By Tim Dahlberg
Marc Ecko could have bought the Texas fishing license bearing Mickey Mantle's name for only $4,000. Orlando Cepeda's National League MVP plaque was available for only a few thousand more.
He could have even saved a half million or so and gotten home run ball No. 755 on the cheap.
Really, what would have been the fun in that?
"I thought it would be interesting for us to all have a pop culture moment together," Ecko told the nation Monday in announcing he was the winner of the Barry Bonds lottery for ball No. 756.
Ecko got his wish, and for that Matt Murphy is happy. He's the 21-year-old who emerged from the scrum the night of Aug. 7 with the ball that broke perhaps the most hallowed record in sports.
While memorabilia collectors everywhere had to be cringing, baseball fans should be happy. With one swipe of his debit card, Ecko is doing what Bud Selig could never quite bring himself to do - stamp the new record as bogus in a way baseball fans will never forget.
Actually, brand the baseball is what Ecko is likely to end up doing, assuming - and that's a big assumption - he follows through on his plan. The hip-hop fashion designer is taking votes over the next week at vote756.com on what to do with the ball he paid $752,467 for. My guess is that branding it with an asterisk and giving it to the Hall of Fame will be the runaway winner.
The other two options are giving it to the Hall of Fame intact, or sending it into outer space, though Ecko seemed unclear as to just how he would find a rocket to accomplish that.
"This either makes him a lunatic or a genius, one of those two," Murphy said. "I'm leaning toward genius."
Ecko may turn out to be a shameless self-promoter looking only to feed his ego on a big stage. This is a guy, after all, who rented a Boeing 747, painted it to look like Air Force One, then taped an Internet video that made it look like someone had broken through security and spray painted graffiti on one of the plane's engines.
It's his money, so he can make up the rules. And while the Hall of Fame may balk at an asterisk-branded baseball, remember that all Bonds would give Cooperstown from his record-breaking night was one lousy batting helmet.
At least the Hall now has a one-in-three chance of getting an unblemished ball, a lot better odds than it had before.
When the ball went up for auction a few weeks ago the people at SCP Auctions suggested the perfect scenario would be for someone to buy it and either donate the ball or loan it to the Hall.
Given the level of animosity toward Bonds, though, that seemed unlikely unless Bonds stepped forward with a few weeks' salary to buy the ball himself.
Dan Imler, SCP's managing director, said he had no idea what Ecko had in mind for the ball until he turned on his TV Monday and watched him explain it live on the "Today" show. Though Ecko won the ball fair and square in the auction, Imler believes it should be preserved as a piece of baseball history.
"I think serious collectors would probably not be in favor of marring or destroying the ball," he said. "Most people we deal with, they have an appreciation for the history of the game as opposed to the sensationalism or anything like that."
There is one person who might be voting a few extra times against an unblemished donation to the Hall of Fame. That would be lucky bidder No. 2, who spent $186,750 for the ball Bonds hit a few days earlier in San Diego that tied Aaron's record of 755 home runs.
That ball, Imler said, would suddenly be worth a lot more if the 756 ball were branded or shot into space.
"I guess that would make it the ultimate embodiment of the record," he said. "It would stand as the most significant Bonds ball in existence at the moment."
Whether Ecko follows through on his grand plan is, of course, the $752,467 question. He's already got one Internet hoax under his belt, and there's always the chance this could be the ultimate hoax.
He claims he'll have an independent company tally the results, and will abide by the decision of the American public. Ecko cast the first vote himself, voting to brand the ball with an asterisk before giving it to the Hall of Fame.
Ecko is giving baseball perhaps its only chance for closure on the whole Bonds mess by getting rid of the evidence from the crime.
But is he going far enough?
My vote is for branding the ball with an asterisk - and then shooting it into space.