Another Perspective

High Balls

There is a ball out there worth infinitely more than Barry Bonds's record-breaker.

By 9.10.07

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If you want to bid on Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run balls, you'd better hurry. The bidding closes September 15, according to Southeby's SCP Auctions. Up for sale are the Giant slugger's record-tying and record-breaking 755th and 756th homeruns. Starting price: $100,000.

Number 756, smote August 7th in a game against the Nationals, was caught by a visiting New Yorker, Matt Murphy, and the auctioneer believes Murphy's prize should fetch some $500,000. At last count, Bonds had struck 762 balls out of the park, and the issue of just how he was aided in this prowess was still a matter of conjecture.

But wait. This baseball business is chicken feed, I submit. The truly valuable ball is smaller than a baseball, and much farther away, and unique in all this universe. It is a golf ball. It lies on the moon, in the Fra Mauro complex, at 3.65S, 17.47W. How it got there is one of the more human stories of a sometimes sterile lexicon of space exploration. Astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell landed there February 5, 1971, in the Lunar Lander "Antares," as part of the Apollo 14 Mission, the third group to make it up there.

On the second day, Feb. 6, they had completed their exploration and were about to return to the module, which would reunite them with the orbiting Stuart Roosa for the trip home to earth.

Shepard removed something from his personal possessions pocket and attached it to the "handle for the contingency sample return." It was, he said, "a genuine 6 iron on the bottom." In his left hand, he said, was "a little white pellet familiar to millions of Americans." A golf ball. Shepard explained that because of the bulky EVA suit he would have to swing the makeshift 6-iron with one hand. He dropped the ball and swung.

"You got more dirt than ball that time," observed Mitchell.

"More dirt than ball," agreed Shepard . "Here we go again." Another couple of swipes and the ball skittered away.

"Looked like a slice to me, Al," said Fred Haise, the communicator on earth in Mission Control.

Shepard dropped a second ball, He positioned himself. And this time he connected fairly solidly. "Miles and miles and miles!" declared Shepard, as the ball took off in defiance of lunar gravity one-fifth that of earthly golf courses. Shepard had hit the first (and only) 6-iron golf shot in lunar history. "Very good, Al," was Haise's comment from earth.

Lost now to lunar lore is the fact that Mitchell then employed a lunar scoop handle as a javelin and, taking a couple of steps, hurled it also in the east-west direction the golf ball had gone.

Shepard declared it the "greatest javelin throw of the century." And they went about packing for the trip back to the command module and the quarter-million mile journey home.

Before leaving, they took a photo out of the lunar lander window that shows clearly the "javelin" lying near the edge of a crater -- and the golf ball, just this side of it, an estimated 200 yards from the launching point. Not "miles and miles," but what the heck.

To the point. If a baseball smacked by Barry Bonds can fetch half a mil, despite the fact that he has hit several more and probably will continue to do this, what do you imagine the Alan Shepard golf ball would fetch? The one lying in the lunar dust at the site called "Fra Mauro"? The one put there by an imaginative man more than 35 years ago who had traveled 250,000 miles for that solid six-iron smack that evoked "miles and miles and miles."

Barry who?

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About the Author

Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.