Posted: Wednesday February 22, 2006 3:44PM; Updated: Wednesday February 22, 2006 5:54PM
Todd McFarlane with Mark McGwire's home run ball.
Courtesy of McFarlane Toys
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On the off chance you run into Todd McFarlane at a party, chances are he'd only be able to engage you in one of three subjects. The first is comics: The 44-year-old Canadian parlayed a near-decade-long apprenticeship as an artist and writer on Marvel Comics' Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk series into multimillion-dollar success with the creation of Spawn in the early 1990s.
The second is sports: A former center fielder at Eastern Washington, McFarlane is one of the country's preeminent baseball collectors, famously paying $3 million for Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball in 1998. His second biggest purchase? A piece of the Edmonton Oilers that same year.
The third is the weather, which was the one topic that never came up in our hour-long conversation. By now you're likely thinking to yourself, "Exactly what party am I going to where I'm going to run into Todd McFarlane?" And the answer would be Comic-Con, the industry's multigenre, multimedia smorgasbord that rolls into Manhattan's Jacob Javits Center on Feb. 24-26. But a quick word of caution before you roll up on Todd: Make sure you've got your facts straight.
SI.com: Which came first, the inflated bodies in comics or the steroid era?
McFarlane: If you look at comic books, you're gonna see that the Greek god bodies for both men and women have been there from the very beginning. Everybody's chiseled. Everything's melodramatic. That's what we sell. The conversations of steroid use in pro sports has just been a recent phenomenon.
SI.com:Barry Bonds, the poster boy for that era, has gone public with his intentions to retire at the end of this season. OK by you?
McFarlane: I was getting geared up to do all these cool toys after he breaks all the records. I hope he doesn't come up too short. The comments that I read are fairly consistent with what he's told me, which was, "If I feel good, I feel good." Barry and I get along pretty good because he knows I'm not looking for soundbites from him.
Then again, I think if he can get that record, he's gonna want to get there -- even if it's 756. He's put in all that time. It would be a shame to come up five short.
SI.com: Does his retiring help or hurt the value of home run balls you already own?
McFarlane: I wouldn't say that it would have any direct correlation because it's not like I've got home run number 733 from him. The 73 ball that I've got, whether he retires or not, is still the single-season record ball. Even if he ended up with only 300 home runs, that's still the record for that season. For me, as a collector and a fan, I'm more enamored with season records than I am longevity.
SI.com: Three questions: How many home run balls do you have? Can you rank them in dollar value? Can you rank them in sentimental value?
McFarlane: I bought 10 from the 1998 race between Sosa and McGwire. Seven of those are McGwire's (numbers 1, 63, 64, 67-70). Once he basically broke the Maris record, every ball that wasn't given back to him, I own.
From that same year, I've got Sosa's 33rd home run ball. It's the one people don't pay enough attention to. The 33rd home run ball for Sosa in 1998 was the 20th home run that he hit in the month of June [a major league record]. It's a harder record to get than hitting 74 in a season because you've got to get 21 homers in about 28 games in one month. July's a short month. April is a short month because there are a lot of days off. Hitting 21 homers in 28 days in Little League is tough to do.
I've also got Sosa's 61 ball -- I wanted a ball that tied into the Maris mark -- his 66th and, as I said, Bonds' 73rd from the 2001 season. So the top three home run marks in Major League Baseball, I own 'em. If I were ranking them, that would be it.