Taking it to the bank

Jeff Passan

Ever since Barry Bonds broke baseball's home run record, his limp to irrelevancy has become more pronounced. The San Francisco Giants are slumming in last place, Bonds often rests his weary 43-year-old body and the performance-enhancing drug mess, at least for now, seems focused elsewhere.

"I haven't heard a word about him in weeks," Matt Murphy said a few days ago. "It's (messing) up my cause."

Murphy's cause is his bank account, which stands to fatten substantially because the 756th home run ball of Bonds' career – Murphy's megabucks needle plucked from the haystack of fortune-seekers – sold at auction Saturday night for a winning bid of $752,467, significantly beyond the $500,000 Murphy hoped to fetch. But it didn't come anywhere close to the record $3 million spent on Mark McGwire's 70th home run in 1998.

The winning bidder, whose identity wasn't immediately divulged, will pay Murphy $627,056 and must also pay SCP Auctions an additional 20%, making the total amount paid for the ball slightly more than $750,000.

"I've been playing it off like it's nothing," Murphy said as the auction heated up. "How? I have no idea. In my mind, I'm doing cartwheels."

For almost five weeks now, the mental gymnastics have been at Olympic-gold level. When Bonds launched a Mike Bacsik pitch into the right-center field stands Aug. 7 to pass Hank Aaron, Murphy, a 21-year-old Mets fan from New York City, emerged from the pile with a different life.

Once the ball was authenticated, Murphy returned to his hotel in San Francisco, dropped it in his room safe, showered, changed the safe's combination, bought three bottles of champagne and spent the rest of the night plopped in front of the door waiting for somebody to break in. He and his friend Amir Kamal, with whom he plans a 51-49 split of the auction's proceeds, didn't sleep.

The next day, they took the ball to a local bank and placed it in a safe-deposit box. Soon after, they jumped on a 14½-hour flight to Australia. San Francisco, as fortuity would have it, was simply a day trip on the way to their real vacation with a third friend, Ryan Breslin, whose sister Abigail, from "Little Miss Sunshine," was filming a movie down under.

Myths multiplied as Murphy went underground. One TV report claimed he choked an old man to get the ball. Another story said he lost a shoe. And another that he scalped tickets. Plus one that he was sitting in the wrong seat. All false.

Murphy's only communication with the public took place through an eBay auction. After a long night out with his friends, one suggested Murphy put the Jose Reyes jersey he wore when catching the Bonds ball up for bid. His mom saw the picture, told him he looked like a slob and that he should take it down immediately. He did, and now the jersey will be auctioned professionally.

Of course, Murphy no longer resembles the guy in the picture. The hair is shorter. The beard is gone. He wanted to play incognito – just in case.

It's that fear of becoming a hot target for burglars – and, yes, the tax implications – that convinced Murphy to sell. The bidding's initial phase ended Saturday at 4 p.m. EDT. Those who placed a bid were allowed to participate for the next two hours in an extended-bidding phase. And the closing auction lasted until no one trumped the previous high bid within 30 minutes.

"I had hoped to keep the ball, but when I determined that was not the best strategy at this stage of my life, this definitely was the right decision," Murphy said in a statement released after the sale. "It is an honor to be a part of baseball history and I wish the new owner well with whatever they elect to do with the ball."

The money, for now, will go into an interest-bearing account before Murphy decides whether to invest it in mutual funds or start a business or … who knows? He's 21, digs his work supervising contractor jobs in million-dollar New York apartments and isn't in any hurry to change his life.

The Mets loved the fact that their logo will forever loop in highlights of Bonds' 756th, so he's gotten some nice seats at Shea Stadium recently. Topps is putting out a trading card of Murphy. ("I'll trade three Michael Jordans for a Matt Murphy," he says.) Women tend to flock toward guys with a primo auction at Sotheby's.

Then Murphy listened to his friend Breslin wonder why the bidding stood at only a quarter-million early on and, searching for an inkling of optimism, scaned the Giants' box scores.

"The past couple of weeks I've been thinking, 'Barry, please hit four home runs tonight,' " Murphy says. "I don't know if it would do anything directly for me.

"Still, I'm surprised. I figured you'd be tracking his home runs. Why isn't anyone?"

Because the drama was in the chase, and even then, it was more tragicomedy than anything. Bonds has hit six home runs since No. 756, each setting a new record, and yet the reaction is more apathy than excitement.

Bonds' season has been like a Mylar balloon that loses tiny bits of helium every day until it's a withered, shriveled bit of inconsequence. The auction was one of the final things keeping it afloat.

Matt Murphy couldn't wait to find out. Instead of the cartwheels in his head, he might have done a few around his living room.