By Tim Dahlberg
These are uneasy times at best for Barry Bonds.
He's out of work, the feds have made a target of his enlarged head, and his former mistress is going around telling anyone who will listen embarrassing details of their private sex life together.
He has to toss and turn at night wondering if his trainer is going to break down in prison and tell all. And he had to watch Marion Jones go before a judge and wonder if he is going to be next.
To top it off, some idiot (Bonds' word, not mine) plans to take a branding iron and deface the ball he hit out of AT&T Park just two months ago to break one of the most hallowed records in sports.
Before you start feeling too sorry for Bonds, though, think about Ben Padnos for a moment. Because he had the misfortune to think the American public still cared about the disgraced slugger.
Padnos is the 30-something Internet entrepreneur from Manhattan Beach, Calif., who laid out $186,750 a few weeks ago for ball No. 755, the one Bonds hit over the left field wall in San Diego to tie Henry Aaron's home run mark.
Just as with the man who hit it, things have been going downhill almost ever since.
"People have been there and done that with Bonds," Padnos said. "They're just tired of the whole thing."
Padnos thought he had a brilliant idea. He got 15 friends and family members to put up $5,000 to $20,000 each so they could bid on the two historic balls that went up for auction after Bonds hit them.
The plan - and please stop if you have heard this one before - was to put the fate of the ball up to a vote and let the public decide whether to destroy it or give it to the Hall of Fame. It was going to be part social experiment, but for the most part this was pure capitalism.
Padnos and his group raised $220,000, not enough to bid on ball No. 756, but they did manage to snare ball No. 755, and he went to bed one Sunday night a few weeks ago feeling pretty good about his chances to cash in on the idea of the century.
Then he woke up the next morning with one expensive ball and one queasy stomach.
On the "Today" show, fashion designer Marc Ecko was revealing he was the one who bid $752,467 for ball 756. And he already had a Web site up and running offering America not two, but three choices of what to do with the historic ball.
"I thought, my gosh, what were the odds of that happening," Padnos recalled.
Over the next few days Ecko's scheme was news everywhere. People flocked to his Web site, vote756.com, to cast their ballots and, after a week, Ecko announced that the winning option was to brand an asterisk into the ball and give it to the Hall of Fame.
Padnos, meanwhile, had a ball and little else. He hurried his endthedebate.com Web site online and went about trying to execute his plan to sell pixel ads at $200 apiece which he hoped would bring in $1.5 million.
Unfortunately, people weren't voting, and they weren't buying.
Padnos' site had tallied only about 29,000 votes through Monday. Worse yet, he has sold only $15,000 in advertising.
"The reality is I think people had their suspicions about Bonds and they just don't care," Padnos said. "We literally had our 15 minutes of fame and that was it."
Padnos says he admires what Ecko accomplished with his site, though the total number of votes wasn't released and he has his suspicions how many people actually cast ballots. He would like to meet him one day to offer his congratulations.
In the meantime, there's the problem of what to do with the ball he bought, a ball, by the way, that he still hasn't seen. It's in safekeeping at Sotheby's while he waits to see how everything plays out.
Originally, Padnos expected something along the lines of 10 million votes, not 29,000, and there's fine print on his Web site that states he has the right to do whatever he wants with the ball if he doesn't sell all his $1.5 million in advertising by March 31, 2008.
While voting is running 2-1 in favor of blowing up the ball, the consensus among his investor group is they don't really want to do that. Padnos says he's open to offers from a casino or someone who might want to buy it and blow it up themselves.
He also expressed some hope that basketball player Gilbert Arenas, who said recently he might try to buy ball 756 to keep it from being defaced, might want to buy his ball instead.
Either way is OK. Business is business, and Padnos isn't taking sides in his own debate.
"I ran this as a business as well as social commentary," Padnos said. "So for my investors we may have to do something we don't really want to do."
Bonds, of course, could end the debate by opening his checkbook and picking up a souvenir.
Something tells me, though, he's got other things to worry about right now.