NEW YORK — The Bill Buckner ball is back in play.
The prize souvenir from the 1986 World Series will go on eBay this month with a $1 million price tag, put up for auction by the Grammy-nominated songwriter who once bought it from actor Charlie Sheen.
Seth Swirsky owns the ball, along with a bevy of bats, gloves and other mementos tied to the likes of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Johnny Vander Meer and Eddie Gaedel. He celebrates the game’s lore, and has written three books based on his letters to and from ballplayers.
“I love my collection. I don’t think I’ve ever sold anything from it,” Swirsky told The Associated Press from his home in Los Angeles. “But that ball, it’s time to pass it along, to let someone else enjoy it.”
Swirsky plans to begin the online auction on Oct. 15, and it won’t last long. He intends to close the bidding late on the night of Oct. 25 — at the exact minute of the 25th anniversary of Buckner’s famous error.
Swirsky said he decided to part with a favorite piece while driving around last week, a day after watching Boston collapse on the final night of the regular season.
“The myth of Buckner continues. There he was on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ last month. Everybody knows where they were when that play happened,” he said. “I wasn’t in a gloating mood. This isn’t about, ‘ha, ha, the Red Sox lost.’ I’m not a Red Sox hater, I’m a baseball history lover.
“If anything, I want people to know how good Buckner was. You really wanted Billy Buck on your team. He got 2,715 hits — almost as many as Lou Gehrig,” Swirsky said.
Buckner, however, is more noted for what happened in Game 6 of the ’86 Series. Playing first base for Boston, he let Mookie Wilson’s grounder roll through his legs, allowing the New York Mets to cap an incredible rally in the 10th inning. The Mets went on to win the title.
The ball was picked up by right field umpire Ed Montague, who put a tiny “x” near a seam to mark the real thing. Montague gave it to Mets executive Arthur Richman, who in turn presented it to Wilson. Then Wilson signed it to Richman — “The ball won it for us,” he wrote — and the souvenir made its way around the clubhouse. Someone left a tobacco stain where he kissed it.
Sheen bought the ball for more than $93,000 in 1992 and Swirsky purchased it for nearly $64,000 in 2000. Auction houses handled those transactions, but Swirsky said he’s going online because the anniversary date is fast approaching.
To Swirsky, the Buckner ball captures the heart of the sport.
“People ask, ‘Why would you have a ball about sorrow?’ To me, it’s encompasses the two emotions of the game. The highs and lows, all encapsulated in one ball.”
Raised in Long Island, the 51-year-old Swirsky gave the ball to the Mets Hall of Fame last year for display. He’s also shown it to both Wilson and Buckner at different times. Buckner thought it was “cool” and Wilson’s eyes “got real big,” Swirsky said.
Swirsky’s extensive collection is a combination of historical and hysterical.
He’s got a ticket stub from Gehrig’s last game, the ball Reggie Jackson hit for his third straight home run in the 1977 World Series and a letter Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote to Shoeless Joe after getting banned in the Black Sox scandal.
Swirsky also owns the cap that Jose Canseco was wearing when a ball bounced off his head for a home run, a bottle of champagne the Red Sox had in their clubhouse in anticipation of winning the ’86 Series and a rare autograph from Gaedel, the dwarf who batted in a 1951 publicity stunt.
Baseball memorabilia is only a part of Swirsky’s life. He co-wrote the hit “Tell It To My Heart” by Taylor Dayne, and has multiple hits with Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John and Al Green. Swirsky also performs with The Red Button, his Beatles-oriented retro band that recently released a new album.
Swirsky thinks $1 million is a good starting point, based on previous ball sales. Mark McGwire’s 70th homer went for over $3 million and Babe Ruth’s homer from the 1933 All-Star game went for $850,000, as did Hank Aaron’s last home run.
Swirsky plans to donate part of the proceeds to the Baseball Assistance Team, which helps those in the baseball family having financial hardship. He previously donated from his book sales to B.A.T.
“We should share this with the people who created these memories for us,” he said.
Swirsky would sell the Buckner ball for a certain person in an instant.
Outspoken political commentator Keith Olbermann — an excellent baseball storyteller, too — came in second to Sheen when the ball initially went to auction. Olbermann then was second to Swirsky.
“If I got a call from Keith and he wanted it for a million, I’d do it. He deserves it,” Swirsky said. “I’d rather have someone who really wants it to have it, y’know?”