The voters have spoken, and the baseball that San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds hit over the fence on August 7 to break Major League Baseball’s home run record-considered one of the most sacred records in all of sports-will be branded with an asterisk and sent to the baseball Hall of Fame.
That’s the intention of the ball’s owner, Marc Ecko, the clothing designer who bought the ball after a bidding war. In true Ecko fashion, the designer put the fate of the ball at the mercy of a public vote by launching a Web site where people could choose from three possible outcomes: bestowing the ball to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York as is; branding the ball with an asterisk, thereby “adding a permanent footnote to the record,” and then sending it to Cooperstown; or putting the ball on a rocket and launching it into orbit.
More than 10 million votes were recorded, and the branding option received 47 percent of the vote, according to Ecko’s Web site. The asterisk suggests Bonds’s homerun record was tainted by his use of steroids. Plans for marking the ball aren’t clear, but Ecko is currently in discussions with the Hall of Fame to decide whether to brand the ball or to use paint for the asterisk.
And that’s where Goleta’s BrandNew Industries comes in. Shortly after announcing he had purchased the ball for $752,467, Ecko’s representatives emailed BrandNew, an industrial branding manufacturer, about making a branding iron to burn the asterisk into the baseball. “We just kind of fell into it,” said BrandNew president Sean Clayton. Clayton and sales manager Scott Swanson weren’t sure exactly how Ecko came across BrandNew, but Ecko’s people checked the “through a friend” box on an email form.
After being contacted by Ecko, BrandNew submitted multiple designs, all including an asterisk. Some included the number 756 below the symbol. The branding iron is similar to a curling iron, and is electrically heated. The hot end features a specially designed spherical shape for baseballs.
BrandNew first announced it had been contacted by Ecko in September and spoke with the press about the project. But since then, they’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement and can no longer comment. That leaves the ball’s final design and the company’s current role unclear. When company officials were still talking, Clayton had said a regular spherical branding iron like the one Ecko is asking for would generally run a little more than $200, but because of shipping and an expedited process, it will end up costing Ecko a bit more.
Not that he can’t afford it. In 2004, Marc Ecko Enterprises-which includes Ecko’s clothing line, a magazine, production company, and other apparel and shoe lines-reported international sales of roughly $1 billion. But that didn’t stop Bonds-who was recently released by the Giants-from calling the designer “an idiot” in a San Francisco Chronicle story shortly after Ecko announced his plan. “He spent $750,000 on the ball and that’s what he’s doing with it? What he’s doing is stupid,” Bonds told the paper. A spokesperson from the Hall of Fame was quoted as saying the ball would be accepted, with or without the asterisk.
BrandNew is anything but what its name suggests-the company has been in Goleta since 1987. Currently staffed by fewer than six full-time employees, the company is one of the leading developers of industrial and craftsman branding equipment. BrandNew creates branding equipment for anything from basketballs and footballs to wood, leather, plastic, rubber, food, soap, wax, and more, according to its Web site. “Literally everything we do is customized,” explained Swanson.
BrandNew provides technical help to customers as well, but that won’t likely be needed for the baseball. “The equipment is not foolproof, but it’s close,” Swanson said, so the company volunteered its services in the actual branding of the ball-so as not to screw it up. But Swanson doesn’t envy the job of whoever will mark the ball, should it come to that. “I would not want to be the guy who has to brand a $750,000 baseball,” he said.