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McFarlane Paid $3 Million for McGwire's 70th Home Run Ball

By Michael Grunwald
The Washington Post
New York

Until Monday, Todd McFarlane was best known as a kind of entrepreneurial ghoul. He created Spawn, the gruesome best-selling comic book that became an Emmy-winning HBO series and a $100 million-grossing New Line Cinema movie. He produced action figures for heavy-metal rock stars such as Ozzy Osbourne and KISS. He just released a Movie Maniacs line of toys immortalizing horror-film psychopaths such as Chucky, Jason and Freddy Krueger.

However, McFarlane is about to be famous for a fanaticism of a different sort. He announced Monday that he was the anonymous buyer of the historic ball Mark McGwire hit for his 70th home run of 1998, the so-called "crown jewel of sports memorabilia" for which McFarlane paid a record-obliterating $3 million at auction last month. McFarlane said he wants to take the ball on a North American tour, with any proceeds going to charity. He also admitted that when no one is looking, he might play a bit of catch with it in his backyard.

"Look, I'm a sports fanatic," said McFarlane, 37, who spent last week at a Baltimore Orioles fantasy camp in Florida. "I've had a successful career, but I'd throw it all out tomorrow if I could play center field in the major leagues. In a heartbeat."

McFarlane also announced that in a series of separate deals totaling about $300,000 more, he had purchased McGwire's first, 67th, 68th and 69th home run balls of the 1998 season, as well as Sammy Sosa's 33rd, which broke the all-time record for round-trippers in a month, 61st and 66th. Monday, in an unusual coda to a remarkable baseball season, he formally unveiled the McFarlane Collection ("It sounds better than The Guy Who Has More Money Than Brains Collection," he said) at a news conference in the Baroque Room at the sumptuous Plaza Hotel. He spoke for about an hour in front of the glass-encased balls and his company logos, calling his motivations "a combination of business, charity and self-indulgence to the nth degree."

Sure, McFarlane said, he might have been "crazy" to spend most of his life savings not including his business holdings on a slightly smudged baseball. But a minute of advertising during the Super Bowl cost more than $3 million, and McFarlane expects to get much more than a minute's worth of exposure for his business interests. He said he also saw a chance to do some good, to make sure the ball doesn't get locked in someone's vault.

In any case, McFarlane said, he's a guy. He thinks this kind of thing is cool.

"Women don't have the same silly wants and needs that men have," he said. "Guys can just look at this sedate piece of rawhide and go: 'Whooooa. It's the ball. Whooooa.' "