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Strike out: Why Sonia Sotomayor won't sign your baseball

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor chats with Paul Pelosi in the dugout at the 2nd Annual Congressional Women's Softball game on June 16, 2010. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Sonia Sotomayor was a big hit at the Congressional Women's Softball Game earlier this month. The newest Supreme Court justice didn't take the field, but she did turn out to watch the event in Glover Park -- a fundraising game between female lawmakers and reporters for a breast cancer charity.

Hanging out in the congressional-side dugout, she greeted friends and fans and happily signed her autograph whenever asked -- on programs, wristbands, a T-shirt. Then someone asked her to sign a softball.

"Oh, I can't sign that," she told them, "because of the baseball case." She added that she would sign anything else -- just not a ball.

In 1995, Sotomayor was the U.S. district judge who ended the seven-month Major League Baseball strike, with a ruling in favor of players and against team owners, who she said were undermining the collective bargaining process. Sotomayor was hailed as a hero for salvaging the season, and it was one of the landmark accomplishments President Obama cited when he announced her as his nominee to the high court: "Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball."

The justice didn't exactly explain why she wouldn't sign a ball, but given that history, we could hazard a guess: Because the ball might end up on the sports memorabilia collectibles market? Just wouldn't look right, you know? We asked the court's spokeswoman; she confirmed that that was the source of Sotomayor's hesitation.

So, what exactly would a Sotomayor signature ball fetch on the collectibles market? Surprisingly, not that much.

"Since it's a rare item, we'd put in up for auction," said Brandon Steiner, owner of Steiner Sports Memorabilia. Assuming Sotomayor signed just a couple of balls, they could sell for $500 to $600 each. If she did only one, it could go as high as $3,000. By contrast, a Babe Ruth ball goes for $75,000 to $80,000; a ball autographed by the Yankees' Derek Jeter can be had on the Web site for $514.99.

Still, Steiner thinks there's a market for a ball signed by the associate justice: "People would buy because she played a role in baseball history." He proposed a limited edition of 500 signed balls -- which might sell for $50 to $100 each -- with proceeds going to charity. "We'd be more than happy to help her expedite that, by the way."
Sounds like a swing -- and a miss.

By The Reliable Source  |  June 28, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
Categories:  44: Obama's Washington  
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