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Each of the 80 or so baseballs major league umpires put in play during the average game is worth about $15 in pristine condition. But as soon as those balls get belted over fences in critical situations, their value rises, fights erupt, and lawsuits get filed. Here are a few baseballs so renowned that fans would no doubt line up to see them--if anyone knew where the darn things were.
BILL MAZEROSKI'S HOME RUN
In the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski beat the Yankees 10--9 with a homer at now defunct Forbes Field. A plaque on Roberto Clemente Drive marks the spot where that blast left the park, but the ball has never surfaced. "Eight or nine people came back that day and said it was the real ball," Maz told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I didn't know. Everyone wanted a hundred dollars for it." ESTIMATED VALUE: $100,000.
BUCKY DENT'S HOME RUN
It is a memory that haunts Red Sox Nation: the seventh-inning, three-run homer by shortstop Bucky Dent that cleared the Green Monster at Fenway Park and lifted the Yankees to a 5--4 win in the 1978 AL East playoff game. "It has to either be with a Boston fan with voodoo pins stuck in it or sitting quietly on a mantelpiece in the home of a Yankees fan," says Leila Dunbar, director of collectibles at Sotheby's. Seth Swirsky, a collector and the author of Baseball Letters, has a more plausible theory: Because the grounds crew had failed to clear some 20 balls from the leftfield netting after batting practice that day, Dent's home run ball could never have been identified. ESTIMATED VALUE: $250,000.
AMERICAN LEAGUE FIRST PITCH
The first American League ball pitched--by White Stockings righty Roy Patterson at Chicago's South Side Park on April 24, 1901--has never been found. But the home plate ump, Tom Connolly, had a habit of pocketing milestone baseballs. "He had a keen sense of history," says Sotheby's Leila Dunbar, noting that Connolly's daughters, who inherited his collection, gave out some items as gifts. ESTIMATED VALUE: $150,000.
BOBBY THOMSON'S HOME RUN
The ball flew out of the Polo Grounds (Pafko at the wall!) and into the hands of a fan--a fan who held what would become one of the most sought-after collectibles in sports. On Oct. 3, 1951, Bobby Thomson launched his Shot Heard Round the World: a ninth-inning homer that foiled the Brooklyn Dodgers and clinched the pennant for the New York Giants. Last year Leland's put a $1 million bounty on the ball. The auction house verified that one of the dozens of submissions was used in the game but couldn't call it the Shot. It still went for $47,824. ESTIMATED VALUE: $1 million.
RAY CHAPMAN'S FATAL BEANING