This month's Sotheby's auction is being viewed by dealers and collectors as a barometer of just how inflated the market will be in the wake of the more than $3 million paid for Mark McGwire's home run ball last fall. It may also tell the story of how a major collectible purchase can thrust you into the national spotlight.

Also complicating the issue is Sammy Sosa's chase of McGwire's one-year old record of 70 home runs. McGwire contended at the beginning of the year that his record was "safe for as long as I live." Apparently someone forgot to tell Sosa about that claim.

The Sept. 23-25 auction at Sotheby's has already drawn more than usual national attention because of the Barry Halper collection which features 100,000 items, nearly 100 of which have been displayed at the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this month. Halper is selling the large collection for tax and family reasons and already Major League Baseball has purchased more than $7.5 million worth of items and donated them to the Hall of Fame.

Part of the collection will be involved in the Sotheby auction, the rest going on an Internet auction expected to begin later in the fall.

Valuable baseballs have always been a magnet to attract large bids from collectors, but the market has long since exceeded those items and gone to some pretty unusual extremes in the collectibles market. For example, included in Halper's collection is a diary from Ty Cobb in 1946.

That doesn't interest you?

How about Michael Jordan's yearbook? Sports Investments International is including Jordan yearbooks as part of 283 items it is auctioning from prices ranging from $500 to $3,000. Ryan Friedman, auction manager, says the yearbooks include Jordan from the "seventh grade all the way up to his junior year at North Carolina." It gets even more bizzare.

Upper Deck is offering cards that fit into a CD rom tray and features photos and stats of NFL rookie quarterbacks who have yet to play one down in the NFL. The "power deck" cards are included in the $2.99 football packs and feature such first-round draft choices as Tim Couch, Cade McNown and Donovan McNabb. It also featured Akili Smith before he even signed his contract with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Diaries, yearbooks and rookie CD roms aside, baseballs do remain the talk of the media and have fueled a seller's market in the past year, due largely in part to the McGwire-Sosa chase.

It has also made celebrities of those involved in the high stakes bidding. Todd McFarlane was the winner of the McGwire 70th home-run-ball-sweepstakes last year, paying over $3 million for the ball and earning him national fame for paying the highest amount ever recorded for a baseball. Is he worried the market will change, particularly if Sosa eclipses the McGwire mark?

"I never bought McGwire's ball for investment purposes," McFarlane told the Chicago Sun-Times. "It tells the 1998 story. If Sosa hits 71, (the 1998 story) would lose its luster somewhat. But that year still told a story that introduced a while new breed to baseball. There are old ladies and 6-year-old kids who, the only thing they know about baseball is McGwire and Sosa."

What about the guy who actually caught McGwire's 70th home run ball in St. Louis last September? Philip Ozersky, who still works at Washington University in St. Louis, was interviewed by every major sports publication and broadcast outlet following his grab on Sept. 27 of last year. His story is also part of a new book, "The Ball," By Daniel Paisner, that chronicles in specific detail the events surrounding his getting -- and eventually selling -- the infamous baseball.

Although he did sell the ball for the record amount -- he donated part of the proceeds to McGwire's favorite charity -- he continues to work according to the St. Louis Post- Dispatch.

"Ted Turner and Donald Trump still work and I enjoy where I work," said Ozersky, who is a researcher in the school's Genome Sequencing Center. "Besides (the research) holds such a major consequence for the world and world health."

Not all of the publicity has been so beneficial. Tim Fornerie, a groundskeeper at Busch Memorial Stadium who caught -- and returned -- McGwire's 62nd home run ball, has been the subject of lampoons and talk show hosts joke. One national newsmagazine even listed him among the foolish investors of the year which prompted him to write the magazine which eventually backtracked from its harsh remarks.