants in 2001 (that ball was auctioned off for $450,000), McGwire followed his 70-homer season with 65 in 1999, and Sammy Sosa hit 63 or more home runs three times for the Chicago Cubs. But all three had their marks tainted, for potential collectors, by their connections to performance-enhancers.
“There are certainly people that will make that argument and certain people who will say this is the all-time record,” Goldin said. “If that’s what they want to believe and it causes them to bid more, I’m all for it.”
To illustrate how the market has been elevated in recent years, Goldin pointed to a uniform jersey worn by Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls in the 1998 N.B.A. finals that sold for $50,000 two decades ago, and recently sold for $10 million. A bat used by Babe Ruth sold around the same time would have fetched less than $100,000, Goldin said, and is now worth over $1 million.
“There’s a significantly larger number of collectors out there now, and the value of sports collectibles is significantly higher than it was in 1998,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, people can see more photos of the ball on the company’s website. In a week to 10 days, the prebidding is set to begin, once interested buyers pass a credit check. In the coming weeks, Goldin will exhibit the ball to a select group of interested buyers.
“This type of item is like baseball’s version of the Powerball,” he said. “We don’t know when it’s going to hit. But we know when it hits, whoever gets it is going to get rich.”