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Dodger Fan Tries to Corner Bonds Market

A banker buys out the right-field bleachers for two games, hoping to get the Giant's 700th home run.

September 16, 2004|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Six months ago, the Dodgers sold Michael Mahan nearly $25,000 worth of tickets. Now, like an unwelcome home run ball hit by a visiting player, they'd like to throw the whole deal back.

Mahan, 28, a Los Angeles investment banker and lifelong Dodger fan, bought every seat in Dodger Stadium's right-field pavilion for two of the last three games of the season against the San Francisco Giants, gambling that Giant slugger Barry Bonds would hit his historic 700th home run into his seats in one of the games.

Mahan has resold thousands of the tickets, requiring every buyer to sign an eight-page contract compelling them to hand over to him any Bonds home run ball they might catch. He would then sell the ball and split the money evenly with the fan who caught it, according to the contract.

Back in March, the Dodgers sold 6,458 tickets with a face value of $6 to Mahan for the standard group-discount rate of $3.50 each. But the team said he misrepresented himself in the transaction by not disclosing his plan to resell most of the tickets for as much as $15 each.

"An individual found a way to manipulate the system, and it won't happen again," Gary Miereanu, the Dodgers' vice president of communications, said Wednesday.

Mahan said he told team officials he had hoped to boost his chances for getting a piece of baseball history.

"They didn't ask questions," he said. "They seemed very happy that someone wanted to buy out the pavilion."

Mahan said he sold tickets through his website at $15 each and said he sold 3,000 tickets to a broker for less than $15 each but declined to disclose the exact price. He donated 400 tickets to charity and said he gave about 300 to family and friends.

"I haven't done the numbers. I'm not going to lose money," he said.

The Dodgers threatened to let fans into the right-field pavilion for free if 20% or more of Mahan's seats are unoccupied on the game days, Oct. 1 and 3.

Fans have shown both creativity and litigiousness in their efforts to obtain home run souvenirs from Bonds as the 40-year-old outfielder continues his late-career pursuit of baseball's all-time home run mark, the game's most hallowed record.

Some can be found bobbing on kayaks during Giant home games, hoping to snag a stadium-clearing blast at SBC Park, which abuts San Francisco Bay. Two fans engaged in a highly publicized legal battle over the ball that Bonds hit for his record-setting 73rd home run in 2001.

Through Wednesday night's game at Milwaukee, Bonds has 699 home runs, placing him third behind Hank Aaron, with 755, and Babe Ruth at 714.

"Obviously, it's extremely unlikely I'll get one of the milestone balls," Mahan said, "but any Bonds home run ball will be cool."

Mahan said he decided to spend the money last spring after crunching some baseball numbers. Bonds opened the season with 658 homers, fourth on the all-time list behind Aaron, Ruth and Willie Mays, Bonds' godfather, who had 660.

Mahan said he saw several projections that Bonds would hit 42 homers in 2004, and figured he might launch his 700th in the season's final days. Bonds, a left-handed batter, has hit 23 of his 41 home runs this season to right field.

In agreeing to the ticket sale, the Dodgers told Mahan he could not resell the seats for more than face value on stadium grounds -- a form of scalping prohibited by law -- and that the seats needed to be filled.

"It's irrelevant because they're going to be 100% full," said Mahan, noting that only a handful of tickets remain.

It is not clear how valuable a Bonds home run ball would be.

Mahan said a memorabilia auctioneer told him that No. 700 could fetch $300,000 to $500,000, but that No. 703, for instance, would command considerably less.

The ball that St. Louis' Mark McGwire hit for his 70th home run in 1998, which set a single-season record at the time, sold for $3.05 million at auction. Bonds' 73rd home run ball of 2001, which topped McGwire's record, was auctioned in June 2003 for $517,500.

"Any ball that Bonds hits has value," Mahan said. "It's a collectible."

Mahan's purchase is not without precedent. Businesses, church groups and other organizations often buy out the pavilions at Dodger Stadium, Miereanu said.

"We will be reexamining our group sales policies in the future," he said. "The tickets were sold in good faith under an established policy. To that end, it's hard to find fault. It's definitely something that has forced us to look toward a different policy for the future."

Mahan said he marked up the ticket price only to recoup the cost of promoting the games on a website, distributing tickets and having the contract drawn up by a lawyer. Mahan also said he would allow fans to keep any prizes won Oct. 3 on fan appreciation day and any homers hit by other players.

Mahan also donated 400 tickets to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and the Inland Empire on the condition that the children's guardians signed the contract. The organization is selling its leftover tickets for $20 each as a fundraiser.

"It's such a wonderful opportunity for the kids," said Marlene Casillas, a board associate for Big Brothers Big Sisters. "A lot of them don't get the opportunity to do something like that normally."

The only people in the right-field pavilion free of legal constraints at the two games will be Mahan's parents, two sisters and 8-year-old brother.

"If one of them gets it, I'm just as happy," Mahan said. "I'm sure they'll want to give it to me."

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