The verdict of baseball fans is in: The ball Barry Bonds hit for his historic 756th home run will be branded with an asterisk and donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Marc Ecko, the fashion designed and avid sports fan who purchased the ball at auction for $752,000 two weeks ago, announced the results of the vote exclusively on TODAY.
“Ten million votes are in and the people obviously — just by their impassioned response — tell us that baseball is alive and well,” Ecko told TODAY co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer.
“This ball will be branded with an asterisk,” he said, displaying the baseball in a Lucite case.
Last week, in another exclusive appearance on TODAY, Ecko announced that he had set up an Internet site where fans could vote on what to do with the ball that broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. The choices were: banish it by blasting it into space on a rocket, bestow it by giving it as is to the Hall of Fame, or brand it with an asterisk and give it to baseball’s shrine.
The asterisk is symbolic of the belief of many fans that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs to help him beat Hank Aaron's record. Even though baseball did not until 2004 begin penalizing players for drug use and did not have a policy on performance-enhancing drugs at all until 2002, those fans feel Bonds and other sluggers who may have used the drugs cheated.
Ecko decided to let those fans decide how the historic ball should be treated.
“I wanted to democratize the ball and to give the ball to the people, to give the ball to America,” Ecko had said when he announced his plan.
Over the past week, Ecko’s idea has generated a lot of comment.
“You have been referred to as stupid and an idiot by Barry Bonds. You’ve been called a copycat and a publicity hound by some sportswriters; a genius by other people,” Lauer told Ecko. “Does the response surprise you at all?”
“Not really. I’ve been called worse, for sure,” Ecko replied. “This to me is about this great public discourse. [It] is something that defines one of the greatest moments in sports history.”
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Blasting the ball into space did not get a lot of support, pulling just 19 percent of the vote. Of the 81 percent of respondents who wanted the ball to remain earthbound, 34 percent wanted to bestow it as is to the Hall, and 47 percent wanted it in Cooperstown, but with a brand.
Ecko had said last week that he would burn the asterisk on, like a cattle brand. While he repeated his intention to brand it, he was no longer as certain about how it would be done.
“We’re going to be working with the folks at the Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s a historical museum. We want to treat this ball as such, as an artifact.”
Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time record of 755 career home runs on Aug. 7 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Matt Murphy, a New Yorker who had stopped in San Francisco on his way to a vacation in Australia, caught the ball. In an appearance on TODAY the next morning, Murphy, a rabid Mets fan, said he was leaning toward keeping the ball, but he ultimately decided to sell it online through the Sotheby’s auction house.
Ecko, a former graffiti artist from Lakewood, N.J., who went on to found a highly successful clothing line, decided that he wanted the ball and didn’t care what it took to get it.
“I was committed,” he told Lauer last week. “I was going to bid whatever it took to get the ball. I wanted the ball, I had the means and I was prepared to get the ball.”
Dale Petroskey, the president of the Hall of Fame, joined the conversation via satellite from Texas. Initially, he attempted to avoid the issue when Lauer asked him how he feels about branding the ball.
“You bet we’re happy to get it,” he said instead. “We’re a non-profit history museum, and every one of the 35,000 items we have has been donated to us. This ball wouldn’t be coming to Cooperstown without Marc Ecko buying it from the fan who caught it and then putting it up for a vote of the fans.”
Lauer asked him again about the asterisk: “By accepting it with the brand, do you think the Hall in some way endorses the idea that Barry Bonds used steroids?”
“No,” Petroskey finally said. “I think what this is, is an intersection of a couple of deeply held American values. First of all, innocent unless proven guilty, and the other one is fair play. People want to know that this record was gotten on a level playing field.”
Ecko had no specific date for when the ball will be transferred to the Hall.
“We will keep people posted,” he said. “It’s coming soon.”
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