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A new ball game for Overstock.com

Auction site is taking bids on Bonds baseball

Steve Williams holds Barry Bonds' 700th career home run ball, which he retrieved at SBC Park during the Giants' game against the San Diego Padres in San Francisco Sept. 17.
Steve Williams holds Barry Bonds' 700th career home run ball, which he retrieved at SBC Park during the Giants' game against the San Diego Padres in San Francisco Sept. 17.
Ben Margot, Associated Press

Barry Bonds has pounded baseballs over fences at a record pace since knocking out his first homer in 1986. Now, Salt Lake-based Overstock Auctions — a mere rookie in the online bidding business — is pining for a publicity home run by auctioning the ball from the San Francisco Giants slugger's 700th homer.

Overstock's auction of the ball took off Monday quicker than a Bonds fly into McCovey Cove. The bidding started with $1 at noon. After about eight hours, 17,000 site visits and more than 100 bids, the total rose to more than $115,000.

Lifelong Giants fan Steven Williams, 26, of Pacifica, Calif., tabbed Overstock.com for the auction after coming up with the ball following an 80-second fracas in the left-center bleachers of SBC Park Sept. 17 and fighting off a couple of legal challenges from other fans claiming ownership.

The auction is scheduled to run until noon Oct. 27 at Overstock Auctions, a venture of online closeout retailer Overstock.com Inc. that started three weeks ago.

"One thing that we are going to clearly benefit from is a lot of good PR on this deal, and we're going to bring a lot of people to the site that might not have seen a young, fledgling auction site," said Jonathan E. Johnson III, Overstock.com's vice president of corporate affairs.

"It's just valuable," he said of the publicity. "There's no way to put a dollar amount on it. The primary interest was just to let people know Overstock has an auction site, and a unique, one-of-a-kind, high-interest piece like this baseball, we thought, would be a great way to do it."

Williams played the field of auction companies before settling on a contract with Overstock, the terms of which are confidential.

Although there's been a fair amount of sniping from a pair of fans who came up empty trying to grab the ball in the stands, Overstock's policies will eliminate online auction "sniping." That's when bidders use software or services to make a last-second bid to secure an item, leaving little, if any, time for other bidders to ante up.

Overstock's "soft-close" process calls for auctions to automatically extend 10 minutes if a bid is made within the last 10 minutes of the auction's close.

"It could, theoretically, go on ad infinitum," Johnson said. "There's nothing wrong with it (sniping), but, frankly, it doesn't really maximize value for the seller, and it makes it difficult for buyers unless they have that software."

Williams has said he went with Overstock Auctions because "you can't dupe the system." He also has said he hopes the winning bidder puts the ball in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has committed to donating 10 percent of auction proceeds over $200,000 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco, and he wants to buy his mom a convertible and perhaps return to college to get his degree.

Williams, a mortgage broker assistant, was judged the rightful owner of the ball by a San Francisco County superior judge on Oct. 1. One fan contended Williams snatched the ball when it was locked behind his knees at the bottom of a pile of fans scurrying to grab a piece of history.

Bonds' race for the all-time home run record continues next season. With 703 career big flies, Bonds will try to eclipse Henry Aaron's 755 and Babe Ruth's 714.

Johnson said Overstock had expected a rush of bids on Monday but, because the item is unique, no one is sure what the winner will pay. Overstock Auction's items so far have included a car that sold for $12,500 and some real estate that nabbed $137,000.

"We're a start-up operation, and I think people will be excited to find out what this ball goes for," he said. "We've not had an item like this go up before, but we did expect an initial burst, and I think there's going to be a flurry of activity at the end as well."


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com