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Fan Lends McGwire’s 70th to Museum

October 6, 1998

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Attendance figures are expected to pick up considerably at the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame now that Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball is going on display.

While the fan who ended up with the record ball sifts through offers, he’s giving others a chance to see it. Phil Ozersky, a 26-year-old DNA lab researcher at Washington University, on Monday loaned the ball to the Hall of Fame across the street from Busch Stadium.

``When I caught the ball, the first thing I thought was that if I was just a fan, I’d want to see it,″ Ozersky said. ``It’s a great idea to have it here. I hope everybody comes down and sees the ball.″

The display opens next Monday, and it might be a limited engagement. Gerald Baltz, the museum’s executive director, said he didn’t expect to have the ball for more than a month or so.

Ozersky’s attorney, David Krathen of Miami, said his client has received countless proposals since snaring No. 70 in the St. Louis Cardinals’ finale Sept. 27. There’s been everything but a call from McGwire, who has said he’s not interested in paying for the ball.

``He’s been besieged by agents, auction houses, individuals,″ Krathen said. ``You name it, they’ve contacted us.

``I think the right thing to do is take your time, take a deep breath, step back and see what the various options are.″

Ozersky would like the ball to end up at the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., but he’s not as willing as some of the other ball recipients to just give it away.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization and does not pay for items displayed. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t have Hank Aaron’s 715th, which broke Babe Ruth’s career record.

But Ozersky could have it both ways by selling the ball to a corporation that could take the ball on tour first, or to a well-heeled individual who wouldn’t mind the positive publicity to be gained from donating it to the Hall.

``Phillip doesn’t quite see it as a lottery ticket,″ Krathen said. ``He sees it as an important part of history, and I don’t think he’s interested in selling it to someone who’s going to place it on his mantel.″

Ozersky has already had one $1 million offer. He’s having trouble believing it.

``It’s a $9 ball,″ Ozersky said. ``It’s pretty amazing to think about it.″

For now, the ball will be front and center at the museum in a glass case that also includes the bat McGwire used to hit his 400th career home run last May, a large photograph of Ozersky holding his prize, and several photographs of McGwire launching the record shot off Carl Pavano of the Montreal Expos. The exhibit is called ``Hunt for the Long Ball.″

The case is protected by electronic sensors and there are several other security measures in place, including an around-the-clock police guard, to ensure that nobody walks off with the ball.

``This is not just a baseball, this is history,″ police chief Ronald Henderson said. ``We will do whatever it takes to make sure this ball is secured.″

At first, Ozersky didn’t take any precautions. The night he caught it, he slept with it, then he toted it around town for various TV interviews and to show it to co-workers at Washington University who were with him in a party box at the game.

The ball then spent a night each in a safe and a safety deposit box, and has been in a vault at the Cardinals Hall of Fame since then.

The museum shares space with the Bowling Hall of Fame.

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