It may seem like something out of a James Bond movie, but a new technology could soon become a staple of the sports memorabilia hobby.
It's the use of DNA in authenticating sports autographs and memorabilia.
Fans across the country have an opportunity to get an up-close look at one of the first items to undergo this process, an item that many hobbyists consider the ultimate sports collectible - Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball.
No. 70, along with nine other historic home run balls hit by McGwire and Sammy Sosa last season, are being showcased in a traveling exhibit called "The McFarlane Collection." The exhibit opened in Los Angeles in early June and will make stops at 17 major league ballparks throughout the season.
"It's neat because not only do fans love it - and they stand in line for an hour and a half to look at the baseballs - but the players do, too," said radio personality Scott Ferrall, who is acting as a host for the tour.
"I had 15 Dodgers ask me to see the ball. All of them wanted to see the ball. It was almost like we were toting gold, which essentially is what it is when it's worth $3 million. It's been fun. I didn't think it would be such an attraction."
Todd McFarlane, creator of the popular comic book character Spawn, bought the McGwire baseball in the Guernsey's Baseball Auction in January for $3 million. That doesn't count the $300,000 or so McFarlane spent to purchase Nos. 63, 67, 68 and 69 hit by McGwire and Nos. 33, 61 and 66 hit by Sosa.
The purchase helped thrust the sports memorabilia hobby into the national spotlight. It also brought attention to the lengths to which collectors will go to protect and authenticate their valuables.
Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) has been grading sports cards for years. But PSA has recently teamed up with DNA Technologies, Inc., to authenticate autographs and memorabilia.
So far, the technology has been used on high profile items such as the McGwire baseball and Hank Aaron's 715th home run ball and the bat used to hit it. But at this month's SportsFest in Philadelphia, collectors will be able to get their items authenticated by PSA/DNA.
The process involves tagging an item with a synthetic DNA that can only be seen when viewed with a special laser set to the proper light frequency. The mark is permanent and nearly impossible to duplicate. According to PSA, the chances are 1 in 33 trillion that someone would be able to recreate the exact sequence of the DNA strand used for the tag.
The McGwire baseball was examined and tagged in October at the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. At the press conference to announce the tour of "The McFarlane Collection," PSA/DNA was on hand to use a laser to show McFarlane that his baseballs were authentic.
Of course, the McGwire baseball could play second fiddle to another ball if someone were to do the unthinkable and surpass 70 home runs in 1999.
Even McFarlane acknowledged the possibility in February when it was announced that it was he who had made the most significant purchase in the hobby's history.
"I go from the idiot who spent $3 million on a baseball to the idiot who spent $3 million on a $5 baseball," he said.
The following stops are remaining on the McFarlane Tour:
- June 22-24: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
- June 27: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Calif.
- July 1: Skydome, Toronto, Ont.
- July 2-4: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Mo.
- July 6-8: Comiskey Park, Chicago, Ill.
- July 9-11: Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minn.
- July 15-17: County Stadium, Milwaukee, Wis.
- July 19-22: Fenway Park, Boston, Mass.
- July 26-28: Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Que.
- Aug. 6-8: Three Rivers, Pittsburgh, Pa.
- Aug. 9-11: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pa.
- Aug. 13-15: Jacobs Field, Cleveland, Ohio
- Aug. 17-19: Camden Yards, Baltimore, Md.
- Aug. 20-22: Cinergy Field, Cincinnati, Ohio
- Aug. 23-25: Turner Field, Atlanta, Ga.
- Sept. 3-5: Pro Player Stadium, Miami, Fla.
- Sept. 8-9: Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay, Fla.
- Sept. 11-12: Astrodome, Houston, Texas
- Sept. 20-22: Coors Field, Denver, Colo.