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McGwire ball sells, but not online

Online bidding for historic home run baseballs proved unsuccessful, but the auction house says it is planning more hybrid online-live auctions.

The baseball that home run king Mark McGwire hit out of the park for his record 70th homer was sold for more than $3 million at a sports memorabilia auction. But bids on Net auction site eBay didn't come anywhere near the sales price.

The price--auction house Guernsey's commission totaled $3,054,000--obliterated the previous record for a baseball: $126,500, paid last month for the ball hit by the legendary Babe Ruth as the first home run in Yankee Stadium.

eBay conducted online bidding for a week ahead of yesterday's live auction in New York, but no online bidders won any of the eight home run balls--three from Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, four from McGwire, and one from Hank Aaron. The highest online bid for McGwire's 70th homer ball was $250,000, eBay said.

Still, both Guernsey's and eBay termed the hybrid online-live auction a success.

"Our hope was that we could enlist a few people who did not hear about it from other sources, and we did," said Amy Austin, Guernsey's director of special events.

"We made history with the biggest sports auction ever. They asked eBay to do the online portion, and it drew an enormous number of people to the site. We got 100,000 page views in one day on a couple of pages we had up," said Steve Westly, eBay vice president of marketing and business development. "I have a hunch you'll see over time eBay working at more auctions of this sort."

Guernsey's Austin said he sees potential for other collaborations as well.

McGwire's 70th home run baseball was sold to an anonymous telephone bidder by Philip Ozersky, 26, a St. Louis research scientist who retrieved it on September 27 as he sat in a box at Busch Stadium.

Ozersky, who earns about $30,000 per year, said he would share the proceeds from the sale with several charitable organizations. He said afterward he was "in awe" at the final price. Ozersky earlier turned down a $1 million offer for the ball.

Bidding began online on January 4, and the highest online bidder in each auction was eligible to join the live auction. The highest online bid served as the starting point for the live auction.

By the time bids on McGwire's 70th ball approached $2 million, a bidding war had broken out between the eventual buyer on the telephone and Irwin Sternberg, a businessman who was among several hundred who packed the theater at Madison Square Garden for the historic sale.

Auction officials said the successful buyer, an American, had described himself only as "one heck of a baseball fan" who will discuss plans for the ball at a news conference in the near future.

But bidding for the baseball Hank Aaron hit for his 755th lifetime home run--a feat that has yet to be equaled--proved to be a disappointment when it failed to sell after bidding topped out at $800,000.

A host of other baseballs that were hit by either McGwire or Sammy Sosa during the pair's home run derby sold for prices ranging from several thousand dollars to the $172,500 for Sosa's 66th home run ball. The ball that became Sosa's 66th and final home run of the season was sold for $150,000.

Two of McGwire's other home run balls, numbers 67 and 68, each went for $57,500, while his 44th took in more than $30,000.

Reuters contributed to this report.