Sports

World Series final-out balls – where do they go?

Ask Madison Bumgarner to name the most important pitch he’s ever thrown, and he responds in the time it takes one of his home runs to rocket into the bleachers.

“Well, it has to be the one to Perez,” Bumgarner said. “Last pitch of Game 7.”

What other answer could there be? Bumgarner clomped out of the bullpen in the deciding game of the 2014 World Series and finished the cattle drive all by his lonesome. He pitched the last five innings on a day of rest, and that final fastball jammed Royals catcher Salvador Perez.

When third baseman Pablo Sandoval caught Perez’s foul pop, and then plopped for a celebratory snow angel in the grass, it clinched more than the Giants’ third title in five years. It punctuated one of the most mythic performances in baseball history.

“I don’t care much for keeping souvenir balls,” Bumgarner said. “I’ve got some from shutouts, my 1,000th strikeout, and shoot, there’s a good chance I probably played catch with some of ‘em in the winter.

“But that one … if I did have it, I’d make sure I knew where it was. That would be one I’d keep safe.”

That’s the problem. The Giants don’t know where it is. But they do know who had it last: the guy who caught it.

Sandoval took the authenticated baseball with him when he spurned the Giants to sign a five-year, $95 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.

The rotund player lovingly known as the Kung Fu Panda didn’t join the Red Sox when they began a two-game interleague series at AT&T Park on Tuesday. He’s recovering from a controversial right shoulder surgery that ended his season.

His conditioning issues, coupled with poor production in his first year with the Red Sox, have made Sandoval’s contract one of the biggest dead-weight deals in the sport. A series of truculent comments, both about the Giants after he left, then others in which he seemingly shirked responsibility in Boston, hasn’t helped his popularity on either coast.

Several Giants coaches, players and team officials had heard a rumor that Sandoval was attempting to sell, or already had sold, the final-out ball from the 2014 World Series for an undisclosed sum. Efforts to reach Sandoval were not successful and his new agents at the Beverly Hills Sports Council said they were unaware of any details regarding the ball’s possession or potential sale. Five major auction houses that specialize in sports memorabilia show no record of the ball being listed or sold.

Sandoval has a right to do what he wants with the ball, according to baseball precedent. Several years ago, USA Today catalogued the whereabouts of final-out balls and found that most were in the private hands of players:

▪ Blue Jays reliever Mike Timlin has the final out ball from the 1992 World Series.

▪ Joe Carter has the home run ball he hit to end the Fall Classic in ‘93.

▪ Former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez secured the final out of the 1998 World Series, and has the ball in a safe deposit box.

▪ Yankees outfielder Chad Curtis caught the final out of the 1999 World Series and gifted the ball to a security guard.

▪ When the Yankees clinched another title in 2000, it was outfielder Bernie Williams’s turn to squeeze the final out. He had the team sign the ball and keeps in it a trophy case.

▪ Another foul pop, not too different from the one that Sandoval caught, ended the 1996 World Series. Yankees third baseman Charlie Hayes kept the ball until 2014, when Heritage Auctions sold it on his behalf. It fetched $27,485.

▪ Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox’s abrasive former closer, kept the final ball from the 2007 World Series. When reporters asked about it a few months later, he claimed that his dog ate it.

The problems arise when a franchise breaks a long World Series drought, and because of the final ball’s greater symbolic meaning, there’s a desire for the team to take possession so it can be displayed for fans.

That’s what happened in 2004, when Edgar Renteria hit a ground ball and Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz secured the final out to clinch Boston’s first title since 1918. He later joked to a Boston Globe columnist that the ball would put his kids through college.

Mientkiewicz later clarified his comments, telling ESPN that if anyone had offered him money for the ball, “I would have told them (no). You can’t put a price tag on that. It’s baseball history.”

But humor was lost on many fans and some Red Sox officials, who hadn’t asked for the ball at the time but suddenly demanded it. A bitter back-and-forth ensued over the next two years, with Mientkiewicz finally agreeing to lend the ball to the Red Sox for a yearlong publicity tour and then to go on permanent display in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Other momentous final-out balls were less contentious. Luis Gonzalez gifted the ball he hit for a walk-off single to win the 2001 World Series to Arizona Diamondbacks executive Jerry Colangelo. White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko presented the final ball in 2005 to owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Royals backup catcher Drew Butera presented the final ball from the 2015 World Series to Kansas City officials at the club’s fan convention over the winter.

And after the Giants won the 2010 World Series, their first since moving to San Francisco in 1958, closer Brian Wilson held onto the ball he used to strike out the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz until opening day, 2011. Then he presented it to then-Giants CEO Bill Neukom.

The Giants display the 2010 ball on the club level. Eventually, they’ll also have the clinching ball from 2012 that Sergio Romo threw to strike out the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera. And that ball has its own tale to tell.

Catcher Buster Posey gave it to manager Bruce Bochy. And Bochy lost it.

“The front office, they were wondering what happened to the ball, and I said, ‘Well I got the ball!’ “ Bochy said. “Then all the sudden I had to find it. I went home for a series at San Diego and I thought I knew where it was, and when I looked for it, it wasn’t there.

“I was getting nervous. I thought maybe one of the boys went out and were throwing it to the dog or something. I didn’t know what happened to it.”

Three months later, a house guest asked about memorabilia in his home office and pointed to a ball in a case on another shelf.

“It was kind of hidden and I pulled it out, and I said, ‘Well, that’s the ball I’ve been looking for,’ ” Bochy said.

The 2012 ball is in a more secure location now, Bochy said, and he plans to present it to the Giants at some later date – perhaps in 2022, when they celebrate the 10-year anniversary with the customary reunion.

Will Sandoval be a part of those reunions? The Giants hope so. In all of the club’s public comments about the estranged Panda, they have taken the high road – even if they sometimes had to do so through gritted teeth. Bochy, CEO Larry Baer and GM Bobby Evans made a special trip to Boston’s team hotel last year when the Red Sox came to the Bay Area to play the A’s so they could personally present Sandoval with his World Series ring.

Who knows? Maybe Sandoval already hawked that, too.

“I don’t know if that’s a fact, if he sold the ball,” Bochy said. “I don’t know why he would do that. You’d have to ask Pablo.”

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