When was the last time a home run generated as much excitement as Derek Jeter's storybook 3,000th hit? Sept. 8, 1998, when Mark McGwire's 341-foot blast at Busch Stadium broke the single-season homer mark. McGwire's final record ball, number 70, fetched $3 million at auction in the biggest baseball memorabilia transaction ever.
Some thought the McGwire ball was ushering in a boom era for modern memorabilia, but the steroid scandal quickly sent prices plummeting. Barry Bonds's record 762nd home run ball sold under expectations at $375,000 in 2008. Auction-house owners say game-used items from sluggers suspected of steroid use have retained as little as 10% to 20% of their former value. As for McGwire, who admitted he used steroids during his '98 run, his crowning achievement might not crack six figures in today's market.
But Jeter has sparked a new collectibles frenzy. Memorabilia company Steiner Sports had its phone lines crash three times last Saturday as fans clamored for Jeter items. His home run ball could have gone for as much as $250,000 at auction, had the fan who recovered it, Christian Lopez, not returned it to Jeter; foul balls from the at bat may yet pull in $15,000. Vintage items have dominated the market in recent years, but expect a renewed interest in modern—presumably untainted—milestones.