SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Barry Bonds may break Hank Aaron's home run record this season, but several sports memorabilia experts doubt the slugger's 756th homer ball will break records at auction houses.
Heritage Auction Galleries said Sunday it would pay $1 million for the baseball Bonds is expected to hit this summer to establish a new career home run record. But executives acknowledged that the company was willing to part with seven figures in part because of all the publicity surrounding the milestone.
``We want press on it, and we want the news out there,'' Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions for Heritage, said Monday. ``But overall, we'd just love to handle this baseball.''
Had it not been for the Heritage offer, however, the ball would probably be worth $400,000 to $500,000, said rare collectibles appraiser David Kohler. Kohler's SCP Auctions handled the February sale of a Honus Wagner baseball card that went for $2.35 million.
More valuable than Bonds' 756th ball, Kohler said, will be the last career home run ball returned by the San Francisco Giants' slugger, who says he has no intention of retiring soon. But even that ball isn't likely to fetch more than $1 million, Kohler said.
``There's a lot of interest, but it's not the same as it used to be,'' said Kohler, whose company auctioned a signed 1923 Babe Ruth bat for $1.25 million in 2004. ``At the end of the day, it's just a new piece of memorabilia, and there's not a hysteria around baseball like a few years ago.''
The highest price ever paid for baseball memorabilia was set in 1999 when comic artist Todd McFarlane snagged Mark McGwire's record single-season home run ball for $3 million.
Collectors and appraisers say baseball memorabilia prices have stagnated or declined since the start of a widespread federal inquiry into steroid use in 2003. That's when investigators shut down the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative in Burlingame, netting guilty pleas from BALCO founder Victor Conte and Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, among others.
The investigation has put intense scrutiny on Bonds, who reportedly told a 2003 federal grand jury he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.
Stefan Tesoriero, chief executive for Miami-based SportsMemorabilia.com, said he'd love to sell Bonds' 756th ball on his site, which will start hosting auctions at the end of summer. But he doubted the ball could get more than Heritage is asking - and certainly nowhere near the $3 million fetched by McGwire's souvenir.
Still, Bonds' role in the steroid scandal makes the value of his record-setting ball hard to predict. eBay had 69 bids on Bonds' 715th home-run ball before it sold for $220,100 in August.
``Should Barry be convicted of something, we might see this become an infamous piece of memorabilia with cult appeal, and that could severely inflate the value,'' Tesoriero said. ``Or maybe not.''
Generally, memorabilia about beloved sports stars fetches more than that of talented athletes with attitude problems, he said. Ruth items are perennial best sellers; those of surly tempered Ty Cobb are harder to sell, according to Tesoriero.
Bonds is particularly polarizing. Sports memorabilia seller Steven Kindborg says his Bonds' enthusiasts break down along generational lines.
``It's an old school-new school thing,'' said Kindborg, owner of New York-based Key Man Collectibles. ``An old-school fan won't recognize Barry Bonds' record. Personally, I wouldn't spend a dollar on his rookie card, but 30-and-under folks don't care. They're the ones spending the money in the online auctions.''

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