The ball Barry Bonds hit into the bleachers to break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record is worth at least $500,000 and maybe a lot more. But Matt Murphy, the New Yorker who literally risked life and limb to catch it, is thinking about keeping it.
“It’s the greatest American sports accomplishment in history. Part of me might want to sell it,” Murphy told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer in an exclusive television appearance Thursday. “But I really am leaning towards keeping it. It’s too valuable and sentimental.”
The 22-year-old Murphy is a Mets fan from Queens whose presence at the historic game was pure serendipity. Three weeks ago, he and friends Ryan Breslin and Amir Kamal were planning a trip to visit Breslin’s sister, child actress Abigail Breslin (star of last year's "Little Miss Sunshine") while she films “Nim’s Island” in Australia. Plans called for Murphy and Kamal to meet Breslin, who was finishing classes in college in San Francisco.
Murphy told Lauer that when he and Kamal realized they’d have a layover in San Francisco, they decided to buy tickets to a Giants game so they could check out AT&T Park. At the time, it seemed that Bonds would already have broken Aaron’s record. But as game day drew closer and Bonds still hadn’t hit his 756th home run, their thinking changed.
“It started out, ‘Let’s spend the night in San Francisco,’ to ‘Let’s go to the Giants game,’ to ‘He’s getting pretty close - what if?’ “ Murphy said.
Their seats were in the bleachers, one of the prime locations for potential home run balls, and Murphy took a lot of good-natured ribbing from Giants fans over the Jose Reyes Mets jersey he was wearing.
Bonds was due up in the fifth inning, still searching for the historic homer. But Murphy and Kamal risked missing the at-bat when they went to a food stand to get crab sandwiches and beers.
“I’d never had a crab sandwich,” Murphy explained. “[But] we were back in time; we hustled.”
When Bonds connected, the ball headed for the bleachers, but to the right of where Murphy and Kamal were sitting.
“We were just tracking it,” Murphy said. “We were thinking, ‘Get out of the park.’ It hit a sea of people. We were just happy to be in the stadium."
No one caught the ball on the fly and it hit the concrete deck of the bleachers and caromed off to the side – right over Kamal’s head.
" It took a lucky bounce," Murphy said.
“I saw the ball bounce,” Kamal said. “I turned to give Matt a high five and he was gone. He vanished in thin air.”
While Kamal had watched the ball go by, Murphy had gone after it. It landed under the seats and Murphy dove on top of it, gathered it in his hands, and curled up on top of it.
Some 30 other fans piled on top of him, fighting and clawing for the magic sphere.
“Longest minute of my life,” Murphy said when Lauer asked him what it was like being on the bottom of that pile. “One gentleman kicked me in the back of the head. There were people on top of people on top of people.”
Kamal jumped in and started tugging at people on the pile. He was soon joined by San Francisco police officers who peeled bodies off the pile and escorted Murphy and Kamal to safety.
“First I was just concerned about my buddy,” said Kamal, who had no idea that Murphy had the ball. “There were about 30 people in one little section – I saw him at the bottom of the pile with his hands crossed. We made eye contact – then I really wanted people to get away from him because I knew he had the ball.”
Steiner Sports, a company that deals in memorabilia, has offered $500,000 for the ball. If other bidders get involved, that number could increase dramatically. Experts say that the value of such items is usually greatest immediately after the event. The longer Murphy holds on to it, the more its value is likely to drop, they say.
The most money ever paid for an historic home run ball was the $3 million Phil Ozersky got for Mark McGwire’s 70th home run – then a record – hit at the end of the 1998 season.
Murphy told the New York Daily News that if he does sell the ball, he’ll keep 51 percent and give the other 49 percent to his buddy, Kamal.
Deal or no deal?
When they arrived in San Francisco, Murphy and Kamal took a cab from the airport to downtown on the night of the game. The fare was expensive – about $55 – and the friends offered the cabby a deal: “ ‘We don’t pay for this cab, and we’ll give you a couple of thousand if we catch the ball.’ “ Murphy said. “He turned us down.”
The three friends are still going to Australia.
“I’m going to go on vacation,” Murphy said. He wouldn’t disclose the location of the ball, but he did say, “It’s not coming with me. It’s going to stay here. When I get back, I’m going to sort things out.”